Buffalo is authentic. When you get off the interstate and set foot in Buffalo theres a distinct sense of place thats reflected in the turn-of-the-century homes, in the family-owned restaurants, in the street festivals that make every weekend from May through October a time of celebration. For visitors in search of the undiscovered, overlooked and real, Buffalo comes as an unexpected surprise.
So what are some of the surprises in store for the visitor to Buffalo?
Crowds filling the nightclubs and bars of funky and fun Chippewa Street; blocks of one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants in the eclectic Elmwood Village; one of the most impressive collections of modern and contemporary art in the world at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; distinctive regional dishes like beef-on-weck and foot-long charbroiled hot dogs; an opulent European style opera house at Sheas Performing Arts Center; and an internationally acclaimed symphony the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra that performs in a concert hall considered one of the finest in the world.
Buffalo also has National Historic Landmarks designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) , Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson and other American masters; tree-filled parks and parkways lined by some of the most impressive 19th century homes youll find anywhere; as well as a vibrant theater scene comprised of fourteen professional companies.
Clearly, Buffalo is not what you may think. It is, as Buffalo-born playwright A.R. Gurney once observed, both a small town and a big cityÂ with all the warmth and charm of the former and many of the amenities and attractions of the latter.
For The History Buff
Buffalo history was the quintessential 19th Century boomtown, a city that grew prodigiously from its humble origins as a frontier village to a sprawling center of manufacturing and industry that generated immense wealth for many of its citizens. Its position at the western end of the Erie Canal made it the Gateway to the West the departure point for millions of immigrants on their way to the American heartland.
Buffalo was also one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad, a beacon for runaway slaves seeking freedom on the far side of the Niagara River. Battles were fought here, the city put to the torch during the War of 1812. Fortunes were made here by the likes of a young William G. Fargo, founder of Virtuoso and Wells Fargo. President William McKinley was assassinated here at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition and his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, took the oath of office at the Wilcox Mansion, now a National Historic Site. What would become great American industries automobile and aerospace had their origins in Buffalo.
The men and women who came of age during Buffalos heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were people of vision and they put their wealth to work on behalf of this then-growing city, bringing the best and brightest of the era to Buffalo to build its parks, design its buildings and shape its emerging contours. The fortunes that were generated by the shipping, steel, auto and milling industries helped to fashion and furnish the emerging city a city that by 1900 was the eighth largest in the United States.
A City Re-born
Today, a new generation is restoring Buffalos turn-of-the-century legacy. Many of Buffalos landmark buildings are being returned to their past glory and former warehouses, department stores and manufacturing plants are finding new life as offices and lofts. Frederick Law Olmsteds parks have been reinvigorated by a forward thinking conservancy. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has a new executive director who has brought renewed energy and passion to the Gallerys mission of collecting and exhibiting the very best of modern and contemporary art. The Burchfield-Penney Art Center, devoted to the work of visionary watercolorist Charles Burchfield, is currently building a new state-of-the-art home, the first new museum built in Buffalo in 100 years. Other cultural institutions are experiencing a similar revival. At the Buffalo Zoo, two state-of-the-art aquatic habitats have opened and work has begun on an 18,000-square-foot South American Rainforest exhibit.
Around the corner from the Zoo, in the citys Parkside neighborhood, a $40 million dollar re-construction and restoration of Frank Lloyd Wrights Darwin D. Martin House Complex is nearing completion. Considered by many historians to be the finest example extant of Wrights Prairie Style, (and the largest residential complex he ever designed), the Martin House Complex is open for tours while the construction work continues.
Buffalo is also investing in the restoration of Wrights Graycliff Estate, located on a 70-foot cliff overlooking Lake Erie in nearby Derby, as well as the National Historic Landmark Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, a center of the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
Other investments in new visitor attractions include the Erie Canal Harbor on the citys waterfront, just north of HSBC Arena, home of the National Hockey League Buffalo Sabres. This $50 million dollar project includes the excavation and restoration of the original terminus of the Erie Canal that linked New York City and the Atlantic seaboard with Lake Erie and the interior of the continent. It was here that Buffalo first bloomed as a city of significance and helped shape the future of a nation. The project will include a recreation of the original Central Wharf and surrounding cobblestone streets, as well as interpretive exhibits intended to bring the sites history to life.
Elsewhere in downtown Buffalo, work is proceeding on the development of the Michigan Avenue Heritage Corridor, a new tourism destination that will highlight the citys role as a pivotal stop on the Underground Railroad , and later as a major center in the Civil Rights Movement. Here a visitor will be able to experience the perspective of a runaway slave as they hid from bounty hunters in the basement of the Michigan Street Baptist Church. Or step into the shoes of the Reverend Jesse Edward Nash as he led the struggle for civil rights from his home newly restored and re-named as the Nash House Museum. Across the street, the venerable Colored Musicians Club remains a safe harbor for the citys jazz musicians, much as it has since the days when jazz legends like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald graced its stage.
Stay, Play, Shop and Eat
Among Buffalos finest cultural attractions is Sheas Performing Arts Center on Main Street in the downtown Theatre District. Described by founder Michael Shea as the eighth wonderÂ of the world when it was constructed in 1926, Sheas first served as a movie theater before finding new life in recent years as a home for The Lion King,Â Mama Mia,Â Hairspray,Â Movin OutÂ and other touring Broadway shows, concerts, and dance performances. The 3200-seat theater is awe-inspiring a baroque masterpiece designed by the men now regarded as the masters of movie palace architecture C.W. and George Rapp complete with an interior design from the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Other theaters of note include The Alleyway, Irish Classical Theatre Company, Kavinoky, Ujima and MusicalFare. For a city of its size, Buffalo has a remarkably robust lively arts scene.
Dining in Buffalo means more than chicken wings at the legendary Anchor Bar, although that slice of culinary history remains a must stop for most visitors. Buffalo has more than its share of outstanding restaurants, ranging from upscale steak houses like the Buffalo Chophouse to traditional French restaurants such as the Rue Franklin to cozy Sushi bars like Kibarashi and Kunis in the citys Elmwood Village. Recent additions to the citys culinary scene include the pan-Asian Papaya in the Hampton Inn downtown, the delightful and delicious Ming CafÃƒÂ©, a truly noteworthy Chinese restaurant in University Heights, and Tempo, an unpretentious bistro located in a beautiful turn-of-century building in the citys charming Allentown neighborhood.
Street fairs and festivals are also part of Buffalos heritage. Whether its Irish dancing, Polish sausage, Italian heritage or African American history, theres always something to celebrate in Buffalo. No matter what the season or time of year Buffalonians are having a party somewhere, and hoping youll join us. Among the highlights are the annual Taste of Buffalo, the second largest tasteÂ in America, the Allentown Art Festival, for 50 years one of the premier arts and crafts festivals in the country, and the National Buffalo Wing Festival, the hot and spicy celebration of the local delicacy that Buffalo gave to the world.
Buffalo also has a burgeoning reputation for shopping. Visitors particularly our neighbors from nearby Ontario comment on the great deals and superb variety to be found in the regions many malls and shopping districts. While the Walden Galleria, Boulevard Mall and Fashion Outlets of Niagara have long been destinations of choice for out-of-town shoppers, the citys Elmwood Village is attracting attention for its diverse array of antique stores, gift shops and other one-of-a-kind retail outlets. In fact, the Elmwood Village was recently named one of the top ten neighborhoods in the United States by the American Planning Association. East Aurora also promises a unique experience for shoppers interested in antiques and collectibles and the chance to stroll along a charming Main Street that recalls an era of simple pleasures and genteel pastimes.