The drum-roll heartbeat of the Mohawk Place, with its grungy arteries and punk-rock veins, can once again be heard beating inside the doors of 47 East Mohawk St.
The iconic Buffalo dive bar closed in 2013. But it reopened late last week. On Thursday, a packed Mohawk Place hosted a gathering of local bands to celebrate the rebirth of the beloved venue. The atmosphere of the bar felt like a family reunion, a gathering of past generations of Buffalo’s rock ‘n’ rollers at one of the iconic epicenters of Buffalo’s underground music scene.
The grand, grungy reopening
The special at the bar read “$3 PBR,” and a loud rock rock band jammed onstage – it was business as usual at Mohawk.
A crowd of rockers broke the scene at the Mohawk Place on Thursday. Four bands – the CPX, Second Trip, ‘Ol Chili and the Albrights – put on a show to christen the rebirth.
For the people who have been around Mohawk since it’s heyday, the humble bar and its occupants feel something more – a second home, a second family.
This intimate mood filled the air on opening night – highlighted when the lead singer of ‘Ol Chili shouted to the crowd on the first song: “This is the Mohawk Place, we’re all family here.”
Jeff Martinez, a member of the crew that committed long hours to remodeling the bar, got to admire his handiwork in the best way possible that night – bathed in the spotlight.
In front of a crowd of about 150 to 175, Martinez played bass for ‘Ol Chili and sang vocals for Second Trip, entertaining Mohawk in the usual way - with rock and roll music.
“It is an honor to play the first show,” Martinez said. “It was such a great feeling to be able to do this – we saw it coming when we were working on it.”
Martinez, who sees Mohawk as a second home, first attended the bar in 2000 when his brother played as an opening act.
From attending his brother’s shows, to playing shows of his own, Martinez has always placed Mohawk as part of the core of his musical world.
“To me, this venue is the best in the city, hands down,” he said.
The newly minted owner of the venue, Richard Platt, remained at the center of the action throughout the night, chatting with everyone he saw, whether he recognized them or not.
He is just glad he can provide a place for friends to enjoy themselves.
He said working at Mohawk is electric.
“You have to understand what Mohawk Place is,” said Jared Pease, a former employee of Mohawk. “It’s a community, open to anyone who wants to be apart of it.”
Pease, reunited with his cherished venue, dealt with mixed feelings at the reopening. He thought it was amazing, yet weird at the same time. He spent the previous year mourning and making peace with Mohawk’s demise. But now it’s back.
A former sound engineer at Mohawk from 2011 until the close in 2013, Pease has been a member of the Mohawk “family” for much longer than that.
His first show at Mohawk was in 2002 when he saw Cattle Decapitation. Since then, Pease has attended the bar as a regular, first as a music fan, then as an employee.
“The bar feels weird with clean bathrooms,” Pease said. “Where is the smell of stale beer?”
Despite the newfound cleanliness, Mohawk Place mostly remains the same.
There are new piles of cigarette butts forming outside the doors, and the smell of spilled beer is beginning to seep into the floor again.
Mohawk might be shiny and new, but deep down the bar will always have a rock ‘n’ roll heart.
Modest beginnings, exceptional history
The Waco Brothers, Rosie Thomas, Sam Roberts Band, My Morning Jacket, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Fall Out Boys, Ok Go, The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Fleet Foxes – the Mohawk Place’s past performers pay testament to the dive bar’s storied legacy.
The modest venue has stood witness to entire generations of music.
In 1990, Pete Perrone opened his Mohawk Place as a tiny blues and rockabilly dive bar.
Before Perrone’s death in 2013, he was set on keeping the bar small and simple.
Yet Perrone, by all accounts a bighearted and open-minded man, was never overly particular about what acts he would bring to play in the bar. He never discriminated against any band that wanted a chance to jam at the ‘Hawk.
His open-door stage policy represented a change in Buffalo’s underground music scene.
Local musicians had a place they could play – a venue that would give them a chance when no one else would. Wayward musicians of every which genre of music would gather at the bar to put on a show. Buffalo natives would frequent the bar every week to listen to new music and party.
Mohawk soon had enough of a local reputation that it could begin to bring in larger, national acts.
In this way, gradually, Mohawk Place became the place a growing throng of local artists would call “home” – as well as one of the most important venues in Buffalo’s music scene.
In 2013, for reasons like structural instability, a lack of money and back taxes, Mohawk Place closed its doors, supposedly for good. The venerable, beloved dive bar was mourned, lauded and given a fond farewell in Buffalo.
Platt has pulled the bar from the ashes and rebuilt it from the ground up. For Platt, more than just a desire to own a bar has fueled this decision. A Buffalo-native, he wanted to save the local music scene, which had already lost other venues The Bulb, Funeral Home, Icon, The Vault and Showplace in the last few years. When Mohawk closed, Platt felt the need to act.
Recently, Buffalo has been on the uptick. Money is being spent downtown and businesses are starting to grow. With this boon, Platt said, “It’s easy to get caught in a buy-spend-consume mentality.”
“I was just trying to bring some of reality and normalcy back to downtown Buffalo,” Platt said.
He is no stranger to Buffalo’s bar business. Platt’s father, also Richard Platt, was in the business starting in 1958 and managed a bar on Main Street for about 20 years.
Platt said his father’s experience, as well as his own, has been the difference between success and failure.
The work restoring Mohawk to its former glory was no easy feat, Platt said. He needed to clear debris, patch holes in the walls and take care of 20 years of concert and bar grime that accumulated in the building.
But throughout the construction, he tried to change as little as possible. He wanted to maintain the aesthetic and legacy as a grungy dive bar.
In its final days in 2013, the floor of the Mohawk Place would sink into the ground when people would stand on it. But Platt put in the work to update the bar.
Continuing the legacy
Platt is striving to restore Mohawk back to its status as a central part of Buffalo’s music scene by working with Marty Boratin, a former talent manager of Mohawk.
Boratin brings a passion and experience to Mohawk that is paramount for its growth. He worked for the bar from 2000-05 and was in charge of booking all its acts.
A Buffalo-native, Boratin has been trying to play his part in Buffalo’s music community for years. He and his wife often host concerts at their house with performers like Califone, Peter Case, Mark Eitzel, Jon Langford and Grant Hart – all established musicians.
Boratin is a music man. He has worked events like Buffalo’s Infringement Festival, Buffalo’s Art Studio’s semi-annual Trimania, as well as with other venues in the city.
In the past, Boratin said his job at Mohawk was an expensive and time-consuming hobby. Sometimes he would spend more than 40 hours at Mohawk in addition to his 40-hour workweek.
This is a man that sees Mohawk and music as a true love.
“It feels great. Exhausting, but great,” he said.
Boratin said he is already getting daily requests from local, regional and national acts as well as booking agents and promoters asking for dates.
It seems like Mohawk is going to make it.
The local dive has had a tumultuous history, from its roots and fame under Perrone, up to the tragic closing. But now, Mohawk’s future is looking bright for the first time in a long time.
And from beginning to end, not much has changed.
Dusty, aged autographed pictures of past acts still line the walls. A drum, guitar and bass played at max volume still feel like Mohawk’s default EQ.