Illustration by David Saracino
This week, thousands of people are descending upon Western New York for the Congress for The New Urbanism, a national, annual event that promotes “walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions.” This year’s CNU promises to be especially awesome, its chosen locale “America’s Best Designed City,” Buffalo, New York! To celebrate this fantastic occasion, we’ve asked the equally fantastic urban planner, preservationist, and man-about-town Chris Hawley to guide us through his own ideal 24 Hours In Buffalo. An all-around Buffalover, Chris is the ultimate tour guide for this great rust belt town, taking you to some of the city’s best offerings and a few local secrets off the beaten path. —Max
Buffalo was one of the great industrial cities of America—one of its leading grain millers, steel producers, and manufacturers of everything from the Pierce Arrow to the Curtiss P-40. It was also one of the continent’s richest cities, generating the parks, architecture, and walkable neighborhoods that are now being lovingly restored. Buffalo is not everyone’s first choice as an urban getaway, yet I often find myself on staycation here on the “West Coast” of New York State. The ideal summer day consists of taking off from work and enjoying the good life that Buffalo has to offer, particularly on foot, on bike, or by transit. I don’t own a car by choice, and that’s the best way to experience the city. Join me! Buffalo may be the most magical place you’ve never thought about. —Chris Hawley
9 am – Instead of heading to the office at City Hall, I bike to my “second office” at Five Points Bakery, known best for its organic toast made with ingredients from local farmers. Five Points Bakery is the heartbeat of the emerging Five Points neighborhood, one of the most ethnically diverse in Buffalo. You can’t beat taking in the rays on the bakery stoop, enjoying walnut raisin toast, and watching the world go by.
11:00 am – I bike over to Martin Cooks in the historic Zink Block, one of the dozens of Buffalo projects recently completed using New York’s historic tax credit program. But tax credits aren’t why I’m going. I’m going for the “green pancakes” and a fine bloody Mary!
12:15 pm – I ride down Elmwood Ave. to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a temple to the arts modeled after the Erectheum. Henry-Russell Hitchcock said, “rarely have Greek columns in modern times appeared more graceful.” The gallery houses one of the continent’s best modern art collections. Nancy Rubins’ outdoor sculpture, “Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here,” strikes a chord with me.
1:00 pm – I bike around Hoyt Lake through Delaware Park, the crown jewel of Frederick Law Olmsted’s park and parkway system, America’s first. My next stop? The Darwin Martin House, likely Frank Lloyd Wright’s best realized example of his Prairie Style. It was built in 1905 when Buffalo was a hotbed for design innovation. Toshiko Mori’s Greatbatch Pavilion, completed in 2009, is evidence that this spirit has not been lost.
1:30 pm – I’m hungry for a snack! I head to Sweetness 7 Cafe, a few blocks from the Martin House on Parkside Ave. I struggle to decide between my two favorite crêpes, the Trippy Hippy or the Farms not Arms. I grab my hibiscus lemonade and take in more rays on the sidewalk veranda. Across the street, no joke, is a giraffe poking its head over a fence.
2:30 pm – I head back downtown on the Metro Rail—yes, Buffalo has a subway!—to downtown. On such a sunny summer day, how do I resist heading to the City Hall Observation Deck, even on my staycation? I go for it. This afternoon, I can see the mist from Niagara Falls and the CN Tower in Toronto.
3:15 pm – I’m adventurous, so I bike the scenic route from downtown to Larkin Square via Broadway, then Fillmore Ave. Many folks in Buffalo have forgotten about the East Side, but few places have such character, and a story to tell. I bike by the Colored Musicians Club and St. Ann’s Church to head to the Wilson Street Urban Farm, a family-operated farm which sells fresh, naturally-grown produce to neighborhood residents. After saying hello to the Stevens’ family, I bike down Fillmore Ave., peeking over my left to Buffalo Central Terminal, a Deco landmark that dramatically terminates the Paderewski St. vista.
4:00 pm – I’m now at Larkin Square, which is likely best known for Food Truck Tuesdays, a summer food truck corral that would top anything in Austin or Portland. Today, however, I’m simply stopping by to lounge with a book in an Adirondack chair, and maybe, if I run into someone I know, play some pickleball!
5:30 pm – It’s time to head to the Old First Ward for a brewski at Gene McCarthy’s, an Irish tavern and microbrewery in the shadow of Buffalo’s grain elevators, themselves a sight to behold! My grandmother used to hang out at McCarthy’s when she was my age. Now I’m taking her spot at the bar, holding a pint of the brewery’s Crickrat Kolsch. I’m holding my appetite for dinner later, even though I know McCarthy’s special wing recipe is the best in town.
6:30 pm – I bike back downtown, and pick up the Niagara bus—by the way, buses have bike racks—to go to Sun International in Black Rock. Buffalo is attracting scores of immigrants, many of them refugees from Burma. Sun International started as a Burmese grocery with a small food counter in back, and nowadays there’s a line going out the door. At the server’s recommendation, I order Kyit Thar Aloo Hin. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t matter. I know I’ll love it!
8:00 pm – I ride down Hertel Ave. to Més Que, Buffalo’s soccer bar. I’m not even a big soccer fan, but I can’t get enough of this place. When the World Cup hits the airwaves, I’m there with a local beer in hand!
9:30 pm – I ring up some friends to hit up the latest film at the North Park Theatre, a neighborhood movie house which, according to an account of its 1920 opening, rivaled “in beauty and appointment that of any opera house in America.” I go as much for the independent and foreign films as I do for the architecture—and the fresh popcorn with real butter.
11:30 pm – The night is still young. I bike back to Allentown to grab a few more brews, perhaps of the Belgian trappist variety, at Allen Street Hardware Cafe. If I stay up as late as 4 am—that’s when bars close in Buffalo—I’ll close out the night at the Pink, 223 Allen St., the diviest bar in the Rust Belt!
A few extra picks if you decide to stay longer!
Eat + Drink