211 South Park Ave. / Old First Ward / South Buffalo | (716) 240-9901
Mon – Thu: 12:00 pm – 12:00 am
Fri – Sat: 12:00 pm – 2:00 am
Sun: 12:00 pm – 12:00 am
Rumor has it, the owner of the new Ballyhoo Links & Drinks is somewhat of a bar-whisperer, opening, running and fixing bars from New York City to San Diego for over 20 years.
After just one visit, I have to say, Tim Stevens’ understanding of what makes a great bar experience comes through the moment you sit down. It begins and ends with exceptional service. Not fancy uniforms and table cloths (although Ballyhoo does have very nice napkins), but flannels and affable education.
Unsure of what to expect on our first visit soon after their opening, we ascended the red cement stairs, managing our expectations, skeptical of the exterior. Upon entering we found a small yet open space consisting of a few high tables to the left and a long bar to the right. We had a seat at the counter and were immediately greeted by friendly staff, as was everyone that entered here after.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Ballyhoo is the unique experience that owners Tim and Morgan Stevens bring to Buffalo’s cocktail community. After having spent years in the trenches of the San Diego cocktail scene, Stevens has returned to Buffalo with trends we rarely see in this area – if at all. Tea and jam anyone? Read on.
Ballyhoo’s unique drink menu uses a variety of tea syrups and English jams as sweeteners – a very old style of making cocktails according to Stevens. I’d say it’s only a matter of time until they’re known far and wide for the Carbon-a-teas, made by mixing house tea syrups with spirits and Jam Sessions, shaken drinks made with British Jam, liquor and a few other fresh ingredients.
The specific cocktail list on the wall reads like a 95 year old grandma’s Sunday afternoon, as if it were a handwritten schedule – Hibiscus-n-Tequila, Earl Gray-n-Rye, Chamomile-n-Gin. As far as the Jam Session menu goes, you’re prompted to pick a jam and pick a liquor. Simple as that.
Ignorant to what awaited us, we had no idea what to make of the list. Luckily, the staff (Chef included) are good for drink recommendations all night long.
Chef Nathan Root suggested starting with currant jam and rum with a house made sour mix. What sounds like an old lady drink, tastes like something I’d like to consume morning, noon and night. You’ll find that while Ballyhoo’s Jam Sessions are sweet and somewhat fruity (for lack of a better term) the flavors are very natural and soft – kind of like… jam. I tasted a couple different jam/liquor combinations, each with rich flavor and perfect consistency (in case you were worried).
The Carbon-a-tea I tasted – Hibiscus-n-gin – was equally delicious and considerably lighter than the Jam Sessions. The flavor is complex and presents all the best parts of a hot cup of tea. Thankfully, the drink isn’t one bit reminiscent of the iced tea mixed drinks routinely crafted by underage connoisseurs. These guys are lightly carbonated and strong. (Don’t pretend you weren’t picturing a flat, Lipton/vodka concoction.)
After a brief conversation with any staff member, it’s clear that the short beer list is handpicked and highly coveted. As always, I was happy to see a tinge of local flare via Hamburg and Southern Tier Brewing Companies. But the allure of this menu comes from the micro nature of the beers brewed far away. It’s the chance to try craft beer you might not otherwise lay a hand on in WNY. They even offer cute little half beers at…half the price ($2.50 in our case), perfect for the curious drinker or commitment phobe. We tried a Jack’s Abby Jabby Brau ($5) – it was delicious.
It seems to me that Ballyhoo is first and foremost a bar. There is plenty of room for the standing crowd. But the walls and bar are lined with stools for those that will inevitably grab a sausage for sustenance. Because once you have a drink, you’ll realize there will be a lot more where that came from, and therefore you should probably eat.
Be forewarned, a look at the menu may cause some distress, as each option (total of 5) is equally mouthwatering. Ballyhoo makes their sausages – the main menu – in house with meat from JH Dodman, a locally owned butcher just down the street. Rest assured, you really can’t go wrong.
Simply check the box next to the link, side and dessert of your choice. Sausage “sandwiches” come with Old Bay chips ($8).
- Short Round – Korean Short Rib – Fresh Ginger, Scallion and Garlic Beef Sausage topped with Pickled vegetable and Kimchi Salad, Sambal aioli
- Church Chicken – Fresh Herb and Chicken Sausage, Whole Grain Mustard, Celery and Apple Slaw, Old Bay
- Curry Lamb Bam – Curry Seasoned fresh ground Lamb Shank, Harrisa, Raita, Tabouli
- TJ Dawg – Pork and Bacon – Smashed Avocado, Pico de Gallo, Crema, and Cotija Cheese
- Steak House – Season beef sausage with roasted Garlic, Creamed Spinach, Arugula and Pickled Shallot, Parmesan Crisp, Cracked Black Pepper
We tried the Short Round and the Steak House. Both were excellent with freshly made sausage and toppings. The Short Round was the favorite because crisp pickled vegetables and tasty Kimchi is always a hit. There was nothing too spicy about it. The roll that held the sausages seemed a little much at first bite, but soon we reazlied the size was necessary to keep toppings from falling off – which it did.
The pickled shallots and arugula brought a delightful flavor to the Steak House. I loved the richness of the creamed spinach and sprinkling of parmesan crisps as well. Both sausages were a home run and we’d happily recommend either.
Sides – soup, salad, pasta or slaw ($3) come in decent sized cups. The day we visited, the soup of the day was Stuffed Cabbage, which turned out to be one of the best soups I’ve ever had. The loud flavor, bite of acidity and chunky consistency was right up my alley. What tasted exactly like a stuffed cabbage roll dunked in creamy tomato soup was topped with a creama-like sauce, some heat and a touch of herbs. The pasta salad was pretty standard but good if you’re in the mood for some shells.
The sole dessert option is Nancy’s Ice Cream Sandwhich with Homemade chocolate chip cookies and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ($4), all you need.
To me, Ballyhoo is extremely enticing in it’s simplicity. The staff’s unassuming plaid and each heartfelt exchange creates a comforting atmosphere. You won’t find intimidation here.
I think it’s safe to say that the arrival of the Stevens’ and their passion for damn good cocktails brings a whole new dimension to the Buffalo bar scene.