Connections keep us attached to someone or somewhere. Connections attach two neighborhoods together. And connections can bring together a community.
At first glance, the Handlebar might seem like a lonely, unattached outpost – caught between revitalizing neighborhoods in downtown Buffalo. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the Handlebar is all about connections – between neighborhoods, among the Buffalo biking community and especially between the cycling-themed gastropub’s two owners: Evan Thompson and Sarah Schnieder.
Schneider also operates Merge restaurant on Delaware and the two developed their relationship, first with Thompson playing “dinner music” on Merge’s small stage – then with him as an employee waiting tables at the restaurant for some extra money. He would eventually seize on a teaching opportunity and head out to Southeast Asia to teach English – only to be pulled back to Buffalo by his old friend from Merge.
“I was overseas, teaching in Vietnam, and at the time I was actually on spring break in Sri Lanka. And I received this email from Sarah,” he said. “She’s like ‘I’ve got this idea and I want to know if you’d be interested…’ I read through it and thought – it’s probably time to come home.”
So after finishing up his teaching contract, Evan Thompson came home, back it his roots in Western New York, to start a project more exotic than any trip to Asia – running a little gastropub nestled between the downtown business corridor along Main Street and the revitalized Larkinville.
The Handlebar is located in the ground floor of ‘the HUB’ – a residential and business development comprised of two renovated and now-connected buildings at 145-149 Swan Street.
“The whole idea of the HUB is that we’re in the center of all these cool things going on,” Thompson said. “We’ve got Larkinville right down the road over here, we’ve got the Harbor down here, we’ve got downtown, the area – and so it’s kind of like a centralized area.”
The pair proudly touts their place in Buffalo as a connection among these neighborhoods and declares themselves as sort of a way-station, particularly for urban bicyclists looking to rediscover Buffalo’s newly reclaimed neighborhoods.
“I think with Big Ditch Brewing and other places – there’s just more places connecting all of downtown and creating a more vibrant area and more options,” Schneider noted. “So, people are venturing this way more, which is really exciting.”
The Handlebar owners describe their food as ‘fuel’ for those two-wheeled urban explorers and recent trip to the restaurant revealed that bikers looking to refuel will encounter new twists on flatbreads and a different take on potatoes.
Schneider said the Handlebar’s potatoes aren’t the typical gut-bomb baked potatoes from Ponderosa or any of the other chain steakhouses of yesteryear. Instead, they’re cut in half and designed to be ‘vessels’ for an array of sweet and savory ingredients, such as the cucumber mint yogurt and apricot chutney on the Morrocan Chickpea or the pico de gallo and artisan-made habañero jack cheese on the Southwestern Quinoa potato – a cheese made specifically for the Handlebar by First Light Farm in Genesee County.
The bicycling community and casual riding around Buffalo has grown significantly in the past decade and the Handlebar wants to be part of that community, part of those growing connections. Schneider noted that the local biking culture has evolved in recent years to be more inclusive.
“It’s more approachable,” she said. “There’s a lot more people biking for different reasons and there’s a lot more different styles of biking.”
The restaurant has already thrown its support behind local community rides and is looking to hold bike-centric events – such as a themed movie night series set for later this summer. Schneider and Thompson also realize that many urban bikers aren’t out there prepping for the Tour de France: they’re families out for a Saturday ride, they’re young couples on a casual date or they’re college students looking to unwind.
With a full bar, counter service and laid-back atmosphere, the Handlebar is aiming for these casual bikers who want to connect with a different part of Buffalo and join the growing community of Western New York’s urban cyclists.
149 Swan Street, Buffalo, NY
Open starting 8/11/14 @ 5pm
Regular Hours Beginning 8/18: Monday 11am-9pm & Tuesday – Saturday 11am-11pm
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