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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v8n42 (10/14/2009) » 3 Guys Walk Into a Bar

Swan Lounge

Hey, Brian Panikowski--take the caps off those bottles! (photos: Rose Mattrey)

Though I’ve only been at it a few months, I’ve already found that there are certain elements required for the best execution of a Three Guys Walk Into a Bar column.

Swan Lounge


By Donny Kutzbach
who walked in with...

Chris Galas
Buffalo Zoo maintenance worker

Andrew Gugler

One is having the right team.

Chris Galas has been the “go to” number two guy, joining me for almost every column thus far. At the core Galas is a hardworking fellow and full-on family man, but he’s also true bon vivant with a penchant for the good times. Add Andrew Gugler—a transplant from Kansas City with a dry and wicked sense of humor—and we’re almost guaranteed a good one.

Another thing is Monday nights.

There is a kind of magic to a Monday evening, which is for most the absolute one day away from nightlife, taboo to all except the true professionals. You can really find out what a place is all about at 11:30pm on Monday.

Finally, it seems best to stumble onto a joint. Not only should you not expect to be there, you might not have even known the bar was there until you happened to pass by.

Such was the case on a Monday evening when the stars aligned over us at the spot where Swan and Seneca Streets meet. We were genuinely surprised when we “discovered” the Swan Lounge.

After an otherwise lackluster evening that had led us to almost every corner of the city but not even one new-found watering hole of note, we were just about ready to put a fork in the old pig, when those bright lights none of us had noticed before at the intersection of Swan and Seneca drew us in.

Shuffle bowling -- the ideal winter sport for beer drinkers.

The Swan Lounge was not only worth the stop but proved to be just the joint we needed. We had walked into the bar that could write this column virtually on its own.

It has all the beauty of an old Buffalo dive: far from fancy, a place where regular folks of all kinds amiably enjoy a drink. There might not be a more perfect bar in the Queen City for a shot and a beer, and for a wide-angle view of the denizens of Buffalo.

Swan Lounge is more than just a throwback. The place looks like it hasn’t changed at all in the last 20 years. Maybe 30 years. Okay, let’s be honest: probably closer to 50 years. The building is more than 100 years old and the spot has been a gin mill for the better part of the 20th century. Still going strong, even on a Monday night. And there was plenty to endear the Swan Lounge to the Three Guys. Plenty.

Just across from the big, knotty wood bar that is the centerpiece of the lounge is an entire booth upholstered in Crown Royal bags. Dozens of the familiar regal purple sacks that house fresh out of the box bottles of the Canadian whisky have been lovingly repurposed as upholstery. Scanning the room, we found an old phone booth, an ancient rear-projection TV which now serves solely as a mantle for bowling trophies, NHL pennants circa 1988 enshrined in plastic, and framed memorabilia from the Sabres’ French Connection glory days, including a Perrault game jersey.

Perhaps even more interesting than the sports memorabilia are old life-preservers from the SS Kinsman Independent and a paddle from the SS Kinsman Empire, two storied Great Lakes freighter that would regularly unload grain up the road at Lake & Rail elevator. Where did the ship’s crew and the grain scoopers go to spend their pay after the freighters were unloaded? The Swan Lounge.

There’s plenty of perfectly beat-up old couches to fall into and—if the beer flows and the hours pass—maybe to sleep on. Tammy, the bartender, tells us that folks frequently do.

Tammy. How could we forget her?

Tammy Sullivan—“Sully” to her regulars—is the tough but sweet, joke-cracking bartender who brings us beer after beer, answers our questions about the place, and schools us on the Swan Lounge’s shuffle bowling machine.

Shuffle bowling—the freakishly delighful amalgam of bowling, shuffle board and pinball—is another element that makes for a great Three Guys night out, and we are very lucky tonight.

Tammy is something of a regional champion, having proven her dominance in several local leagues and tournaments. She explains the rules, the finer points, and the tricks to getting a strike. Galas and Gugler start to get good. Tammy even lets me win a game!

When you wander though the doors of a tavern for the first time into a crowd thick with regulars and not only get treated like one of them but get to join the party-like atmosphere, you’ve found something special. City of good neighbors? The neighbors are even better when they’re buying you a round. Our great neighbors at Swan Lounge did.

Is Swan Lounge Buffalo’s quintessential bar? This column is about doing the research to find out for sure, and there’s plenty more research to do, but I’m certainly not gonna say no.

I’m not one to fall for numerology, andmaybe it’s mere coincidence that the Swan Lounge’s street number is 7-1-6…but, then again, maybe it’s not.

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