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Buffalo Spree's 2012 Best of WNY Winners


This is year seven for Buffalo Spree’s best of WNY. Each year, we determine the area’s finest by combining the deliberations of three expert panels with the votes of our readers. Each year, the categories change, just to keep it exciting. Agree or disagree? Be sure to let us know by posting here in the comments section.

Thanks to Spree’s panelists and writers: Bruce Adams, William C. Altreuter, Nina Barone, Alan Bedenko, Julia Burke, Don Burtless, Bryan Calandrelli, Rachel Fix Dominguez, Bruce Eaton, Jana Eisenberg, Seamus Gallivan, Donna Hoke, Cheryl Jackson, Meg Knowles, Elizabeth Licata, Darwin McPherson, Jane Mogavero, Barry A. Muskat, Nancy J. Parisi, Kevin Purdy, Christopher Schobert, Maria Scrivani, Christa Glennie Seychew, Joe Sweeney, Margaret M. Toohey, James Walkowiak, and Ryan Weaver.




Best chef to watch
Chris Dorsaneo


No one thought that a guy who co-owns and cooks for a taco truck could take on—much less defeat— Chef J.J. Richert from Torches in a Nickel City Chef competition held this past April, but that’s exactly what happened. It underscores that Lloyd’s Taco Truck isn’t just some taco stand on wheels, but a unique and innovative pioneer that has come best to symbolize the local variant of the nationwide food truck movement: good, unique food served up by talented chefs from a kitchen that happens to be mobile. Dorsaneo’s truck-based menu is great, but watch for bigger and better things as the Lloyd boys bring a second truck online, and perhaps turn street food from a beater truck into genuine cuisine.


Lloyd Taco Truck (Mobile) on Urbanspoon


Chef who should get a book deal
Mike Andrzejewski (Cantina Loco, Mike A at Lafayette, Seabar)

It is not inconceivable that Russian author Leo Tolstoy was aware of the motorcycle during his lifetime. After all, he lived until 1910 and the first motorcycle was introduced by Otto Daimler in 1885. The point being stretched here is that a Tolstoy, so deft at describing the hopes and aspirations of his subjects, seems perfectly suited for the role of biographer of chef Mike Andrzejewski, owner of the iconic Seabar, hot spot Cantina Loco and the recently opened steak house bearing his name at the newly-rejuvenated Lafayette Hotel. Of course, the motorcycle reference is necessary since a pivotal event in Andrzejewski’s life is the serious motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his life and did cost him a leg. The event and its aftermath left him with a deeper perspective, restarting and refocusing his long rise from busboy to the status of being singled out by the late gourmand R. W. Apple, Jr. of the New York Times, as “Buffalo’s only celebrity chef.”  No doubt others have joined him in that category (see the Nickel City Chef cooks-offs for some good culinary names, including rising stars and established celebs), but as life stories go, few could be more redemptive and as satisfying as that of Mike Andrzejewski.



Best power lunch

291 Seneca St., 716-856-9187, ilovechefs.com.

Come to Chef’s for lunch on any given weekday and you’re bound to see someone you recognize, whether it be someone in the media, a politician, or a group of local apparatchiks being feted by someone who wants to bend their ears. The room has everything you’d want from a power lunch joint: great, iconic, cheap food, attentive service, the ability to sit there unrushed, and a large dining area where you can’t help but scan the faces of people who have positioned themselves in such a way that they can easily be scanned. Overhear jobs being won or lost, deals being made or broken, and witness the engine that propels our struggling burg wheezing its way towards tomorrow.


Chef's on Urbanspoon


Best workday lunch

1 Lafayette Square, 716-858-7127, fablescafe.com.

Some may say Downtown’s Central Library was revived by the addition of this streamlined café several years ago, and we couldn’t agree more. The line moves quickly (but not so quickly that you can’t snag one of their addictive peanut butter brownies before paying), so don’t let the popularity of this hotspot send you elsewhere. Fresh, made-in-house soups, sizeable and boldly flavored sandwiches and salads, and a good assortment of drinks, sides, and desserts make us wish there was a Fables closer to our offices. We’d probably sample the entire menu eventually, but it would be tough to move beyond the imaginative and satisfying list of daily specials.


Fables Cafe on Urbanspoon


Best soup
Lagerhaus 95

95 Perry St., 716-200-1798, lagerhaus95.com.

You know it’s good when an entry like “African peanut soup” wins Best in Taste over a few hundred interpretations of chicken noodle, broccoli cheddar, and pasta fagioli, which is just what happened at this year’s Soupfest. Lagerhaus chef Jamie Zynda has built a menu around fresh ingredients and simple preparations, and her dedication to making delicious soups is no different. Where many restaurants use powdered stock bases, or simply thaw and reheat “pre-fab” soups, Lagerhaus makes everything from-scratch in-house, and you can taste the difference. Whether it’s hearty, well-loved comfort classics, or inventive and masterful presentations of lesser-known recipes, Lagerhaus is the place to go for a satisfying soup experience. (The vibe, proximity to downtown, and the killer egg and caramelized onion-topped “Hindenburger” don’t hurt, either!)


Lagerhaus 95 on Urbanspoon


Best spa/healthy menu
Liquid Energy

298 Main St., 716-572-3247, liquidenergyjuicebarcafe.com.

Liquid Energy is known mostly for its juices. This is the downtown place to get smoothies (glorified milkshakes with added nutritive features), raw juice drinks, and wheatgrass shots. It’s a tiny little stand, nestled away in the Cathedral Square building downtown facing Main Street that also supports a Subway and the Globe Market’s downtown location. If juice-as-lunch isn’t for you, try one of the healthy wraps, rice bowls, or quesadillas made fresh from wholesome ingredients. The turkey avocado wrap on whole wheat has pure honey, dried cranberries, and comes with a fresh salad. It makes for a satisfying and healthy lunch.


Liquid Energy Juice Bar and Cafe on Urbanspoon


Best BBQ
Suzy Q's

2829 Niagara St., 716-873-0757/716-873-5981, suzy-que.blogspot.com.

The best barbecue in Buffalo is served up in a small, nondescript building tucked away just north of Riverside, near the Tonawanda Powertrain plant. Bob and Suzy will make you want to nap all afternoon with their Piggy Pie: fries, pork, salsa, and beans. They’ll also tempt you with delicious, smoky BBQ ribs accompanied by homemade sides. If you want to try something truly outstanding, order a 2 meat heap—hold the bread—and ask for the pulled pork and the smoked Polish sausage. That sausage should rightfully be a culinary destination in its own right. The creamy, delicious cole slaw goes great with it, and—unlike other places—Suzy Q’s respects you enough to let you sauce your own meat, rather than deliver it with a massive glob of liquid brown sugar.


Suzy Q's Barbeque Shack on Urbanspoon


Best brunch
Trattoria Aroma

307 Bryant St., 716-881-7592, thearomagroup.com.

Taste the difference that locally grown foods make at Trattoria Aroma. On a relaxed Sunday morning, you can indulge in the flavors of eggs from Alden, pork from Dayton, and lettuce from Massachusetts Avenue. Composed entrees are available, but it’s fun to mix the nearly dozen sides and free pastries into your own thing.  


Trattoria Aroma on Urbanspoon


Best coffee
414 Amherst St., 716-881-2022, delishblackrock.com.

Delish gets its coffee from Stumptown, a Portland, Oregon-based company known in equal parts for acquiring the world’s finest coffee and for demanding it be prepared and served properly. That means that Stumptown signed off on Delish only after vetting its storing, turnover, brewing, extracting, and cleaning protocols. All of which would be pointless if the coffee itself wasn’t great, but it is. The espresso drinks have more actual coffee punch than most, and the coffee itself hits a lot of notes beyond “dark” and “hot.”


Delish Cooking School and Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon


Best cookies
Sarah Walley

Available at Zillycakes and Nickel City Cheese Mercantile, 716-638-0317

Sarah Walley’s mission is not just to sell macarons, which, in her capable kitchen, turn out as impossibly light, crisp-shelled, almond-tinged meringue cookies, holding a bit of rich filling that creates a rewarding 5-layer texture. Walley must also differentiate her creations from double “o” macaroons, the coconut and chocolate hunks that live on the opposite side of the subtlety table. But she doesn’t take it too seriously. Among the limoncello, strawberry rhubarb, “Thin Mint,” and vanilla bean, there’s a “Macaroon macaron,” which blends coconut, chocolate, and a sense of humor. 



Best new restaurant
Black Rock Kitchen & Bar

491 Amherst St., 716-551-0261, blackrockkitchenandbar.com.

There is a nice midpoint between experimentation and crowd-pleasing, and Black Rock Kitchen seems pretty comfortable there. There is bone marrow, minimalist beet-and-cheese plates, and duck confits, but there is also a solid beer list, a burger that’s just “as you like it,” and a really simple, comfort-food-focused dessert menu. It’s both a destination restaurant for a changing neighborhood, and a comfortable place to try some new dishes.


Black Rock Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon


Best bread
Elm Street Bakery

72 Elm St., 716-652-4720, elmstreetbakery.com.

Elm Street Bakery makes artisan breads using simple ingredients and traditional leavening techniques. “Fresh, Wholesome, Local and Seasonal” is the motto of this family-owned business housed in a warm and rustic renovated mill. The breads feature a fermented starter, which provides easier digestion and a sophisticated flavor you won’t find elsewhere in the region. All breads are mixed, shaped, and baked by hand, and their brick oven uses 10,000-year-old technology—conduction, convection, and radiation in one. Some of our favorites include sourdough, caraway rye, ciabatta, sesame semolina, vollkornbrot, and grandma’s feather (cinnamon-raisin). Grab a loaf to go, or sit and enjoy your bread as part of a sandwich or accompaniment to soup. The bakery also offers pastries, freshly roasted coffee, salads, pizzas, granola, and a host of local goods.


Elm Street Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon


Best Asian restaurant
Tie: Peking Quick One and Sun International Foods

359 Somerville Ave., Tonawanda 716-381-8730.

Peking Quick One is a relative newcomer to the Asian restaurant scene in Western New York, but food lovers across the region are embracing the “secret” homestyle menu at this unassuming Chinese restaurant. There’s not much better than going for a meal in a surprising location (in this case, a strip mall in Tonawanda) and finding food that transports your tastebuds to another continent.

Peking Quick One on Urbanspoon


1989 Niagara St., 716-447-0202, sunfoodmarket.net.

The availability of outstanding Burmese food is one of the West Side’s many culinary treasures, and there’s no better place to experience it than tiny, unassuming Sun International Foods. There’s unbeatable Thai on the menu as well, plus enough Chinese and Korean fare to offer something recognizable for everyone. Add low prices and great service, and it’s easy to see why Sun is one of Niagara Street’s most beloved spots.

