Originally Published in The Buffalo News
April 25, 2019
By Dan Almasi
At a major downtown intersection up a flight of maroon cement stairs is a bar of character, true-form classic cocktails, and inventive house-made sausages.
In major cities across the U.S., it’s a common, buzzy bar-restaurant concept: one core food offering served up in a variety of creative ways plus drinks with a twist. But here in Buffalo — with few other concept-copiers (yet) — it’s still novel.
At Ballyhoo, it’s all about “links and drinks.” Or more specifically, creative house-made sausages like the “Short Round” ($8) — a Korean short rib sausage topped with kimchi, sambal and pickled vegetables — and fruit jam-muddled cocktails plus classic counterparts “made to their original specs,” per the drink menu.
Filled with faux-vintage decor, rich wood textures and cool, dark, moody tones throughout, Ballyhoo’s feel is a tad rock ‘n’ roll, a little bit burlesque, and very classic-cool. On the back wall is a big, shiny block-letter sign that says, “You’re so money,” which makes me feel good about myself when I read it and (I believe) is a reference to the 1996 Vince Vaughn movie, “Swingers.”
A short walk from Canalside and KeyBank Center, Ballyhoo is an ideal pre- or post-game stop before or after a downtown event. But don’t come to party hard. Even on packed weekend nights, Ballyhoo retains a terminally chill vibe. Relaxed late 20- and early 30-somethings chat and sip, seated coolly on barstools wrapping around the bar.
In the summer, cliques gather around standing and sitting tables, or lean on the gating of the large, wooden patio. Glance around and you’ll see Swannie House, city machinery beyond metal fencing and, if you look upward, the iconic General Mills logo representing the source of Buffalo’s signature sweet, malty cereal scents that waft about the city. Overall, the views are gray and industrial—but that’s nothing to bother a Buffalonian accustomed to such sights, especially on a warm day or night with a cold drink in hand.
To most everyone’s delight, pups are allowed on the patio, provided a list of seven reasonable stipulations listed on a sign are met.
On a recent Sunday afternoon visit, I scanned the drink menu featuring 30 classic cocktails and a list of eight fruit preserves ripe for mixture with your liquor of choice. Searching for something whiskey-based, I was enthused by the Lion’s Tail ($9), a tart and velvety whiskey sour-esque concoction served in a coupe glass. Ballyhoo prides itself on staffing expert bartenders. My drink doesn’t disagree.
A friend opted for a Rochester-brewed Ringside Lager, likely persuaded by either its $5 price — cheapest on a draft list also offering $9 rarities like Maine Beer Company Zoe Red and Mikkeller Double Blush — or the Ringside billboard depicting an old-timey boxing match directly across from the bar.
Ballyhoo the word is defined as “extravagant publicity or fuss.” Ballyhoo the bar can be defined as anything but, which leads me to believe its name is, at least in part, meant to be ironic. So long as you’re not going to ballyhoo (verb: praise or publicize extravagantly), stop in for an unfussy classic cocktail in the bar’s non-extravagant setting sometime.
Address: 211 South Park Ave.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 to 12 a.m. Friday; 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday.
Parking: Yes (which is unexpected and especially convenient given the downtown location).
Drink prices: $5-9 draft beers, $3-9 canned beers, $9 classic and jam-infused cocktails across the board.
Don’t forget to: Ask the bartender about the current month’s “Pour A Good Cause” cocktail, of which a dollar per sale goes to a chosen charity.