Thank you, WNY!

Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY: Best Blogger

It’s an honor to have my work recognized, especially when it helps call to attention a very important topic.

READ: A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

 

As appeared in Buffalo Spree, August 2018

 

 


Love Our City.
Experience Buffalo.


Steve Cichon

From the earliest days of the internet, Steve Cichon has been writing, digitizing, and sharing the stories and images of all the things that make Buffalo special and unique. When you browse the blog here at Buffalo Stories LLC, you’re bound to not only relive a memory– but also find some context for our pop culture past– and see exciting ways how it might fit into our region’s boundless future.



Categories:

Buffalo’s Pop Culture Heritage
The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and
celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo. That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find here.

Buffalo’s Radio & TV 
Irv. Danny. Van. Carol. The men and women who’ve watched and listened to have become family enough that we only need their first names. Buffalo has a deep and rich broadcasting history.  Here are some of the names, faces, sounds and stories which have been filling Buffalo’s airwaves since 1922.

 Buffalo’s Neighborhoods
North and South Buffalo. The East and West Sides.  But how many neighborhoods can you name that don’t fit any of those descriptions? From the biggest geographical sections, to the dozens of micro-neighborhoods and hundreds of great intersections.

Parkside
There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.

Family & Genealogy
My family history is Buffalo history. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo, including my Great-Grandma Scurr, who is among the children in this Doyle family photo taken in Glasgow, Scotland. Aside from Scotland, my great-grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Poland, and England. One branch of my family tree stretches back to Buffalo in the 1820s, and a seventh-great aunt was among the first babies baptized at St. Louis Roman Catholic church back in 1829, when the church was still a log cabin.

&c, &c, &C: reflections from Steve’s desk
While my primary focus for this site is sharing about things that make Buffalo wonderful and unique, sometimes I have other thoughts, too. I share those here, along with some of the titles from other categories which I’ve written about in a more personal manner.

Buffalo Stories Bookstore
Buy Steve’s five books and other special offers from Buffalo Stories LLC.

BN Chronicles
Steve’s daily looks back at Buffalo’s past from the archives of The Buffalo News and Buffalo Stories LLC. Weekly features include “Torn Down Tuesday” and “What it looked like Wednesday,” along with decade by decade looks at what Buffalo used to be– and how we got here from there.


By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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Pausing to reflect, 9/11/18

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The WECK Coffee Club paused at 8:46am this morning.

This morning we pause to remember… where we were, what we doing at the moment when we found out our world had changed.

We remember that moment…

We remember the people who were sitting at their desks in the World Trade Center and The Pentagon… and those who wrestled evil on a plane over Pennsylvania.

We remember the first responders who rushed in to help…

We remember those who volunteered to defend our country…
and we remember those who who never returned home.

In their honor, I hope we also remember the way we came together as a country and as a people, and try to find some way to bring that feeling into our daily lives– and remember what we have in common as Americans, in honor of those we lost on this day 17 years ago.

The early rock ‘n’ roll history of Buffalo’s very own 1230am

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

1230am signs on

When 1230 am officially signed on in 1956, WNIA was promised to be “as revolutionary to radio as color was to television.”

WNIA, 1956

The record library here in our Genesee Street studios boasted more than 10-thousand recordings.

From early on, 1230am was “a home for top tunes” as J. Don Schlaerth put it in the pages of the Courier Express, who wrote, “as a new station with lots of peppy music, the ratings began to jiggle.”

WNIA control room. (Dennis Majewicz photo)

Sixty years ago, it was a difficult decision for a radio station to play rock ‘n’ roll music full-time, like WECK does now.

In 1957, Gordon Brown, owner, WNIA, told The Courier-Express, “We play the top 100 tunes half of the time and the old standards the other half of the time. I think people like the sweet popular music as well as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had terrific results in the popular music field. We also like to play some soft music to help the housewife work around the house.”

WNIA Founder Gordon Brown, remembered in his hometown Democrat & Chronicle in 1979.
Tom Donahue, 7th grade

A few years after the station first signed on, a group of local singers—all high school students– at WAY Radio productions sang the jingles you can hear in the piece linked above.

One of those singers was Tom Donahue.

That means his voice has now been heard professionally on the station for more than 50 years.


Mike Melody, Tommy Thomas, and Jerry Jack…

We’re continuing to talk about the early rock ‘n’ roll history here at 1230am.

There were dozens of young disc jockeys who played the hits here at Buffalo’s upstart rock ‘n’ roll station.

Dozens of DJs– but only 4 or 5 names.

Station founder Gordon Brown insisted that the disc jockeys at the radio stations he owned use those on-air handles instead of their own.

He felt the stock jock names gave a more consistent sound even as the DJs changed rapidly, it was always Mike Melody and Jerry Jack.

WNIA’s on air schedule

6 AM to Noon – Tommy Thomas
Noon to 6:30 – Jerry Jack
6:30 to 12:30 AM – Mike Melody

Brown died in 1977, and the station was sold. Since then, the disc jockeys you’ve heard on WECK didn’t necessarily have to use their own names– but they didn’t have to be Mike Melody or Mac McGuire, either.

WNIA poster created from original WNIA art by Steve Cichon.

Midnight Mood & Be Big…. 

We continue our week long look back at the early rock ‘n’ roll history of 1230am.

It’s one of the most requested songs as people reminisce about radio in Buffalo in the 50s and 60s.

It was the 1230 theme song for years, Richard Maltby’s Midnight Mood would play every night at midnight… that’s a tradition we continue now at WECK each night as the clock strikes twelve.

WNIA was a quirky station. The daily noon time Catholic prayers were bookended by rock ‘n’ roll music.

And if you listened to the station at all in those days, you probably remember that you should be big… be a builder.

