One of the most surprising things I discovered when I visited Buffalo, New York for the first time was the simple beauty of the city. Despite being the 2nd most populous city in the state of New York, its warmth and charm is felt the moment you step off the airplane.
It’s not pretentious, and the people who live there don’t boast about where they live – but they have every right to.
Much to my delight, Buffalo is rich in history and celebrates its roots through its preservation of some of the most monumental architecture I have ever seen.
To really appreciate the history and architecture, I discovered an open-air tour bus of Buffalo. It’s a great deal at $25 for a two-hour detailed tour of the city (with proceeds to benefit the historic preservation of the city).The tour provided so much insight in to the history of the homes and buildings created by such great architects such Frank Lloyd Wright, H.H. Richardson, and Louis Sullivan.
Buffalo has been able to preserve the memory and beauty of a period that so many other cities have forgotten.
After my bus tour, I was able to get up close and personal with one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, created for Darwin Martin. As someone whose all-time favourite book was “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand (a novel based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s life), I was in complete awe of the sheer brilliance of a man who changed the landscape of architecture forever.
I was even lucky enough to stay at the Hotel Lafayette, which had recently been redone.
The landmark French Renaissance-style building was built in 1904, and was designed by Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first professional woman architect in the U.S. Today, the building houses a boutique hotel, magnificent banquet rooms, a brewery, three restaurants and even apartments. The guest rooms are huge and the price point is great ($169-$250 per night) with breakfast included.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is a fantastic place to be wowed, as it contains many astounding modern and contemporary art work. One of the artworks by artist Sol LeWitt was featured on the gallery’s main stairwell. The artwork was comprised of millions of graphite scribbles that cover more than 2,200 square feet of the wall surface, using simple pencils. The result is a wall that appears to be made entirely out of steel.
In Westfield, just outside of Buffalo, there is a newly created Grape Discovery Center run by the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association (a non-profit organization of grape growers, processors and those in the grape industry).
The exhibits in the center tell a story of over 150 years of grape-growing in the Lake Erie Concord Grape region (which is home to the oldest and largest Concord grape-growing region in the world). Visitors are encouraged to sample their pure Concord grape juice, wines from Lake Erie Wine Country, and grape products. A truly fun and educational way to spend an afternoon, you can also shop for most anything grape-related in their museum store afterwards. The best part?
Admission is free.
A must-see area just outside of Buffalo is Chautauqua County, which is a beautiful and quaint area, nestled alongside Chautauqua Lake. I stopped off at the Athenaeum Hotel, for an afternoon of Jazz Music during the Jazz Festival that that was taking place during the weekend. The hotel, which dates back to 1881, has preserved its timeless feel with its surroundings reminiscent of the Victorian-era.
The Chautauqua Institution, which operates as a not-for-profit, is a 750-acre community that surrounds the Athenaeum Hotel. Each year, 7,500 people (on average) descend on this area during a nine-week season with more than 100,000 visitors attending the many public art and cultural events. The quintessential American dream resides here, from the idyllic summer homes, to the quaint streets – it truly is the perfect place to visit during the summer.
Five Points Bakery is a hidden treasure that resides in a family neighbourhood of Buffalo. It has become a favourite with the locals, who happily stand out front, in anticipation for the bakery to open each day.
The bakery provides breads and baked goods, but also has become known for taking something quite ordinary, and making it extraordinary.
The bakery is known for its toast – that’s right, toast.
All their breads are one hundred per cent whole wheat bread, using only locally grown whole wheat grain. What makes their toast so delicious are the long fermentation techniques for their bread, small batches and stone ovens.
They have been able to produce flavors you will find nowhere else. I had their cinnamon raisin toast, which was served with a side of fresh, home made peanut butter and sliced apple for $4.25. It was like a hug for your stomach, and I was full for the entire morning.
A trip to Buffalo isn’t complete without a visit to where Buffalo chicken wings were first created – the Anchor Bar.
The kitschy, whimsical restaurant features license plates and bikes hanging from the roof, a myriad of pictures of stars adorning the walls, and a large female statue holds chicken wings on a platter, waiting to greet patrons inside.
The wings are of course, fantastic. I split twenty hot wings for $20 bucks with a friend. But for the more adventurous, there are also suicidal wings for a dollar more. It makes it a fun place the whole family can appreciate. And who doesn’t like a good chicken wing?
Another neat eatery I was also able to visit was Tappo Restaurant.
It’s located right in the heart of downtown Buffalo. The newly opened Italian restaurant has a great vibe and ambiance. I had the Brasciole for my main course, and it was done to perfection. I finished it with decadent Cannolis for dessert. The price point is extremely reasonable $12-18 for main dishes, and a wine list that features 41 different bottles for $15.
On my last day in Buffalo, I took a drive out to see the one of the most incredible wonders of the world – Niagara Falls.
I was looking forward to taking the Maid of the Mist. It’s a boat which ferries passengers to the base of the Horseshoe Falls. It didn’t disappoint, as we closed in on the falls and I was able feel the absolute power of the four Great Lakes. A definite “one of a kind” experience.
In addition, I took a walk along the Cave of the Winds.
As I looked up to see the roaring waters above, I could see stairs that wound their way towards the falls. When I reached the top (with my very soaked poncho) I stood on the Hurricane Deck. The immense rush of force overwhelmed my senses, as I tried to stand underneath the precipice of Bridal Veil Falls. It literally took my breath away (not to mention my ability to stand in one place for very long). From the history buff, to the artist to the adventurer, to the foodie; Buffalo is an eclectic kind of city that offers so much for every type of traveler – including experiences that won’t soon be forgotten.
(Previously published on Canada.com)