Anchor Bar, original creators of Buffalo wings, is crammed with memorabilia.

Anchor Bar, original creators of Buffalo wings, is crammed with memorabilia.

In Part 1, Architectural Icons Were Examined
Before I met my husband Russ, I would have looked at ornately-designed buildings or décor and thought, “How pretty” and likely that would have been the end of it. Married to someone who has taken me travelling internationally and domestically just to admire fine, sleek lines or fanciful carved motifs or intricately-patterned ceilings and has made a career from his knowledge and creative building skills, has turned my passing admiration into deeper appreciation for the art, skills and craftsmanship necessary to erect these structures. That so many cities have managed to preserve, restore and renovate buildings that could never again be (cost-effective) to be built in our lifetime is worthy of recognition. Buffalo is one such city.
Of course, having walked and gawked all day, one must eat to refuel energy. Just as architects and patrons of the arts have left their imprint on Buffalo, so have culinary artists who have created legendary dishes, such as Buffalo wings, that are (likely) known across the globe.
Panorama on Seven in the Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter was one of three places A Chamber of Commerce woman suggested we’d find the best Beef on Weck sandwiches in the area. What separates these three, including Schwabl’s and Bar-Bill Tavern, from others is that the seasoned meat is slow-cooked for hours, contrary to places that import frozen beef and then reheat at the last minute. For those of you not from Buffalo, Beef on Weck is a signature sandwich. Mounds of thin-sliced roast beef are piled onto a Kümmelweck bun, which is salted and caraway-seeded. The Panorama’s were served on sliders. Russ enjoyed the sliders and was eager to try the sandwich at Schwabl’s.
Schwabl’s began serving German-styled cuisine and Beef on Weck sandwiches 1837. Their current West Seneca restaurant is a step back in time. The waitresses might call you honey, the tables are close together, and you watch the chef slicing the meat on a counter, after which a half-pound is stacked high and juicy inside Kümmelweck bun. Horseradish comes on the side, but the tang of the horseradish compliments the tender beef so well, that I understand why that is what is traditionally served instead of mayo. I substituted their signature German potato salad (89 cents) for French fries. Yum. No way could I eat more than half this gigantic sandwich.
Over 75,000 items are hidden inside the deceptively small exterior of Vidler's 5 & 10.

Over 75,000 items are hidden inside the deceptively small exterior of Vidler’s 5 & 10.

A couple days later, we headed off to East Aurora to check out Viddler’s, a classic 5&10 store that is still rocking it today, and Bar-Bill. We waited an hour on a football game day to get a table.The place was lively, loud and crammed with people. The sandwich was terrific. The atmosphere like being in the middle of a Saturday afternoon football jamboree. Bar-Bill doesn’t take reservations or credit cards, but that doesn’t stop tourists and locals from packing the place. The Beef on Weck was fantastic, but after eating the one at Schwabl’s, we’d have to give it a second-best rating.Tip: cash only.
Back in Buffalo, we went to Pasión Cuban in Elmwood Village because locals steered us away from the tourist guide book that was leading us elsewhere.  At that point, we wanted to be an atmospheric setting to have a couple cocktails to celebrate my birthday. The two bartenders were congenial and conversational. Russ watched carefully as Jordan meticulously shook and decorated his pisco sour. James Bond would love this place. The handcrafted cocktails are always shaken, not stirred or put into a blender. When we mentioned it was my birthday, they gave Russ and I both a mini-shot of their signature rum drink, and joined us in the toast.
Tappo, a contemporary Italian restaurant, came highly recommended as the new hot spot: for the food, reasonably priced drinks, and the party atmosphere on the rooftop bar. We waited nearly an hour for a table, but oh so worth it. My Italian wedding soup and signature chicken Milanese was divine. Russ thoroughly enjoyed veal, an evening special. What amazed us most is the vast number of bottles of international wines for just $16.
Fredonia is a small city that apparently comes to life when the state college is in session, which it wasn’t. We were directed there by a Lake Erie winery staff member after we inquired where to get a great meal. She steered us right. Ellicottville Brewing Company (EBC) West’s chef obviously doesn’t believe you have to dumb down food for a college crowd. The food was fresh, abundant and creatively inspired. Everything we ate (and couldn’t finish) was wonderful, but we were not wasting a drop of their “famous Taste of Ellicottville” Spicy African Peanut Soup! The hearty, creamy soup of chicken, peanut roux, cayenne and tomato has a mild finishing kick.
You can’t come to Buffalo and not eat some Buffalo wings, even when you’re me and seldom eat wings at all… let alone marinated in a spicy sauce. Buffalo wings were invented in 1964 at the Anchor Bar, so that’s where we went. Locals told us later that it’s not the best place for Buffalo wings, but it is the original and hyped to tourists. Actually, the place is a hoot just to people watch or gaze at the kitschy memorabilia jammed onto walls and any available spot, from motorcycles to funny wooden placards.
Free exercise classes held in the parks daily during the summer.

