5 things you didn't know about Buffalo, NY

Buffalo, NY. When people typically think of the eastern city they think of torrential snowstorms, a losing football team, obese people gorging on chicken wings..and inevitably the city’s economic decline.

But in recent years, Buffalo has seen a resurgence – with successful developments like the Larkinville Business District, microbreweries galore, and a thriving biking community. There’s a ton to see and do in Buffalo, and word in getting out. From favorable coverage in the New York Times to attracting hordes of Toronto visitors, Buffalo holds more than meets the eye. Here’s our Top 8 things you may not know about Buffalo, NY.

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1. Buffalo Wings were created here…we’re just not sure by who.

While most realize Buffalo Wings got their start here, the story may not be so clear cut. One version goes that in 1964, a delivery driver confused an order when dropping off a shipment of chicken parts to the Anchor Bar. Instead of refusing the order, owner Teressa Bellissimo prepared the wings by cutting them in half, throwing them into a deep fryer, and serving them to her son’s friends after sports practice. And thus a phenomena was born.

Or maybe not. In the first ever published article that describes the Anchor Bar story, in 1981, there is no mention of hot sauce. And that’s where John Young comes in. Young was the owner of Wings ‘n’ Things on Jefferson Avenue – which was listed in the Buffalo telephone book as far back as 1966, long before the Anchor Bar’s publicity. Young’s wings, however, were uncut, breaded, deep-fried, and served with his secret, tomato-based Mambo hot Sauce.


2. Buffalo has great architecture…post 1813.

Did you know there are no buildings in Buffalo built prior to 1812? That’s because the entire city was literally burned to the ground. It all began when tensions between France and England rose over trade. The U.S. attempted to remain neutral but when England began impressing American sailors into the Royal Navy, violence broke out, leading to the War of 1812.

In 1812, American General George McClure invaded Canada and set fire to the village of Niagara On The Lake, leaving more than 400 residents homeless in the middle of the winter. The British retaliated by torching the nearby communities of Fort Niagara, Lewiston, and Niagara Falls, NY – and eventually Buffalo – leaving a trail of destruction and just 3 buildings remaining in our city.

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3. Canalside was once a capital for vice.

While today Canalside is a well-known tourist destination for concerts and family activities, it wasn’t always the case. In fact, Canalside was once regarded as one of the capitals for vice – with as many as 60% of its buildings serving as brothels.

The scene was something out of Pirates of The Caribbean. Bygone bars such as The Tub of Blood, The Black Rag, and Limpy George’s reportedly numbered over 100 in the area, while several accounts detail underground gambling dens with trap doors providing easy disposal of bodies.

By the 1930s, hundreds of neglected buildings were bulldozed making way for urban renewal – and the canal will filled in with garbage. While the freewheeling days of the canal may be over, it’s still a great place to catch a sunset.


4. The Pan American Exposition was one of the craziest parties the city ever saw.

Buffalo in 1901 was the place to be. We had more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the word and we were selected as the site of the World’s Fair – named the Pan American Exposition. The fair was themed “City Of Light” – an epic story that saw populist inventor Nikola Telsa outwit Thomas Edison in harnessing the power of Niagara Falls by inventing alternating current.

The fair featured exhibits in science and the humanities – as well as some downright offensive displays. Indians were forced to re-enact war games and several exhibits featured racist stereotypes of blacks. One of the more positive outcomes was the group of activists who came together to protest the fair – this group came to be known as The Niagara Movement and they went on to form NACCP – the largest civil rights organization in the U.S.

Most famously, President William McKinley was assassinated at the fair by anarchist Leon Czolgosz – which put an end to the party – a somewhat foreshadowing of Buffalo’s economic fate to come.


5. Buffalo was a center for black liberation

Buffalo has usually been a site of civil rights. In the early days, Buffalo hosted political conventions of the pro-abolitionist Free Soil Party and had numerous abolitionists amongst its populace. Moreover, Buffalo was the last stop for fugitive slaves entering Canada and there are several significant underground railroad sites. It’s documented Harriet Tubman herself passed through Buffalo several times – in addition to resident like author William Well Brown, who personally escorted nearly 70 slaves on steam ships across the Niagara River. We highly recommend a visit to the historic Michigan Street Corridor as well as the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Museum.

A more recent history of civil rights can also be found in Buffalo. In the 1960s, activist Saul Alinsky came to Buffalo to be a driving force behind BUILD Academy – a school that taught an all-black curriculum. Martin Sostre operated his Afro-Asian Bookstore in Buffalo and poets Ishmael Reed and Lucille Clifton developed their work while in Buffalo. And even Shirley Chisholm staged her campaign as the first black to run for the office of president of the U.S from Buffalo.

So while many have preconceptions, we invite you to dig deep, and join us as we bust some old myths and create some new ones on our free & guided bike tours of Buffalo, NY.

Marc Moscato