By Stephen Johnson
I love it when a city surprises you. A trip to Buffalo, New York did exactly that. I was expecting to find diehard sports fans, friendly people and the birthplace of Buffalo chicken wings. Our family did find that but also so much more. We also found a city filled with amazing architecture, a vibrant waterfront and a music scene with a rich history.
Here are a few of the top attractions we enjoyed in the city.
Buffalo Architecture Tour – One of the best places to start any visit to Buffalo is taking an architectural tour. At the turn of the 20th century, Buffalo was one of the wealthiest cities in North America and had the architecture to prove it. Luckily, much of this architecture has been preserved through the efforts of groups like Explore Buffalo.
We decided to take their American master’s tour which covered some of the great buildings in the downtown core. Sandy, David and I arrived at our rendezvous spot for the tour, the Hotel Lafayette and met our friendly tour guide, Bernadette. Our introduction to architecture started even before the tour left. The Lafayette was designed by the first recognized female architect in the United States, Louise Bethune with doors opening in 1904. Today, the hotel has been faithfully restored to its original condition.
Once everyone had assembled, Bernadette led us around downtown Buffalo. We saw impressive buildings like the Guaranty Building which was one of the earliest skyscrapers in North America, the Ellicott Square Building who’s ornate interior could easily fit in any capital city in Europe and the Old Post Office which has been converted into a space for the Erie Community College.
Bernadette provided interesting information about the buildings and the architects. We arrived back at the Hotel Lafayette and were ready for our next activity.
Buffalo River History Tour – The perfect way to complement an architectural walking tour is with a historical boat tour. Much of Buffalo’s early wealth can be credited to the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. The canal allowed goods to travel all the way from New York City to the Great Lakes via Buffalo.
It is only fitting that a large part of Buffalo’s recent re-emergence has come from the development of its waterfront called Canalside. There are multiple restaurants, hotels, and attractions that have opened.
Canalside is also where we boarded our boat for the river cruise. The day we boarded, it smelled of Cheerios near Canalside. Rather than thinking a tanker of Cheerios had spilled into the Buffalo Harbor, our guide explained that Cheerios were in fact produced in Buffalo so it is common to smell your favorite breakfast cereal. This was a perfect segue way for our guide to talking about Buffalo’s rich history as the world’s largest grain port. The industry has now changed so many of Buffalo’s huge grain elevators no longer serve their original purpose. True to form, resourceful Buffalonians have repurposed some of the grain elevators into the complex Silo City. The area is home to a bar, performance space and film shoots.
Jazz in Buffalo – The Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo is one of the most unique places I have visited in my life. In today’s context, the name is not at all politically correct. The name of the club references its history. Initially in Buffalo, musicians unions were all white and refused to allow African-American members. A separate union was formed and within the union, a social club was formed where African-American musicians could go and play and eat.
In 1934, the club found a permanent home at 145 Broadway. It became a vibrant place where jazz musicians would often go after a gig to jam.
Fast forward to 2019, the Colored Musicians Club is still open and holds a jam open to everyone Sunday nights. I am on the bottom floor and ring a buzzer to get upstairs. There is a small stage up front where musicians are playing. Along the walls are photos of jazz musicians. The place is about three-quarters full and is made up of all ages and races. I see George Scott at the back of the room manning the sound controls. Scott is the president of the club and is also the leader of the George Scott Big Band.
We quickly engage in easy conservation where George fills me in on the history of the club and jazz music in Buffalo. We hang out for about forty-five minutes listening to music and chatting. Talk turns to the jazz museum on the 1st floor of the club. George takes me down to the museum and I am blown away. The museum is very interactive where a person can learn about various styles of jazz music and musicians. George mentioned the museum had been set up to encourage people of all ages to learn about jazz.
Sadly, it was time for me to leave but George gave me a few momentos from the club before I left. Since visiting the club and museum, I have been getting into jazz borrowing CDs from my local library.
Where to stay – We had an excellent stay at the Embassy Suites. The hotel was located in downtown Buffalo close to all the major attractions. We enjoyed the view from our room which offered full glass windows offering an incredible view of downtown Buffalo. We appreciated the free buffet breakfast and the made to order omelet station. We also enjoyed the complimentary evening reception where drinks were served along with light snacks.
For more information about Buffalo, visit, www.visitbuffaloniagara.com