Sun Food Market and Restaurant on Urbanspoon



Best atmosphere
475 Ellicott St., 716-332-2928, seabarsushi.com

The sleek bar, impeccable and colorful lighting, modern furniture, and chic clientele make Seabar a gorgeous dining and drinking environment. It’s a destination. It’s upscale and approachable in one. It's what we’ve needed in the downtown area for years. Quality meals, skillfully made cocktails, and outstanding service add to the energy that turns first-time patrons into regulars. Experience Seabar from all angles: sit at the sushi bar, partake in the dining room, and gaze across the bar to see who just strolled into the hippest place in town. And don’t be shy about ending the evening with sake JELL-O shots.


Sea Bar Downtown on Urbanspoon


Best seasonal menu
Bistro Europa
484 Elmwood Ave., 716-884-1100, europabuffalo.com.

Working with local farmers, such as Dan Tower Farm, Painted Meadow Farm, and Native Offerings, Bistro Europa’s owners, Steve and Ellen Gedra, incorporate European philosophies of using the freshest, best quality ingredients to make simple and delicious dishes. Each plate is made with care, from appetizer to dessert. Bistro Europa embodies the notion that when the details are minded, it makes a tremendous difference in the flavors you encounter. With regular menu additions to suit the availability of ingredients, there are as many old favorites as there are playful and enticing specials.


Bistro Europa on Urbanspoon


Best wine list
Mother’s Restaurant

33 Virginia Pl., 716-882-2989.

There are many ways to judge a wine list: by its size and scale, the depth of cellared or aged wines, and the markup on prices. It is static, or ever-changing? Does it have an extensive by-the-glass selection? Is the list following current trends or is it stuck in the last decade’s fashionable grapes? (California Merlot, anyone?) Mother’s in Allentown gets straight As in all of the above. The restaurant has a thoughtful by the glass selection with prices that can go toe to toe with other restaurants who serve inferior wines named Cupcake and Barefoot. But with the depth and value of its bottle list here, there’s an excuse to buy in bulk. Here’s how the restaurant’s bottles break down: there are 2 lists: one for “everyday” bottles (that is, if you drink Chateauneuf and Brunello every day) and another “Stash” list, which includes rarer, older, and more selective offerings.  A Super Tuscan called Crognolo that retails for $42 is listed for $49, an ’01 Barolo goes for just $78 and a truly wine-geek-approved ’99 Musar red blend from Lebanon for $57 are just a few reasons why Mother’s wins hands-down.


Mother's on Urbanspoon


Best winery
Arrowhead Spring Vineyards

4746 Lockport Town Line Rd., Lockport, 716-434-8030, arrowheadspringvineyards.com.

This Cambria winery makes some seriously delicious wines on the Niagara Escarpment. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay are all grown on Duncan and Robin Ross’ farm, and the winemakers spare no expense when it comes to crafting wines they like to drink.
Patience is the key with Arrowhead’s reds, as barrel aging can last anywhere from 12 to 24 months depending on the variety and vintage. The Rosses like their Chardonnay in oak and their reds blended. Their red Meritage blends are their most recognizable labels, but they’ve also made a case for Niagara Syrah and affordable pinot noir.
While Arrowhead isn’t alone in making this style or level of quality in local wine, the winery is the most successful at getting its wines out there to the public. The winery enjoys wide distribution in WNY, and can be easily found in wine shops and restaurants. If you want to taste great local wine, chances are Arrowhead will be an option no matter where you dine or buy.



Best beer selection
Blue Monk

727 Elmwood Ave., 716-882-6665, bluemonkbflo.com.

Blue Monk regularly posts what’s pouring from their 32 tap lines on their Facebook page, and lists their bottle collection on their website. That alone could make it the best browsing spot for beer. Knowing what’s there, you can plan out a night that travels from smoky malts to citrus-tinged hops, or starts at Tipple Dark Norse Ale and ends with San Francisco’s finest craft brews. But it’s the adventurous choices and rare finds that make the Monk the place to really enjoy an actual beer—a Brettanomyces Lambicus Special Edition from Bayerischer Bahnhof might never come around again.


Blue Monk on Urbanspoon


Best new bar

253 Allen St., 716-240-9359, dukesbohemiangrovebar.com.

What we want from a bar can vary from day to day and person to person, but there are a few “staples” (pun intended). Great service. Great drink selection. Great music. Great vibe. DBGB’s satisfies on every level with friendly, attentive bar staff; a wonderful selection of microbrews as well as standard drinks, and even an assortment of stemware for the beers; outstanding music with a separate dance area and fantastic DJs; and an atmosphere that somehow manages to balance down-to-earth with unassailably cool no matter what time of night.



Best cocktails

220 Lexington Ave., 716-551-6262, verapizzeria.com.

The bartenders at Vera have taken it upon themselves to elevate cocktails back to their former art form, starting with the best ingredients available (ask them about their vermouth) and employing an encyclopedic knowledge of mixology, a chef’s creative instincts, and technique perfected with a flair for showmanship. Order a drink here and your Vera experience will begin before you even open your tab; the bar staff’s pre-Prohibition-era attire, dapper facial hair, and easy banter as they toss around glasses and garnishes with the ease of circus performers combine for a trip back in time. Sip, and you’ll understand why these folks are so passionate about bringing that back, and why Vera’s become the hottest watering hole in town. 


Vera Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


Best bartender
Tie: Louie Leone at Oliver’s and Drew Love at Cantina Loco

2095 Delaware Ave., 716-877-9662, oliverscuisine.com.

Belly up to the bar at Oliver’s and you get the sense immediately that the entire customer base is there for one reason: Louie Leone. He’s a bartender in the classic tradition: white shirt and tie, a genial gift of gab as well as a gift for remembering names, professional down to the bone. Leone may not be the reason the bar is curved in a U-shape with him at the center, but it certainly suits him.

Oliver's on Urbanspoon


191 Allen St., 716-551-0160, catinaloco.com.

Drew Love, on the other hand, manages a bar often four-deep with thirsty Allentown pub crawlers on the hunt for tequila, and amid flashy food and a loud crowd he’s still an attraction all his own. Formerly the best thing about the Old Pink, Love is in his element amid the supercharged energy at Cantina, lending his prowess to phenomenal cocktails and the kind of impeccable service that saves a hot spot like Cantina from feeling inaccessible.

Cantina Loco on Urbanspoon


Best farm

3105 County Line Rd., Corfu, (585) 599-3462, promisedlandcsa.com.

Oles Farm, located in Alden, is a family endeavor. It’s the home of Promised Land CSA, one of the most popular of the Community Supported Agriculture programs in Western New York, and also the home of Daniel and Jane Oles, farmers extraordinaire. The combination of bountiful land, wonderful personalities, and delicious produce makes Oles our pick for Best Farm.



Best kids’ menu
Pizza Plant

The kids’ menu at Pizza Plant (with locations on Main Street and on Transit Road) is a great deal. For only $3.69 at lunch or dinner, children can choose from perennial favorites like mac & cheese, spaghetti, chicken fingers, or pizza. But they can also get one of Pizza Plant’s specialty pods, in mini form. These pods come with a plethora of options for type of crust, sauce, cheese, vegetable, and meat (or meatless). These choices will accommodate even the pickiest of picky eaters. And Pizza Plant’s atmosphere is completely kid-friendly. They’ll even give your children an individual serving of dough to play with (à la clay) while you’re waiting for your meal. 


Pizza Plant on Urbanspoon


Best steak sandwich

Tie: Hutch’s and 223 Allen St (aka The Old Pink)

1375 Delaware Ave., 716-885-0074, hutchsrestaurant.com.

We have talked about both of these delicious steak sandwiches before; they are so good people remember them long past their most recent visit to either of the institution’s that serve them. Hutch’s beloved version takes its cue from the Pittsuburghian pioneers, Primanti Brothers, by adding coleslaw and crispy fries to its ingredient list—just when you thought it would be impossible to improve upon the combo of toasted roll, perfectly grilled NY strip steak, and melted mozzarella cheese. It’s a house favorite and you’re likely to spot several folks at the restaurant’s quaint backroom bar, indulging in this sweet, salty, and savory flavor combination.

Hutch's on Urbanspoon


223 Allen St.

Down the street in Allentown, Buffalo’s best dive bar serves up a steak sandwich that once landed the joint in GQ magazine and has a devoted following on Facebook (really, check it out). When wine enthusiasts speak of terrior, (the flavor inherent in wine based on the natural conditions in which the grapes were raised) you might not think of an Old Pink sammy, but the flavor imparted by the tavern’s well-worn grill might be considered the sandwich’s secret ingredient. A whole strip steak tops a roll of ideal density, augmented by the smoky-sweet condiment of flame-licked peppers and onions. Rounding out this edible experience requires little more than the addition of an ironic can of ice cold PBR.

The Old Pink on Urbanspoon


Best appetizers
Tie: Sinatra’s and Bacchus

Increasingly, restaurant guests are crafting their own experience by making meals composed of many appetizers, as opposed to the more traditional 3-course event. It allows them to sample more of the chef’s work, and to taste a wide variety of things—even sharing with others to enjoy a more communal dining experience.

56 W. Chippewa St., 716-854-9463, ultimaterestaurants.com/bacchus.

At Bacchus, guests make selections from an appetizer menu that changes with the season, showcasing chef Brian Mietus’s understanding of flavorful, contemporary dishes that marry particularly well with the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Better yet, if you fall in love with a particular dish, it can be sized up to an entrée, and all of the menu’s entrées can be sized down, making it simple to devise a meal suited to your individual preferences.

Bacchus Wine Bar on Urbanspoon


938 Kenmore Ave., 716-877-9419, sinatraswny.com.

Sinatra’s app menu reads traditional Italian-American, with classic offerings like stuffed peppers and antipasto. But what sets them apart is that the execution of these recipes is always on-point, making some of them the best examples of their all-too-often poorly copied counterparts. Take, for example, Chef Sinatra’s sautéed fava beans, painstakingly peeled and seasoned deftly with just the right amount of garlic, or the Artichoke Francaise, crunchy and flavorful from its delicate egg and breading treatment. But readers shouldn’t feel obliged to order either of these to understand Sinatra’s inclusion here—it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with any of the selections on Sinatra’s proven and perfected short list of classic appetizers.

