Ed Bailey was having a drink at Scruple's Bar in Newfane when a friend bought him a backup drink. The bartender handed him a small chip, similar to a poker chip, to turn in when he wanted to redeem his next drink.
Most people might say "Huh, that's cool" when they see the chip, which usually looks like a tiny coin-sized trinket, branded with the bar's name.
But Bailey took it a step further.
He, his wife, Margot and three of their friends, who met years ago at the Getzville bar Elmo's, dedicated the next nearly two years to visiting every bar in the greater Buffalo area and collecting as many drink chips as they could.
Out of a list of about 500 bars, they only have 67 left. So far, they've collected about 188 bar chips (not all bars give chips). The practice, as Bailey calls it, is "chippin'." He defines the term as "the act of searching for drink chips at bars in the Buffalo area."
There are rules to chippin', as there is in any good practice.
You can't call ahead to ask if there are chips. That negates the point, which is to have a good time and also collect a chip if you can. You can't just immediately ask if a bar has chips.
You must order a drink first before you can ask the bartender if they have chips.
And if someone else gives you a chip from their collection, you must go to that bar and have a drink within 24 hours.
That's just proper chippin' etiquette.
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Is any collection really about the item that's being collected? Or is it more about the act of collecting is and the sense of accomplishment?
For Bailey, the chips are cool. But the journey, which has spanned from Wilson to Ellicottville, is about exploring the fabric of Western New York's bar scene and spending time with his wife and friends every weekend, all with a shared goal.
When they were drinking at the Ice House Pub in Lackawanna, they explored Our Lady of Victory Basilica, one of Buffalo's most impressive architectural feats.
While bar hopping near the Central Terminal, his wife spotted a bar that wasn't on their Google Maps list. So they stopped at the G&T Inn.
“It’s owned by some old gentleman who lives above the bar," Bailey said. “We went in and he said he’s the world’s only singing polka bartender."
He showed them that, in fact, he is. Or at least he's one of the world's few singing polka bartenders.
"He gave us a little song and was singing to us the whole time," Bailey said.
If you would like to go chippin', Bailey created a treasure map, of sorts, to find bar chips. He's also documented every bar he went to on the map, making it a handy resource of hundreds of area bars.
“Every single bar we’ve gone to, we’ve had a very positive experience," Bailey said.
And once he tells someone what he's doing there, "they just don’t stop talking."
“Especially, it’s a really good icebreaker, you know?” Bailey said.
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Sometimes, they don't get any chips. But if you want to follow in their already paved footsteps, their chip map lists every location they've visited. Green beer icons represent bars with chips; red markers are the bars they've visited without chips; yellow markers signify bars they've yet to visit, but those keep dwindling.
Pubs and neighborhood taverns are most likely to have the chips, although he's found some newer breweries that offer them, too.
To be clear, Bailey isn't trying to go to every bar in Western New York. Just the greater Buffalo area and some popular destinations, such as along Lake Ontario or Lake Erie. He finds the bars on Google Maps and just explores. Next, he may conquer Niagara Falls and Niagara County. Or put together a map of historical chips. Or possibly branch out to another city, if someone rich asks him to, and fronts it.
For now, Bailey put the chips to use by creating a poster. Almost every bartender he mentions it to wants a copy.
At the end of many of their bar crawling nights, the crew ends up at their usual spot and the place where they all met, Elmo's. Bailey often shows the bartenders that night's chip loot, tempting the staff to order their own tokens, so he could add their name to the poster.
After what Bailey playfully calls "constant harassment," they recently did, earning a spot on the map's bottom right corner.
Story topics: Instagram