The Pre-Dyngus Day East Side Bar Crawl
by Donny Kutzbach
In Buffalo, we often have a defeatist attitude. It’s easy to understand why.
Sometimes we feel like we are trapped in a community that’s at the bottom of everything: Our population is shrinking, the economy here is tough as hell, and the local teams can’t seem to win when it counts.
It’s not always easy to see the positives, but here’s a fact to help swing things around. There is something Buffalo is #1 at: Dyngus Day.
This heralded day-after-Easter celebration has its origins in pre-Christianity Poland and took on an “end of Lent” angle but, just as St. Patrick’s Day is barely a blip on the radar in Ireland, Dyngus Day has lost root where it started but turned into a regional party in Polish-heavy pockets of the US.
And these days, no city can boast the level of Dyngus Day celebrations put on in Buffalo, with parades, parties, pussywillows, food, and drink...and more drink.
In preparation for Dyngus Day, Artvoice aimed to visit some of the remaining watering holes carrying the old gin mill torch on the East Side, the local cradle of Polonia. We were able to rally the perfect pre-Dyngus Day compatriots and native sons to come along: one a third-generation Buffalo cop and the other a good Polish-American lad.
And in the spirit of overdoing it for Dyngus Day, we couldn’t limit ourselves to just one bar.
It was a quiet evening on a weeknight and the first stop was at the aptly named Market Bar sitting at the corner of Gibson and Sienkiewicz streets just across from the Broadway Market, an inextinguishable shopping square that still stands like a beacon of the neighborhood’s traditions and past glory.
Along with liquor bottles dashed with black marker to note the price of drink and an ancient wooden phone booth, the walls of Market Bar are pasted and nailed with mementos from the Queen City’s past, from the final edition of the Courier Express to original red and white street signs from the corner where the bar sits.
The beer of choice was Okocim—a sturdy Polish porter that has a rich flavor and packs 5.7 percent ABV—which can be tough to find but is worth cracking open any time you can.
The jukebox was unplugged, but it didn’t matter because the conversation to be had was far better than the tunes a few quarters could muster. We had the floor with the proprietor and head barkeep, Sandy Kuntz, who has owned the Market Bar for 20 years and is a lifer in the bar business.
On a night when we were her only customers, she told us her story, recalling the days when the Market Bar would be filled early in the morning with third-shifters and business would carry all through the day and night and way into the wee hours. These days, she said, the old crowd has evaporated and the neighborhood is a hard one to get by in.
The outlook is grim at best, but the coming week leading up to Easter and Dyngus Day is her busiest of the year and brings out crowds like the old days.
Sandy then poured us some shots of krupnik—the warm, spicy, honey-based Polish liquor that packs a wallop—on the house. It was clear to us not only that the Market Bar is a classic place but that the owner is pure class.
“Sandy has the old Buffalo attitude,” Ray says. “She’s tough but genuine and seems like she has seen it all, because she has.”
Next we traveled into the shadow, the Central Terminal—another relic of the once thriving neighborhood that continues to stand tall and point upward to what the future might bring—and to Arty’s Grill.
Arty’s Grill has a deceptive coziness. It bears a friendly, small-bar warmth but actually offers a lot of space to stretch out, grab a table if you are in a big group, or find a corner away from the action.
We arrived just as the Sabres and Flyers started the second period and an eager crew of hometown blue-and-golders were gathered up front at the bar. In a perfect mix of something old and something new, the hockey revelers were clustered beneath a pair of vintage Genesee Beer lamps to peer at the game on slick flat screens.
The bar was stocked with more premium Polish brews, and the beer of choice switched to the dryly refreshing Tyskie. We easily faded into the friendly crowd of regulars, two dozen strong.
As Costantino points out about Arty’s, “This is a real sports bar: a bunch of dudes in jeans hanging out watching hockey with no stupid appetizers or dinners being consumed, just beer and liquor.”
Before we fled the good times of the East Side for home—like a one night re-enactment of decades of suburban sprawl—we ended things at G & T Inn. Now we’d seen a lot this evening, but we hadn’t seen it all. Upon meeting G & T’s owner Eugene “Geno” Kiszelewsk, it’s fair to say we had.
There’s plenty that we liked about G & T—the Genny Lights, more krupnik, and the mysteriously good BBQ wings—but best of it all was Geno. A genuine character who runs this bar in an old house at the corner of Memorial Drive and Lombard Street, this short, talky firecracker was a born tavern owner: full of life, a great sense of humor, the ultimate host. I’m pretty sure Geno was even willing to sell us the G & T Inn for the right price. Well, we really loved it there, so we may have to go back and take him up on the offer.
We must mention that Adam Mickiewicz Library & Dramatic Circle is a spot we love and were hoping to visit. Don’t be fooled by the name. While there is a library housed on the second floor and the back has a theater with a stage, the real jewel is the tiny bar hidden inside. A $10 bill buys you private membership that includes a great bartender named Vince and a passport to the widest selection of Eastern European beers that you are likely to find outside of Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, Adam Mickiewicz Library was closed the night we hit the East Side. But it’s certainly open on Dyngus Day, when there will be food and beer and music and a great view of the parade. Three guys will save our membership card and eventually get back there for a full report...
For complete overview of Buffalo’s Dyngus Day festivities, visit DyngusDayBuffalo.com.blog comments powered by Disqus
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