It’s Saturday night in Buffalo. There’s no way to tell what’s louder, the thumping stereo bass or the guy bellowing directly into his wife’s ear in order to be heard over it. The bar is packed with what looks for all the world like a Friday happy hour. It’s asshole to elbow in The Blue Monk, the city’s primo beer bar and gastropub, and there’s currently no worse environment in which to enjoy a $12 Cantillon.
Belgian ales challenge the drinker. They electrify and enhance one’s senses of taste and smell, and command attention and contemplation. Much of the pleasure in an abbey ale or geuze lies in contemplating the beer itself, which is pretty tough to do when you’re getting the crap jostled out of you and having your instep mashed by a pump heel. Now it’s a testament to the exploded popularity of good beer that the Monk packs them in like this; everyone wants the good stuff. The Blue Monk is a hell of a great beer bar, and they work hard to bring people the great and unusual, but this is Saturday night among the affluent set, and the incongruity between the party atmosphere in the place and the beer on tap is striking.
It’s Saturday night in Ulrich’s Tavern, the oldest bar in Buffalo. It’s as empty as Michelle Bachmann’s campaign office. Four friends sit along the time-eroded bar, clinking chunky glass mugs of Hofbräu Helles, nibbling on chunky meat products of questionable origin, slipping inoxerably into that space where you see the hangover coming, but you’re having too damn much fun to care.
This is June’s 35th year of working the bar at Ulrichs. She’s telling us a vivid tale about the time Anthony Bourdain filmed in there. At this point, a round of shots seems a good idea, chased, naturally, by more of that sweet golden lager. It dawns on me. THIS is supposed to be the party beer– this legendary Munich specialty served in mile-long beer halls and under the largest festival tents in the world. Our drinks and our watering holes are inverted on this night.
Still, sometimes it’s the place that makes the night, and Ulrichs sure made the hell out of mine.