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The Evolution of Duke's

Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar in Allentown has gradually evolved since it opened in 2010. What began as simply a bar with a ton of beer—more than 157 varieties—quickly turned into one of the area’s premier locations to hear live electronic music. It has since morphed into an all-encompassing music venue—from jazz to hip hop, rock to punk, and electronic to funk—with a gourmet kitchen, and a back patio to boot.

After almost four years of development, Duke’s has finally become what husband and wife owners Gabby Alfieri and Patrick “Doogie” Duquin envisioned from the beginning: what Gabby’s brother JJ Alfieri—who is in charge of booking and promotions—calls “the most complete bar, nightclub, and eatery in the city.”

Getting there has taken a lot of work, though.

“We talked to a lot of friends and family,” says Duquin, who, prior to opening Duke’s, was a manager and maitre d’ at Hutch’s Restaurant for 13 years. “They all said, ‘Don’t go too big too soon.’” For Duquin and Alfieri, who met while both were working at Hutch’s and have a family history in the restaurant business, that meant evolving in a few distinct phases.

The first phase was to strip down the interior of the location that used to be known as Staples, install a new bar, a new roof, and a new stage, and start slinging beers. Phase two: Step up the décor and add a high-quality sound and lighting system for hip-hop, jazz, and electronic music nights. Phase three: Find the right chef and open a gourmet kitchen and dining area. Today, the third phase is complete, as chef Michael “Redd” Frank, who has worked under well-known Buffalo chefs Mike Andrzejewski and Chris Daigler, has taken the reins.

“He can put out a really kick-ass burger or quesadilla, but he can also do a beautiful cut of salmon or steak,” says Gabby Alfieri. In addition to standard menu items like the lobster gnocchi (rich and overflowing with bits of lobster), a pan-fried salmon burger with Dijon aoili, hand-cut truffle oil French fries, and their signature smoked BBQ wings (some customers order these in the 100s) the restaurant features daily specials.

Visit on the night of a Sabres game and you’ll find classic bar food like soft pretzels beef on weck, and fried bologna sandwhiches. Visit on one of their live music matinee nights, like Americana Fridays, and you’ll find some more high-end dishes (though not at high-end prices) ranging from a flat iron steak (served with a three-cheese artichoke and leek au gratin potato and charred asparagus) to a delicious baked salmon dish with grilled brocollini.

There are also eight vegetarian dishes on the standard menu, including Buffalo eggplant wings, falafel, and portabella fries.

Though the venue and restaurant has gone through many changes, one thing has stayed consistent: the beer selection. Duke’s might not always be mentioned in the same breath as some of the premier beer bars in the city like the Blue Monk and the Pearl Street Grill, but it should be.

The bar features 11 standard draft beers, including their house IPA, Duke’s Truth Serum (6.7% alc/vol), and six seasonal selections. Right now seasonals include the piney and sweet Southern Tier 2xmas (8.0% alc/vol), and the hoppy and warm Old Man Winter (7.0% alc/vol), also by Southern Tier Brewing Company.

When you walk into DBGB’s you’ll immediately notice a wall of beer to your right—the giant refrigerator cases hold 140 different bottled beers, including the Victory Storm King Stout (9.1% alc/vol), DogFish Head’s 60 Minute IPA (6.0% alc/vol), and Ithaca Beer Company’s Cascazilla (7.0% alc/vol).

“As our menu and décor evolved, we also wanted our wine list to evolve,” says Gabby Alfieri. Two of her favorites include a Kato sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and an Astica malbec, their best-selling wine.

Though the dance floor of Duke’s is a dining area by evening these days, the tables and chairs still clear out to make space for plenty of live music by night. What started as a club where fans of cutting-edge electronic music would gather has transformed into one of the best hip-hop spots in the city. 1990s hip hop icons like Camp Lo and Kool Keith as well as up-and-coming rappers like Homeboy Sandman and Coolzey have all made their way to Duke’s this year, courtesy of Buffalo’s Deep Thinka records. Their next show will be another well-known 1990s hip-hop duo, Brooklyn’s Smif-n-Wessun. The duo broke out in 1995 with their underground hit “Bucktown” from their record Dah Shinin’. They’ll take Duke’s stage this Saturday, December 7. Deep Thinka president Tony Caferro, is, as always, eager to pack the dance floor at his go-to venue.

“The people who own that place, Pat and Gabby, are hella cool. They’re down-to-earth people,” says Caferro. “When we do a show together, I feel like we’re on the same team. It’s not like that at every venue.”

Caferro is also excited for the return of his classic Hip Hop Karaoke night, which he’ll bring to Duke’s for the first time on January 4.

The owners of the Allentown restaurant are now looking ahead to the next phase, a catering endeavour with choices ranging from open bar packages to “create your own buffett,” and more traditional serving options. A couple was even married on the stage of Duke’s a few weeks ago in a celebration complete with tablecloths, lights, and rose petals.

“We are so willing to accomidate people,” says Gabby Alfieri. “I think that’s why people keep coming back.”

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