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

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

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.

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

Pipe Dream: Taking the opportunity to upgrade First Niagara Center’s exterior

The fanfare surrounding HARBORCENTER isn’t going to die down soon. Nor should it. This is a phenomenal project that will inject all sorts of money and life into downtown Buffalo. It has the added flair of pissing off Tim Tielman and leaving him pouting in his open air bus, clutching to his construction paper and crayon “alternative”.

Just take a minute to look at that thing and tell me it’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever seen. I can’t tell what’s more hysterical, the fishing huts along Main or the rink on a portion of the DL&W Terminal that isn’t currently a platform suitable for a rink.

Make this a statement, not an afterthought.

Anyway, HARBORCENTER is going to be a boon for downtown, the waterfront, Canalside and the arena district as a whole. It has raised some concern over the First Niagara signage on the arena being obstructed and it has also obstructed a vast majority of First Niagara Center’s atrium. The former point probably isn’t all that important. Nor will it be all that difficult to address. The latter, however, should be addressed in some form or function.

I’ve mentioned before that it would be beneficial to re-skin the atrium as a way to improve the visual connection between HARBORCENTER and the arena. The drop off in height and the drastic difference in architecture makes the adjoining buildings look odd, especially from Main Street. So the idea of a visual upgrade makes sense to me.

However, in between portions of our most recent podcast, Eric (of 3rd Man In) and I got to talking about a few aspects of the arena and how the Sabres may be able to improve on the exterior of the building. Continue reading

Canalside is Finally Nearing its Potential

If you get the chance, take a drive down to Canalside this weekend. Every square inch of concrete has been poured on the historically aligned canals and yet another major milestone has been reached by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. Now it’s time to wait.IMG_3563

Aside from the literal waiting that will accompany the concrete’s 28-day curing process (per The Buffalo News) it also appears that we will be waiting for the next significant move from the ECHDC. Tom Dee is always careful with his words but he never hesitates to reveal significant items when the opportunity presents itself. Yesterday’s development was no different as Dee said that Canalside is well past it’s tipping point.

I have to disagree with his sentiment. This is the tipping point. Continue reading

Could Buffalo be Considered as a World Cup of Hockey Host?

The World Cup of Hockey will be returning. After a ten-year absence, the tournament will officially return in 2016. Per Pierre LeBrun’s report, it’s simply a matter of ironing out the final details of the agreement before making a formal announcement.

Re-instituting the World Cup could mean any number of things with some wondering if it means the league is bracing for a divorce from Olympic participation. Further, the timing of the tournament itself will likely fall prior to the regular season, which should ensure full participation of the world’s best players.

One advantage this tournament gives the league is greater control over the product being produced. Hand-picked venues avoid the time zone constraints created by many Olympic host cities (a primary concern regarding the next two Winter Games). The 2004 event saw games played in Toronto, Montreal, St. Paul, Helsinki, Stockholm, Cologne and Prague. Most of those venues also served the 1996 World Cup.

The 2016 event offers the league and the event’s organizers an chance to showcase another group of cities around the world and I have to wonder if Buffalo earns consideration as a host city. Continue reading