Feb 7, 2010


In the film Once Upon A Time In America, Robert De Niro plays a New York gangster who, when the shit hit the fan, exiled himself to Buffalo. As an old man he comes back to NYC and refers to Buffalo as the "asshole of the world." I didn't really know where Buffalo was at that time but the idea of an American city being that bad seemed incredible to me. Even more so when I found out that Buffalo was in New York state. Of course back then I didn't really have an idea of how big America was. I didn't realise how big New York state was or that Buffalo was so much further north and so much colder than the Big Apple itself. Years later I saw the cult movie Buffalo 66, written and directed by Vincent Gallo, a native of the town. He did a pretty good job of making the town look pretty shitty. And of making me want to spend some time here.

Buffalo it's true is not the city it once was. In numerous studies you'll find it listed as one of the 10 poorest cities in the country. But statistics like that only really reflect the poverty/wealth of the quarter of a million or so people who live within the city limits. The greater Buffalo–Niagara–Cattaraugus Combined Statistical Area (as it's snappily called) is home to 1,254,066 residents. Like all former industrial cities, the money moved to the suburbs and surrounding area. And thats where the friends I've just spent two weeks live, but Buffalo is still the city they play out in. I've eaten out so much here I'm sure I've put on 10lbs. And in the process I've almost become as obsessed as every local is with naming my top 5 places that serve Buffalo Wings. Now even if a city did invent the fried chicken wing it still seems worryingly self absorbed to debate with this much energy which place makes the best ones. We are talking about what is essentially a fatty, greasy fried food. That said I can tell you that Gabriel's Gate makes the best ones. I will concede that the wings at the 911 Bar do come close but Kelly's Corner is totally over rated. And I will happily fight anyone who disagrees with me. (And yes I do now look a little bit like Star Wars kid.)

But there's more to Buffalo than just food. It has a music scene that I wish my hbome city of Manchester could sustain. There's a choice of live shows pretty much every night of the week. I'm sure I'll come back to this later but there is so much more live music in America than the UK. Last Friday I went to a CD release party for a local band called Tuco. The guys in the band all have jobs, and I'm sure they don't ever foresee themselves making a living from their music but they have a CD out. As do lots of other bands in the town such as Roger Bryan & The Orphans who take the time and the trouble to put their own albums out on vinyl as do my favourites from this town Johnny Nobody.

Alongside food and music in the Holy Trinity of Buffalo obsessions is sports. One of the landmarks of the city, which you can see as you drive in, is the field of the AAA Baseball team the Buffalo Bisons. It's a beautiful retro styled stadium right in the middle of the city. It has a homely feel that evokes sports, simpler, purer past. Sadly it's called Coca-Cola Stadium and before that it was Dunn Tire Park. This is America after all. But Buffalonians love all sports, even the Lacrosse team sell out their games. And there's a kind of die hard commitment to the towns clubs that I know from being a soccer fan in Britain. And I like that. When sport is treated as entertainment, as it often is in the USA, it loses something for me. I can't get as emotionally involved with a movie as I can with my team.

The two biggest sports in town are Hockey and American Football. Everyone loves The Sabres who continue to make the play-offs in the NHL without ever threatening to really win it. And though the football team the Bills, have been pretty poor in recent years, they do hold an impressive record that tells you much about America. Between 1990 and 1993 the Bills played in four consecutive Superbowls. They remain the only team to have done that. Only one other team has made three consecutive appearances. So the Bills should be heroes right? Sadly Buffalo lost all four games and instead of being lauded for their incredible achievement they are derided. Thats why Ice Cube rapped "I won't choke like the Buffalo Bills." It seems to me that being number one is so important that being number two becomes more shameful than being number three.


  1. Ged - a lovely write-up of my childhood stomping grounds. Only thing I would add is that the biggest participatory sport in Western New York is soocer. The next time you're visiting Buffalo in the summer, make sure you hit some of the local youuth soccer leagues - the level of play is pretty great, and there are several tournaments that bring the best club teams from the northeast together.

  2. Well I might just do that and go along with some friends of mine, namely Donny, Spicoli and Nick who are part owners (along with a few others) of
    Buffalo City. Association Football is coming to the USA. As Leonard Cohen might say.