Free exercise classes held in the parks daily during the summer.

The city of Buffalo has the right idea. Provide a variety of activities that are sure to draw locals and tourists alike into the city center every day of the summer. Russ and I were quite lucky that our hotel was directly across the street from the Canalside parks, harbor, boardwalk, stages, and famed attractions. I have never witnessed a city who does more to encourage outdoor participation… and at No CHARGE!
A posted daily schedule outlines the entertainment and classes. From early morning to late evening there was a variety of physical exercise classes stretching across the grassy malls, sometimes even spilling over onto the boardwalk. Hundreds of workout wearing enthusiasts bring their mats, water and weights to jump, bounce, stretch and dance to miked-instructors bellowing over thumping music. The adjacent shallow pond that later would sell paddle boat rides holds paddleboard exercise classes during the day.
Each evening a local band, all genres of music, sets up on the boardwalk. Provided colorful chairs dot the area for listeners and those snacking from vendors. One night was a big band night, with a ballroom dance group providing instruction and inviting open participation. We danced, as did at least another 75 people. Adjacent to the boardwalk, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park hosts the decommissioned Cleveland-class cruiser USS Little Rock and the submarine USS Croaker. For a low entrance fee, you can tour at will.
You have to wait your turn in line to grab a photo with Shark Girl

You have to wait your turn in line to grab a photo with Shark Girl

The boardwalk activities appeal to all ages. There are hands-on play areas for families, music and casual cafes for munching al fresco, and a laser light show that propels colorful graphics onto stationary silos. Every Thursday evening is a celebrity concert. After the free T Pain concert in the park drew about 40,000 attendees and snarled traffic for hours (as we were trying to drive back to our hotel), the city may reconsider where they hold future celebrity concerts.
When Russ told me he had to locate Shark Girl, I thought he was joking. Not. The painted fiberglass sculpture by artist Casey Riordan Millard sits, ankles and hands crossed, on a ledge in the Canalside park. No matter the time of day, selfies with Shark Girl initiate wait times for a turn.
An hour outside of Buffalo in East Aurora (down the street from Bar Bill Tavern) sits the largest 5 & 10 variety store in the world. Viddler’s 5 & 10 boasts it has over 75,000 items. I don’t doubt either claim for a moment! The turn of the century store contains at least 12 different departments, carrying items from retro candy to kitchenware to clothes, hats, shoes, office/pet or garden supplies, to items you didn’t know you were looking for, but there they are! My husband ushered me out, under great protest. I’m sure I could have spent half a day wandering from one connected shop to the next or from one floor to the next.
Bring your passport. A trip into Canada to see the magnificence of Niagara Falls is a must. The falls are more splendid in their breadth and majesty than from the United States side. Expect the area to be a mob scene. We didn’t partake of any of the excursions offered, from the Maid of the Mist boat ride that ventures close to the falls or taking a guided tour in caves behind the falls. Be prepared to pay $20 for parking and allow plenty of time to walk.
We had heard that if Walt Disney wanted to build a perfect Canadian town, it would look a lot like Niagara on the Lake, a quaint village of restaurants and boutique shops. As we often visit the Disney theme parks and Disney Springs area in our “back yard,” I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say it’s picture perfect, but we did enjoy strolling, eating, and browsing.
Maid of the Mist cruise boat confronts the Canadian side of Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist cruise boat confronts the Canadian side of Niagara Falls

Just outside the Niagara on the Lake city limits is a wine trail.  We aren’t big fans of the local wines other than the ice wines, but some of the tasting rooms are simply gorgeous and we heard that some of the onsite restaurants are fine dining at its best.
And speaking of wineries: about 45 minutes to an hour from downtown Buffalo, you can find the 25 wineries and tasting rooms of the Lake Erie Wine District. Tastings at a dollar per taste are quite inexpensive compared to those in California, Oregon or Washington. People are friendly and there are some awesome gift shops in the tasting rooms.
Absolutely! When Russ first proposed we go for a week, I thought we’d run out of things to do in four days. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Buffalo is a city steeped in history and maturing into adulthood. For all we saw and did, we know we barely scratched the surface of what this city and area have to offer.
All photographs are by Russ Wagner.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2015 – 2016 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events.;; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

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