Sinatra's Trilogy on Urbanspoon


Best small plates

242 Allen St., 883-1675, samplerestaurantbuffalo.com.

Since opening, Allentown’s Sample has earned a reputation for its inventive hors d’oeuvres-sized edibles, but a recent reworking of the menu includes a full-tilt offering of tantalizing small plates and larger platters designed for sharing. We suggest you check out the menu, which includes drool-licious lobster poutine, fluffy ricotta gnocchi, and crispy melt-in-your-mouth slow braised pork belly accompanied by mustard caviar and braised cabbage. A creative approach to salads introduces warm asparagus with roasted mushroom chips, or the “Bacon & Egg,” with frisee, pickled shallots, lardons, and a fried duck egg. Since none of the above-mentioned dishes are priced at more than $11, stopping in to sample an assortment of Sample’s new, tricked out small plates seems like a necessary addition to any foodie’s dining schedule.


Sample on Urbanspoon


Best waitstaff
Rue Franklin

341 Franklin St., 716-852-4416, ruefranklin.com.

Anyone who has dined at “the Rue” will not be surprised to learn that the well-appointed French restaurant has taken this Best of catergory 2 years in a row. The service is informed, formal without being stiff, and attentive without hovering. But the true test of any front-of-the-house staff may just be how well they react to the unexpected. A recent arrival of 5 guests, without a reservation, at 7 p.m. on a weekend theater night clinched the deal—tables were quickly pushed together and dressed, our party was seated with no wait time, and the waiter did not treat us as if we had crashed a private party. The Rue Franklin has a long-standing sterling reputation for excellent service and they’ve earned it.


Rue Franklin on Urbanspoon


Best place to dine with a large group
Salvatore’s Italian Gardens

6461 Transit Rd., Depew, 716-683-7990, salvatores.net.

Few establishments in Western New York have the capacity to successfully serve food of good quality to large groups, and Salvatore’s tops that list. Whether your party is 15 co-workers having a holiday meal or 1,500 celebrating a wedding or anniversary, Salvatore’s—with its approachable menu and over-the-top décor—provide ample comfort and entertainment no matter the occasion or diversity of your group.


Salvatore's Italian Gardens on Urbanspoon


Best dessert menu
Tie: Shango and Carmelo’s

There is no question that WNYers have a serious sweet tooth. The sheer number of chocolate makers and ice cream stands provide ample evidence to back our observation, but sadly this obsession doesn’t always translate to the restaurant industry, where desserts take a back seat to nearly every other aspect of the business. That isn’t the case with these 2 fine dining favorites.

425 Center St., Lewiston, 754-2311, carmelos-restaurant.com.

Lewiston’s Carmelo’s is a bastion of sumptuous Italian dishes and cured meats, but the restaurant’s seasonal approach to simple, well-made fresh desserts is notable. Take, for example, the delicate and ultra-creamy tarragon and pink grapefruit panna cotta, served with a housemade lemon biscotti, or the traditional tiramisu, upgraded with a scoop of housemade Nutella ice cream. We encourage you to enjoy the full dining experience at Carmelo’s, but whatever you do, save room for dessert.

Carmelo's Coat of Arms Restaurant on Urbanspoon


3260 Main St., 837-2326, shangobistro.com.

Shango—the New Orleans-themed bistro and wine bar located in University Heights—has won the accolades of many since opening. Best gumbo, best brunch, best beer offerings—it’s tough to keep track of them all. And their commitment to offering consistently tempting and delicious desserts is no less well-played, with classics like molten chocolate cake, a divine Southern pecan pie paired perfectly with housemade coconut ice cream, or the made-to-share Bananas Foster, that marvelous age-old pairing of hot, sweet, and aromatic fruit with cold vanilla ice cream and a rich caramel sauce.

Shango on Urbanspoon


Best candy shop


Watson’s Chocolates of Distinction has been a family-owned and operated business in WNY since 1946. With 8 retail locations across the area, it’s easy to feel like a kid in a candy shop at Watson’s. From their renowned sponge candy to their Buffalo-oriented chocolate confections, Watson’s has something to satisfy the cravings of even the most discriminating sweet tooth. Their storefronts harken back to the candy shops of old, and many Buffalo expats make trips to Watson’s a regular part of their routine when home for a visit.




Best place for a drink after work—suburbs
Tie: 800 Maple and Brennan’s Bowery Bar

800 Maple, Amherst, 716-688-5800, 800maple.com.

For after-work drinks—with friends, colleagues, or a new online date—800 Maple always has the right atmosphere. Ample space surrounding a long, winding bar means it’s always intimate, but never crowded. Bartenders are just friendly enough—i.e. they’ll make a joke, but won’t join your conversation uninvited—and whatever your poison, they can mix it. Wine lovers will be satisfied by the healthy by-the-glass and impressive by-the-bottle lists (if you happen to work on Sundays, your after-work bottle will be half price). Best of all, if you get hungry, you can rest easy knowing that the menu comes from the same folks who bring you Siena, Oliver’s, and the new Rocco’s in Williamsville—bar food doesn’t have to be burgers and wings anymore. We recommend the wood-fired gourmet pizzas, nine unique combinations that ensure the perfect match for any libation.

4401 Transit Rd., Williamsville, 716-633-9630, brennansbowerybar.com.

Brennan’s Bowery Bar feels like a city tavern—or, yes, a bowery bar—that magically dropped from the sky, smack dab in the middle of a suburban strip mall on Transit Road. Its college-town-bar atmosphere makes it an ideal post-work home base. Even when it’s mobbed, it feels intimate and fun—never overwhelming. That has a lot to do with the bartenders, who are always courteous and speedy, and the design of the place itself. That long, brown bar is one of WNY’s finest, and the Irish green throughout feels earned, not opportunistic, like so many other wannabe-pubs. Oh, and the food isn’t bad, either. (Try the Clancy.)



Best bar for a drink after work—city
Founding Fathers

75 Edward St., 716-855-8944.

For the public and our panelists, Founding Fathers remains the watering hole of choice from which to embark on the decompression hour. Patrons show up from all sorts of jobs, in all manners of attire—from the office in suits or skirts, straight off the riding mower in jeans and boots, or from behind the stove in unbuttoned kitchen whites—everyone feels right at home. And did we mention the free popcorn and nachos? Yes, that’s right. Popcorn and nachos, on the house, courtesy of owner/trivia maven Mike Driscoll, who leaves nothing to chance, attracting the conversation-lovers among us by keeping ESPN on mute and the music—if there is music—turned down to a whisper. The rest of the details tend to take care of themselves: the selection of bottles (beer snobs be damned) is more than adequate, and the food, delicious and substantial.



Bar with the best bar

1104 Elmwood Ave., 886-1449, colesbuffalo.com.

Is there a prettier, more uniquely Buffalo bar—we’re talking the actual bar—than the one found at 1104 Elmwood Avenue? For many lifelong Buffalonians, it is the same bar our grandparents and parents once sidled up to, and it might be the spot of your first (legal) sip of draft beer. It is surrounded by a mini-history of Buffalo, and an atmosphere both classy and comfortable. Yes, there is the stunning beer list, the reliably fine food, a varied crowd, and a location within walking distance of the Albright, the Buff State, and Bidwell. But at Cole’s, the bar itself is part of the charm. It is old school, and new school, traditional, and current. It’s the bar with the best bar. Any questions? Let’s settle it over a beer at Cole’s.



Best bar to take friends from out of town
Tie: Ulrich’s Tavern and Buffalo Brew Pub

674 Ellicott St., 855-8409, ulrichstavern.net.

Why should you take your friends to Ulrich’s? For one thing, Babe Ruth ate here one hour before the start of an exhibition game in 1921, a visit during which he named the house sausage a “Hot Buffalo” (in reference to an attractive waitress). And chef-turned-traveler Anthony Bourdain ate here, too, for a 2009 No Reservations. So if the Babe and Bourdain chose Ulrich’s, then why shouldn’t you take your friends as well? Founded in 1868, it happens to be the oldest continuously operating tavern in town. The allure should persist for years to come: Ulrich’s recent remodeling project proves it’s possible to retrofit Buffalo’s coolest, old places for the 21st century without sacrificing any of their former charm.

6861 Main St., Williamsville, 632-0552, buffalobrewpub.com.
Is your out-of-town guest a beer snob? Are you scared that he or she will walk away distinctly unimpressed by wherever you think to take them? Then Buffalo Brew Pub is your pick, especially if you’re in the suburbs. It calls itself “Bufflao’s original brew pub,” and with 34 taps and a large import and micro-brewed draft beer selection, it’s clear the place takes that tagline seriously. It doesn’t hurt that BBP brews its own beers, and they’re damn good. Large enough for a whole party of relatives, it’s a comfortable, pub-style joint unlike just about anywhere nearby. If need be, you can assure your guests there are drinks besides beer on the menu, but when the beer is this great, why should you?



Best sports bar
Pearl Street Grill & Brewery

76 Pearl St., 856-2337, pearlstreetgrill.com.

No tickets? No problem, if you’re at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. Visit the night of a Sabres-Habs game, and in addition to the sea of white-and-red jerseys, you’ll find folks who have come for the night—not just a quick dinner before heading to the First Niagara Center. Yes, the atmosphere is that great. For starters, TVs are everywhere on the large first floor. Then there is the beer, including the brewery’s own. Plus, if you’re in the mood for something more than parking yourself on bar stool or booth, there’s the patio, the game room, and occasional concerts. But the real reason you’ll keep coming back to Pearl Street for games is the vibe. It feels like a sports bar should—spirited, noisy, and fun. And you’ll have a far better view of the action than in the last row of the 300s.



Best place to eat at the bar

226 Lexington Ave., 716-881-3800, kunisbuffalo.com.

Both bars at Kuni’s offer great, low-key atmosphere for your evening meal. You can chat with the affable sushi chefs while watching your dinner prepared at the floor-level sushi bar, or perch on comfortable stools in the convivial atmosphere found at the regular bar. The menu offers many small plates, from the delicate Tender Salad (tuna sashimi, avocado and silken tofu), to the spicy Nuta, (shrimp, mackerel, octopus and scallions with spicy mustard miso dressing) to more classic shrimp and vegetable tempuras, or for the uninitiated, Kuni’s Fried Chicken. Enthusiasm for really great sushi provides common ground, and single diners frequent the bar as often as pairs. You might be treated to samples of a neighbor’s octopus on a stick, or if you’re lucky, one of the affable bartender/waitresses will mix up a magical beer and orange sake concoction for you. 



Best place to see comedy

248 Allen St., 716-886-8539, nietzsches.com; buffalocomedy.com.

Best place to see comedy … Nietzsche’s? Yep, that’s right. And it’s all thanks to Kristen Becker, Buffalo’s preeminent stand-up comic and a seismic force on the local laugh scene. This year, she brought to town such heavyweights as Judah Friedlander (30 Rock) and Todd Barry (Flight of the Conchords), but these big names are just part of the reason Nietzsche’s takes this award. Becker has made Doin’ Time Tuesdays open-mic nights are a long-running favorite, and the Last Comic Standing semifinalist even offers comedy classes that culminate in a student’s performance on the Nietzsche’s stage. Of course the bar is still known for live music, but Becker has made it the city’s home for live comedy, too.



