Bring Melt Bar and Grilled to Buffalo

Paging Buffalo developers and restaurateurs. There is an Ohio-based grilled cheese chain that must expand to downtown Buffalo.

Melt Bar and Grilled serves up all sorts of creative takes on grilled cheese sandwiches along with craft beers to residents of greater Cleveland and Columbus. I was lucky enough to choose the Short North Melt location for lunch during my recent jaunt to the Buckeye State and I’m so glad I did.

This is a sandwich served at Melt. Do you need any more evidence/
This is a sandwich served at Melt. Do you need any more evidence?

The Wet Hot Buffalo Chicken isn’t so much a grilled cheese sandwich as it is a chicken finger sub served on Texas Toast. Bonus points to Melt for serving the sandwich with blue cheese rather than ranch as the standard. Also, bonus points for having a chicken finger sandwich on the menu outside of WNY. Further bonus points for featuring a sandwich called The Dude Abides.

Melt’s food is terrific. All four of us got different sandwiches – including one breakfast grilled cheese – and we were all incredibly impressed. What adds to the entire experience is the eclectic atmosphere inside the restaurant itself.

You might say there’s something of a hippie vibe to the place, but I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair assessment. The bar fridges have old arcade game marquees on them and the menus are on the back of album covers. It’s a very cool spot that fits in beautifully in an urban setting; and Buffalo desperately needs to be on their radar.

One thing about this: they have to locate downtown. I realize spots near the Galleria or up in the Northtowns are the typical landing spots for chains, but this place screams downtown Buffalo. It’s hip, unique and would seamlessly blend into the fabric of many city neighborhoods.

Larkinville and Allentown immediately spring to mind when I think of the atmosphere inside the Melt location I stopped at but I could also see this as an awesome addition to the right portion of Main Street as well.

Canalside is actually the most obvious choice, but they’re development speed appears to be somewhere between a crawl and reverse at this point. A somewhat out-of-the-way spot would be Darryl Carr’s smith shop at 120 South Park. While it wouldn’t necessarily have the curb appeal that you’d get on Chippewa or Main, it would be a very cool addition to the Cobblestone District.

If I had to pick, I think my first choice would actually be Carr’s smith shop on South Park. Carr, the owner of Cobblestone, has done his best to not do anything with the property but has recently been in hot water with the property and will finally be beginning renovations on it after pleading guilty to numerous code violations. While he doesn’t strike me as the type who would want another bar sitting next door to Cobblestone, the building and district would greatly benefit from adding something such as Melt to the ground floor.

By renovating the upper floors into apartments and putting a bar/restaurant like Melt on the corner you’d not only inject residents into an area of downtown that desperately needs more full time residents, you’d provide a terrific eating option for arena patrons and Canalside visitors of all seasons.

Think about seeing those buildings renovated with residents and a sign like this adorning the street level view for Sabres fans or Canalside concert goers to see as they move past Illinois St. It’s not an ideal location, but the critical mass building along the river and the waterfront tells me that this would and will be an ideal spot to be in the very near future.

Obviously a number of things would need to fall in place for any of this to happen, including having a building with an adequate amount of space for one of Melt’s locations. What I do know is that this is exactly the type of chain I’d love to see in Buffalo and it would be a phenomenal addition to the offerings of downtown Buffalo.

Let’s make this happen, people.

Looking back at Columbus from Buffalo’s perspective

I love traveling to other cities for a host of reasons. So often I come away disappointed knowing that Buffalo is missing so much compared to cities around the country but I also enjoy these trips because I often encounter features that could so easily be incorporated in the Nickel City.

My recent trip to Columbus was eye-opening. The Arena District is thriving and it is directly connected to two more walkable, diverse areas of the city (North Market and Short North). Admittedly, Short North is an easier drive from North Market and the Arena District than a walk. But I digress.

The Columbus Arena District is nothing short than the ideal template for developing a work-play district around a sports venue. Amazingly, it is a district that doesn’t rely solely on Nationwide Arena for survival, but uses the home of the Blue Jackets as a key cog in the operation.

Looking down a pedestrian walkway leading away from Nationwide Arena and towards a half dozen bars.
Looking down a pedestrian walkway leading away from Nationwide Arena and towards a half dozen bars.

In additional to Nationwide Arena, the district boasts Huntington Park – the picturesque home of the Columbus Clippers, Lifestyles Pavilion – a mid-sized concert venue and a host of mixed use buildings. Everything within the district is clad in brick and features design constraints consistent with what you might expect to see from an area replicating former warehouses or, perhaps, a historic canal district.

Just beyond the Arena District along Park Street, is the North Market which features a beautiful open market in an old brick warehouse nestled in a neighborhood with plenty of bars with plenty of patio space. The North Market anchors the small neighborhood which is a short 9-iron from the front door of Nationwide Arena. Another four or five blocks puts you smack in the middle of Short North, which is basically the Elmwood Village on steroids.

All of this is just about three miles from the center of Ohio State University and just over a mile from the center of downtown Columbus.

Spending a couple days in 60-degree weather amongst all of these cool, new bars and restaurants certainly gave me a fair bit of remorse for what we have going on in Buffalo these days. Our city is enjoying a resurgence that many citizens likely doubted would ever come. But when I look at Canalside’s Adirondack Chairs and functional lawns compared to the dozen or so mixed-use buildings surrounding Nationwide Arena I realize how far we still have to go.

We’re getting there, we’re just not nearly as close to having a truly thriving district as many of us might think. Continue reading

Finding a fit for the Broadway Auditorium

It’s easy to say that Buffalo has more than enough hockey rinks (we do). There are far too many youth programs and, for the most part, higher level teams are watered down because of this. However, there is a building on Buffalo’s near East Side that would serve brilliantly as a mid-sized hockey venue.

