It was the roaring 20’s, a time when the American automobile industry was booming, the grain industry flourished, and the steel and lumber factories employed more people and put out more finished products than ever before. Electrical power makes its way to Niagara Falls, thanks to developer Jacob Schoellkopf, a German immigrant who made his first fortune in the tanning business, soon set his sights on the business of producing and selling electrical power at Niagara Falls. Buffalo’s first radio station, WGR, begins regular programming, while General Motor Company (GM) builds its first factory in the Queen city.
This era was also strife with political upheaval, a sentiment and fear echoing today. It was 1926 and the Johnson Immigration Restriction Act threatened to end completely the whole character of American immigration and growing “melting pot” of rich cultural diversity. The law was a direct assault on the eastern European Catholic and Jewish communities in cities throughout the Northeast. As a major source of urban vitality in Buffalo, Jewish and Italian populations within the city dwindled. The Immigration Act meant that the number of Polish immigrants permitted to immigrate dropped from 26,000 to 9,000 a year, Italians from 42,000 to 4,000, Czechs from 14,000 to 2,000, Hungarians from 5,000 to 688, and Greeks from 3,000 to 235. In addition, it severely restricted the immigration of Africans and outright banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians.
The 1920’s was also the time of Prohibition. With over 1,400 breweries across the United States, 20 of which were right here in Buffalo, Prohibition drastically reduced, if not almost halted completely, the alcohol business. Once Prohibition was repealed, only seven breweries remained in Buffalo (not anymore). Prohibition meant that people had to get creative in obtaining or enjoying an after dinner beverage. Smuggling became common practice (with our unique proximity to the Canadian border), and according to Buffalo historical documents, thousands of “soft drink” establishments opened during this time period (insert imagination here).
Enter Buffalo Proper— a farm to table style establishment, located at 333 Franklin Street, hearkens back to an era of going against the grain and fighting the wealthy and elite. Buffalo Proper represents the highest ideal of what this region has to offer the world of food and beverage. Theory, technique and inspiration is the standard for which they set themselves to. To the owners and staff, food and drink are about transcending every day life into the realm of limitless possibilities; a place that offers respite, rebellion, and innovation.
Upon first walking in, I was awestruck by the brilliance of decor. You truly feel you are in the 1920’s. From the suspender wearing bartenders, to the white subway tiles, and even the rustic wall elements, Buffalo Proper offers a bit of an escape during a time in our economy where it is desperately needed. Belly up to the bar and let the bartender make you a concoction of pure imagination. Cocktails ranging from ‘A Night in Tunisa’, made with: light Rum, dark Rum, Campari, almond, pineapple, and lime; ‘CastleBar’, made with: Fernet Branca, Irish Whiskey, Joe Bean Coffee, cream, and nutmeg, to the classic ‘Slidecar’, made with: Black Tea-Cognac, Curacao, and lemon. Or order your choice of red, white, or a stellar local craft beer.
What I didn’t expect was the wall-to-wall people that would be jam packed into the restaurant. While the bar is downstairs, and “bar seating” along the walls, the only space for dining is upstairs.
The starter consisted of a fried garbanzo bean cauliflower dish ($12.00), and a shared Salmon plate for our main course ($26.00). Yes folks, the prices are steep, and if you hadn’t read carefully, the plates are shared. I’ve also tried the beet salad ($12.00) with: roasted beets, carrots, Escabeche (referring to a Spanish or Mediterranean dish flavored with pimenton and saffron), shaved fennel, sunflower seeds, lemon honey yogurt, and the Red Wine Farm Egg and Potatoes ($12.00) with: roasted potatoes, mushrooms, Shiro Miso, pickled & charred scallions and a poached egg.
My favorite dish quite honestly was the fried garbanzo bean small plate. It was perfectly crispy on the outside while the smashed beans were moist and warm on the inside. However, Buffalo Proper is a seasonal restaurant–meaning, they make use of whatever herbs and plants are growing fresh that time of year. All of the dishes are made to the highest level of creativity and taste. The salmon is always wild caught and the coloring is blush while the texture is moist and flaky. The beet salad was my biggest surprise taste. It had a tremendous earthy bite, yet the fennel and yogurt dressing kicked it up a notch, balancing the tart bitter taste of the beet with light floral and aromatic flavors.
Overall, my take on Buffalo Proper is: great fun place to have some off-the-wall unique drinks, a place to reminisce and feel a bit rebellious, but for the price of shared plate style food and the length of wait time to be seated (even with reservations), it’s not in my top five restaurants for “go to” places.
However, I do recommend that when you are entertaining out of town guests (for cocktails) or want to sit at the bar and have an intellectual discussion of our current economic and political spiral, Buffalo Proper is the place to “hang out.”