Best place to go dancing
¡Toro! on Saturdays

492 Elmwood Ave., 716-886-9457, torotapasbar.com.

¡Toro! Tapas Bar has been a culinary favorite on Elmwood Avenue for several years, and the Spanish-centric menu is still one of Buffalo’s most unique. But on Saturday nights, ¡Toro! moves. It’s like a switch is flipped, and suddenly, you find yourself having the club experience smack dab in the middle of the Elmwood Strip, far from Chippewa. In other words, it has become one of the places to be on a Saturday night. Its “danceathons” featuring buzzed-about spinners like DJDstar have an atmosphere unlike anyplace else on Elmwood. Interested in the future of Buffalo nightlife? It’s happening at ¡Toro!



Most unique theater space
New Phoenix Theatre on the Park

95 Johnson Park, 716-853-1334, newphoenixtheatre.org.

The building that houses the dynamic New Phoenix theater company was built in 1884, which makes it the oldest theater structure in Buffalo. The building at 95 Johnson Park had served functions from lecture hall to soup kitchen before it was abandoned and ultimately rescued by Richard Lambert, NP’s executive director. Though the building has gotten a much-needed facelift, going to the New Phoenix still feels a bit like time travel, the homey old-school atmosphere augmented by the memorabilia and autographed actor photos that line the walls, and the new Keith Waterhouse Memorial Bar, modeled after the famed Blue Bar in Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel. You never know what magic you’ll see when you walk into the theater proper—this past season was a blockbuster—but with that kind of backdrop, the stage has been set even before the actors appear.



Best production
Time Stands Still

If you’ve been missing Studio Arena, then you haven’t been to the Kavinoky, whose production of Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies is better contemporary theater than much of the work offered by the legendary standard bearer toward the end of its existence. Supple direction by Robert Waterhouse allowed a terrific script with precise acting (from Guy Balotine, Kristen Tripp Kelly, Peter Palmisano, and Christina Golab) and remarkable design work (from David King, set; Brian Cavanagh, lights; Tom Makar, sound; and Dixon Reynolds, costume) to come to life on stage. Though the action never left a small apartment, this insightful play about the effects of war on lives and relationships spanned the world.  An outstanding production all around.



Most underrated production
Aunt Dan and Lemon, Torn Space

From set and lighting to acting and direction, Torn Space’s production of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon was undeniably stellar, but those things weren’t enough to bump it beyond theater community cult status. We understand that it didn’t have flashy musical numbers, a huge shouted reveal in Act Two, or sobbing and slamming doors. It didn’t proceed in chronological order, and there were some long monologues. But not loud doesn’t mean not big. And maybe that’s the problem—Aunt Dan and Lemon may have been too big, too disturbing in its posing of uncomfortable questions about complacency and violence and the dark underbelly of humanity. If it’s true that audience members enjoy theater most when they can see themselves on stage, then maybe the introspective Aunt Dan and Lemon held up a mirror they just didn’t want to look into. Which is a shame, because the play was pitch perfect and damned good.



Best mission fulfillment
Kavinoky Theatre

320 Porter Ave., 716-829-7668, kavinokytheatre.com.

Artistic Director David Lamb and the Kavinoky crew understand what great theater is all about—outstanding material that both entertains and enlightens and has top-notch production values.  This season, their selection was tight and remarkably fresh: 42nd Street—a big show produced economically and efficiently on the Kav’s little stage; God of Carnage—a sharp, witty play recently closed on Broadway with 6 Tony nominations (and 3 wins); Black Tie—a nicely realized A. R. Gurney piece with a great cast; Time Stands Still—arguably the best drama produced this season; and Blithe Spirit—hard to go wrong with a Noël Coward classic.  



Best hike—Niagara County
Niagara Gorge

Everyone in Western New York knows how to show people the Falls: You start at the American side, and if you are feeling energetic you can wander the whole park, then maybe take in the Cave of the Winds. Then it’s back in the car, and over to the Canadian side (where the view is said to be better, because it is a view of the American side). Then it’s back into the car again, and Chinese food for dinner. It doesn’t have to be that way. Go where all that water goes, and see something amazing. There are 4 gorge trail sections, and you’d have to be pretty fit to hike them all in a day, but each makes a great day hike by itself. The Lewiston Branch trail at Artpark may be the most familiar, an easy 2 miles. Devil’s Hole Park is 2.5 miles, and rated “moderate.” There are stairs, which are a little tricky, and a trail at the bottom. The Upper Great Gorge Rim trail is the paved walk at the Falls proper. You’ve done that. Try the Whirlpool Rapids trail, which is rated moderate/difficult. Look forward to 3.25 miles of stairs, boulder hopping, rock falls, and a better sense of what the Niagara River carved out than you’ve ever had before. But wear good walking shoes—it can get slippery—and bring water.



Best bike ride
Niawanda Park

The great things about the Niawanda Park bicycling experience start with the location: any time we are near the water is outdoor time well-spent, and this pleasant path along the Niagara River suits us fine. Of course it is traffic-free, so is a great place to ride with kids, or others who are insecure about cycling around cars. (It is below the grade of adjoining Niagara Street.) If you’re riding early in the morning you will be surprised by the abundance of wildlife you may come upon: the bike is quiet, the park is quiet, and if the wind is right you may see deer, fox, rabbits, or blue heron. We like it also for its proximity to hot dog and custard stands. Although the park itself is just a mile long, the trail extends in both directions for miles, and that’s great too.


Best outdoor playground
Burchfield Nature and Art Center

2001 Union Rd., West Seneca, 716-677-4843, burchfieldnac.org.

The days of kicking the kids out of the house on a Saturday and telling them not to come back until dinner are long gone. We’re ensconced in an era of play dates, soccer runs, and tightly supervised day camps. If you’re looking for a safe and beautiful place where kids can run and play with minimal supervision, the Burchfield Nature and Art center might be it. It has nature trails, a shallow creek bed, gardens, picnic benches, and a children’s play area with the usual equipment. This 29-acre park is named in honor of painter Charles Burchfield, who once lived nearby. The visitor’s center hosts regular exhibits as well as workshops and classes for children and adults. 



Best indoor play space
Sky Zone Sports

425 Cayuga Rd., Cheektowaga, 716-206-3300, buffalo.skyzonesports.com.

When backyard trampolines hit the scene about fifteen years ago, kids were overjoyed, and parents rediscovered the thrill of the knee-seat-knee bounce from long ago gym classes. But when safety issues arose, backyard tramps started to disappear. Enter Sky Zone, a safe, patented wall-to-wall warehouse of trampolines for nostalgic bouncers of all ages. Ever dreamed of making the perfect jump shot, stuffing the basket like Michael Jordan? You can do it here. Play trampoline dodge ball, take SkyRobics classes, or just jump until you can’t anymore—it all provides the same joint-friendly exercise. One of the nicest things about Sky Zone is that it really is a place the whole family can enjoy, not one where Mom and Dad end up on a bench watching the kids have fun. Wear shorts: this is a sweaty good time.



Best place to take the family for under $50
Shea’s Free Family Film Series

646 Main St., 716-847-1410, www.sheas.org.

Buffalonians speak wistfully of the days of heading downtown to see movies at the glorious Shea’s. Do they not realize that Shea’s still shows movies? For free? The theater’s Free Family Film Series is an incredibly fun experience for young and old, a trip to a historic spot, with great deals on snacks, and an opportunity to see a kid favorite in a building that is, ahem, a bit classier than the Elmwood Regal. While these are often recent hits (Despicable Me, Alice in Wonderland), occasionally there is something even more special, like the 1926 silent film The Black Pirate, which was screened in January accompanied by house organist Bruce Woody. This is elegant, unique entertainment, and all it requires is a free movie ticket from Wegmans or the box office (available one week before each show). Plus, you won’t have to suffer through 20 minutes of trailers first.



Best hike—Erie County
Erie County Forest

Erie County residents are blessed with an abundance of hiking trails, each with its own identity. To call any of them the best is to invite controversy. But so be it. Our public poll mentioned at least a dozen different trails, including the usual suspects like the Eternal Flame and Zoar Valley (half of which, technically speaking, lies in Cattaraugus County—so that’s out by default). So this year our panel came up with something a little different: the trails of the Erie County Forest of Sardinia. These moderately challenging hiking/snowshoeing/cross-country skiing trails stand out, quite simply, because of their trees. The Erie County Forest is essentially a reforestation site, and as such the trails weave through an arresting mix of maple, ash, and pine—huge, magnificent pines, some of which soar over 100 feet, and whose fallen needles provide a cushiony bed along the trail. The trees, coupled with the trails’ remoteness, give the feeling of having been transported a world away.



Best walk—city
West Village

The sleepy Historic West Village, one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in Buffalo, is unique, beautiful, and compact. Its development began in the 1830s when some of the houses were built on incredibly narrow lots in Johnson Park, at the edge of town. Those were the days of Ebenezer Johnson, the mayor who gifted his property to Buffalo Seminary in the mid-1800s. (Their former Chapter House, now the New Phoenix Theater, remains.) People in a range of professions came to this burgeoning neighborhood just beyond the New York State Reservation line to build their stately homes. Around the turn of the century, a number of hulking, Romanesque and Neoclassical apartment buildings were constructed. Whether you prefer a calm stroll, or a brisk pace, this urban trek will give you something new to look at. Composed of a wedge-shaped grouping of streets from Huron to Elmwood to Tracy to Carolina to Niagara, there are a wide variety of architectural styles, streetscapes, and friendly residents along the way. Wind back and forth among the one-way streets, including Prospect, Whitney and Johnson Park. Take in the colorful and original buildings, a large percentage of which have been rehabilitated in this vibrant local and national historic district.



Coolest non-art museum or historic site
The grain elevators

A lot of people hate the grain elevators because they remind us of a bygone industrial age when Buffalo served as lakeside gatekeeper to the Midwest’s fields of grain. But that’s part of the reason our panel loves them. The grain elevators, invented in Buffalo by Joseph Dart in 1843, tell a helluva story—of American innovation, of the trek westward, of sustenance and survival. But we also love these structures for everything they can still be: giant surrealistic pieces of art, reclaimed multi-use facilities, illumined attractions along a potentially world-class waterfront. And since the 14 monoliths lining the Buffalo River make up the largest concentration of grain elevators in the world, they should be treated, in our humble opinion, as the 14 anchors of a presently untapped heritage tourism industry. That’s what Cheerios smells like to us: potential.



