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Best of WNY 2011: Out & About Part II

Sportsmens Tavern

Best place for a drink after work, suburbs
There are no fancy drink specials, no gourmet treats on the bar, and the décor … Well, even your grandmother would have replaced that wallpaper. Despite all that—or maybe because of it—there’s no better place to be after work than here. It’s a cliché, but what makes Loughran’s great is the people. You’ve got your left-wing teachers from Park School yukking it up with arch-conservative suburban suits. On a recent Monday, assorted clumps of friends at 5:00 became a full-on mixer by 6:00 as the regulars drifted in and the drinks flowed. As one customer put it, “Come once, people are friendly. Come twice, you’re family.” 4543 Main St., Amherst, 839-0283


Best Place for a drink after work, city
Century Grill
Free bacon. Need I say more? Okay, there’s plenty of other reasons the Century Grill takes the crown, and the bacon is only on Saturdays, but any place that has the smarts to make such an offer is darn cool. There are other treats for your post-work pleasure, like “Meatloaf Monday” or “Happy Hour Tots,” or menu items like the “Rod Jeremy,” not to mention a killer beer list. And location is key, too. For the downtown masses, its Pearl Street location is wonderfully accessible, either for a quick beverage before heading home or before a hockey game. But really, it all comes down to the bacon. If you dig on swine, you’ll dig the Century Grill, any day of the week. 320 Pearl St., 853-6322


Best bar to do shots
Old Pink
We do not advocate excessive drinking, but once in a while (providing one is not driving), irresponsible alcohol consumption is not only excusable, it is required in the name of sanity. There is no better place to do that than this beloved Allentown establishment. Whether your favorite shot is a lemon drop, kamikaze, Irish car bomb, or no-frills vodka, tequila, or whiskey, line them up at the Old Pink. 223 Allen St., 884-4338


Best place to go the night before Thanksgiving
Brennan’s Bowery Bar
The night before Turkey Day has become an informal grand scale reunion, when the over-21 crowd heads out to see who’s come back home for the holiday (or never left). Chances are if you grew up anywhere in the Northtowns, you’ll see someone from your past, either recent or distant. Once you get past the mundane strip mall setting (plenty of parking, though), Brennan’s has the dark, burnished atmosphere of a venerable college town bar with bartenders at the ready to meet the demands of the thirsty crowd. Even if you don’t see anyone you know, the lively scene beats watching television with your folks, hands down. 4401 Transit Rd., Williamsville, 633-9630


Favorite neighborhood joint
The Place
Buffalo abounds in spots that give off a cozy neighborhood vibe, but the Place is special even in a city full of taverns, saloons, and gin joints. Part of what makes it great is location—the Elmwood Strip is a block (and a world) away. Another part is clientele; you can look around and see people who have been coming here since their parents used to bring them in a carriage, and there are frequently people who are there for the first time. The Place belongs in any discussion about the best fish fry, which means it is part of a long-standing Buffalo culinary and conversational tradition, but we like the "thinny flynny"—a sort of proto-panini made with ham, thin swiss, and Bermuda onion with Thousand Island on wafer-thin rye, grilled. 229 Lexington Ave., 886-9180


Best large music venue
Looking purely at venues—sightlines, comfort level, sound quality—it’s clear that UB’s Center for the Arts is tops. (If we allowed the list of past performers to play a role—the past year alone has included Levon Helm, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, and Chris Isaak—it would be an even bigger trouncing of the competition.) There is a level of intimacy at a CFA show that is simply unequalled at any similarly sized hall in WNY. You want to really see Max Weinberg’s hair? Then you’ve got to be here, friends. It’s no exaggeration to say there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The ample free parking doesn’t hurt, either. UB North Campus, 645-ARTS


Best small music venue
Sportsmens Tavern
Like the legendary CBGB’s, it’s not the building that makes the Sportmens the best venue of its size in the area—it’s the vision and dedication of owners Dwane and Denise Hall, who have turned a humble Black Rock tavern into a musical mecca for artists who fit under the big Americana and Roots tent. Appreciative audiences willingly pay for the privilege of hearing legends like Asleep at the Wheel, Maria Muldaur, Poco, Commander Cody, and Wanda Jackson (as well as national up-and-comers and an eclectic assortment of local artists) in a small setting where the focus is squarely on the music. There’s no need to make the trip to the legendary clubs of Nashville or Austin when our own honky tonk beer joint is in the same league. 326 Amherst St., 874-7734


Best Hipster Hangout
The Vault
The best possible definition of this category is “people you don’t know doing things you’ve never heard of,” and while Buffalo is currently blessed with a least a dozen newish, underground-ish galleries, there’s no better manifestation of that time-honored concept at the moment than the storefront space currently occupying the ground floor of the building that once housed Hallwalls, CEPA, and the late, lamented Arts Council. Exhibitions, local and touring bands, and all manner of inventive late-breaking phenomena unfold here on a regular basis—seemingly untethered by the kinds of year-in-advance scheduling that more established venues must deal with—helping to inject a little spur-of-the-moment wackiness into the ever-rebounding downtown cultural scene. 702 Main St., 597-8396

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