Last October, I was staying in a New Orleans rental as Hurricane “Nasty” Nate barreled towards us. With a power outage looming, locals told me to get bread and pack a cooler full of ice, cold cuts, cooked gulf shrimp, pasta salad, potato salad and other food items. Then, I was told, pick up a case of beer and some liquor.
All of this Cat 1 hurricane advice reminded me a bit of that old snowstorm suggestion from former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin: Stay inside and grab a six pack.
With their new Alchemy Wine & Beer tavern, Nicolle Casell and Anne McIntosh said they want to bring a little bit of New Orleans to Hamburg.
No, they’re not looking to bring the beads, dayglo daiquiris and oontz-oontz-oontz music of Bourbon Street. They’re looking to bring the more low-key, blue-collar side of the Crescent City. The one that feels a bit more like Buffalo, and less like spring break.
Casell said Alchemy was particularly inspired by Bacchanal, a restaurant that bills itself as New Orleans best backyard party.
“The reason why we love Bacchanal and we love New Orleans is because it’s all approachable,” she said. “The food and drink is elevated, refined and amazing, but it’s done in an approachable, non-pretentious way.”
‘Tasteful tribute’ is a good way to describe Alchemy. The NOLA influences are there: luxurious food, smart drinks and life-affirming music. But that’s about it. You won’t find painstaking attempts to masquerade as a jazz club in the Treme or a gumbo shop in the French Quarter. Sometimes, efforts to recreate a place get lost in translation, and thankfully that isn’t even an issue here.
The tavern is laid out in a large L-shape, with an open kitchen on one end, and on the other end, a large courtyard that features an outdoor fire pit, chairs and zig-zagging market lights overhead. A second-floor balcony stage overlooks the indoor proceedings and is slated to regularly feature live Dixieland jazz and other music.
While you won’t find liquor at Alchemy, beer and wine bottles are showcased in large glass-doored coolers along a wall near the bar. The bottles have prices attached: You simply grab one out of the cooler take it to the bar and pay for it, or put it on your tab. If you want wine by the glass or from the draft system (prosecco!), you can get it from the bar. My photographer and I found a large, varied selection: If you know wine, if you know beer, you’ll know Alchemy knows their shit.
You can also order food at the bar from a big menu that includes charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, hand pies and Ru’s pierogies. When you put in a food order, you get a numbered card to put on your table and a server brings your food when it’s ready.
The co-owners said Alchemy’s food menu was also inspired by their travels and it’s designed to feed into Alchemy’s social spirit.
“There’s big Spanish, Italian and French influences that you’ll see on our menu,” Casell said. “The charcuterie boards, cheeses and cured meats – all that is inspired by Anne and my trips to Europe. The tapas culture, in Spain, that shareable culture you see in Europe, we’re trying to bring some of that here.”
“Nicole and I both spent a lot of time in Brazil, I’ve been to Southeast Asia and sharing culture is everywhere; really everywhere except the United States,” McIntosh laughed.
While the owners of Alchemy were clearly inspired by the spirit of New Orleans, and they’ve succeed in creating a NOLA milieu, Alchemy feels, more than anything, like a cosmopolitan hangout – something you probably couldn’t find in Hamburg just a few years ago. It’s a bit of city life in the suburbs, with the vibe of an invite-only loft party. There’s been a lot of buzz lately about East Aurora becoming a suburban destination for food and drink, but Alchemy shows that Hamburg isn’t far behind.
That being said, there are still growing pains. If you haven’t heard, a large mural on the side of Alchemy by local artist Chuck Tingley was recently hidden from view by a large wooden fence put up by a neighboring restaurant. The owners of Alchemy did tell us they received approval for the mural from Hamburg’s town board, a sign that locals mostly back the idea of a street art in the community.
“Now is such an exciting time for Hamburg,” Casell said. “It’s becoming more progressive. There’s more investment happening in the community, with new businesses opening. The food culture has really been elevated. We’ve seen the opening of The Grange and a few other great restaurants. I think this is only the start for Hamburg, and we’re just looking to add to that.”
50 Buffalo Street, Hamburg, NY 14075
Hours: Wednesday, 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., Thursday 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday 3 p.m. – 12 a.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
20 Union St, Hamburg, NY 14075