Best 2011 concert in a large music venue
Lady Gaga at First Niagara Center

The local news before and after March 4, 2011, was dominated by one diminutive diva: Lady Gaga. Her concert (at what was then still HSBC Arena) was hotly anticipated by everyone from teenage pop fans to jaded indie kids, with every ticket snapped up in record time. And the show itself was as much of a spectacle as was hoped, a glitter cannonball that culminated in a raucous “Born This Way.” This was also the concert in which Gaga urged her fans to contact State Senator Mark Grisanti and ask him to support New York’s Marriage Equality Bill. (The New York Times reported that Gristani received 600 emails the weekend after the concert.) Can you imagine something this newsworthy happening at, say, a Dave Matthews Band show? Probably not, and it was this moment that made Gaga’s March 4 concert the large venue show of the year.



Best 2011 concert in a small music venue
Aqueous and the Albrights at Nietzsche’s
248 Allen St., 886-8539, nietzsches.com.

Well into 2012, Nietzsche’s New Year’s Eve balloons slowly shrank in a futile fall from the music club’s mounted menagerie of random relics, but memories remain of a moment when 3 young, promising, and distinctly different Buffalo bands raised a collective toast to good gains and great expectations. Before an animated and appreciative audience in the Allentown anchor, the Albrights affirmed their ascension by way of versatility and accessibility that allowed them to thrash through clubs, grace theater productions, and light Roswell Christmas trees with equal aplomb in 2011; Andrew J. Reimers' Country-Punk Extravaganza brandished their own balance of rock and schtick by owning the midnight revelry with rightful raucity, renewing their pro-wrestling-style rivalry with the Albrights, and resolving that 2012 would be the “Year of the Extravaganza”; and Aqueous went Auld Lang Zany in appearing in full-body, skin-tight silver suits to offer the kind of relentless marathon set that is making them a heat-seeker among Northeast jam bands as the hardest road-hitting band from Buffalo. The camaraderie and commitment among these 3 emerging acts made a strong statement for the spirit of our scene and the promise of the year ahead.



Best 2011 outdoor concert
Tie: Black Keys at Artpark and Tragically Hip at the Erie Canal Central Wharf

Funtime Presents/Artpark. How can 2 men—a guitarist and a drummer—make a noise that loud? That’s the question many asked during the Black Keys show at Artpark on July 13. The boys from Akron, Ohio, made the semi-outdoors venue feel like a sweltering cave in Casablanca, and that was a wonderful feeling. While the pre-Brothers material was strong—they even threw in an obscure Kinks cover—it was the hits that truly brought down the ’park, with “Everlasting Light” in particular sounding like the soundtrack to a gospel rave. Show of the year? Ask the crowds staggering into Lewiston traffic, and they may have said, “Show of the decade.”  
Funtime Presents/Buffalo Place. At this point, the Tragically Hip feel as Buffalo as beef on weck, so numerous are their visits and so beloved is their sound. But the band’s July 30 show at the Central Wharf was not “just another Hip show.” How could it be, with the ever-passionate Gord Downie at the mic? The setlist featured some of the band’s most well-known songs (“Poets,” “Fiddler’s Green,” “Music at Work”), and the setting made it a particularly spirited concert. The perfect combination, then, of band and venue.



Best hipster hangout
Tie: Spiral Scratch Records/Record Theatre

291 Bryant St., 882- 3200, spiralscratchrecords.blogspot.com.

Remember record stores, like Home of the Hits and New World? They were pretty awesome. And they ain’t dead yet. Perhaps the clientele is a bit more rarified, and the presence of the die-hard collector a bit more ubiquitous, but that makes visiting Spiral Scratch and Record Theatre feel über hip.
Spiral Scratch on Bryant is perhaps the closest we have to the record stores of yore, with a selection of punk and hardcore that’s hard to top, outside of the internet. But it’s the vibe that makes it a killer hipster hangout.

3500 Main St., Amherst, 837-2090; 1800 Main St., 883-1355; recordtheatre.com.
Several Record Theatres have left us, but the 2 that remain are sure to feature browsers, buyers, and kids in bands at every minute of the day. There was no better example of the stores’ status as a place to hang than Record Store Day, when they were mobbed by folks who felt right at home. How hip is that?



Most innovative fundraiser
Hallwalls Drawing Rally

341 Delaware Ave., 716-854-1694, www.hallwalls.org.

The fact that a mid-summer version debuts this month tells us that last February’s A Mid-Winter’s Draw was financially successful for Hallwalls, but that’s not why we loved the event. It was fresh, fun, and—most important—brought local artists and their market together in a dynamic way.  Attendees were able to watch 2 live drawings sessions with 30 artists and then bid on the results in a silent auction. Key to the success was a low $37 starting bid and the universal use of lovely, high-grade drawing stock. Help a great local arts center—check; socialize with friends, food, drinks, and a hot DJ—check; buy local art hot off the easel—check.


Best fulfillment of artistic mission (gallery)
Burchfield Penney Art Center

1300 Elmwood Ave., 716-878-6011, burchfieldpenney.org.

The BPAC’s stellar year was anchored by a 4-decade retrospective of video installations by former Buffalonian and media pioneer Steina Vasulka, including the stunning 4-channel room-sized projection, Tokyo 4 (1991). As testament to BPAC’s ability to celebrate Buffalo’s legendary media past without getting stuck there, the exhibition culminated in Video Sound Dance Magic, a live video and music performance created specially for the show, for which Steina collaborated with numerous Western New York musicians and video artists. The gallery also presented Synesthesia in American Art, a show that contextualized Charles Burchfield’s lyrical landscapes by placing them within the interdisciplinary and inter-sensory traditions of 20th century luminaries like O’Keefe, Gottlieb, and Dove. The popular juried biennial exhibition Art in Craft Media brought together emerging and established artists from across WNY, and film programs sprang up from collaborations with Buffalo State College’s Economics and Communication Departments, as well as community media center Squeaky Wheel.  



Must-see art exhibition
Videosphere at the Albright-Knox

1285 Elmwood Ave., 716-882-8700, albrightknox.org.

Art does not stand still. But only rarely do we get to see how gloriously dynamic art can be. Videosphere, a survey of time-based media—including film, video, and digital formats—was spectacularly installed throughout the 1905 half of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which attained somewhat of a funhouse atmosphere as a result. Curated by Holly Hughes, the show included some of the most important artists working in media today, including Bill Viola, Jennifer Steinkamp, Bruce Nauman, Tony Oursler, and Phil Collins (the other one). All of the work came from the museum’s own collections, offering more evidence that, unless the art museum is able to expand, we’ll never know the true wealth of its holdings.



Best art classes
Buffalo Arts Studio

2495 Main St., 833-4450, buffaloartsstudio.org.

Whether you’re 11 or 87, you will find your creative spirit at this multifunctional art space. From pottery to figure drawing to Etsy-indoctrination to mural-making, BAS enables a learning experience that is professional, inspirational, and fun. BAS teachers include some of the most well-known artists working in Western New York today—Amy Greenan, Rob Lynch,  Dorothy Fitzgerald, and Deborah Stewart are among the regulars who teach courses ranging from 1 day to 6 weeks. Interested? BAS invites you to come on down to the TriMain Center and observe a class in session. They’re confident about their offerings, and it shows.




Best big liquor/wine store
Gates Circle Wine & Liquor

1430 Delaware Ave., 716-884-1346, gatescircleliquor.com.

If you can’t find what you want at this venerable city emporium, operated by the Carscallen family since the end of Prohibition and located for the past quarter century directly across from Forest Lawn Cemetery, perhaps it’s not available. With 7,300 square feet of space and 2,700 items for sale—including 250 corkscrews, glasses, gift bags and decanters, plus 800 bottles of spirits and about 1,650 bottles of wine—Gates Circle certainly qualifies as a plus-size shopping destination.  In fact, the problem isn’t being unable to find what you want—it’s more like avoiding the temptation to buy much more than you need.  The staff is friendly and very well-trained, happy to steer you to that just-right bottle of Sardinian white for your oenophile friend’s birthday, in your price range. Customers can sign up for free wine classes, or make reservations for off-site wine and food pairing  demonstrations and special dinners. “People want to learn more,” says director of operations Lesle Heubach, granddaughter of the store’s founder. “We stock what our customers request.”



Best clothing store to glam up for Curtain Up!
Tie: Presence and Mabel Danahy

795 Elmwood Ave., 716-881-2483, presenceclothing.com.

Looking to shine in the firmament of fashionistas this season? Put Presence at the top of your shopping itinerary. Damsels in need of a dress know this is the go-to Buffalo boutique for one-of-a-kind looks from designers domestic and European. The sleek cocktail dress with a twist; the retro fitted floral frock, the always-elegant dressy black separates—find these and more on the racks at Presence.

3099 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 716-831-0773, mabeldanahy.com.

From classic sophisticated formal wear to surprisingly funky separates, Mabel Danahy has long been ground central for the gala crowd. But this is also a comfortable and fun place to shop, with helpful, no-pressure staff and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Get on their email list to keep up-to-date with their trunk shows and regular sales.



Best kitchen store
Blue Hill Kitchen & Home

1374 Hertel Ave., 716-551-0824, bluehillkitchen.com

Everyone has that place: a favored safe haven or vacation destination where the happiest memories get made. For Deanna Myers, the owner of this charming Hertel boutique, it’s Blue Hill, Maine, the picturesque seaside getaway for which her shop is named. In this sunny gallery of colorful bowls and cool cooking utensils, everything feels as though it was chosen and placed with care. If you’re an avid chef or host who feels coziest when cooking for friends at home, Blue Hill Kitchen & Home provides fresh inspiration for creating your own kitchen oasis.



Best place to find hard-to-find-ingredients
Guercio & Sons

250 Grant St. 716-882-7935, guercioandsons.com.

Since 1961, Guercio & Sons has been a purveyor of products that express the fundamentals of international cuisine. The store supplies fine restaurants and country clubs throughout Buffalo and its suburbs with fresh produce and other essentials. Ingredients are neatly grouped on tight shelves according to country of origin or with other, similar staples. Starches, for example, are gathered together: Guercio’s has a dizzying array of rices, pastas, and grains such as couscous (boxed or bulk). This is also olive oil central, with various countries of origin in container sizes ranging from a pint to a gallon. And that goes for mustards, and vinegars. If your recipe calls for truffles Guercio’s has some in the back—a staff member will get them for you. Truffle-infused olive oil is available by the checkout. In the concise freezer section near the reasonably-priced coffee by the pound is a divine imported pizza dough prepared with 00 Italian flour. Large bags of “Forest Blend” mushrooms, and dried porcini, jars of prepared caponata, jarred jalapeno salad, and boxes and bags of esoteric and colorful imported cookies and crackers are also offered. Any recipe calling for cheese of any sort, be it mascarpone or chevre or Colby, can be satisfied here.