THE IMPRESSION YOUR FRIENDS AND OTHERS HAVE OF YOU IS BASED ON WHAT YOU DO…TO TEACH…
TO CREATE… TO ACCOMPLISH… OR TO BUILD, WHETHER YOU DIG THE TRENCH FOR THE FOUNDATION
FOR A BUILDING; WHETHER YOU LAY THE LAST BRICK ON ITS TOP; WHETHER YOU WORK WITH A PICK
AND SHOVEL OR WITH THE TOOLS AND MACHINES, OR IN THE OFFICE,OR SELL THE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES
OF INDUSTRY; WHETHER YOU GROW, PREPARE OR HARVEST THE VERY FOOD WE EAT… WHETHER YOU ARE A
HOMEBUILDER RAISING,TEACHING OR EDUCATING YOUR FAMILY OR OTHERS HOW TO BE COME A BUILDER…
NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU DO, IF YOU ARE A BUILDER, YOU ARE ONE TO BE LONG REMEMBERED.
THOSE WHO ATTEMPTED TO DESTROY THE PYRAMIDS OF EGYPT WERE DESPISED AND SOON FORGOTTEN…THOSE
THOUSANDS WHO LABORED TO BUILD THEM WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN………. BE BIG…… BE A BUILDER
–as transcribed at http://www.flynnflam.com/wsay/bbbb.html, a website dedicated to remembering WNIA’s sister station, WSAY, in Rochester.

The minute long diatribe, punctuated with the slogan BE BIG, BE A BUILDER, was the brainchild of station owner Gordon Brown.

It was a reaction to the war protests of the late 60s, and now its a well-remembered part of Buffalo’s broadcasting history.


Listening to the Archives

Mac McGuire, Tommy Thomas, Mike Melody, and Jerry Jack all holding court in the Make Believe Ballroom during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The call letters WNIA originally stood for “NIAGARA.”

When the station was sold in 1977, the new call letters, WECK were selected to represent another Buffalo institution.

WECK sticker, late 1970s.

From WNIA to WECK

This week we’ve been looking back at the history of 1230am…

For 20 years, tiny WNIA had a powerhouse sized influence on rock ‘n’ roll radio in Buffalo, from the same ranch house we broadcast from on Genesee Street.

From Mike Melody’s “Make Believe Ball Room,” to “Be Big… BE A BUILDER,” to Richard Maltby’s “Midnight Mood,”  WNIA and 1230am were very much a part of the tapestry that made up life as a teenager in Buffalo in the 50s and 60s.

By the late 70s, those days were over, the station was sold. WNIA became WECK.

The Roll that rocks. Get it? WECK Roll?

Anyway, 1230 grew up with those 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ rollers and was spinning the disco tunes with DJs like Frankie Nestro.

After years of “Music of Your Life,” then talk for a while, we’re now back to our roots as Buffalo’s home for Good Times, and Great Oldies…

Buffalo’s Very Own WECK.

Remembering Burt Reynolds in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Burt Reynolds spent time in Buffalo during the shooting of “Best Friends” in 1982.

He happened to be in Buffalo for a bit of history.

Reynolds and his co-star Goldie Hawn were at the Aud when Wayne Gretzky broke Phil Esposito’s single season goals record.

Along with Oilers GM Glen Sather, Gretzky, Hawn, Reynolds and Espo celebrated with a photo in the Aud Club at Memorial Auditorium, in front of that amazing Sabres latch hook rug.

Glen Sather, Wayne Gretzky, Goldie Hawn, Burt Reynolds, Phil Esposito, on the night Gretzky beat Espo’s single season goal record with his 77th goal of the season of the 1981-82 season.

Like most good things in Buffalo in the 80s, Mayor Griffin played a small role in “Best Friends”– he can be seen as a kid’s hockey coach in one scene.

Mayor Griffin with Burt Reynolds, when he was in town shooting “Best Friends.”

 

From The Complete History of Parkside:

Parkside Goes Hollywood

Though usually thought of in terms of a staid, august, and venerable neighborhood, Parkside has also seen its share of glitz and glamour.  For the same reason so many Buffalonians are attracted to its wonderful architecture and tree-lined streets, Hollywood producers have also taken notice over the years.

For three weeks in February, 1982, Summit Avenue went Hollywood for a week. Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn spent that time holed up at 45 Summit Avenue, shooting scenes for the big screen motion picture Best Friends. The local accommodations were much cheaper than the LA high rollers were used to, as Ellen Parisi wrote in her History of the Good Shepherd Church, only a few doors down from the home where most of the film was shot:

In order to accommodate the cast’s and crew’s noon meal, the advance people made arrangements to rent Jewett Memorial Hall. “Probably the biggest mistake I ever made,” said Fr. Jerre Feagin, Good Shepherd rector 1978-82, “was not charging them more. When they asked how much it would cost to rent the hall for three weeks, I said, ‘One Thousand dollars.’ that was a lot of money to the Church of the Good Shepherd. But the man looked at me with great surprise in his eyes, as if to say, ‘Is that all?’ and he immediately wrote a check.”

Production trucks for BEST FRIENDS line up along Summit Avenue

The Parkside home of Alex Trammell and the Buffalo snow provided the perfect backdrop for producers. Signs outside of the home pleaded for untracked snow… But one four-legged critter didn’t see the sign and spoiled the scene producers had hoped for, namely virgin, freshly fallen snow. But that errant dog didn’t provide the only challenge to filming:

“There was one problem with a neighbor who didn’t want (the film people) there,” Fr. Feagin continued. “It was a nuisance. They roped the streets off. Mounted police were all over keeping intruders out. Big sound and power trucks came in at 5am and parked all over the streets. There were catering trucks selling things. It was like a carnival. Well, this one neighbor didn’t like it, and in protest, every time they’d begin filming, he’d run his lawnmower. In February. The director, Norman Jewison, approached me and asked me to do something. The man causing the trouble was a Roman Catholic, so I called Fr. Braun from St. Mark’s and he straightened it out. That movie company was only a few hours from packing up and leaving town in search of a new location if Fr. Braun hadn’t been able to stop the noise.”

