Many bars and restaurants strive to be a ‘purple elephant’ — be something that stands out by offering something you can’t find anywhere else. That often translates into a destination bar or restaurant, something that offers unique takes on classic food (elevated baked potatoes!) or a concept you can’t get anywhere else (sci-fi fine dining!).
Corner bars are the glaring exception to this rule. While some of them might attract people with food or live music, the most successful are all about flexing the familiar, providing a stasis that allows the outside world to temporarily melt away. A place for strangers to share stories about shitty bosses and that time they hit a deer.
That’s the idea behind the new South City Tavern.
“I remember my father taking me to corner bars in the 70s, and it was almost like the show Cheers: Everybody knew everybody,” says managing partner Dusty Rhodes. Opening this kind of bar is harder than it sounds. Regulars are fiercely loyal to their bar of choice. Rhodes knows this.
“You get one shot at winning somebody over, especially people who already have their corner spot that they go to from Monday to Friday. If those people say hey let’s go try that new place South City, we gotta make a great first impression.”
“Your new customers have to feel like the staff really want them to be there, and they’re not just another ring from the cash register.”
The new tavern might have the glossy sheen of a recent renovation, but the old Buffalo essentials are still there. Dart boards? Check. Beer signs? Check. Framed Thurman Thomas jersey on the wall? Check. You know it and you love it.
If you need more than good vibes to fill up, South City serves up classic Buffalo pub grub. Hefty pub burgers towering over a side of chips. Cheese-crusted crocks of French onion soup. Quesadillas so stuffed each slice requires two hands.
There are also chicken wings based on recipes developed at South City’s sister bar, The Old School Tavern on Clinton Street. Proud of his wings, Rhodes says you don’t have to leave Buffalo and go all the way to a place like Bar-Bill.
“I’m not knocking Bar-Bill’s wings,” he says “They’re great, but that’s East Aurora, not Buffalo. When people are looking to go to the City of Buffalo for wings, that’s a lengthy drive from downtown.”
In addition to being a watering hole with essential pub food, there’s also a weekly karaoke night, live music, and occasional comedy nights. Rhodes says there are also plans for a dart league and regular trivia nights.
The South City tavern is firmly rooted in the past. But that doesn’t mean it’s stuck in its ways. Rhodes says he regularly talks with other bar owners in the area to keep his finger on the pulse of what locals are looking for.
“Corner bar owners used to travel and go to other bars,” he says. “It stopped for a while but now it’s starting to come back. For a while, things felt a bit cutthroat, where people saw each other as competition. But now, we’re starting to realize that we’re not really stealing customers from each other. We all have our regulars. So the more we can help each other out the better it’ll be for everybody.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. – 12 a.m., Sunday and Monday CLOSED
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