Best new clothing boutique
Modern Nostalgia

1382 Hertel Ave., 716-844-8435, shopmodernnostalgia.com.

“Twists of detail” are what boutique owner Bri Klejdys-Long looks for in her inventory choices of women’s fashions and accessories at Modern Nostalgia. Klejdys-Long worked for Ralph Lauren and brings that same approachable aesthetic to her own store. This is a bustling boutique and stock turns over quickly: in other words if you love something, grab it right away. A sampling of brands on a recent visit included crème fraîche, Corey Lynn Calter, and Mary Green. There’s a welcoming area at the rear of the store with a chocolate brown velvet sofa under the building’s antique skylight; and a nearby coffee table is outfitted with fashion magazines for inspiration. Two jewelry lines always in stock are Amano Studio and Ornamental Things; there is also a good selection of lovely lacy unmentionables, and artful T-shirts.



Best new business 2012
Tie: Fairycakes Cupcakery and Chic and Sweet

289 Parkside Ave., 716-688-0361, fairycakesonline.com.

Loganberry buttercream. Spicy Mexican chocolate “chicken wing.” Flying Bison stout. These are the Queen City-centric flavors that have so enamored Fairycakes Cupcakery to its many fans. This charming new cupcake shop, set opposite the Buffalo Zoo on Parkside, belongs to Maureen “Mo” Torpey, whose giant smile and extensive dessert cookbook collection will tell you that she’s living the dream. Torpey’s been known to work on events geared toward supporting local businesses via Yelp.com. In Buffalo, that kind of karma’s bound to come back around.

1453 Hertel Ave., 716-393-2442, chicnsweet.com.

With its electic range of affordable separates, dresses, and accessories, Chic and Sweet offers casual sophistication and fun for those who want to shop outside the box, but don’t want to be intimidated. Owners Annemarie and Zachary Schneider are going for elegance and individuality, and they’ve hit their mark.



Best thrift store
Tie: Salvation Army (Niagara Falls Blvd.) and Goodwill (Delaware Ave.)

9491 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls, 716-297-8281, salvationarmy.org.

A good thrift store is one capable of creating order, and even beauty, from our collective chaos. Savvy Amherst shoppers have long made the NFB Salvation Army a first stop for back-to-school shopping due to their large, well-organized inventory. It’s rarely picked over, so you’ll often score name-brand gems amid the racks.

2655 Delaware Ave., 716-447-0566, goodwill.org.

Goodwill goes one step further, cataloging by color for eye-catching results, and arranging well-curated furniture attractively around its center. Far from being sinkholes for other folks’ trash, these are retail treasures.



Best caterer (large)
Tie: Rich’s and Oliver’s


Buffalo’s own international food corporation and a local fine dining favorite both offer terrific catering operations, with professional service, well-trained staffs, and, of course delicious food. Rich’s is known for their custom-crafted ice sculptures, which include a an elaborate full bar made entirely of ice. of course delicious food. Rich’s is known for their custom-crafted ice sculptures, which include a an elaborate full bar made entirely of ice.


If you’ve enjoyed the fare at a Burchfield Penney, Shea’s, Kleinhans, or Historical Society event, then you’ve enjoyed Oliver’s catering. The fact that some of Buffalo’s most hallowed institutions trust their patrons to Oliver’s should give you enough reasons to choose them. The restaurant is top-notch; so is the service you’ll receive outside it.



Best caterer (small)
Tie: Globe and My Tomato Pie


For an office lunch, patio party, evening at Shakespeare in Delaware Park, or with weekend guests around, order a couple of trays for pickup, or have Globe’s able staff do it all for you—including delivery, set-up, and clean-up. Some of Globe’s greatest hits include the pasta salads, gorgeous cheese platters, and vegetarian friendly offerings.


This popular pizza-themed restaurant is also a superb choice for an event where there are many different ages and appetites to please. The offerings include boxed lunches, foccacia, and wrap platters, and gourmet salads, as well as pizzas. My Tomato Pie is the perfect option for family reunions, birthdays, and other casual parties of every description.



Best kids’ consignment shop
Finders Keepers

5945 Main St., Williamsville, 716-633-1072, finderskeeperswny.com.

Finders Keepers offers floor-to-ceiling clothing for sizes from newborn through small juniors, young men’s, and maternity wear. Owner Kim Sullivan got into the business 20 years ago, after giving birth to her first child, and then triplets. “When I realized the abundance of clothes I needed, and thought about the waste that could occur, it seemed like a natural. Parents can save a ton of money—at one stop you can find so many diverse things, in all the sizes, instead of hauling through the mall,” says Sullivan. “Our stock changes daily; the biggest compliment we hear is how well stocked and organized we are.”


Best fitness classes
Fitness 360 Boot Camp

2625 Delaware Ave., 716-874-2005, fitness360wny.com.

In our military-minded world, we’re back to basics. There’s been a trend toward group training that combines cardio, strength and agility—building endurance and toughness—that comes from the sometimesbrutal regimen known as “boot camp.” According to Fitness 360’s website, you’ll sweat so much in their Boot Camp class that you’ll “look like you just took a shower with your clothes on.” If that sounds up your alley, try this kick-butt workout, which uses an “explosive format and exercises that will leave every muscle in your body trembling.” Ouch. Mm. Ouch. Mm.



Best women’s vintage
Second Chic

810 Elmwood Ave., 716-882-8222, facebook.com/secondchicbuffalo.

Past Spree Best of winner Annie Adams owns this shop, as part of the artsy collaborative at 810 Elmwood; she credits manager Vanessa Ron with “curating” the clothing, shoes, outerwear, and accessories in the cozily situated space. This is a consignment shop, and a very selective one. Ron gently reminds those considering bringing in a bag or 2 for consideration that her areas of interest do not include items with Target, Old Navy, GAP, NY&CO. or Ann Taylor/LOFT labels. Finds displayed on Second Chic’s Facebook page included a pair of Marc Jacobs studded pumps, a vintage “vegan” olive green flight bag, and several pairs of high-waist shorts—shown with huaraches, lace wedgies and ankle boots.



Best secondhand furniture

732 Elmwood Ave., 716-240-9387, reimaginefurniture.com.

Coowners Hayley Carrow and Cortney Morrison-Taylor moved into this space just about 2 years ago. Customer demand and their own evolving tastes have found them maintaining their original concept, says Morrison-Taylor—however, they are “focused a bit more on modern and Scandinavian, still do some refinishing and reupholstery, and have less kitsch, retro and painted furniture.” Brands and designers they seek and carry at Reimagine include Knoll, Broyhill, Eames/Herman Miller, and Selig. Handmade pillows and cushions mostly from new fabrics are also part of their offerings—to help update the vintage furniture. Look for a storefront renovation come fall.



Friendliest gym
Jewish Community Center


There are few, if any, fitness centers as welcoming to families as this Western New York favorite, with 2 Jewish Community Center locations, one in the city and one in Getzville. The equipment and the facilities are regularly upgraded and renovated, and the staff is always ready to help. They’ll also leave you alone, if that’s what you prefer. The well-managed pools (both indoor and outdoor in Getzville) are another great asset.



Gym with the best equipment

9570 Transit Rd.  East Amherst, 716-625-4483, hivelifespan.com.

This state-of-the-art fitness center offers many unique services that you won’t find in other gyms, and in terms of the basic requirement of good equipment, Hive excels. Its cardio equipment has individual media centers, its Pilates studio has the latest Stott reformers, and its spinning offerings include eSpinner bikes, which allow users to have a world-class spinning session on their own time.



Most unique gifts
West End Gallery

48 Douglas Ln., East Aurora, 716-652-5860, west-end-gallery.com.

Located in a former schoolhouse, West End Gallery is a cornucopia of the new, the cool, the handmade, the quirky, and the fun. Which is exactly what you need if you’re looking for the perfect hostess gift, birthday present, or self-indulgent treat. In a world overloaded with “made in China,” WNYers are lucky that we have places like West End Gallery.



Best big garden store
Lockwood’s Greenhouses

4484 Clark St., Hamburg, 716-649-4684, weknowplants.com.

Great service and one-of-a-kind plants are just 2 of the reasons we love Lockwoods. Those 2 factors alone set them apart from the big box home centers where plants go to languish and customers are ignored, but Lockwood’s has even more. Its educational programming is always innovative and eye-opening; they also offer spur-of-the-moment landscape services, and have a great gift selection.



Best small garden store
Urban Roots

428 Rhode Island St., 716-362-8982, urbanroots.org.

Buffalo’s only copperative garden center has really grown up since it was founded 8 years ago. Urban Roots still holds plant swaps, seed-starting workshops, and offers its customers the opportunity to become member-owners, but now there is so much more. The selection of perennials, annuals, and shrubs here has widened incredibly, with an excellent offering of native plants. There are also unique landscaping elements available here—including sculptures so irresistible that one visiting out-of-towner had several pieces shipped to her home in Texas. If you haven’t been to Urban Roots lately, you need to check out this West Side success story.



Most environmentally conscious buisness
Buffalo CarShare

14 Allen St., 716-898-0850, buffalocarshare.org.

Efficiently run from a small Allentown office, Buffalo CarShare makes it possible for WNY consumers to use a car when they need it without the hassles of car maintenance or the red tape of rentals. Cars can be reserved on the CarShare website, insurance and gas are included in the price, and the car keeps track of the usage. It’s a beautiful thing, and it helps keep options like biking, walking, and mass transportation on the table.



Best vet
Nickel City Animal

473 Niagara St., 716-847-1000, nickelcityvets.com.

Need a housecall? Not a problem. Have an exotic bird, snake, or other unusual animal? They know what to do. Led by veterinarian Heather Allen, Nickel City Animal Hospital offers such services as emergency or urgent care, but its main goal is to help its clients keep their pets healthy all year-round, and they make a point of supplying the resources to make that possible.



Best place for wine tastings
City Wine Merchant

715 Main St., 716-931-9114, citywinemerchant.com.

Every Thursday, without fail, City Wine Merchant sends out an email inviting all to its free tasting that day. There is always a theme, be it dry rosés, summer whites, holiday sparklers, or Tuscan reds. Often, the wine makers have been invited to the shop, where they’re ready to discuss and explain how they make their wines and what they hope you’ll be tasting. If you don’t catch the email, check your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Unlike a few businesses we could mention, CWM uses social media wisely, and, most important, its wines are selected with equal precision.



Best makeover
Tie: Corto's and Excuria

20 Buffalo St.., Hamburg, 716-648-3120, cortossalonandspa.com .

If you combine top-notch products and highly experienced  makeup and hair artists, you will have a glamorous outcome every single time. And if you put your hair and your face in the hands of Corto's the next time you need a new look, you can't lose.

5725 Main St., Williamsville, 716-839-3106, excuriaspa.com.

At Excuria, you may want to start out with one of their signature spa treatments and then move on to a complete hair and makeup renovation. They will customize your services for whatever special event you have coming up, and they invite you to bring your friends and family along for the fun.



Most fun place to shop
Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market

This one was easy. The definition of fun shopping should be shopping where you don’t even have to buy anything to have a good time, and this market fills that bill with ease. You’ll be so busy meeting and chatting with all your friends (and all their dogs) that you’ll need the sight of colorful baskets of fresh produce to remind you why you came here. Elmwood-Bidwell seems to get better, and have a wider range of comestables, every season. Save as many of your summer Saturdays as you can for this quintessential Buffalo experience.





Best friend of the arts
Megan Callahan

It’s hard to tell which Megan Callahan has more of, energy or love of arts. Either way, the combination creates a dynamic force for cultural good. Even before she became the executive director of Give For Greatness—the support organization formed by Artvoice in response to County Executive Chris Collins’ arts funding cuts—the Queen City transplant had a crazy arts-focused schedule. She founded, and runs, Buffalo Actor’s Learning Lab, rallies at meetings and budget hearings, teaches music, is the go-to dialect coach for area theaters, and frequently acts and directs on the very stages she defends. Busy as she is, when the Collins cuts came, Callahan mobilized to create the G4G fundraising campaign that ultimately enabled her to distribute $90,000 to Buffalo culturals in 2011. Buoyed by the success, Callahan birthed G4G as a permanent, nonprofit organization that seeks to raise community arts awareness, as well as funding. Thanks for adopting our city, Megan!



Best actress
Kelli Bocock-Natale (Lola, Come Back, Little Sheba)

In a season flush with top-shelf performances, it’s to Kelli Bocock-Natale’s credit that her portrayal of the quietly desperate Lola in William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba stood out. The tricky thing about playing quiet desperation is just that—it’s quiet. Without histrionics, overwrought sighs, or expository monologues, Bocock-Natalie deftly relied on a much more subtle skill set to convey Lola’s deep-seated grief with heartbreaking eloquence. Slower movements, traces of sadness behind a lilting voice, politeness of speech—with these choices, Bocock-Natale’s dialogue almost didn’t matter, so clearly could we feel the anguish and hope at odds in Lola’s battered heart. The tears did come, finally, when Lola talked to her mother, and their brief appearance was all we needed to know and feel the depth of Lola’s disappointment and the cost of her perpetual resilience. It was spellbinding, and those who saw it surely took a piece of Bocock-Natale’s Lola home with them afterward.



Best actor
Brian Mysliwy (Valere, La Bete)

Mysliwy had already demonstrated that he was an uncanny performer in the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s The Servant of Two Masters years ago, but he wasn’t just a performer in ICTC’s production of La Bête, he was a force of nature. His stage presence as Valere, an ultra-obnoxious 17th century entertainer/wannabe playwright commanded attention—and a strong stomach. His monologue with an impressively incessant spray of food flying from his mouth upon co-star Vincent O’Neill was perhaps the most hilarious scene ever done on the ICTC stage—and delivered in verse, no less. Though Mysliwy was a revoltingly vile boor as la bête (the beast), he was never boring, turning a period comedy into a wildly entertaining time at the theater. Period.



Best arts administrator
Tie: Sean Donaher (CEPA) and Cori Wolff (BAS)

These 2 winners are very similar in that both have graduated to the top level after serving in the ranks of their respective organizations. Sean Donaher first made his mark as director of Big Orbit Gallery, where he calmly and efficiently oversaw spectacular installations as well as carefully chosen solo and group exhibitions. He’s been de facto director of CEPA for at least a year, and we expect him to continue his excellent work. Cori Wolff has moved up to artistic director (Jeff Langridge is executive director) at Buffalo Arts Studio after curating the space for over 3 years. Her shows are always thoughtful and demonstrate an awareness of the larger art world we don’t always see when in comes to WNY’s smaller venues.



Best curator
Jax Deluca

Deluca’s programming at Squeaky Wheel brought an exciting array of film, video and digital work to the media arts center this year. Examples include the touring version of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, appealing to classic film enthusiasts, and an early sell out for the underground experimental documentary, Inni, fueled by fans of the band, Sigur Ros. A collaboration with Burning Books led to a screening of Lara Lee’s Cultures of Resistance, a film exploring art and activism. The Here and Now Regional Showcase brought Alfred media artists Andrew Deutsch and Kyle Martin to Buffalo, working with timely projects using synthesized audio feeds and video from the Fukashima Nuclear Plant disaster in Japan. Visitors from farther afield included the Echo Park Film Mobile, which made a stop at Squeaky Wheel, touring films from their California media art center and hosting a film animation workshop. In June, Deluca deservedly took over as Squeaky’s executive director. 



Best media personality
Anthony Chase

“And I’m Anthony Chase.” That weekly WBFO Theater Talk tag is so distinctive that even if you’d never met Anthony Chase and he were sitting in a theater behind you, you’d recognize the voice (yes, it’s happened). Chase’s voice is equally distinctive on the pages of Artvoice, where as founding theater editor, he’s been offering incisive wit and commentary on the WNY theater for 22 years (he’s also the creator and producer of the Artie Awards, our local Tonys). It’s been a winning year for Dr. Chase, assistant dean of humanities at Buffalo State College: in January, he was awarded the Community Leader Award in the Arts from the National Federation for Just Communities, and in April Outstanding Faculty Member at Buff State’s Student Life Awards. We’re glad we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed that without Anthony Chase (it’s fun saying his whole name—try it), there would be no champion of local theater with such a committed, impassioned—and yes, recognizable—voice. 



Best reporter
Buck Quigley


There are many good and great writers at Artvoice, including editor Geoff Kelly, whose City Hall coverage is fearless and exhaustive. But if we needed further proof that reporter Buck Quigley, whose writing appears less frequently in the paper, was deserving of recognition, it came with his recent blog posts and print articles on the possibility of hydro-fracking in New York state. Quigley sharply questioned the impartiality of a recent UB Foundation study, and he had the facts to back it up. (He was also way out in front of the Buffalo News on it.) Here’s a reporter who takes hold of an issue and doggedly explores every byway—with eye-opening results.



Most outspoken WNYer
Rocco Termini

He’s not really, but he speaks out to a purpose, and his speaking gets things done. Termini led the charge for the historic restoration tax credits New York State has now—which he used in his recent renovation of the Hotel Lafayette—and is currently calling for an expansion, so that he and others can develop Buffalo’s remaining large-scale historic restorations.



Best local hero of 2012
Mark Poloncarz

Remember the Chris Collins era? Let’s think back for a second (cue “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme”), to the days of culture cuts, Six Sigma, and terse, elitist attitudes. … Well, breath deeply. It’s over. Mark Poloncarz is County Executive now, and while his first few months in office have been relatively quiet, that’s a good thing. The challenges he is facing have not decreased; in fact, they’ve likely multiplied. But Poloncarz seems confident, undaunted, and understanding of his role. As he told Spree in March, “At the end of the day, people should be proud of their community and their government. I am going to try to make that happen.” Heroic words—especially from a politician. And his victory hammered home a powerful point: That government cannot be run like a business. His knowledge of that simple fact may have won him the election, and his actions based on that belief made him the clear winner of our “local hero” honors. 



Best Tweeter

One day, he is “Tyler Perry’s Urban.” Another day, he is “Urban Targaryen” (as in the exiled noble family from the books-turned-TV-series Game of Thrones). But to his 5,700 or so Twitter followers he is simply “Urban,” a smart, gay, Sabres-loving, sometimes-NSFW comics fanboy who, unlike most other Buffalo-based mega-tweeters, is never confessional (unless he’s being ironical), and typically more concerned with pointing out the ineptitude of our national political “leaders” than our local ones. What makes Urban the clear favorite among our panel, though, has less to do with content of his feed and more to do with the clarity of his voice. Whether he’s expressing his excitement for a muscled-up Mark Wahlberg or poking fun at himself for crying at a Death Cab for Cutie concert or airing his contempt for the Fox News nation (“But what does Bristol Palin think of Putin’s reelection, I need her opinion on everything.”), Urban does something with Twitter that few mortals—let alone Buffalonians—are capable of doing: he always, without fail, entertains us.



Best Blogger
Chris Smith


We’re very grumpy indeed when we don’t see Smith’s The Morning Grumpy front and center on the Artvoice.com landing page. Smith starts out with a few well-chosen topics in list format, with great links to back up his sharp, provocative and funny-when-appropriate commentary on the social and political issues of the day.  Then there are regular features like the fact-of-the-day, laugh-of-the-day, and song-of-the-day. The only thing missing? More Morning Grumpy.



Best Facebook Posts
Paul Morgan

They may ban Facebook where you work, but here at Spree, it’s just another local information source—one we check every day. One of our favorite feeds comes from the always-cynical, always-outspoken artist and community activist Paul Morgan. Here are a few phrases he posted within the 48 hours before we went to press: “Maybe we are already the United States of the CIA?,” “We don’t need another party-switching conservative hack,” and “Thank you again for your annual march of arrogance” (on the Buffalo Marathon page).



Favorite college sports team
St. Bonaventure women’s basketball


Well, this was an easy one. The St. Bonaventure Bonnies women’s basketball team did, in 2012, what no other local hoops program has done in recent memory: They made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Jim Crowley’s remarkable squad of athletes had a strong regular season, but it wasn’t until the tournament that national attention truly turned their way. In fact, after the team’s triumphant defeat of the No. 13 seed, Marist, it was easy to forget that St. Bonaventure is a school of just 2,000 students, making the Bonnies the smallest program in the Sweet 16. The unforgettable campaign ended with a loss to Notre Dame, but it’s no exaggeration to say that memories of one of the greatest seasons in local basketball history will linger. Who can forget the sounds of dedicated fans chanting “We love Bonas” at the buzzer?



Favorite high school sports team
Orchard Park Quakers football


Local high school sports fans still talk about the 2008 Orchard Park Quakers football team, undefeated winners of the Class AA state championship. In 2011, the Quakers equaled the school’s success of 3 years prior, and may even have topped it. After all, the 2011 season included a stunning comeback victory in the Far West Regionals—OP was 2 touchdowns behind in the 4th quarter. That kind of come-from-behind win has a lot to do with coaching, and there’s no question the 2011 season solidified head coach Gene Tundo’s status as one of the most successful in Western New York history. Under his watch, the Quakers have won 10 Section VI crowns, more than any other local school. It would be no surprise to see Tundo’s 2012 troop make it 2 in a row.



