When Greg Herzog awoke suddenly to his phone ringing at 4 a.m. Aug. 21, he did not fear the worst. The alarm company, connected to his barbecue-and-bourbon business, Roaming Bison Tavern, had called at weird hours before for smaller-scale worries.
But the security representative sounded serious, and when Herzog peered outside his window, just a mile and a half from the bar, his concern grew. "It was pouring sheets of water," Herzog recalled. "I felt like I was in the Amazon."
The intersection of Hertel and Elmwood avenues was under water, with two cars stranded in the middle of the road. Police had closed off the area, preventing Herzog from reaching the tavern at 732 Hertel Ave.
Two hours later, the bar owner finally could assess the damage from the flash flood, which amounted to nearly 3 inches over 24 hours.
Ok, so this is whats left after the flood of 2019! This is just 1 half of the basement. Still looking like a month or longer. Just depends on the Landlord's and the City....
Posted by Roaming Bison Tavern on Wednesday, August 28, 2019
While there was no effect on the bar area and just minimal water in the kitchen, the basement – which held everything from his bourbon storage and his point-of-sale system to a hot water tank and walk-in cooler – had roughly 7.5 feet of standing water.
Oddly, the only object to avoid ruin was a zombie statue left accidentally by a close friend as a Halloween decoration.
"It was heartbreaking," said Herzog, who estimated $40,000 lost of his own property, and potentially twice that amount for his landlord, Nortel Holdings, LLC. "The lifeline of the business was downstairs."
Herzog, a bourbon fanatic who takes pride in explaining the spirit to his customers, was chagrined about the loss of 90% of his whisky, with bottles ranging from $15 to $700.
Roaming Bison Tavern has been closed for the three weeks since, and reopening doesn't appear imminent. The only other food-and-drink operation nearby, the Kitchen Table (690 Hertel Ave.), avoided damage because of its higher elevation.
Responsibility for the Roaming Bison incident is still unclear, with the City of Buffalo, Nortel Holdings and Herzog all looking deeper into the issue. Local residents Herzog has spoken with even referenced the North Buffalo creek that was buried around the turn of the 19th century as a potential factor.
The bar had just celebrated its second anniversary and had gained momentum with its barbecue, thanks to a 500-gallon, open-flame smoker and the hard work of Herzog and his chef, Phil Evans. The tavern has seven employees in total.
In the meantime, Herzog has been grateful for other Hertel businesses that have come to his aid, including offers to let Roaming Bison hold a pop-up barbecue night and borrow kitchen space to prepare for future events.
Herzog and Evans will participate in the Niagara Barbeque BrewFest, at Kenan Arena in Lockport on Sept. 21, and then be at Artisan Kitchens and Baths (200 Amherst St.) for Black Rock/Riverside Oktoberfest on Sept. 28. Herzog and Evans will serve their Southern-style barbecue with a Northern twist. They're rather protective of the finer details that go into their product.
"I want to work," said Herzog. "I love being behind that bar and teaching [customers] about bourbon, rye and whisky."