Co-owner Joelle Garofalo said it best when describing the new Casey's Black Rock. "It's a party bar with fat kid food," she quipped.
That's a departure from the previous iteration of Casey's Tavern, a longtime neighborhood dive at 484 Amherst St., not far from Wegmans, that closed in June 2018. Vincent Garofalo, Joelle's husband and a Casey's bartender for nearly four years, purchased the business and spent the next year and a half rehabbing and freshening the dilapidated bar.
Casey's Black Rock delivers on its promise of a lively atmosphere, with four themed pinball machines (South Park, AC/DC, Wrestlemania and the Sopranos), bubble hockey, an old-school Pac-Man arcade game, a Buffalo-made Super Kixx Pro and even a pseudo-lighthearted "penalty box" for unruly customers who need a brief timeout.
Local graffiti/tattoo artist Mic Excel helped with the eye-catching game room, which also touts a few tables for dining in. Football memorabilia of the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills – Vincent's two favorite NFL teams, in that order – is prominent behind the bar, as is a sign that reads, "No politics, no religion."
"We're not interested in being pretentious," Vincent said, describing his aim to run a neighborhood-friendly bar to suit any demographic. Casey's is essentially a sports bar with games, but with more character than others described by the same general traits.
The alcohol-free penalty box is a prime example, adding a layer of amusement while doubling as a chance for owners and bartenders to tame late-night cavorting (spilling a drink, causing a ruckus, starting an argument, any sort of mischief).
An oversized scoreboard in the main bar area counts down from 2 minutes, with an awkwardly loud buzzer sounding when the stay is over.
Silliness aside, given his history there, Vincent intentionally appealed to longtime neighborhood regulars – who took more than a year to win over, he remembers – in addition to the Garofalos' friends in the restaurant industry and whomever evolving Black Rock attracts.
"When you have a customer base that good for 50 years almost, they deserve the upgrade as much as anybody," Vincent said. "They come in and I see the look on their faces, and [they'll say], 'You did good, you kept it, it's still Casey's.' "
Two former Dapper Goose employees tag team the bar and kitchen: Alex Wenzel heads a straightforward, approachable bar program – from $8 Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds and negronis to simple throwbacks such as Utica Club, Bud heavies, Miller High Life and Kessler whiskey – but you'll also find the owners frequently behind the bar, too. Many will recognize Joelle from Aroma on Bryant, where she still holds one shift a week.
A solid wine list, six beer taps – which included two local selections, Community Beer Works and Big Ditch – and a slew of bottles round out the drink options.
Former Dapper Goose cook Ray Locke leads a kitchen focused on late-night comfort food – available until at least midnight, often later – without skimping on housemade ingredients.
The chicken-and-waffles bucket ($15) is a massive helping with crispy, flavorful coating on the chicken, a pleasant sweet-and-spicy combo when paired with the freshly made waffles. You'll need a friend to help finish this.
Deep-fried housemade pickles (five for $9), a Blooming Onion ($10) and deep-fried Oreos (five for $8) complete the "Carnival Eats" section of the menu.
The pulled pork sandwich ($12, with hand-cut fries) stands out thanks to the pickles and roll, as well as a Carolina-style barbecue sauce that heightens the zesty flavor. Tater Tot poutine ($10) was fairly imaginative, with real cheese curds and gravy complementing girthy Tater Tots.
Casey's popular fish fry ($15) – Fridays only – is carried over from the previous regime and is available battered, broiled or breaded with a litany of sides.
The Sunday Dinner special ($15), made with Vincent's Sicilian great-grandmother's Sunday Sauce recipe over rigatoni, comes with a meatball, garlic bread and Italian sausage. "A monster portion," Vincent said.
With cool food-and-drink businesses such as Dapper Goose, Rohall's Corner and Spar's European Sausage all within a few blocks of Casey's – between Grant Street and Wegmans – the Garofalos' new venture is a strong addition to the Black Rock landscape.
484 Amherst St.; 436-6959.
Hours: noon to 2 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, noon to 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday.