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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v10n27 (07/07/2011) » Who's Touching Your Food

Remaking Chippewa

Soho Burger Bar (photo by Jill Greenberg)

In the interest of self-preservation, club and restaurant owners are transforming the Chippewa Strip

There’s a new Strip in town.

For most urbanites and even for the suburbanites who travel in city circles, “the Strip” refers to the bustling Elmwood Village. Tree-lined streets, quaint retail shops, fabulous food, vibrant bars, and eclectic characters define what most Western New Yorker’s think of as the Strip. But, in the not-so-distant future, Elmwood could be facing some competition.

Technically, the Chippewa Strip is not so new. Entrepreneur and visionary Mark Goldman saw the potential on Chippewa 20 years ago. In the early 1990s Goldman turned Chippewa into Buffalo’s primary entertainment district. The streets were cleaned up, the vacant buildings renovated and rented out, and crowds began to flock to the city’s newest party zone.

Time flies, and the cyclical nature of the bar/entertainment business have left the Chippewa Strip in need of some serious rehab. The old bars of decades past need more than just a fresh coat of paint: They need a new vision and new business owners to bring them back to life.

The Buffalo Entertainment District Association comprises the business owners and visionaries that Chippewa so desperately needs. Jay Manno, partner in the newly re-vamped Soho Burger Bar (64 West Chippewa), heads up the association, serving as its president. Also on the committee are Conor Hawkins of Darcy McGee’s (257 Franklin Street), Sean Coughlin of Bayou (79 West Chippewa), as well as the owners of Pure Night Club (75 West Chippewa), Purple Monkey Tropical Pub (236 Delaware Avenue), and Bada Bing (115 West Chippewa).

According to Manno, the group tries to not be too formal. They meet just once a month and cover a broad spectrum of topics pertaining not just to the street but also to the overall image of the entertainment district. The association even has its own social media consultant, Kevin Evanetski.

According to Manno, there is a gross misconception about the purpose and direction of the Buffalo Entertainment District. One of the group’s primary focuses is fundraising. Manno is proud to point out the amount of charitable work in which the association takes part.

Annually and biannually, the group sponsors events like Little Black Dress Fridays, which target the female demographic. The host a Bartender’s Ball for Breast Cancer and the Save the Boobies Bar Crawl, another benefit for breast cancer. The Sisterhood Wellness Center is the main beneficiary of these fundraisers, and Manno estimates that more than $12,000 has been raised to aid in the fight against breast cancer. “We really like to see the money raised go to a local organization,” says Manno.

The association also participates in canned food drives for the City Mission, the annual Toys for Tots fundraiser, and the Give for Greatness campaign, which helps to fund local art and cultural organizations.

Many of the events held on Chippewa also serve a secondary purpose: self-improvement. “We try to jointly raise money to improve our street,” says Manno. They are working with Adam Sokol, a well known local architect, on ways to beautify Chippewa.

Surprisingly, the work that has been begun on Chippewa is almost entirely a result of private investment. The business owners are tired of waiting for the city to step in and help out. For too long they’ve heard empty promises of repaved streets and decorative crosswalks. So they are reinvesting in their neighborhood, from painting garbage cans, to power-washing the facades of buildings, to planting their own trees.

Fundraising and beautification aside, the gentlemen who sit on the association board are also working on the safety issues that any urban entertainment district faces. A heightened police presence helps, but they are looking to make greater changes. They are in the preliminary stages of setting up both taxi and limousine stands to help with traffic flow and safety. They also have plenty of well lit and security-guarded parking in the Augspurger Ramp on Franklin.

“The media perception is far worse than the reality, it couldn’t be safer,” says Manno.

The association is looking to put a positive face on what is emerging as a hotspot again. Boasting more than a dozen eateries, many of which have just recently opened, and a wide variety of drinking establishments, Chippewa has something to offer everyone. With the proliferation of downtown lofts, plans for newly constructed or revamped hotels, and the burgeoning medical campus, the Chippewa Strip is poised to explode.

“I honestly believe that the direction of this district is heading towards that of a big-city feel,” says Manno proudly.

Find the Buffalo Entertainment District on Facebook to follow their up-coming events.

- off the menu -

(photo by Jill Greenberg)

Bambino E Arrivato!

One of the latest eateries to open their doors in the Buffalo Entertainment District is housed in a familiar building at a well known address, 297 Franklin Street. This new dining destination sits on the site of the former Duo, the Brownstone Seafood House & Oyster Bar, and the Brownstone Bistro.

Three restaurants in just over a decade may make an entrepreneur question the location. If prone to superstition, one might fear that the address is cursed. But Noel Morreale and Mike Vaccaro have taken the jinxed location and brought new life to the building.

The new restaurant is aptly named Bambino (“baby” in Italian) Bar and Kitchen, and this newbie to the Western New York restaurant scene is just over a month old. The partners, however, have been nurturing the idea for some time. Morreale is a partner in North Buffalo’s swanky steakhouse, Fiamma (1735 Hertel Avenue), which is where he came to Vaccaro. They struck up a friendship and a partnership.

With economic trends taking a bite out of diners’ discretionary dollars, Morreale formulated the concept of a workingman’s Italian eatery. The search for the right location began just this past winter. It didn’t take long for the partners to settle on 297 Franklin. Morreale knew the building, as he had manned the line as a sous chef back in the Brownstone Bistro’s heyday. The kitchen, the pizza oven, the location: It was a perfect fit. After three months of reconstructive surgery, Bambino was born. The grand opening was last month.

The menu, as the name implies, is Italian fare from start to finish. The wine list follows suit. Morreale, who works the line side by side with his employees, has created a menu that pays homage to old-world Italian recipes.

Easy to point out as the pièce de résistance, the wood-fired pizzas top the list of customer favorites. But they are just a part of an adventurous menu. Mortadella mousse with pistachio and balsamic, along with the roasted bone marrow and parsley salad are just a couple foodie favorites listed as “Tavern Snacks.” Gabrielle Mattina, the restaurant’s general manager, makes a point of stating that Bambino’s is all about food. “We are much more kitchen than we are bar,” she says.

Mattina has been running the front of the house since the doors opened and she says that business could not be better. “We have a very dynamic crowd. It’s anyone and everyone you would want to hang out with.”

Bambino offers both indoor and outdoor seating, and the first floor features large, comfortable, communal tables. It is the perfect place for a lengthy lunch, a post-work cocktail, or a romantic dinner. Bambino is open seven days a week, offering lunch Monday through Friday starting at 11:30am and dinners every evening. While the website is under construction, they can be found on Facebook: Search bambinobarandkitchen. For reservations, call 240-9851.

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