Main Street mocked up to look like Chicago.

Hollywood was back in Parkside the following year, this time at the corner of Main Street and West Oakwood Place for the shooting of The Natural. Glenn Close and Robert Redford spent a few days in August, 1983 at the Parkside Candy Shoppe. The no-nonsense long time owners of the ice cream parlor, Ted and Sandy Malamas, told the Parkside News in 1988 that they were impressed with Close, who garnered an Academy Award Nomination for her role in the film. Given their silence on the rest of the cast, one can draw ones own conclusion.

from The Natural. Glenn Close and Robert Redford on Main St at W Oakwood Pl.

The scenes shot inside the store were, according to the story, taking place in Chicago. A large matrix of I-beams was erected of Main Street at Oakwood to give the appearance of Chicago’s elevated train. Filming of the movie also took place at War Memorial Stadium and All-High Stadium, the Buffalo Schools field just up the street behind Bennett High School.

Redford standing in roughly the same location as the above shot, from a different angle.

After a twenty year hiatus from Tinsletown, Parkside returned to the small screen in 2003 as the setting for the MTV Reality Series Sorority Life. Season 2 of the show featured the Delta Xi Omega sorority from the University at Buffalo. Their sorority house for 2002 was at the southwest corner of Crescent and West Oakwood.  Shooting for the show happened all over the neighborhood, but perhaps most publicly at Kostas Restaurant on Hertel Avenue, where cameras followed one of the sisters to work as a waitress.

Parkside also played a dark role in a similar MTV show shot in Buffalo the following year. Three UB students were arrested after breaking into the Buffalo Zoo in 2003 as a part of a videotaped stunt for the show Fraternity Life. In an incident reminiscent of stunts dreamt up after a night of collegiate drinking at the Park Meadow two decades earlier, The pledges were to break into to the zoo, and take an animal home as a pet.

The clubs, clothes, and characters of Buffalo’s Disco Era

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking back at the Disco era in Buffalo.

By 1975, the music and fashion and lifestyle associated with disco music was sweeping the nation.

Buffalo in 1975

Today, what Buffalo looked like when we first did the Hustle and learned to do a little dance, make a little love, and get down tonight in 1975.

Stan Makowski was Buffalo’s mayor. He had taken over City Hall a year earlier when Mayor Frank Sedita resigned because of failing health.

Mayor Stan Makowski was a state champion bowler.

Rick James had just signed with A&M Record, and was getting ready to return to Buffalo to form the Stone City Band.

Rick James, on the hood of his Cadillac, at Main & Genesee, Downtown Buffalo, 1977.

OJ Simpson had a career high 16 touchdowns for the Bills… and was known to enjoy the nightlife in Buffalo’s disco clubs.

Rick Azar with OJ Simspon

Only five seasons after first skating into Memorial Auditorium, The Buffalo Sabres were playing in the fog in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Gil Perreault congratulated by Jim Schoenfeld on the ice at Memorial Auditorium.

And when the Sabres weren’t playing at The Aud, it was the NBA Buffalo Braves with Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith.

Bob McAdoo signs with the Buffalo Braves

The Clubs

The flashy sights and groove-filled sounds of the disco experience filled places like Club 747, Uncle Sam’s, Mulligan’s, and dozens of smaller clubs around WNY.

In 1975, New York City’s Studio 54 was still two years away, but Buffalo’s Club 747 was touting itself as “America’s only superjet disco.”

WKBW Radio disc jockey “Super Shannon” was “in the cockpit” playing records and bringing plenty of energy to the microphone and atmosphere.

Club 747.

As many as 5,000 people a week were hustling their way through the airplane-themed club on Genesee Street.

MORE: Buffalo in the ’70s: Dancing at Club 747

By the end of the ’70s, the place had a $100,000 renovation, carried out by the same lighting crew that was responsible for “Saturday Night Fever.”

Uncle Sam’s on Walden Avenue was part of a chain of discotheques around the nation. The music was just as dance-able– but the dress code was a bit more relaxed and over all the crowd a big younger than it was over by the airport at 747.

Uncle Sam’s, Walden Avenue, 1974

Not too far away, Big Bertha’s at Broadway and Transit had an electronic dance floor.

MORE: Buffalo in the 70s: The early days of disco in WNY

There was He & She’s, the former Mother Tuckers, inside the Fun & Games amusement park near the blue whale car wash in Tonawanda.

Buffalo’s ultimate disco scene was Hertel Avenue’s hotspot of the 1970s, Mulligan’s. There was a little of everything there. It was the scene of a mafia ambush hit murder in 1974.

When a renovated Mulligan’s opened in 1975, it was billed as “a dancing and dining emporium modeled to suit the far ranging and capricious fancies of all who enter its doors.”

A trip to Mulligan’s might include a sighting of any number of national celebrities known by only their first names, like Cher or OJ, along with Rick James and his girlfriend Exorcist’s Linda Blair.


Buffalo’s Disco Fashion

We’re looking back at the disco era in Buffalo– and fashion was a big part of it.

During the late ’70s heyday at Club 747, a “boarding pass” to get into the club was $1, $2 on Saturday nights. Dancers were expected to be dressed appropriately — no sneakers, sweatshirts or “non-dress jeans” (remember, this was the ’70s) were allowed.

So where did you get your dress jeans?

Perhaps the best remembered disco duds stores were ManTwo and Pantastik. Each had as many as six WNY locations, but they were headquarted next door to one another on Bailey Avenue in the city.

