Buffalo’s Cafe Fargo

by Maxwell Tielman

Even as little as five years ago, one would be hard-pressed to find an instance of the terms “Buffalo, NY” and “cutting-edge design” paired together — at least as far as the latter half of the 20th century is concerned. This is why, as a diehard devotee of this fabulous Rust Belt gem, I think I can speak for all Buffalonians when I express just how happy I am that these days seem to be over. Now that my beloved hometown has entered into what appears to be a full-blown Renaissance with Millenials flocking there to “live like kings,” the Queen City’s design scene has gone from a quiet peripheral whisper to, if I may speak frankly, STRAIGHT BALLER.

Take, for example, this newly constructed project space by local architectural firm Davidson Rafailidis. Code-named “Cafe Fargo,” this formally experimental, aesthetically fresh space is housed within a former deli on one of the Queen City’s stunning residential blocks. As rich in ideas as it is in beauty, the space combines centuries-old building methods and aesthetics with modern, energy-saving ideals to create something remarkably new.

“Typically, for a hospitality space, a large amount of the construction budget goes into mechanical systems that provide a uniform indoor climate throughout the year,” the architect notes. “With a tight budget, we took the opposite approach and transformed these invisible mechanical services into two experiential architectural elements that emphasize the distinct pleasures of summer and winter.” Employing Derbyshire, England’s 1590 Hardwick Hall as a case study, the architectural team turned to the decidedly old school technology of Kachelofen — masonry heaters — to heat the space in the winter and gigantic windows to keep everything breezy in the summer. Covered in black and white patterned encaustic tile, the Kachelofen at Cafe Fargo is the largest in North America, emanating heat throughout the space and through an attached heated bench.

To capture the beauty of this unique space, Davidson and Rafailidis turned to the German photographer Florian Holzherr whose images showcase the fantastic potential of Cafe Fargo. “We wanted someone who could really capture the soft, matte finishes in the space, and also a photographer who was used to conveying an architectural idea,” architect Stephanie Davidson says. “He had never been to Buffalo (not a big surprise), but was very engaged in his three days here.” Check out all of Florian’s photos in the slideshow, along with additional notes on the design of Cafe Fargo! —Max

[UPDATE: Thanks to D*S reader Justine, we’ve heard this cafe is now called TIPICO]

Cafe Fargo's Kachelofen is the largest in North America and consists of a tiled tower and adjoining heated bench.
Since the architects were able to avoid installing ductwork because of their non-traditional heating and cooling system, the space's original ceiling remained unobstructed.
The cafe's large windows wrap around the entire space and open in the summer to let in the cool Lake Erie breeze.
To accomodate the various seating heights found throughout the cafe, the architects designed a custom table that rises on along a threaded rod.

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