I’m craving Cheerios.
The Buffalo mill which produces the popular breakfast cereal is close to my hotel, and the smell from it is locked in as I begin to explore one of America’s most surprising cities.
Cheerios, the ready-to-eat cereal originally called CheeriOats until a copyright fight got in the way, have been made here since 1941, when the city’s waterfront was dominated by rows of high rise grain elevators, silos, and mills.
Buffalo was North America’s most important grain handling hub, until construction of first the Welland Canal and then the St. Lawrence Seaway changed the rules.
Today Buffalo’s collection of grain silos and elevators has mostly been silenced, except for the chatter of passionate history buffs and excited tourists like me. Silo City, located a 10-minute drive from downtown on Childs Street, is one of Buffalo’s — if not the continent’s — most unusual tourist attractions. Through Explore Buffalo, visitors can travel around the complex of 10-storey concrete towers by kayak, on a ground tour, or vertically.
While most opt for the ground tour, content to look up from inside and out at the massive industrial structures built 100 years ago, the fittest tourists and those with no fear of heights or qualms about climbing narrow ladders can join a tour to the top.
In addition to tours paying homage to the industrial legacy of the towers, Silo City is also being repurposed as a performance space for theatre, summertime flea market, as well as a craft beer and food truck festival in September.
Of course there’s more to discover in Buffalo than breakfast cereal and silos. Its downtown, best explored through organized and informative walking tours, is home to several spectacular examples of various architectural styles. These include the old post office, once slated for demolition and now a college campus. It’s a 1901 structure made of granite and featuring a 244-foot tower, hand-carved gargoyles and animals, and a sky-lit, six-storey atrium.
Inside, second-year Erie Community College culinary students operate a restaurant open to the public called the E.M. Statler, in honour of a famous Buffalo hotel owner.
The Ellicott Square Building, which was the world’s largest office building when it was erected in 1895, features a grey terracotta exterior and interior courtyard featured in the movie The Natural. For those who wonder, those are not Nazi swastikas comprising part of the tile floor design — they are symbols of luck, which pre-date the German fascists and are the reverse of the Nazi symbol.
A must-do walking tour, entitled Masters of American Architecture, includes stops at two of Buffalo’s many impressive churches: the curiously-shaped St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, which is tucked onto one of downtown Buffalo’s many triangular lots, and St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, which features a 43-bell carillon and 3,627-pipe organ.
Such architectural gems were possible at the turn of the 20th century because Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the U.S. at the time and its citizens had the resources to hire the best architects and craftsman.
No architect’s work in Buffalo is more famous than that of Frank Lloyd Wright. Many already know about the Martin House, a 15,000-square-foot brick-and-wood home in the city’s Parkside neighbourhood. Built during 1903-1905, it’s considered one of Wright’s finest works from his Prairie House period.
Less well known is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed gasoline station, which has been built from the original plans inside the Buffalo Transportation-Pierce Arrow Museum.
Beautiful to behold, the filling station had many practical problems, including a waiting room fireplace located underneath a rooftop gasoline storage tank. Still, the reason the station was never built during Wright’s lifetime was that the architectural fee he demanded was too steep.
Peckish after hours of exploring, wise visitors check out the huge Buffalo craft beer scene. Among the standout breweries with food (but no Cheerios) are Big Ditch downtown at 55 East Huron St., Resurgence Brewing at 1250 Niagara, and Thin Man in trendy Elmwood Village.
Choose one — or make time for all — and raise a glass to a remarkable city.
Visitor information: visitbuffaloniagara.com
Silo City and downtown walking tours: explorebuffalo.org
Martin House Complex: darwinmartinhouse.org
Buffalo Transportation-Pierce Arrow Museum: pierce-arrow.com
Buffalo Food Festivals
Taste of Buffalo, held annually during the second weekend of July
National Buffalo Wing Festival, held annually on Labour Day Weekend.
Additional Dine & Drink Spots
Anchor Bar, 1047 Main St., is where Buffalo wings got their start as a late-night snack. The rest is history.
(716) Food & Sport, 7 Scott St., is a two-storey sports bar featuring burgers and beer near KeyBank Centre, home of the NHL Buffalo Sabres.
Gene McCarthy’s, 73 Hamburg St. A former dive bar in the Old First Ward, it’s where working men from the grain elevators would come to wet their whistles after work. Famous now for its Old First Ward craft brewery and Friday fish fry.
Five Points Bakery, 44 Brayton St. A farm-to-table café famous for its toast, including apple cider with triple cream brie.
AK Cafe, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave. Located in a gallery famous for its Andy Warhols and Jackson Pollocks, the gallery restaurant is noted for its view of a sculpture garden, and for fresh soups, salads and sandwiches. Highly recommended is the ahi tuna salad ($14 US).
Photography by Wayne Newton