Morey’s bellbottoms, Bailey Avenue, 1969

Morey Holtz was selling youth fashions at Morey’s on Bailey Avenue, when he decided to open ManTwo to sell youthful men’s fashions suits and leisure suits. Ads talk about things like “sensuous velvet” and “clothes that make it happen.”

Next door was Pantastik, which opened bragging about 10,000 unisex pairs of pants– mostly bell-bottoms, dancing pants, and even those “dress jeans” that Club 747 was talking about.

Also unisex were Bastad clogs.

Bastad clogs at The Sample

Early on, you had to go to the Trillium Shop in Fort Erie to get a pair, before Trillium opened and Amherst store, and then The Sample started selling the Scandinavian footwear, too.

The Trillium Shop, home of Bastad Clogs in Fort Erie

It’s what we were wearing in Buffalo during the disco era.


The Personalities

There were a few personalities who became known as Buffalo’s disco ringleaders…

Frankie Nestro at WNIA

Right here on 1230am… back when our call letters were WNIA–in the late 70s, this station was Buffalo’s disco outlet as “The New Super Sound 12.”

DJs like Frankie Nestro– who was former recording artist himself and a Motown record promoter– was spinning the disco hits on these very airwaves.

Shane Brother Shane was spinning the music on the radio, but also at Club 747.

Shane Brother Shane

Aside from playing the music, he helped design the cockpit, the sound system, and the take off video. That video played every night at 9, when in a soft voice Shane would call to their seats to prepare for takeoff. As the engines started, and sound rattled glasses on the bar, “Higher and Higher” by the Moody Blues would play, and a dozen television monitors would hop to life with video of a 747 takeoff.

Kevin O’Connell is forever tied to Buffalo’s disco era, too.

Kevin O’Connell at Club 747, shooting “Disco Step-By-Step”

Not only did he air “Weather with a Beat,” a collection of weather statics scrolling with disco music playing in the background during his Channel 4 weather segments, he was also the host of Channel 4’s Disco Step-By-Step show.

Of course there were dozens guys in DJ booths in bars across the city who kept the music going, guys with names like Dr. John and Captain Disco.

Dr. John, left, and Captain Disco at Club 747. (From the John Bisci collection)

All providing the soundscape for the Disco era in Buffalo.

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

All this week, we’ve been looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods– the dishes we long for we we’re away, and the ones that just never seem to measure up when Buffalonians try to eat them elsewhere.

We’re starting with a classic.

Beef on Weck

Anderson’s beef on weck and a loganberry.

Beef on Weck has been a Buffalo staple since around the time of the 1901 Pan Am Exposition.

Gohn’s Tavern at Main and Delavan, across Delavan Avenue from Forest Lawn’s entrance, was the first restaurant that made roast beef on Kimmelweck rolls a regular specialty.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Gohn’s Place, known as home of beef on weck

Gohn moved into a building next door when his property was bought out to put up a gas station in the 1930s. That spot eventually became The Locker Room, which claimed to be the original home of the Beef on Weck.

The Locker Room and Bailo’s on Bailey and Lovejoy were Buffalo’s two favorite Beef on Weck spots for generations, but the sandwich was really Buffalo’s signature bar food, and available at dozens if not hundreds of taverns around Western New York.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Bailo’s, famed for beef on weck and an urban legend

There was even Beefy’s– the local roast beef fast food place that offered Beef on Weck at the Seneca Mall and a few other locations in the 1970s.

These days there are plenty of places that will serve you a Beef on Weck sandwich, but very few gin mills with a giant slab of beef and a pile of hard rolls right there behind the bar– the way the sandwich was first served more than a hundred years ago.

But the Beef on Weck remains one of Buffalo’s definitive foods.


Buffalo-style pizza

We’re looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods this week…

An author recently referred to Buffalo as “The Comfort Food Capital of America,” and there’s little doubt that Buffalo’s universal comfort food is take-out pizza.

a Bob & John’s-Hertel pie, 2015

That same writer, Arthur Bovino, writes in The Daily Beast that Buffalo just might be America’s Pizza Capital— or at least the country’s most underappreciated regional variety.

The sheer numbers bear that out. There are at least 600 pizzerias in the Buffalo area. Or to put it a different way, you could get pizza every night for 20 months, and not go to the same pie joint twice.

What makes a Buffalo pizza?

Santora’s was Buffalo’s first pizzeria. 1947 ad.

It starts with the crust. Tasty, doughy and golden, for those of us accustomed to it, it makes other crusts taste like cardboard. It’s doughy and soft, but it also stands up– literally. No floppy folding needed for a Buffalo slice.

1959 ad for Bison pepperoni, makers of Buffalo’s “cup and curl” pepperoni.

So there’s plenty of crust, and the crusts are bigger too. Order a large somewhere else in the country and you just might be disappointed.

On that bigger pizza, we pile on cheese in a way that would be considered extra cheese anywhere else.

Then there’s the pepperoni, which might be defined generally as flavorless, flat pink circles on your pizza. The best Buffalo pepperoni curls up a bit, gets a little charred on the edge, and makes the perfect meat vessel for the greasy goodness that adds so much flavor to our favorite pizzas.

Pizza became a fad around the country in the 50s, but we’ve been eating it here, and watching the perfect pie evolve since 1927 when Fioravante Santora started serving it. And then in 1946 when Dino started slinging pies at the Bocce Club on Hickory Street. And the Todaro’s started selling La Nova pizza in 1957.

Bocce Club announces new Bailey Avenue location. 1959 ad.

Pizza is an institution in Western New York, made up of hundreds of neighborhood institutions that make it a quintessential taste of Buffalo.

Santora’s was not only Buffalo;’s first pizzeria, but also among the first to deliver pizza. 1964 ad.

The Fish Fry

We’re continuing our week-long look at Buffalo’s definitive foods…

Mineo South take out fish fry, Lent 2018.

