February 1, 2009
After eying this place over and over during the past three years, I finally saw the first signs of customer activity last weekend. We ventured in Thursday night, not exactly sure what we were in store for. It turned out that the club had officially opened to the public on January 24th. The long wait is over and the fruits of labor can finally be enjoyed by all. Never having been inside the building before (other than for a fleeting few seconds during renovation), I was very interested to see the interior – the exterior looked fantastic with all of the low lighting and patios.
As for the interior, the place had been totally gutted and now stands as a refined, multi-room, high-end dining establishment. Upon entry, we were immediately greeted by a maitre d’ station, a burning fireplace and a wonderful spiral staircase. Since there was nobody at the station due to our late arrival, we moseyed up to the bar to grab a drink. Our bartender, Vanessa Santora, was very accommodating and filled us in on all of the goings-on leading up to (and after) the opening. She even played us a ten minute video on the flatscreen that visually detailed the transformation from Buddy’s to The 31 Club – it was astonishing to see the amount of work that went into the restaurant. She hinted to us that we were free to walk around the joint, so we hopped off our barstools and went off to explore the scene.
We scoped out the smaller dining room on the south side of the building first. It was a very romantic setting with all of the windows (overlooking the poor Graystone Building) and roaring fireplace. There was a large mirror situated above the fireplace that we later learned was a camouflaged flatscreen TV set (very clever). A couple booth areas and two-tops added to the seating options in and around the horseshoe bar area. Before arriving in the main dining area toward the back (north) of the building, one must pass the glass enclosed wine cabinets – a nice touch. The open kitchen and immaculate servers’ station are exposed so as to keep the action viewable to anyone who might be interested. It’s a nice effect – if you have a well-run operation, then there’s no reason to hide the inner-workings, right?
Before long, Operations Manager Kristina Krygier had joined us for the tour. She proceeded to lead us upstairs where we discovered the large banquet facility complete with vaulted ceilings and a remote control drop down projector screen. The 31 Club is a bit unassuming from Elmwood… between the three patios, the banquet room, the two dining rooms, the open bar area and the various other seating areas, it is very spacious. As for the food, Kristina told us that the club was specializing in new American with a Mediterranean flare. To give you an idea as to the direction that the owners want to take it, one idea that is being tossed around is to serve a Dover sole tableside. The fish would be de-boned right in front of the customer with a simple single-action motion. The technique would pay homage to the original 31 Club (prior to Buddy’s) – a Buffalo mainstay for Buffalo politicians and distinguished citizens who found comfort in the club’s elegant atmosphere (Dover sole was the house dish).
Kristina made sure that we understood that the 31 Club would continue to come up with different ideas to keep customers coming back. There are talks of throwback nights that would be dedicated to the era when the original 31 Club operated. She also mentioned that Sunday nights would be dedicated to a more casual atmosphere. I was happy to hear that the dinner club would be open seven nights a week – that will certainly keep Chef Mark Camarelli on his toes. Next time I head back I’m planning on trying a couple of the table sides found on the menu – goat cheese potato pie and the porcini mushroom risotto. Kudos for the culinary team to opt not to serve any endangered animals – they also refuse to serve farm-raised fish.
It’s great for the historic Johnson Park neighborhood to have such a quality establishment back in its midst. Between The 31 Club, 285 Delaware, the Avant (coming soon) and the variety of coffee shops and restaurants located just around the corner (on Chippewa), Buffalo’s first park is boasting plenty of well-deserved amenities. Now if we can just get that darn Graystone Building up and running again.