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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Surprising Buffalo

At the turn of last century, Buffalo had more millionaires per capita than any city in America. The combined wealth helped persuade Louis J. Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Frank Lloyd Wright to come to town to create skyscrapers, parks, and estates. Then the city fell on hard times. But it seems like Buffalo is having the last laugh. Money is staring to pour in to salvage many of their architectural highlights. 
I was in Buffalo this past weekend, on assignment for The Boston Globe, and I had a great stay. Wright’s Darwin Martin House (1905), rivaled only by Fallingwater in scope and mastery among his residences, just completed a 10-year, $50 million renovation. This includes the renovation of a conservatory and carriage house, linked to the main house via a 100-foot long pergola. This was my third tour of a Wright house, include Taliesen West, and was by far the most impressive. 
On an open-air bus architectural tour, we also checked out the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, a castle-like assemblage of 14 buildings designed by H.H. Richardson in the late 1800s. The gothic-looking towers have been rebranded the Richardson Olmsted complex and will soon become a boutique hotel and center for architecture. Other noteworthy stops include Louis J. Sullivan’s 13-story 1895 Guaranty Building, the first skyscraper in America, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, considered one of the finest collections of modern art in the country.
The food was exceptional. On the first night we had inspired Polish fare at Bistro Europa, including pierogies and golabki, stuffed cabbage that would make my grandmother proud. The second night, we dined at the spanking new Mike A’s Steakhouse in a downtown building that was dormant the past 40 years. Saved by Buffalo’s favorite son, developer Rocco Termini, the circa-1904 Lafayette Hotel has reclaimed its French Renaissance and Art Deco glamour and is now a boutique hotel with a vintage bar. Dinner was exceptional, probably the best meal I had since dining at the acclaimed Next in Chicago last summer. Mike Andrzejewski is one of the city’s best loved chefs and he finally has a high-end restaurant that matches his talent. One taste of his wagyu beef tartare, spiced with pine nuts, capers, watercress, red onions, olive oil, truffled dijon mustard, and egg yolk, and you realize this dude’s destined for a James Beard Award. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/05/12 at 12:00 PM
Art Finds • (5) CommentsPermalink Bookmark and Share


Thank You Steve for your nice review of Buffalo, N.Y. it's nice to hear from people whom have seen some of the hidden treasures that this "rust belt" city has to offer.

Picture of Donald Nelson Comment by Donald Nelson
on 07/06/12 at 05:04 PM

Just want to say that the LaFayette Hotel wasn't dormant and up until the building sold people lived there in long term hotel / apts (more or less a flop house, but not dormant) and the new steack house was a gem of a dive bar that frequently had live music, Lafayette Tap Room. They did improve on the building greatly and are now trying to make it more upscale and less rust belt chic as it was, but my point is that it was far from dormant as long as you weren't afraid to go to the places that arent bright and new and shiny

Picture of Neil H Comment by Neil H
on 07/06/12 at 07:07 PM

What was the writing assignment, and when will it be published? We here in Buffalo always enjoy reading about what other people think of our city. Thanks for the kind words about our architecture and citizens. Glad your visit was an enjoyable one. If time allows, you might want to stop by again soon at the end of the month for Garden Walk Buffalo (the largest in the nation). Really showcases Buffalo's citizens in ways not many events can. Or at least get one of your co-workers to come! I'm not associated with it in anyway, I just think it's awesome:

Picture of Kirk McLean Comment by Kirk McLean
on 07/07/12 at 07:31 PM

Glad you had a great time in our fair city! Mike A.'s and Bistro Europa are indeed wonderful! We're surprising folks quite a bit more these days. A couple observations: - Buffalo did not have more millionaires per capita than any city in America at the turn of the last century. I cringe when this urban myth is repeated here (which is often!). Indeed, because there was no income tax at the turn of the century, there is no way to confirm such a sweeping statement. It is make believe. Folks in Elmira, NY, also make this claim. - Sullivan, Olmsted, and Wright were not persuaded to create work in Buffalo because there was a giant pile of money in town. Other cities had money, too. They worked here because a handful of forward-thinking folks like William Dorsheimer and Darwin D. Martin were fascinated by their ideas and were in positions to hire them on major projects. Buffalo lucked out with uncommonly progressive leadership at a few key junctures in its history. Money alone cannot produce this outcome. We hope to see you back in Buffalo soon!

Picture of Chris Hawley Comment by Chris Hawley
on 07/08/12 at 05:42 AM

Thanks for clarifying, Chris and Neil. I'll make those changes for The Boston Globe story. Kirk, the story is planning to run sometime in September. Thanks for your interest!

Picture of Steve Jermanok Comment by Steve Jermanok
on 07/09/12 at 03:49 PM

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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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