For those of you who may not yet realize it, the bars in Buffalo, actually all of Erie County, are allowed to serve alcohol until four o’clock in the morning. Although this may be initially exciting, remember, New York State also recently did away with "Happy Hour," "Ladies’ Night," and "Two for one" drink specials. Does this even out? Maybe. The many different viewpoints, concerning these liquor laws, come from the county governments, the staff of local bars, and the staff of local all night restaurants.
In 1934, New York State passed a set of laws regarding the liquor industry. After prohibition flopped in the twenties, something was needed to control the amount of alcohol served to the public on any given night. The solution was the establishment of "prohibited hours," according to Ed Walgate of the New York Liquor Authority. These prohibited hours extend from 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM every day except Sunday. On Sunday, bars are not legally permitted to open their doors until twelve noon.
The New York State government gave the power of further restricting the hours in which a bar may serve alcohol to the individual governments of its sixty-two counties. Within each county, local liquor boards consisting of only two members (four in New York City) were set up as small extensions of the federal liquor board to create and enforce these restrictions. These boards determined the laws before submitting them to the State Senate for approval. This is the reason that most of the counties in the state shut off their taps at two o’clock. Erie County, however, is one of the exceptions in that it maintains the NY State cut-off of 4 AM.
"I don’t know and I don’t really care!" says Joe, manager of the popular Main Street bar, the Steer, in response to the question of why Erie County chose not to further restrict the times in which bars may serve alcohol. The Steer has never had any trouble with keeping employees late or with people’s behavior as they drink for those extra two hours. "The money is worth it," was the general consensus at the Steer. The application of the new liquor laws don’t affect the business at the Steer either, they never had ladies night or happy hours, according to Joe.
P.J. Bottoms, on the other hand, was affected by these new laws; the party bar on Main Street used to have ladies night, happy hour, and nightly drink specials. The choice on the part of the state to eliminate all free booze back in January was the cause of some controversy in drinking establishments all over the city. Many were unhappy about these new laws. They hurt bartenders and bar owners indiscriminately; it hurt them right were it was the most painful—their wallets. Jeff, a bartender at P.J. Bottoms, is from Syracuse, NY. In Onondaga County (where Syracuse is located), the bars are only allowed to serve alcohol until two o’clock. This gives Jeff a good basis for comparison, as he recently graduated from Canisius College here in Buffalo. "It’s different—no more good than bad. The people here are used to drinkin’ ‘til four o’clock." Jeff concedes that it is worth the extra money to the bar and it’s employees to remain open until four, but personally he does not like working so late. "I bartended in Syracuse and it was sweet gettin’ home at two-thirty because most of my friends were still up at that point. I think it’s tradition more than anything else in Buffalo."
Despite the troubles of P.J. Bottoms, the pub stays in business and does quite well. This is due, no doubt, to its close proximity to UB’s South Campus. But what about the bars located some distance from a steady flow of college students? Partner’s Bar and Grill in Cheektowaga is one of these bars. Again, the new laws in the state regarding free booze are the source of some anxiety in the owners and employees. However, the bartenders here like working until four o’clock. Partner’s gets a huge rush between two and four in the morning, and the bar makes so much money that it is more than beneficial to be allowed to remain open late. They also get customers from Genessee and Niagara Counties coming into Erie for the remainder of the night, after the other counties shut their bars down. Similar to the UB bars on Main Street, Partner’s doesn’t really experience any more problems in terms of violence by staying open late. "People just end up getting really hammered and being too drunk to care," said one tipsy patron.
Chippewa bars, in the old red light district, haven’t been affected by the new liquor laws one bit; they’re as busy as ever. Though many of them are not open during most of the working week, once Thursday rolls around, you can barely get through the doors. Chippewa has a bar for everyone: live music, dance clubs, "regular" bars, high-class bars, and even a gothic bar. To be an employee in Spot Coffee or Jim’s SteakOut on a late night shift must be quite interesting: the sights, the drunks, the lovers. Not surprisingly, these establishments do quite well on the weekends, too.
While not many restaurants stay open late enough to deal with the closing bar crowds, the late hours that Erie County bars keep do help a few. Sal’s Pizza on Main Street does most of its business between midnight and 5 AM. An employee from one of Sal’s competitors on Main Street said, "When I get out of work at two or three o’clock, that place [Sal’s] must have a hundred people inside and outside." In other words, Sal’s makes a killing staying open late, catering to the bar crowd. Sal’s is one of the only restaurants on the Main Street area with closing hours that coincide with those of the local bars, giving them virtually all the patrons that they can handle.
There are also a couple of restaurants in the Buffalo State College area that are open until all hours of the night as well. Pano’s and Plate-Oh’s are two of these all-night restaurants. Plate-Oh’s is on Forest Avenue, near the corner of Elmwood Ave. Pano’s is right on Elmwood, just south of Cole’s Pub. Mileena Richter, a waitress at Plate-Oh’s says that they deal with three rushes during an overnight shift on the weekends. There is one at 11 P.M., one at 2 A.M., and the last one until breakfast comes at about 4:30 A.M. "The drunker that they get staying out later, the lighter you have to tread with them to get a good tip. They can get obnoxious real quick and generous quite easily. It’s just hard to find that line and walk it." She admits that a flirtatious attitude works very well with the four o’clock crowd, though not at eleven. The late night Buff State bars definitely bring Plate-Oh’s and Pano’s a large amount of income; the waitresses would not be doing it if it wasn’t worth it. Regular night owls could never make it worth while for a small, independently run restaurant to stay open all the time.
A major reason for the shorter prohibited hours in Erie County may be the huge basis in the food-service industry that Buffalo maintains. Buffalonians like to eat chicken wings; beer goes with chicken wings, thus, by simple addition, Buffalonians go with beer. Buffalo is also a blue-collar city. People work second or third shifts and want to still be able to go out and get a drink when they’re done with their long day.
Wouldn’t it be something if the weather was related to it? A shot of whiskey on a cold night can warm you right up. Perhaps drunkenness is a way for those people who don’t like the weather to forget about the fact that there is three feet of snow on the ground. Snow does nothing to slow down the bar business in Buffalo, however. In the worst of conditions, you’ll still see people going in and getting a drink at the bar, even on Christmas.
Whatever the reason, bars in Erie County stay open until four o’clock in the morning. Maybe it’s the colleges, maybe it’s the weather, or perhaps it’s simply tradition.