She furrows her brow for a moment, scribbling down another name on the piece of receipt paper.
“Lucy!” she calls excitedly towards the back of the shop.
“Where else should she go?”
Lucy calls from the depths of the oddly shaped secondhand store. I’m on Elmwood in Buffalo, NY, a long, expansive street consisting of Victorian houses, eclectic little coffee shops, and scattered law offices and dentists. I’ve stumbled into Second Chic, a consignment shop close to where I parked.
The clerk, who I’ve just realized I never got the name of, becomes animated after I tell her I’m visiting Buffalo for the day, with the intent of writing about it.
“What do you think so far?” she said playfully, immediately grabbing a scrap of paper.
“It’s gritty,” I admit. “But I mean that in a very, very good way.”
Buffalo is gritty. And weathered. Located on Lake Erie, Buffalo is the third largest city in New York State, and seemingly, the most swept under the rug. Buffalo’s largest claim to fame include The Buffalo Bills (heheh), being the unfavorable side of Niagara Falls (the Canadian side is cleaner and has more attractions) as well as being the backdrop of Bruce Almighty, though I’m pretty confident none of it was actually filmed there.
My reason for visiting Buffalo is simple: it’s close to Rochester. In my quest to access any and all intriguing destinations during my New York State visit, I decided that on this somewhat dreary Monday, I’d hop over. Like Rochester, I’ve long neglected Buffalo, only visiting during high school once for a house party (sorry Mom and Dad), and a few times in college to visit my friend Amanda.
Otherwise, Buffalo has been far off my radar.
When I first drove in, around 10:30 AM, I beelined to Allentown, a neighborhood I located by looking up various coffee shops. I’m pleased as I quickly find a free a place to park near Five Points Bakery. It’s clean and eclectic, passing my shop requirements by having a large menu and ample seating.
Then, it goes a step further.
“Are these coffee ice cubes?” I gasp to the barista, after she hands me the cold brew.
“Yup,” she grins, laughing a little as I eagerly take a sip. “Nothing worse than the watered down part at the end.”
I completely agree.
I spend the rest of the day simply: I take a freelance meeting, walk down Elmwood, visiting the previously mentioned Second Chic, as well as Pasteurized Tees. I brunch at Ashkers Juice Bar (a strong recommendation from Second Chic clerk, who I’ll call Not Lucy from here on out). I walk around the downtown, only reminded once or twice that I’m a small female traveling alone. I explore the Theatre District, flirt with the idea of visiting a brewery, and nearly cross into Canada by mistake.
I’m mostly an observer today, taking note of the old Victorian houses, crowded city streets and trendy, yet unpretentious Buffalonians. Many are tattoo clad, with dark ripped jeans and sneakers, but the overall sense I get is that they figure “meh, it’s good enough”, as they get dressed, before going about their lives.
The city is mostly kind to me, and seemingly happy to have me as a guest. I find $20 on the ground, which I use to get thai takeout from The King and I on the way home. Free parking was abundant; the only paid spot I was forced to park in had over an hour on the meter. No one really bothers me and or asks me questions, in fact, when I accidentally drive down a one way street, I get a dirty look but absolutely no encouragement to turn around.
My last stop on the trip is another coffee shop, called Tipico.
I weaved through pockets of cramped blocks and questionable neighborhoods, contemplating every minute or so if I should forget about stopping in. There’s worn residential buildings with eclectic and colorful accents, but the area is vague in terms of overall safety. I spot a flannel clad young man walking on my route, smoking an old-fashioned wooden pipe.
I figure I’ll probably be fine.
Finally, after five or ten minutes, I arrive at my destination. There, on this seemingly average city block, sits the most stunning coffee shop I’ve ever seen.
More gorgeous than any coffee shop in Iceland, Durham or Berlin, the tall, open windows bear no screens. There’s beautifully restored brick, clean cement floors, and the perfect combination of patterned tiles. I sit, drinking an iced coffee with coconut milk, as a landscaper walks by mowing the lawn.
A bit of grass floats in, the smell of dirt and engine oil wafting in to greet me as I start to write. The Civil Wars play softly in the background, as the barista laughs with a customer. The drive over, and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment and surprise of this hidden gem, is the perfect metaphor for Buffalo.
Unexpected and unique, but casual. Nothing about it cries out for your attention. It doesn’t beg you to stay, but it’s glad that you’re here.