The Broadway Auditorium was originally built as an armory in the 1800s and was eventually expanded to its current size to accommodate for parade grounds and later, sporting events. This write-up from The Daily Public does a great job highlighting the tremendous sporting history of the Broadway Aud and making a case for the grand building to survive Byron Brown’s recent call to replace it.

Brown’s plan for replacing the structure isn’t without merit, as it would take an aging structure that lost a great deal of its beauty in recent years and replace it with a mixed-use development that would help towards the revitalization of the near East Side. The project would also help to better connect downtown to the East Side as other projects in recent years have.

In fact, McGuire Development is planning to fill in one of the city’s countless surface lots with a mixed-use development that’s just a mid-iron away from the Broadway Aud. The area around the property is picking up lately and rather than see a relic of Buffalo’s sporting past go the way of the landfill, why not find a way to revitalize it for the better?

One idea that was brought up to me in conversation was to build it out as an OHL-sized arena. The Aud previously held boxing matches – Joe Louis fought here – hockey games and many other sporting events. It’s a very good-sized building and has that old barn feel that’s been long forgotten with new rink construction. Continue reading

Signs of progress downtown

The Buffalo News got a new sign last week that looks out onto the 190 as you travel west entering the city. The sign is a nice addition to the otherwise nondescript building that sits in a prominent section of downtown.

The new sign adds to the growing trend of adding signs (or flags) to downtown buildings which were previously left bare, something that has seemingly sprung up quickly in recent years.

While adding signs to buildings is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, it’s not something that’s lost on me. Not in the least. I’ve traveled enough as an adult to take stock in what’s cool and what stinks in various cities around the country. One thing I picked up on while I was in school was Buffalo’s general lack of major corporate or hotel flags. At the time I was in college we were still on the first set of renderings for Canalside, the Aud was still standing and the Adam’s Mark was one of two actual flags in the downtown core.

Meanwhile, you could (and can) cruise through just about any other city you wish to name and see corporate flags adorning buildings no matter where you looked. I’m glad to see Buffalo following this trend. Maybe it’s a little superficial to think of and it certainly isn’t important, but I don’t think it should be overlooked either. Continue reading

2ITB Header Design contest

About a month ago I chose to run with a new design/theme for the site. The change over led me to abandon the header image I had used previously and adopt the plain blue and white header you see now.

But I feel the time has come to put a new header image up so that I can continue to grow my #brand. Or something. So I’m holding a design contest, of sorts, to pick a new site header. The contest is open to literally anyone and everyone and the winning designer will receive a 2ITB Prize Pack (some hats), so you won’t be doing this pro-bono. Well, sort of pro-bono since there won’t be any money involved, but you still get some cool stuff if you win.

Here are the stipulations for the design contest:

– The header image must be 1000×200 in size.

– The image should incorporate the Sabres, the city of Buffalo and/or the Bills. All three don’t need to be included, but the image should pull on each of these in some way.

– The image needs to incorporate “Two in the Box”, because #brand.

– Be creative. I’m not adverse to overly unique designs and I’m open to new things. So don’t shy away from an idea because you’re worried I’ll hate it. I will add that I’ve grown to like the clean look of the page with the basic blue header, so I’d be partial to a clean, uncluttered design, but I’m truly open to anything.

– Designs should be sent in to 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com

Feel free to send along any questions you might have along with tagging your entry on Twitter using #2ITBDesign. I’ll be sharing my favorite designs via Twitter as well.

 

1000 x 220

Time for the next step after the debut of Ice at Canalside

It was almost five years in the making, but the historically aligned canals at Canalside were finally opened last night marking another milestone in Buffalo’s waterfront development.

As was to be expected, the crowd at Canalside was massive and the numbers patronizing the new skating venue will likely continue to swell over the next few weeks. All told, this was a huge victory for Canalside, the Erie Canal Harbor Corporation and Buffalo as a whole. While one night doesn’t make for guaranteed long-term success, I hope that the ECHDC are spurred to get the next piece of development done well ahead of schedule.Canalside

The three parcels that sit on the South Aud Block are shovel ready with plans for Explore & More to take up the largest of the three parcels with a restaurant and information center to occupy the other two, respectively. An RFP was issued for designs last year and now ECHDC is seeking a developer for the site. They even have pretty pictures which may or may not have no bearing on what the chosen developer builds.

Proposals from developers are due by January 9 and the ECHDC RFP notes that first round interviews will be held on or around January 22. So as of now, we’re well over a month away from identifying the developer for this site. The good news is that Explore & More has always been operating on a 2016 transition to the Canalside site, something noted in the ECHDC RFP documents. Putting two and two together tells me that once a developer is chosen, it shouldn’t be long before we see concrete being poured and structural steel rising; so long as ECHDC learned their lesson with the canals. Continue reading

It’s time to consider ugrading the Metro Rail’s look

A great deal of time, money and interest is being invested into Main Street in an effort to reverse some of the planning errors of the last 30 years. The decision to return vehicle traffic to the street has already brought new business to many long-vacant storefronts and more is expected to come as the project progresses towards Canalside.

train
Side by side of the rail cars used in Buffalo and the Twin Cities

While securing the funding for the final portions of the project remains the biggest hurdle for the city, I keep wondering if the NFTA missed a major opportunity in recent years when they spent millions on new Metro Rail cars as part of a system-wide update. The new cars came with new technology and an upgraded interior, but the exterior look remained the same as the other dated trains that are used daily.

With so much change coming to downtown, particularly along Main Street where new stations will begin to replace the eyesores from the Metro Rail’s original installation, the NFTA will be front and center. As will their rail cars. Continue reading