August 21, 2009
BY STEPHEN T. WATSON
News Staff Reporter
There’s been a buzz surrounding the 31 Club since it opened. Friends spoke of celebrity sightings at the swanky downtown restaurant, TV personalities and athletes and the like. It had a reputation of a place where people went dressed to the nines to eat good food and to see and be seen.
The 31 Club is in a building with a long history, recently fixed up, at North Johnson Park and Elmwood Avenue. It’s on an island of sorts near Hutch Tech and the new Avant building. The parking lot was filled with luxury cars, a clue to the kind of crowd we’d find inside.
The interior aimed for sophistication and elegance. There was a lot of dark wood in the bar area, set off by soft lights. The bar top was marble with a speckled pattern, and the bar seats were pale red leather.
We heard lots of Sinatra and other classic crooners-songs to drink martinis by.
The bar was modestly crowded when we grabbed two chairs and took a look at the wine and cocktail menus. The bartender took awhile to come back to us. My friend Lauren thought there was at least one decent wine by the glass per type. She ordered a fruity Shiraz at $10 for the glass.
There was a star on the wine glasses to indicate how much the bartenders should pour, one explained to us.
There were about a dozen cocktails on the martini list, including a pama-tini, a tropical storm and something called sparkling berries, all $9.50. I went for a “31” martini, with Bombay Sapphire gin and a blue-cheese stuffed olive, which was well made.
Everyone was drinking cocktails, or mixed drinks, except one guy drinking beer who looked out of place.
We took a look at the menu and I ordered the duck fries on Lauren’s recommendation. They’re apparently cooked in duck fat, dusted with black truffle salt and served with grilled onion ketchup. They were served in a paper cone, for $7, and were really good.
The beef carpaccio, served with a poached egg, was $12 and just OK.On an earlier, unofficial visit, I tried the cheese plate with fig jam and that was great.
As we ate our appetizers, we watched the wait staff coming and going through the bar area to get to the kitchen.The bar crowd was mostly older white males, 60-plus, with a few middle-aged couples as well. We were the youngest people by far when we arrived, except for a large and talkative table of what appeared to be a business group.Except for one guy who was a dead ringer for Sabres President Larry Quinn, everyone was dressed up in suits or sport jackets and dresses or skirts.
The bar got dead around 7 p. m. or so, then the crowd picked up again by 8 and it got a bit younger. Lauren ran into a former student of hers, and they started talking shop. I couldn’t finish my fries, so I asked them to pack them to go. Someone in the kitchen threw them out, so the bartender had them make up a new half order.As we settled our bill, Lauren’s student and her boyfriend said they wanted to grab our now-valuable spot of bar real estate when we got up to go.
The bar was crowded with well-dressed people, holding glasses filled with tinkling ice and good booze. It was a moment that showed the 31 Club at its best, but it took too long to get there.
I’ll be back, but now I know to come later in the evening or to wait for the weekend.
31 N. Johnson Park, 332-3131
Agerange:A lot of gray hair, at least on a weekday.
Drinks:Martinis, cocktails and good wine.
DressCode:Suits, sport jackets and dresses. No jeans.