Industrial yet beautiful, the city of Buffalo, New York, is an unexpected alternative to some of yesterday’s hot urban places to visit. Cheap, diverse, walkable, and edgy, the Erie lakefront area is made up of interesting buildings of the past, from the stone-and-brick downtown to colorful immigrant-infused neighborhoods. From bakeries to festival sites (and everything in-between), here are some of the places to kick-start your explorations.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural reach extended to Buffalo, where he built a masterwork turn-of-the-century home for business executive Darwin Martin. In the past few years, the house added a glassy visitors’ center, and currently, the entire complex is wrapping up a $50 million restoration. An extra bonus: the rebuilt conservatory—a lush, sculptural greenhouse that creates an uplifting feeling, even on the industrial city’s cloudiest day.
Nestled in the festival-hosting Larkinville district, local developers Howard and Leslie Zemsky have jump-started the revival of the Larkin Soap Factory and warehouses. Its Food Truck Tuesdays draw thousands every week, in addition to the concerts, parties, and book signings held on a regular-basis. Even during non-event days, Flying Bison Brewing Co., BFLO Distilling Co., Tommyrotter Distillery, and the Hydraulic Hearth restaurant make excuses to visit this popular spot.
The 19th century architecture, theater district location, and lush acoustics of the Gothic Revival church caught the attention of Buffalo native singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco. As a result, she pulled together $10 million for refashioning the church into an inspired, music-is-sacred venue, complete with two separate performance spaces. Look up and see the stained glass of Asbury Hall; go downstairs to stumble upon the underground stage 9th Ward. Currently, indie acts that range from Sleater-Kinney to Glass Animals now make Babeville their local concert setting.
Standing along the Buffalo River, the world’s most impressive collection of old grain elevators are now taking on creative new life. One attention-grabbing project is RiverWorks, which includes a brewery, beer garden, concert venue, and sports arena alongside a half-dozen silos painted like a six-pack of Labatt Blue. RiverWorks’ wild-card recreational activities include roller derby, box lacrosse, and curling. And in the summer, patrons can powerboat or kayak up for a drink break.
Tucked away in the immigrant-heavy West Side of the city is a glimpse of farm life. Five Points Bakery & Toast Cafe feels like a country store, complete with barn doors, wheat-field paintings, a big garden, and even wall plaster made with chopped straw. Owners Kevin and Melissa Gardner bake the bread, and their tween daughters help serve the toast with gourmet toppings, ranging from Nutella to Brie to sauerkraut.
From an Intelligentsia and Verve Coffee Roasters alum comes the sleekest coffee shop in the city. Owner Jesse Crouse uses his experience with leading Chicago and California coffeemakers, sourcing Burundi beans and making coconut milk in-house. Situated in the Fargo Estate neighborhood (once owned by American Express co-founder William Fargo), Tipico has quickly become the spot where locals plot out their Victorian-home rehab projects and upcoming ventures.