Buffalo, New York is a city on the upswing

I wrote this blog for the Toronto Star last year after a nice visit to Buffalo. From what I hear, things have improved even more since I was last in town…

For years, as I recall, the head of media/public relations for Buffalo Tourism had been bugging me to come on down and check things out.
I envisioned cool architecture and chicken wings and a nice Frank Lloyd Wright building Ihad heard about. I covered the Buffalo Bills off and on for the Star’s sports section in the early 2000’s, but I didn’t have a strong mental image of the city in my mind.
But I decided to spend an afternoon in the Queen City after getting an invitation to speak at a tourism event in Syracuse for this week. And was I ever glad I did.
I was quite blown away by the city, to be honest. I found a super-cool luxury hotel, awesome neighborhoods, fabulous industrial architecture and a very cool waterfront that could someday be quite stunning.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, I’m told, is sinking a billion dollars – they call it the Buffalo Billion – into the city. And it shows.
The Mansion on Delaware in Buffalo has a very sophisticated happy hour in a gorgeous sitting room.

IMG_3399The Mansion on Delaware in Buffalo has a very sophisticated happy hour in a gorgeous sitting room.

I stayed the night at the Mansion on Delaware, an old home close to downtown that’s sleek and sophisticated and extra cool. The rooms are luxurious, with ceilings high enough for a giraffe to stretch out. There’s a cool lobby area with a fireplace and immensely comfortable chairs, plus tons of dark wood and local, modern art.
My room had a great Jacuzzi tub as well as a beautiful bed and a couple of nice chairs, as well as a sleek design with a bedspread with colourful blue and orange stripes and a wall painted deep red-orange.
They have a free happy hour in the late afternoon with a full bar, and you’re entitled to two free drinks. If you don’t want to make one yourself, or don’t want a glass of wine, they have a staff that will gladly make you something. There are butlers at your disposal 24/7, too.
It’s a popular spot with celebrities, as the city’s theatre district is close by. You’ll find signed photos from the likes of Faith Hill, Alec Baldwin and many others near the elevator if you’re so inclined.
There’s a pool table and they have coffee and tea ready to go all day long, plus free parking and free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included, too, and it’s spectacular; salmon, yogurt, fresh bread and butter, regular and chocolate croissants, fruit, muffins, eggs, gooey and delicious cinnamon rolls, oatmeal, cheese, salami, salad and a fabulous crusty Italian bread topped with cheese, capers and sundried tomatoes. It’s the sort of place you want to spend hours at in the late afternoon or enjoy reading a paper by the fire after breakfast, and the staff is terrific.
It’s only a minute or two from downtown and walking distance to the city’s under-played Allentown and Elmwood neighborhoods, which offer great cafes, shops and very reasonably priced bars, not to mention cool buildings with awesome murals. I was shocked at how urban and funky it was.

IMG_3361Allentown is a great neighborhood in Buffalo, with cool architecture and colourful murals.

And I was hugely impressed by Delaware Park and the lakes and walking paths and bridges near the Albright-Knox Gallery. It’s one of six parks in Buffalo designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park in New York City.
I also was taken by the new park in front of the nearby Richardson Olmsted Complex, a glorious set of buildings that used to be a mental institution in the north end but is said to be on its way to becoming, in part, a boutique hotel.
The new Harbor Center also is coming along downtown, with two full-size ice rinks across from the First Niagara Centre, which is home to the Buffalo Sabres. There’s a new, 200-room, full-service Marriott hotel on the way for next year and also a “flagship” Tim Hortons that will have a museum recognizing his contributions to the NHL and the Sabres. How cool is that???
There are plenty of nice bars and restaurants and new office buildings nearby in the Cobblestone area, too.
The Canalside area of Buffalo is a great place to read a book or check out the redeveloping waterfront.

IMG_3271The Canalside area of Buffalo is a great place to read a book or check out the redeveloping waterfront.

They’ve done a ton of work on the outer harbour, which stretches for miles on the eastern end of Lake Erie. It was home to heavy industry and shipping for years, not unlike Toronto. But it’s being made over with tons of parks and bike trails and other amenities. One park I saw, Wilkeson Pointe, has a nice beach and some cool wind sculptures. You also can stop at Dug’s Dive for a sandwich or a beer or something more filling. It’s a fun spot where folks colour their dollar bills or write on them and stick them on the ceiling.
I’d never seen the Canalside area of town before the other day and it’s quite cool, as well. The Buffalo River flows through the area and you can tour various old warships and check out a submarine and fighter planes. The Liberty Hound has a pretty setting and a giant patio for summer, right on the water. And you can even rent a kayak and go cruising up the river and check out the haunting old silos and the cool industrial architecture of working factories and the new parks with bandshells and acres of grass for picnics or parties.
Some folks would rather kayak in pristine wilderness, of course, but the idea of boating down the river and seeing some glorious old industrial spots kind of appeals to me. As does the idea of a return trip to Buffalo.

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