Exploring Buffalo history through neighborhood taverns
By Phil Nyhuis; photos by Sharon Nyhuis.

While architectural tours, lovely garden walks, and gallery openings continue to attract more visitors to popular areas of Buffalo, there is another growing segment of local tourism that uncovers a less celebrated destination: Forgotten Buffalo. Certainly Polonia, Black Rock, Kaisertown, the Hydraulics and other formerly vibrant working class enclaves may not be forgotten by the people who live there but some of them—especially the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood where Polish immigrants settled for nearly a century—seem to have been forgotten not just by residents of Buffalo’s tonier districts but also by City Hall.

Bartender Vince at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle.

That may be the loftiest reason for the founding of Forgotten Buffalo by the unlikely duo of bright, buttoned-down, historically hip Marty Biniasz and wacky comic “Airborne Eddy” Dobosiewicz, aka Maxwell Truth of Off Beat Cinema fame. But another reason was advanced by Eddy as the bus pulled out from the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Black Rock for a Saturday night tour of Polonia: “We like old gin joints. We like to drink and we like to drink cheap!”

So what began as Saturday afternoon drinking adventures by two old grammar school mates from the East Side has evolved over the past three years to Buffalo’s most popular organized pub crawls. Destinations include joints like Daren’s in the old meatpacking district, Little Vegas in Lackawanna, and the Three Deuces in Polonia that are rich in history, nostalgia, characters, camaraderie, and all the other endearing attributes that characterize great neighborhood saloons, pubs, and watering holes the world over. And while no one denies that drinking is an important part of any Forgotten Buffalo tour, the history of the city, the neighborhoods, and the saloons themselves is always deftly presented as part of the entertainment.

Inspired by the marketing and public relations models of successful festivals such as Punxsutawney Ground Hog Day and Octoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, Marty and Eddy got involved in the marketing of Dyngus Day in the early 1990s and eventually brought all the separate local celebrations together to become Dyngus Day Buffalo, “the biggest Dyngus Day on the planet.” While working on the Dyngus project, they began meeting in old, off-the-beaten-track taverns. Soon the taverns became the focus of a possible book by Eddy and website by Marty.

“We found out that a lot of these places were closing,” says Eddy. “So I started documenting all the places that had closed and we began getting together on Saturday afternoons to canvass an area. We discovered that Buffalo still has a great concentration of these neighborhood joints that you’re just not going to find in other cities. So we also started recording the stories of the places and Forgotten Buffalo was born. Forgotten Buffalo is about authenticity—authentic experiences that you’re not going to get anywhere else.”

Forgotten Buffalo founders Eddy Dobosiewicz and Marty Biniasz
at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle.

The tours began after a reporter from the Toronto Star got in touch with Maxwell Truth at Off-Beat Cinema and requested a tour of “Off-beat Buffalo” for a feature story on the Queen City. The Star article generated so much interest and response that the Forgotten Buffalo tours took off and became a hit with both locals and visitors from across the U.S. and Canada. “The tours promote the stereotype of Buffalo as a hard-working, hard-partying town made up of great ethnicities and great neighborhoods,” says Marty. “We’re now working very closely with the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau to help round out the Buffalo experience for visitors from Florida, Atlanta, and even Australia.” There are currently from twelve to fifteen public tours each year—each with a different theme—plus up to twenty corporate and private tours.

A Forgotten Buffalo tour is like experiencing a simultaneous travelogue, live radio show, history lecture, sightseeing adventure, and pub crawl. While Steady Gary, the bus driver, stays sober and on course, Marty and Eddy deliver snippets of history, humor, and running commentary interspersed with cranked up music—like great polkas and vintage Buffalo radio commercials on the Polonia tour. Their timing and delivery is quick and intuitive and they play off each other like a polished comedy act. Destination stops are organized and informative, with just enough time to learn more about the historic site or welcoming old saloon.

“People who have lived here their entire lives walk away from a tour with an appreciation they never had before,” says Marty. “For decades these people have been ashamed of their working class, ethnic roots and wanted to portray Buffalo as an artsy-fartsy cultural mecca. That may be true but you can’t deny that this region was built on the sweat of European immigrants looking for a better life. This is the heritage we’re celebrating.”

“We’ve taken a historical tour and turned it into an interactive, fun adventure,” adds Eddy. “We show you a building, tell you who the architect was, and what it was used for. But we tell you all that while you’re drinking a beer or eating some great food. It’s lighthearted and extremely entertaining. We teach people stuff without them even knowing because they’re too busy having a good time.”

Forgotten Buffalo tours are $40 per person and run about five hours. Dinner and other goodies are included but bring some cash for beer. For complete information, visit www.forgottenbuffalo.com.

Phil Nyhuis is a freelance writer and jazz musician living in Buffalo’s West Village.


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