The Essentialist
Weekend Getaway: Buffalo

A First-Timer’s Guide to the Most Underrated City in New York

Buffalo 1 Min
Image courtesy of Silo City

The second largest city in New York State and gateway to Niagara Falls is just a 90-minute flight (or six-hour drive) from New York City. From its monumental architecture, including a recent multi-million-dollar restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Martin House, to the grand reopening of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, the metro has exploded on the arts-and-culture circuit. My husband is from Buffalo, so I’ve been coming here as long as we’ve been dating (22 years). Its transformation is truly remarkable and it’s a place I always look forward to visiting because its evolution is constant and inspiring. Here are some must-see spots to bookmark whether you’re coming here for the first or the 50th time.

Buffalo 2 Min
L: Marco Cappelletti, R: K Art Gallery

What To Do
The biggest art news to hit Buffalo in the last year is the much-ballyhooed opening of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (née the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). The expansion was more than a decade in the making and well worth the wait. A stunning mirror-and-glass canopy installation by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and German architect Sebastian Behmann greets museumgoers in the lobby; deeper in the museum, you’ll find works by all the heavy hitters (Picasso, Renoir, Monet, Matisse) plus an extension collection from Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still. Upcoming shows include retrospectives of Stanley Whitney and Marisol. When you’re done at AKG, swing over to SUNY’s Burchfield Penney Art Center, just two minutes away, to explore the largest public collection of works by American painter Charles E. Burchfield, or head down to K Art Gallery, a Seneca Nation-owned commercial art space focused exclusively on contemporary works by Native American, First Nations, and Indigenous artists.

Another centerpiece of Buffalo’s decade-long revitalization campaign is the $300-million-dollar redevelopment of its Canalside waterfront. The 21-acre parcel includes Silo City, a group of disused grain silos repurposed as a creative performance space hosting art installations and concerts, and the seasonally operated Buffalo Heritage Carousel, a fully restored, solar-powered 1924 merry-go-round that bobs up and down with fantastical hand-painted creatures.

Also super special: The Colored Musicians Club & Jazz Museum, founded in 1935, is the only continuously running, all Black-owned music venue in the U.S. Its performance space, which has hosted everyone from Billie Holiday to Dizzy Gillespie, is currently undergoing a $2.95 million upgrade. Tours of the jazz museum will relaunch soon; in the meantime, you can catch the club’s famous Sunday Night Jazz Series in its temporary home at the Buffalo History Museum.

Buffalo 3 Min
Image: Sara Schmidle

Where To Eat
The Buffalo wings at Anchor Bar may be the city’s best-known contribution to the American diet, but there are scores of eateries worth checking out here — many of them international in flavor. For seasonally inspired Mexican fare, head to Las Puertas, run by James Beard-nominated chef Victor Parra Gonzalez. For classic Scotch eggs and bangers & mash, the Graylynn gin bar raises a proud Union Jack. And for jerk lobster, oxtail ragu, and other Jamaican fusion plates, lock in a coveted reservation at Bratts Hills by Chef Darian in the burgeoning Larkinville neighborhood. The restaurant was founded by Darian Bryan, private chef to several Buffalo Bills players.

Also worth raiding: the West Side Bazaar, a not-for-profit food hall and small business incubator highlighting the diasporic foods of immigrants from Myanmar, Malaysia, Congo, and beyond. Its new building is triple the size of the original and includes a food-themed bookshop, Read It & Eat, tucked away on the second floor. Don’t miss the falafel from Egyptian Bites or the braised chicken thighs with fried plantains from Malkia & Co.

Buffalo is equally blessed with a fierce coffee scene: Tipico is my go-to for a classic roast, but the Yemeni-owned Socotra Cafe in Lackawanna serves a milky, spicy, cardamom-forward harazi qahwah I’m unlikely to find anywhere else. Based on my last visit, I’m newly in love with the flaky, honeyed pastries sold by weight at Fresh Arabic Sweets and the crackly-sweet kouign-amann at Miller’s Thumb Bakery.

Buffalo 4 Min
L: Image courtesy of Las Puertas, R: Image courtesy of The Richardson Hotel

Where To Stay
The new Richardson Hotel is an 88-room boutique property inhabiting a former state-run asylum on the landmarked Richardson-Olmsted Campus, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (the geniuses behind New York’s Central Park). The suites have vaulted 20-foot ceilings and windows so tall, it floods every space with copious natural light. The hotel houses  an acclaimed northern Italian restaurant, Cucina, and the Lipsey Architecture Center Buffalo, a small exhibition space that shines a light on some of Buffalo’s more notable buildings. (Among the highlights, should you wish to cobble together your own DIY tour, is the aforementioned Martin House, the largest residence ever designed by Wright; the Guaranty Building, a skyscraper prototype from Louis Sullivan; and the Baroque-esque Shea’s Performing Art Center, which features the world’s only remaining Tiffany-designed theater interior.

Where To Shop
Scandinavian-inspired design boutique stocks a thoughtful array of home goods, including chunky hand-knitted throws and hand-forged candelabras. For locally made souvenirs, Cone Five Gallery is chockablock with artisan jewelry, ceramics, and blown-glass objets d’art.

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