You can get a fish fry in other places, but Western New York is the only place you can get a Buffalo Fish Fry.

What that usually means for most of us is a giant piece of haddock covered thick, golden and crispy beer batter, tartar sauce, a lemon wedge, french fries, and hopefully more than one salad like coleslaw or potato salad. And the best fish fries have a piece of seeded rye bread thrown in on top.

This Buffalo Friday night staple at VFW Halls, Holy Name Dinners, and neighborhood taverns has been evolving into our current expectation for generations and generations.

The first place Buffalo flocked to go out for a fish fry was Richie Roth’s fish house. He was the city’s renown expert fisherman, and he started frying it up in his ramshackle shed on the banks of the Erie Canal at the foot of Hudson Street sometime around 1900.

Today, the spot is covered by the baseball diamonds you can see from the 190 in LaSalle Park. That part of the 190 was built in the bed of the Erie Canal.

The Buffalo Commercial, 1922

The shack which was condemned more than once still played host to politicians, musicians, and plain old working people. Those fishing boats were good for more than just bringing in fresh-caught Lake Erie fish– even during Prohibition, the beer flowed freely at Richie Roth’s.

Buffalo’s brewer Mayor Francis X. Schwab, who himself faced federal charges in the production of “near-beer” that was over the legal alcohol limit, lauded Roth after an inspection of his fish shack in 1922.

“This vice talk is all bunk,” Schwab told The Buffalo Commercial. “(Police Captain) Jimmy Higgins didn’t see a thing wrong. There’s no law against eating fish, I guess.” He called it “a nice place.”

The Courier-Express called Richie Roth’s “the best fish fry in the world.” He spent decades arguing with the city over his right to stay in the shack he’d worked out of for more than 40 years. He died in 1948.

Trautwein’s serving Blue Pike, 1955.

Before 1960, any good fish fry was made with blue pike. Once the most ubiquitous and tasty fish of Lake Erie, the blue pike was over-fished and saw competition from invasive species such as rainbow smelt.

As the blue pike grew more rare, Buffalonians began to acquire a taste for the haddock fish fry, which is a good thing. By the 1970s, the blue pike was generally accepted as extinct.


The Buffalo Hot Dog

As we continue to look at Buffalo’s definitive foods, we look at the hot dog.

Sahlen’s hot dogs on a home grill, with 4 different levels of char.

Just like pizza, they have hot dogs everywhere, but we all know there’s something special and different about a Buffalo hot dog.

And recently, a national food blogger wrote “forget wings, Buffalo is a hot dog town.”

So what does all that mean?

Longtime Buffalo butcher Mark Redlinksi tells me the biggest difference between a Buffalo hot dog and one of the national brands is the casing. He says it’s difficult to find a natural casing if you’re not buying a Buffalo dog. Sahlen’s most popular varieties are tender casing dogs, but natural casings are also available.

It’s also what’s inside– or not inside– a Buffalo dog. All meat, no fillers in a Sahlen’s or any other local brand. It’s also a unique beef to pork ratio we’ve become used to here.

And of course, like everything else in Buffalo– our hot dogs are much bigger than what the national brands sell.

A Ted’s dog, loaded.

As far as how we eat ’em, there are two equally definitive Buffalo styles.

The charcoal broiled dog highlights that natural casing and gives a great bite… and maybe a great crunch if you like yours well done. Ted’s charbroiled dog, on a toasted roll, with special spicy sauce, mustard, relish, onions, and a pickle spear is a WNY Classic.

Ted’s has been serving Buffalo’s favorite hot dogs since 1947.
A Louie’s Texas hot, “up,” wrapped in the to-go wax paper.

Another WNY classic is the Texas Hot, also known as the “slime dog,” the “scum dog,” and if you’re from South Buffalo, the “shit canoe.” (I think I grew up thinking that last one is what they were officially called. )

The hot dogs are usually a slightly different formulation… usually without the natural casing, which would get rubbery when fried on the griddle.

On that griddled dog, add mustard, slivered onions, and that spicy meat sauce.

“Slime on the line” at Seneca Texas Hots on Seneca Street.

Whether you like ’em off the grill or drowning in that Texas Hot gravy, the Buffalo hot dog is like no other.

MORE: Buffalo’s love affair with the hot dog


The Chicken Wing

Of all these great Buffalo foods, only one is known around the world with the city’s name attached to it– of course, that’s the chicken wing.

Wings. Medium. Extra Crispy.

These days, there are dozens, probably hundreds of varieties of chicken wings available across WNY… but the original is still the benchmark… chicken wing parts fried doused in a combination of butter and Frank’s hot sauce.

The well-told story of the chicken wing is that Anchor Bar owner Teressa Bellissimo whipped up the first wings as snack for her son and his friends after midnight on a Lenten Friday in 1964.

This 1972 shot is the first of many photos showing The Anchor Bar’s Dominic Bellissimo and chicken wings appearing in The Buffalo News through the years. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Teressa Bellissimo, the inventor of the chicken wing

While Teressa Bellissimo and the Anchor Bar certainly get the kudos for Buffalo’s first split wing, they might have to share the title of Buffalo’s first spicy wing with John Young, who served unsplit wings— with the flat and club still connected to each other and the wing tip— all covered in his spicy Mambo sauce at his “Wings & Things” restaurant on Jefferson Avenue starting in the mid-’60s.

Still, it’s the Anchor Bar’s version which gained notoriety and became a Buffalo institution.

MORE: As the chicken wing turns 50, a look at its first appearance in The Buffalo News

Looking under “Pizza” in the yellow pages of Buffalo’s 1969 phone book, only one restaurant — the Anchor Bar — lists “chicken wings” as a menu option in its ad.

Ten years later, in the 1979 phone book, 54 different pizza restaurants list wings as a menu option.

Today, even the restaurant that calls itself “Just Pizza” has succumbed to wing sales.

