A day out in Allentown
Exploring Buffalo's bohemian side could give a taste you didn't expect
Buffalonians can generally tell the type of person you are based on your neighborhood. Allentowners have a look worth experiencing in person.
The neighborhood is bursting with artists and musicians and it’s a sad reality many UB students struggle to get outside of Amherst and to enjoy the diversity of the Queen City and its neighborhoods.
In the same way the Londoners living in the West end differ from those on the East end, or Manhattan New Yorkers see themselves as a bit different than those in the Village, Buffalo is split along culturally defined neighborhood lines.
The distinct differences between Buffalo’s neighborhoods, once called wards, can be linked directly to different ethnic groups that moved into the area. The Old First Ward and South Buffalo are historically Irish neighborhoods; Poles lived in Kaistertown; and today, the West side is home to a diverse group of immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
Although these neighborhood lines marked boundaries between immigrant groups in the late 1800s and early 1900s – certainly the neighborhoods weren’t totally exclusive – much of
Buffalo life operates around the character of current neighborhoods.
Today, there are a ton of neighborhoods that create the fabric of Buffalo, including Black Rock, Downtown, the Elmwood Village, the Fruit Belt, the Lower West Side (my ’hood), Masten Park, North Buffalo, Polonia, Riverside and South Buffalo. Although some neighborhoods may only be a few blocks, Buffalo is the second largest city in New York after New York City. The size of the city and industrial and immigrant history has allowed for communities to not only develop but also evolve.
Students need to get downtown, ride the Metro and experience the city for all its wonders. Amherst is not Buffalo and University Heights is a poor representation of the city. Downtown is not filled with gang violence, the bums are not too pushy, the architecture is breathtaking and the food is relatively cheap.
Although you could spend weeks getting to know Buffalo, a trip to Allentown will give you a taste of the city’s hip, bohemian side. Allentown’s street boundaries are Virginia, Main, North, College, Allen, Park, Elmwood and Delaware – within these streets is an abundance of overflowing, quirky gardens, cottage houses dating back to the late 19th century, cyclists and the Bubble Man.
Here’s a potential day out in Allentown:
Breakfast at Café 59
On the corner of Franklin and Allen is Café 59, a small café with an upscale feel. The high ceilings and white walls contrast with the café’s old location just across the street. The old Café 59 felt much more bohemian, but the new location offers an outdoor seating area – perfect for a cup of coffee on a breezy morning.
The Café offers a light breakfast menu, like croissants and muffins and an inexpensive cup of coffee or tea.
A stroll in Days Park
Days Park is just a 10-minute walk from Café 59 in south Allentown. The Park is surrounded by some of the most quintessential Allentown homes, like the teal blue cottages on Cottage Street. Days Park is a tiny city park with a fountain in the middle of the grass. A stroll around the park is perfect in the mid-morning, cup of coffee in hand.
Thrifting at the Antique Man
After leaving Days Park, walk back toward Cottage Street, make a left on to Maryland and head up toward College. The Antique Man, an antique store with a wide array of merchandise, is on the corner of Allen and College.
A table stacked with $1 books often occupies the sidewalk outside of the Antique Man and boxes of records fill half the store. You can find everything from vintage bartending books to Playboys to pins and jewelry.
You can’t miss the store – large African tribal sculptures, records hung from the ceiling and an antique spinning wheel cover its windows.
Book hunting at Rust Belt Books
Once Rust Belt Books, currently on 202 Allen St., relocates to the Buffalo State area in the winter, I’m not sure where I’ll get my secondhand books. Of course there’s always West Side Stories on Grant Street, but Rust Belt is exactly what a bookstore should be – there are the winding stacks of books, the random nails jutting out from art on the wall and the smell of well-loved paper filling the air.
Every semester, I peruse the ever-changing selection at Rust Belt for my textbooks and even if they don’t have what I need, I always leave with a new book to add to my collection. The books are all secondhand NS many of them are around, if not less than, $5. Rust Belt is the perfect college student bookstore because it has an impressive selection of literary criticism, foreign works, biographies, philosophy texts, essays and poetry books.
Lunch at Allentown Pizza
After you’ve picked out your newest read, walk just one minute toward the corner of Elmwood and Allen, cross to the other side of Allen and you’ll arrive at the doorstep of one of the newest pizza shops in Allentown. The sign in the window, “Buy our pizza, we knead the dough,” says it all. For lunch, you can grab two slices and a 20 oz. drink for just $5.65. The pizza shop also offers vegan pizzas and a variety of specialty pies.
A quick read at the Butler Mansion
With a full belly, the eight-minute walk from Allentown Pizza to the Butler Mansion, which is also UB’s Jacobs Executive Development Center, will be a welcoming calorie-burner. The grounds of the Butler Mansion are open to the public during the day.
Four mansions used to occupy the corners of Delaware and North, but the Butler Mansion is the only one left standing.
The grounds are secluded from the noise of the city. The gardens are surreally green and the pathway winds through them like you’re entering another, more beautiful world. Take a seat on one of the mossy benches and get started on that new book from Rust Belt, or ponder the incomprehensible simple beauty of the mansion’s grounds. Before you leave, make sure to stop and stare at the golden fountain and the rather hidden rectangular pond.
Dress shopping at the Dress Shop and Black Cat Vintage
Back on Allen Street, you’ll find two of the quirkiest boutiques in Buffalo: the Allen Street Dress Shop and Black Cat Vintage. The Dress Shop offers expensive but extremely unique clothing and Black Cat Vintage has an ideal selection of vintage clothing – like what you hope you would find while thrifting, but never can. Black Cat Vintage even has a men’s selection of patterned blazers and dandy shoes. If you spend even five minutes browsing through each store, you’ll find something totally unexpected and cool.
Dinner at Don Tequila’s
For a dinner on the cheap or a margarita tower after a long day of exploring, Don Tequila’s is the place to be. The new-ish Mexican bar is just a couple storefronts down from the Dress Shop and Black Cat Vintage. Pitchers of beer range from $13.50 to $14.50 and dinners cost between $8.99 and $15.95. If you’re feeling cheap, try an order of beans for $2.10, a $2.99 quesadilla, or a burrito for $3.75.
Although the management can sometimes look a little tense – particularly when a girl tried to steal one of the margarita towers – Don Tequila’s has that fun atmosphere you expect from a Mexican bar.
Sunset at Kleinhans Music Hall
If you head back down Allen toward Rust Belt and up Wadsworth, you’ll reach Symphony Circle – probably the most beautiful of Franklin Law Olmstead’s traffic circles throughout the city. Just as the sun is setting, the golden hue of Kleinhans Music Hall, home to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, is illuminated and the reflecting lake surrounding the circular theater sparkles. Just take a moment to meditate.
A show at Pausa Art House
Pausa Art House on Wadsworth opens at 6 p.m. and closes at midnight from Thursdays to Sundays. There are concerts nearly every night, most with student prices of just $5. The Art House hosts local musicians performing everything from contemporary, to jazz to classical masterworks. The intimate setting is absolutely perfect for a glass of merlot with your lover.
Drinks at Allen Street Hardware
Cap off your night with a beer, or two or three, at Allen Street Hardware Café. Hardware offers a wide selection of micro-brews; you can pick everything from Belgian beer, to local breweries to Californian creations. The friendly atmosphere goes well with the Allentowners who flock to the bar after art shows and concerts.