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

By Steve Cichon

You could call it “the day the roast beef died.”

Sept. 25, 1979. Flames and smoke poured out of the three-story structure at 1298 Bailey Ave., the longtime home of Bailo’s. The fire, which started in the kitchen of the restaurant, caused more than $150,000 in damage to the building and contents, and it ultimately lead the Buffalo landmark to close.

From just about the moment Prohibition was lifted in 1933, George Mankowski operated the gin mill at Bailey Avenue and Lovejoy Street. When he died in 1953, his sons Eugene and Chester were already running the place. Known informally for years by the nickname formed by the Bai-Lo intersection, it officially became the Bailo Grill when Chester and Stella Mankowski registered the business name in 1956.

Not much different in menu or ambiance than hundreds of other neighborhood taverns around Buffalo, Bailo’s became well-known, and eventually beloved, far outside the boundaries of the Lovejoy/Iron Island neighborhood for something we still love in Western New York: The portions were huge.

The draft beers were big. The shrimp cocktail was big. And famously, the beef on weck was huge.

Bailo ad, 1962 (Buffalo Stories archives)

The well-done beef, usually topped with gravy and horseradish at Bailo’s, poured off of the full-sized kimmelweck roll.

Again, at a time when dozens — if not hundreds — of corner saloons were carving up beef on weck around the region, Bailo’s was famous all over the city for people who’d make the trip for what was universally recognized as one of the city’s best roast beef sandwiches.

Sitting in the Bailo’s dining room, you were likely to bump into people from all corners of Western New York, along with a good mix of families from the Lovejoy area and UB students drawn down Bailey Avenue by the promise of a real Buffalo experience headlined by giant sandwiches and ice cold and super cheap Ballantine draft beer.

Chet and Stella Mankowski sold the place to John and Lillian Stein in the mid-1970s. Soon after the fire, an attempt was made to open Bailo’s on Niagara Falls Boulevard, but it didn’t last. A Buffalo institution faded away.

From a Bailo’s ad, 1976. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Nearly 40 years after the last sandwich crossed the bar on Bailey Avenue, people still talk about Bailo’s. The sandwiches are fondly remembered, but it’s also the unbridled retelling of an urban legend — with no apparent basis in fact — that helps keep Bailo’s memory alive.

Just about anyone interested enough about Bailo’s to read this story has heard the rumors that they served horse meat. The rumors, which I’ve personally been tracking down and researching for more than a decade, have no basis in any verifiable truth.

Despite the fact that there are no firsthand or even secondhand accounts giving credence to the urban legend, one Facebook group celebrating the restaurants of Buffalo’s past had to ban Bailo’s posts because the page was becoming regularly filled with equine double entendre and word play.

Where did the rumors come from?

It’s difficult to say, but over the 45-year history of the tavern, there were incidents like the time in 1969 when the owners were fined for allowing underage drinking. A month after the 1979 fire, the owner was indicted in a tax case. Never, however, does there appear to have been any violations or fines relating to the serving of horse meat.

There were several times when controversy over horse meat heated up in Buffalo. During World War II, when meat was scarce, it was illegal to sell horse meat for human consumption. However, it could be sold and butchered as dog food.

Horse Meat was sold for dogs on Hertel Avenue in 1943, but not at Bailo’s. Ever.

Marlin Perkins, then the Buffalo Zoo curator, was a partner in Buffalo’s first horse meat shop opened in 1943 at 1709 Hertel Ave., currently the site of Deep South Taco.

It was reported in the Courier-Express that while the meat at “The K-9 Kitchen” was marked as not for human consumption, “occasional customers inspect the steaks and hamburg with hungry eyes.”

When no other meat was available, it was clear that not all the steaks made it to Fido’s bowl.

Even the the post-war years, meat was scarce, and several Buffalo butchers were fined for mixing horse meat in with pork and beef when producing sausages and hot dogs.

In 1954, Bernard Badzinski was sentenced to six months in the penitentiary. The Courier-Express called him the “King Pin of the illegal horse meat dealers” after a horse head was found in a barrel not labelled “horse meat” in a store at 1128 Broadway.

“Your crime,” said Judge John Kelly to Badzinski, “is that you were placing other sausagemakers in disrepute.”

All this is to say, plenty was written about horse meat — and Bailo’s never came up once.

So it’s time to put the urban legend to bed and to be able to fondly remember one of Buffalo’s favorite all-time restaurants and talk about its giant roast beef sandwiches — slathered in horseradish — without making a joke.

Buffalo in the ’40s: The Zoo’s Marlin Perkins and Eddie the Chimp

By Steve Cichon

As Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” was on the air from 1963 to 1985, Buffalonians were always quick to claim the host Marlin Perkins as one of our own.

Buffalo News archives

America’s best-known animal lover in the TV age, Perkins grew and expanded the Buffalo Zoo in the years he was curator and then director in the 1930s and 1940s.

Perkins is pictured in 1944 as he was leaving for a new post in Chicago, accepting a suitcase from Eddie the Chimp.

For as famous as Perkins was around the country, he could barely compete with the sensation he created at the Buffalo Zoo.

Eddie was the Buffalo Zoo’s first chimpanzee when he arrived from Africa in 1940. Eddie was friendly and willing to take direction, and Perkins and staff had soon taught Eddie to dance and to shave his keeper — with a straight razor. It was clear that Eddie loved the limelight, and would seemingly do anything for applause. Keepers dressed him in a Marine uniform and the chimp raised money for the USO during World War II.

But soon after Eddie became an adult — when he was 5 or 6 years old — Eddie stopped wanting to perform. One handler said it was pretty clear that Eddie thought of himself as more human than chimp. He never associated with the other chimps and never mated.

By the early 1950s, Eddie was clearly angry. The banana peels he’d fling at passersby were the least offensive organic matter one might get pelted with.

In the late 1950s, after Eddie spat at and threw dung at a group of passing VIPs, glass was placed between Eddie and zoo visitors and the barrier seemed to suit him just fine.

For more than 30 years, visitors to the zoo didn’t know what they might get from Eddie. Maybe a dance, reminiscent of the way he was in the 1940s … or maybe the show looked more like something from a bawdy boys high school locker room.

That was part of Eddie’s somewhat sad draw though — never knowing what you might see.

At the age of 47, Eddie the Chimp was the oldest resident at the Buffalo Zoo when he was euthanized after suffering a stroke in 1985. Perkins died the next year.