But back to that 1969 phone book– in the “Restaurant” section– the Anchor Bar’s ad makes mention of music and Italian specialties, there is no mention of chicken wings.

In the RESTAURANT section, the only mention of wings is a small listing for “Wings & Things,” John Young’s Jefferson Avenue restaurant, which was of many East Side spots were people were eating some version of chicken wings before the Anchor Bar made them into what the world knows as Buffalo Wings.

MORE: Chicken Wings and Blue Cheese (not Ranch)

The chicken wing– perhaps THE definitive Buffalo food.

Dominic Bellissimo, outside the Anchor Bar, 1986

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Buffalo hot dog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As we continue to look at Buffalo’s definitive foods, we look at the hot dog.

Sahlen’s hot dogs on a home grill, with 4 different levels of char.

Just like pizza, they have hot dogs everywhere, but we all know there’s something special and different about a Buffalo hot dog.

And recently, a national food blogger wrote “forget wings, Buffalo is a hot dog town.”

So what does all that mean?

Longtime Buffalo butcher Mark Redlinksi tells me the biggest difference between a Buffalo hot dog and one of the national brands is the casing. He says it’s difficult to find a natural casing if you’re not buying a Buffalo dog.

It’s also what’s inside– or not inside– a Buffalo dog. All meat, no fillers in a Sahlen’s or any other local brand. It’s also a unique beef to pork ratio we’ve become used to here.

And of course, like everything else in Buffalo– our hot dogs are much bigger than what the national brands sell.

A Ted’s dog, loaded.

As far as how we eat ’em, there are two equally definitive Buffalo styles.

The charcoal broiled dog highlights that natural casing and gives a great bite… and maybe a great crunch if you like yours well done. Ted’s charbroiled dog, on a toasted roll, with special spicy sauce, mustard, relish, onions, and a pickle spear is a WNY Classic.

Ted’s has been serving Buffalo’s favorite hot dogs since 1947.
A Louie’s Texas hot, “up,” wrapped in the to-go wax paper.

Another WNY classic is the Texas Hot, also known as the “slime dog,” the “scum dog,” and if you’re from South Buffalo, the “shit canoe.” (I think I grew up thinking that last one is what they were officially called. )

The hot dogs are usually a slightly different formulation… usually without the natural casing, which would get rubbery when fried on the griddle.

On that griddled dog, add mustard, slivered onions, and that spicy meat sauce.

“Slime on the line” at Seneca Texas Hots on Seneca Street.

Whether you like ’em off the grill or drowning in that Texas Hot gravy, the Buffalo hot dog is like no other.

MORE: Buffalo’s love affair with the hot dog

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Fish Fry

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re continuing our week-long look at Buffalo’s definitive foods…

Mineo South take out fish fry, Lent 2018.

You can get a fish fry in other places, but Western New York is the only place you can get a Buffalo Fish Fry.

What that usually means for most of us is a giant piece of haddock covered thick, golden and crispy beer batter, tartar sauce, a lemon wedge, french fries, and hopefully more than one salad like coleslaw or potato salad. And the best fish fries have a piece of seeded rye bread thrown in on top.

This Buffalo Friday night staple at VFW Halls, Holy Name Dinners, and neighborhood taverns has been evolving into our current expectation for generations and generations.

The first place Buffalo flocked to go out for a fish fry was Richie Roth’s fish house. He was the city’s renown expert fisherman, and he started frying it up in his ramshackle shed on the banks of the Erie Canal at the foot of Hudson Street sometime around 1900.

Today, the spot is covered by the baseball diamonds you can see from the 190 in LaSalle Park. That part of the 190 was built in the bed of the Erie Canal.

The Buffalo Commercial, 1922

The shack which was condemned more than once still played host to politicians, musicians, and plain old working people. Those fishing boats were good for more than just bringing in fresh-caught Lake Erie fish– even during Prohibition, the beer flowed freely at Richie Roth’s.

Buffalo’s brewer Mayor Francis X. Schwab, who himself faced federal charges in the production of “near-beer” that was over the legal alcohol limit, lauded Roth after an inspection of his fish shack in 1922.

“This vice talk is all bunk,” Schwab told The Buffalo Commercial. “(Police Captain) Jimmy Higgins didn’t see a thing wrong. There’s no law against eating fish, I guess.” He called it “a nice place.”

The Courier-Express called Richie Roth’s “the best fish fry in the world.” He spent decades arguing with the city over his right to stay in the shack he’d worked out of for more than 40 years. He died in 1948.

Trautwein’s serving Blue Pike, 1955.

Before 1960, any good fish fry was made with blue pike. Once the most ubiquitous and tasty fish of Lake Erie, the blue pike was over-fished and saw competition from invasive species such as rainbow smelt.

As the blue pike grew more rare, Buffalonians began to acquire a taste for the haddock fish fry, which is a good thing. By the 1970s, the blue pike was generally accepted as extinct.

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: Buffalo-style pizza

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods this week…

An author recently referred to Buffalo as “The Comfort Food Capital of America,” and there’s little doubt that Buffalo’s universal comfort food is take-out pizza.

 

a Bob & John’s-Hertel pie, 2015

That same writer, Arthur Bovino, writes in The Daily Beast that Buffalo just might be America’s Pizza Capital— or at least the country’s most underappreciated regional variety.

The sheer numbers bear that out. There are at least 600 pizzerias in the Buffalo area. Or to put it a different way, you could get pizza every night for 20 months, and not go to the same pie joint twice.

What makes a Buffalo pizza?

Santora’s was Buffalo’s first pizzeria. 1947 ad.

It starts with the crust. Tasty, doughy and golden, for those of us accustomed to it, it makes other crusts taste like cardboard. It’s doughy and soft, but it also stands up– literally. No floppy folding needed for a Buffalo slice.

