At The Merry Shelley, a popular new goth-themed bar on Hertel Avenue, owners Karma Smallback and Cedric Justice have a problem: They need more seating and the only way to do that is to offer it on the patio.
“I know that Buffalo loves patios and being outside in the summertime is a really big deal,” Karma sighs, “but we can’t offer the same macabre experience to people sitting on the patio.”
With a bit of resignation, she has set up a few fake spiderwebs: “I mean, we’re trying to get the patio as goth as possible.”
Dressing head to toe in all black, dancing to haunting music and embracing all things macabre, goths like to fancy themselves as scary people. But I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: Most goths are actually nerds. That’s right, dear reader, you heard it here first, probably.
At The Merry Shelley, Karma and Cedric don’t shy away from this hard truth. Actually, they embrace it; sounding the klaxon for all things freaks and geeks. If you appreciate literature, fantasy, role-playing games, listening to The Cure or anything outside mainstream culture, you will find something to like here. Also, they have booze.
“Goth isn’t just on the outside,” Karma says. “It’s on the inside and you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“We just want to offer something unique,” she continues. “We get so many wonderful people who sit down at the bar and they’re not gothed out, at all. They’re just excited to be there, and I’m excited that they’re excited!”
As you might have guessed, the name of the bar is a reference to the famous horror author Mary Shelley, and literature is a big part of what goes on there. Two coffin-shaped bookshelves cradle a makeshift free library that people can borrow books from, or leave books in.
“I wanted to bring my English degree background, love of literature and experience as a teacher into the bar,” Karma says. “That side of what we do, has been fantastic!”
Alcohol may be secondary to the bar’s Tim Burton vibes, but it definitely isn’t an afterthought. In keeping with the overall theme, there’s a big focus on bewitching brews, ferments and spirits: meads, wines, strong ales, amari and kombucha.
The crown jewel of the bar menu is the full absinthe service. This begins with an absinthe fountain being filled with ice water. A glass with a sugar cube perched on a slotted absinthe spoon is then placed beneath one of the spouts on the fountain. Absinthe is poured into the glass over the sugar cube, and the cube is then set on fire for a few minutes. The fountain spout is turned on to drip water on to the sugar putting out the fire and sending dissolved sugar into the absinthe. The final absinthe product is about 5 to 6 ounces of water, 1 ounce of absinthe and dissolved sugar.
The Merry Shelley also offers a few small plates, which include charcuterie, olives, grape leaves (dolmas), baguette, smoked fish and dried fruit. The idea behind the small food menu was to offer a few bites to go with the alcohol, but Karma and Cedric were actually swamped with online orders when they opened their online doors in January.
“Sure, we were going to have food, but we’re not doing a full-service kitchen,” Karma says. “It was just awkward. But we had so much fun with it. Like when you got a charcuterie plate to go, you got a Frankenstein novel, stickers and a little toy.”
COVID did more than just swamp the little bar with online food orders. The pandemic almost killed off the business before it got started. The owners say they were going back and forth on buying the building when the pandemic hit.
“We just kind of looked at each other,” Karma says, “talked about how we really wanted to do this and we’re like, ‘Well, how long could the pandemic really last anyway?’”
“It lasted another year and a half,” Cedric deadpans.
With a global plague (hopefully) behind us, The Merry Shelley is planning different events and staking out a little community of nerds, geeks, goths and lit fans. Karma and Cedric also proudly say they are LGBTQ+ friendly.
“Our main draw is the dyed-in-the-wool goths,” Cedric admits, “but also people who are explorers, who want something new, want something different.”
Opening Hours: Thursday 7 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. Sunday to Wednesday CLOSED
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