Best nonmainstream sports team
FC Buffalo


The Stallions and Blizzard are long gone, but soccer—“the beautiful game”—has crept up in popularity. (You’ll find plenty of local spots to watch the World Cup every 4 years.) But the biggest sign of progress is the success of FC (Football Club) Buffalo. The team was born in 2009, an expansion franchise in the National Premier Soccer League. The FC Buffalo love really went into overdrive last summer, when the boys took on the U.K.’s Bedlington Terriers. The game not only drew an enormous crowd, but also saw Buffalo’s finest footballers prove victorious in the “Lord Bedlington Cup.” While the win was nice, the team’s win/loss record isn’t what matters. (FC Buffalo’s record was above .500 in its first 2 years.) What’s truly noteworthy is this indicator that a “start-up” sports franchise can make a go of it. It can, at least, when the matches—and the raucous crowds—are this entertaining.



Best volunteer group
Garden Walk Buffalo


We all know that Garden Walk Buffalo has earned national praise from the Atlantic and Metropolis magazine, and that the success of this annual 2-day July event led to the creation of the National Garden Festival. And we’re aware of just how beautiful and unique its gardens are. But consider this: Garden Walk Buffalo has no paid staff. It’s all volunteers—350 of them, with twenty committee members. Jim Charlier and company have made GWB more than just a pleasant way to spend a weekend. It’s now an economic engine for Western New York, and the largest event of its kind in the nation. To think that it all started with a small group of volunteers in 1995.



Most effective community organizer
Aaron Bartley


Led by Aaron Bartley, the People United for Sustainable Housing organization has been speaking truth to power in Buffalo for over 6 years. From heating bills to unnecessary demolitions to job creation for all, PUSH has been in the forefront. In person, Bartley is a soft-spoken, charming young man. In public, he is a forceful public voice for those who have none.



Best local music act
The Albrights


Every few years, there is band that pops up on the radar of every local music fiend, and in 2011 (and into 2012), that band was the Albrights. The Buffalo foursome—Joseph Donohue III, Brandon Barry, Matthew Crane, and Aaron Odden—have a sound that feels utterly fresh; a listen to the jaunty “Hard Times” is all it takes for the band’s blues-rock swirl to draw you in. It’s as catchy and lyrically strong as any locally produced song in years, and it’s also quite funny (“Three cheers to Bernie Madoff / Hope prison folk are friendly”). They’ve already developed a local following, scored some awards, played South by Southwest, and released the fine debut, Ask, Tell. There’s a good chance the Albrights are playing near you, very soon. See them now, while you can still snag a ticket.



Favorite local scandal
Mark Grisanti/The Seneca Nation

Niagara County is like a real life pro-wrestling federation in many ways. It's got it all: long running feuds, nefarious activity, ethnic clout, larger-than-life characters, and the sense that even the good guys might change direction at the flip of a switch. So it shouldn't have been any surprise when State Senator Mark Grisanti and his wife Maria found themselves in an all-out brawl with members of the Seneca Nation after a charity event at Casino Niagara in February. The fracas had all the components of a Wrestlemania rumble: sucker punching, insult hurling, finger pointing, and a story line left unresolved. Vince McMahon would be proud. The prospect of arrests and lawsuits vanished into the mist and the Grisantis were ultimately banned from the casino. Which makes them the real winners.



Favorite Power Couple
Kathy and Bill Hochul

We have to be honest and say Kathy has the edge here—after all, what’s not to love about the plainspoken but determined underdog who defied the odds to take the 26th District for the Democrats? Both Hochuls are approachable and friendly—you’ll never see phalanx of bodyguards or handlers with either.




Most promising new construction
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site

641 Delaware Ave., trsite.org.

Buffalo schoolchildren are well-versed in the story of the ignonimous end of both the Pan-American Expo and the presidency of William McKinley, at the hands of an assassin’s bullet one September day in 1901. Many, like their elders before them, have toured the Wilcox Mansion, where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the new president. It is now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, and though the site has been meticulously restored and further enhanced with the recent addition of a replica carriage house that serves as a visitor's center, the stately house and grounds will now finally be restored to its 1901 appearance, thanks to a donation of land from the Bank of America.

The bank building next door to the Site will be torn down this summer, affording a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complete the Site master plan by returning the historic property to its original boundaries and landscape, according to Executive Director Molly Quackenbush. “This will give us much greater visibility and access,” she says, noting that the building, set back from Delaware, is hard for visitors to locate. New space on the side and back will double the number of parking spaces and include a Delaware Avenue entry to the Franklin Street parking area, where there will be easier access for busloads of tourists and schoolchildren. The new streetscape will also look really cool, with shrubbery and trees resembling the plantings National Park landscape experts detected in vintage photos of the property. Were the old Roughrider to reappear on Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo, he now would have no trouble finding the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox.



Best makeover of an existing building
Hotel @ The Lafayette


It was not quite a wreck. People still lived in the as-is apartments, and the blues could still be heard in the Tap Room, until it finally closed its doors in 2010. Even so, the transformation of this building still seems miraculous; its new interior bears little or no resemblance to the Lafayette we thought we knew. Artisans were brought in to restore the original architectural details—remarkably intact under decades of modernization. Now, entering the Lafayette is like stepping back into a gorgeous combination of the Gilded Age and the Jazz Age. Kudos  to developer Rocco Termini for accomplishing this restoration feat.



Best place for a family outing
Tie: Buffalo Zoo and South Park/Botanical Gardens

300 Parkside Ave., 716-837-3900, buffalozoo.com

2655 South Park Ave., 716-827-1584, buffalogardens.com

While the zoo is a slam dunk in this category, especially with the new additions of the rainforest and historic farm environments, many might not consider the possibilities in South Park. A walk around the ring road yields plenty of wildlife spotting—aquatic, winged, and four-footed—as well as good, healthy exercise and beautiful views of the pond and arboretum. Inside the glasshouses, there are plenty of fun activities for kids, including scheduled workshops and interactive displays. Mom and Dad will enjoy the romantic atmosphere and lush tropical plantings.



Most beautiful private club
The Buffalo Club

388 Delaware Ave., 716-886-6400, buffaloclub.org

Built as a private home for industrialist Stephen Watson in 1870, with additions by E. B. Green in 1889 and 1908, after it had become the BC headquarters, this majestic Delaware Avenue landmark has long been a luxurious yet comfortable refuge for its members. There are gorgeous dining and event rooms for almost any occasion, including intimate dinners, large-scale cocktail parties, or gala banquets.



Best view of the City of Buffalo
Erie Basin Marina, Looking eastward toward the Buffalo skyline

329 Erie St., eriebasinmarina.org.

The main triumphs of Erie Basin Marina are that it is reclaimed land, draws a diverse range of citizens, and remains a year-round, public waterside park. Visitors will see runners, exer-walkers, and those who’ve parked their lawn chairs atop rocks-with-a-view facing Lake Erie to the west. Facing east, however, is one of the most intimate and gorgeous views of the city of Buffalo. Many of the landmark and historic buildings feel like you could reach out and touch them–beyond the marina and its slips, and rows of low-rise, manicured condos. The walk from parking lot to observation lighthouse at the terminus of Erie Basin Marina is approximately 1 mile roundtrip. This urban landscape is punctuated by the Art Deco City Hall, the glass-fronted Federal Courthouse, and glimmers of the 2 twinkling Lady Liberties atop Liberty Building. Looking south/right is the arc of the Skyway, and just beyond the grain elevators. Suggestion: visit Erie Basin Marina at dusk in summertime to gaze at the skyline, and turn when the time is right to view the glowing sunset. Amenities here include The Hatch for picnic-like fare, and the more upscale Templeton Landing with its own skyline view from patio or ample dining room windows.



Best looking historic building
Albright-Knox Art Gallery

1285 Elmwood Ave., 716-882-8700, albrightknox.org.

Always imposing with its columns, caryatids, and commanding position overlooking Hoyt Lake on one side and a busy Elmwood intersection on the other, we think this is an easy pick, made even easier by the fact that the AKAG is getting all dressed up with new exterior sculpture, including the fabulous Nancy Rubins canoe construction in front, and—soon—an Andy Goldsworthy project on the park side.



Most beautiful under-the-radar block
Agassiz Circle

Now hemmed by the Scajaquada Expressway, this was once the grand entrance to Delaware Park and part of the Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway. The quiet enclave is lined with beautiful houses in a variety of  early 20th century styles, and includes, of course, the Medaille College campus. According to a few sources, Cher, Greg Allman, Chastity (now Chaz) Bono, and Elijah Blue Allman lived in one of these houses during the ’70s while Greg Allman was undergoing rehab treatment.



Sight you won’t see anywhere else but here
Dyngus Day crowds


Buffalo is the Dyngus Day capital of North America, if not the world. And 2012 was the year of Dyngus. On CNN back in April, AC360 host Anderson Cooper collapsed in a fit of giggles as he was describing the celebration, during his “RidicuList” segment. Dyngus Day Buffalo, the official organization, responded with an appropriate blend of outrage plus gratitude for the national attention, issuing a challenge/invitation to Cooper to attend in 2013. The Dyngus Day (“Wet Monday”) mythology is that it’s a celebratory release after the Lenten holidays. In the old country, it centered around courtship and fertility; boys would go so far as to sneak into their sweethearts’ homes (abetted by the girl’s mother) and soak her with a bucketful of water. She could retaliate with a pussywillow branch. Here in Buffalo, on the Monday after Easter, it’s not just people of Polish descent who jam into the Central Terminal and drink beer, eat sausage, listen to polka bands, squirt each other with waterguns (or in one friend’s case, a trick camera). This year’s run on pussy willow branches got everyone scared, but the tradition continues.



Best use of your taxpayer dollars
Green Recycling Totes

What more do we need to say than “It’s about time!” Well, maybe we should add that single-stream recycling, where residents do not have sort paper from plastic from cans, and so on, may be the salvation of Western New York’s low recycling numbers. They are already significantly higher.



Best nature preserve


You’ve heard of Tifft, but have you been there? Approximately 270 different species of birds have been spotted here, while the wetland portions are loaded with cool semi-aquatic creatures like snakes and turtles. The walks are well-maintained and peaceful with great views of Buffalo’s industrial past in the distance. The Buffalo Museum of Science has been a good caretaker for this preserve.



Best spot for wedding photos
Forest Lawn


It may seem strange to think of a cemetery as the spot to commemorate such a happy day, but most Western New Yorkers tend to think of Forest Lawn as one of our most beautiful parks, a park that happens to be loaded with world-class memorial sculpture.



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