1959 ad for Bison pepperoni, makers of Buffalo’s “cup and curl” pepperoni.

So there’s plenty of crust, and the crusts are bigger too. Order a large somewhere else in the country and you just might be disappointed.

On that bigger pizza, we pile on cheese in a way that would be considered extra cheese anywhere else.

Then there’s the pepperoni, which might be defined generally as flavorless, flat pink circles on your pizza. The best Buffalo pepperoni curls up a bit, gets a little charred on the edge, and makes the perfect meat vessel for the greasy goodness that adds so much flavor to our favorite pizzas.

Pizza became a fad around the country in the 50s, but we’ve been eating it here, and watching the perfect pie evolve since 1927 when Fioravante Santora started serving it. And then in 1946 when Dino started slinging pies at the Bocce Club on Hickory Street. And the Todaro’s started selling La Nova pizza in 1957.

Bocce Club announces new Bailey Avenue location. 1959 ad.

Pizza is an institution in Western New York, made up of hundreds of neighborhood institutions that make it a quintessential taste of Buffalo.

Santora’s was not only Buffalo;’s first pizzeria, but also among the first to deliver pizza. 1964 ad.

Buffalo’s Definitive Foods: The Beef on Weck

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at Buffalo’s definitive foods, and we’re starting with a classic.

Anderson’s beef on weck and a loganberry.

Beef on Weck has been a Buffalo staple since around the time of the 1901 Pan Am Exposition.

Gohn’s Tavern at Main and Delavan, across Delavan Avenue from Forest Lawn’s entrance, was the first restaurant that made roast beef on Kimmelweck rolls a regular specialty.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Gohn’s Place, known as home of beef on weck

Gohn moved into a building next door when his property was bought out to put up a gas station in the 1930s. That spot eventually became The Locker Room, which claimed to be the original home of the Beef on Weck.

The Locker Room and Bailo’s on Bailey and Lovejoy were Buffalo’s two favorite Beef on Weck spots for generations, but the sandwich was really Buffalo’s signature bar food, and available at dozens if not hundreds of taverns around Western New York.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: Bailo’s, famed for beef on weck and an urban legend

There was even Beefy’s– the local roast beef fast food place that offered Beef on Weck at the Seneca Mall and a few other locations in the 1970s.

These days there are plenty of places that will serve you a Beef on Weck sandwich, but very few gin mills with a giant slab of beef and a pile of hard rolls right there behind the bar– the way the sandwich was first served more than a hundred years ago.

But the Beef on Weck remains one of Buffalo’s definitive foods.

The Golden Age of Kids’ TV in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’ve been taking a look back at the local kids shows we’ve watched through the years on Buffalo TV.

We go channel by channel, show by show, describing some of the favorites and adding photos when a photo is available.

Sadly, no video exists of most of these shows… but the memories live on.

Channel 4

Of course Buffalo Bob Smith was a local guy, and his national Howdy Doody Show was one of the most popular shows on TV anywhere in the late 40 and early 50s.

But along with Howdy Doody, Buffalo’s first TV station, WBEN-TV Channel 4, brought Buffalo’s first locally created kids’ shows.

MORE: Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

Mike Mearian

Uncle Mike and pal Buttons, WBEN-TV, 1956

Starting in 1954, one of the most popular shows on Channel 4 was Mike Mearian’s “Children’s Theater,” which featured the host as either Uncle Mike or Captain Mike when they played Popeye cartoons.

Buttons and Uncle Mike Mearian, WBEN-TV

Mike’s faithful puppet sidekick Buttons, was a marionette operated by Ellen Knetchel and voiced by Mearian.

The 1956 Sylvania TV Award nominations described Uncle Mike this way:

“Mr. Mearian’s genius as a humorist plus the best available children’s cartoons add up to youthful entertainment fun that is always in the best of taste.”

 

Captain Mike Mearian & Buttons the Cabin Boy

Virgil Booth

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Zoo,

There was also Mr Bumble’s Curiosity Shop. WBEN Announcer Virgil Booth was Mr. Bumbles. Booth also hosted regular kids shows as himself from the with Clayton Freiheit at Buffalo Zoo and Ellsworth Jaeger at the Buffalo Museum of Science. he also hosted cartoons through the years as Channel 4’s baggagemaster.

The soft-spoken announcer on WBEN’s Luncheon Club recently retired as Ch. 4’s baggagemaster and opened Mr. Bumble’s Old Curiosity Shop– filled with items bound to attract young viewers.

Mr. Bumbles takes about 30 minutes putting on makeup and costume each Saturday afternoon. He becomes a man in his 70s who uses the language of children to heighten their inquisitiveness during the 5 to 6 PM Saturday program.

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

 

Jerry Brick

Uncle Jerry Brick, WBEN-TV

Uncle Jerry Brick– who was the floor manager of the Meet the Millers Show during the week, hosted a Sunday morning kids talent show through the 50s and 60s that introduced more than 2,000 talented youngsters on Channel 4.

The show was described in the paper this way:  TV cameras capture priceless expressions of visiting tots as Jerry asks questions during the outing.

Bob & Ellen Knechtel

They created and operated the puppets and marionettes seen on Channel 4 from the 1940s through the 1970s.


Channel 7’s Kids Shows

Rocketship 7

Dave Thomas & Mr. Beeper

When Dave Thomas wasn’t hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes and Liz Dribben, he was palling around with Promo The Robot and Mr. Beeper.

Rocketship 7 was a must watch for many Buffalo kids through the 60s and 70s, before Dave Thomas blasted off for a new job in Philadelphia in 1978.

Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot on Rocketship 7

And Dave Thomas wasn’t the only Dialing for Dollars connection to Rocketship 7. It was relatively easy for Dave to change from his Rocketship 7 jumpsuit into his “count and amount” clothes, but it was a little more difficult for another cast member on both shows.

Dave Thomas, Banaszak, Nolan Johannes and Jimmy Edwin on Dialing For Dollars.

Johnny and Jimmy were the house band on Dialing for Dollars, and Johnny Banaszak had a quick change between his back-to-back gigs, too. He quickly had to shed the Promo the Robot suit and grab his accordion. He was not only the man inside the suit, but also the voice of Promo as well.

Commander Tom

Another salubrious kids show on Channel 7 starred All-American weatherman Tom Jolls as Commander Tom– who took to TV wearing the bright red jacket of a Canadian Mountie.

Commander Tom, Dust Mop, and the rest of the crew on the Commander Tom Show,.

He performed with his puppet pals which early on, were mostly made from his kids’ old stuffed animals.

Some of those puppets, which the Commander voiced himself, included Matty the Mod, a young and energetic, though not too bright alligator; Cecily Fripple, a sensitive and gentle thing of questionable age who tries to recapture her glorious past; and last but not least, Dustmop, the faithful watchdog of Central Command, who is spite of his old age and failing eyesight, is the brave protectorate of the entire cast.

The Jungle Jay Show

Jungle Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson was a disc jockey on WKBW Radio, but is perhaps best remembered as the host of Channel 7’s Jungle Jay Show.

He wore a pith helmet and a leopard print jacket while playing old Tarzan clips when kids got home from school.

The shtick was so popular that even after he left Buffalo for his native Canada to work at CHUM Radio in Toronto, he continued calling himself Jungle Jay, and continued wearing the pith helmet. The show was just as popular north of the border as it was in Western New York.


Channel 2

Channel 2 has had a few popular locally produced kids’ shows through the years.

Maybe most popular was Channel 2’s weatherman Bob Lawrence as Captain Bob.

Puppeteer Jim Menke worked on Channel 2’s Captain Bob Show as well as on Channel 17’s Mr. Whatnot program,

He did local cut-ins during two wildly different programs.

At first, he entertained kids during Channel 2’s playback of old 1930s Three Stooges shorts.

Captain Bob also hosted the local presentation of The Mickey Mouse Club afternoons in the late 50s and early 60s.

Jim Menke was the puppeteer during the Captain Bob Show, and later he brought his puppet Corky to the Mr. Whatnot Show on Channel 17.

Mr. Whatnot, with Jack Paupst in title role, was locally produced by WNED-TV, Channel 17.

Another Channel 2 kids show that was as much a commercial as it was entertainment hit Buffalo TVs in 1960 with the opening of Fantasy Island.

Buckskin Joe at Fantasy Island on Channel 2, WGR-TV.

Buckskin Joe was the host of what looked like a TV version of Fantasy Island’s Wild West Show. Buckskin Joe was actually Clyde Farnan, the General Manager of the amusement park.

He was joined on TV by Marshall Rick, Annie Oakley, Little Bo Peep, and bad guys like Cactus Pete and Black Bart– who was also Fantasy Island’s business manager Harvey Benatovich.

Checkers and Can Can was a short-lived locally produced WGR-TV show featuring Checkers the Clown and Can-Can the tin man.

Checkers & Can Can 1960

Romper Room & Bozo

a 1969 ad for Romper Room on Ch.2. This show was produced in New York City.

Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there were probably a dozen different versions of Romper Room you may have seen on Buffalo television screens.

There were nationally syndicated versions, as well as shows that were produced in Toronto and Hamilton.

But on two different occasions, for short periods of time, there were Buffalo-produced Romper Room shows as well.

Channel 7 aired a local version of Romper Room for the first few years the station was on the air.

Miss Mary was the first local host. Her real name was Cele Klein, and she’d been a veteran soap opera actress. The show would get 150 letters a day from kids across WNY and Southern Ontario.

She handed her magic mirror over to Miss Sally Klein, who was around for about a year, then Miss Binnie Liebermann, who was hosting the show when the local version was cancelled in 1962– “clobbered” in the ratings, according to Channel 7, by Uncle Mike Mearian on Channel 4.

Another local version of Romper Room came in 1971 when Channel 29 first signed on the air. Miss Elaine Murphy was the host.

Channel 29 also had another live local version of a national show that appeared in local versions all around the country.

Fancis Stack as Bozo the Clown on WUTV, TV-29.

Young Buffalonians had watched Bozo the Clown productions from Chicago and Boston and watched Bozo cartoons– but the only locally produced Bozo’s Big Top was on WUTV starting in 1971 and starred local clown Francis Stack as Bozo.


Canadian TV

We’ve been looking at local kids TV over the past week, and while they weren’t 2,4, or 7, most of us spent plenty of time watching 5,9, and 11, because there were plenty of Canadian Kids shows we loved.

Mr. Dressup and his tickle trunk filled with costumes for him and puppets Casey and Finnegan was an iconic program airing on CBC for more than 40 years.

Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan sit on the tickle trunk.

Also on Channel 5 for a long time, The Friendly Giant was there every morning if you looked up… waaaaay up.

The Friendly Giant and Jerome the Giraffe

There was a rocker for someone who liked to rock, Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster.

Channel 9 in Toronto gave us the Uncle Bobby Show. Bobby Ash was an old British vaudevillian, who was joined by Traffic Officer John, Meredith Cutting, “the Singing Policeman;” Cy Leonard, “the ventriloquist;” and of course… Bimbo the Birthday Clown.

Uncle Bobby (standing) and Cy Leonard, CFTO-TV.

And if you have any recollection of learning French on Sesame Street— you watched that on Canadian TV, too. In the US, Sesame Street has always taught Spanish.

Goldie Gardner, right, WNED-TV.

Of course you probably watched both– especially if you also remember Goldie Gardner asking you to bring your parents to the TV, as she did on Channel 17 for decades.

Uncle Bobby and Bimbo the Birthday Clown