Buffalo, Then (Part Two)

This week, the Buffalo News printed a piece on coffeehouses in the Gusto section of the paper. This was very cool and I am super excited for the continued success of coffee in Buffalo, NY. While the scene is growing today, we at Gen X Reactions are more on the side of nostalgia and enjoy a trip down memory lane when it comes to coffee. I am also famous (amoung my small group of family & friends) for being somewhat of an archivist (read: hoarder), which is why I have the following gem from 1997. It was an article on the ‘new’ coffee scene in Buffalo. I’m certain that the 90s were not the only booming time for coffee in Buffalo – I mean it is a Rust Belt city and what substance keeps the working people going like coffee – but it was a great time.

In the mid-90s, we were just getting the Seattle scene wave in the city and it was glorious. You could still smoke indoors, which made the ambiance of the coffeehouses much more mysterious and murky. Baristas talked to patrons like bartenders – the relationship was not merely transactional as it can feel today. Technology had not reached everyone yet, in the form of smartphones and only a few lucky (read: wealthy) kids had cellphones at all. We would sit for hours, playing mancala and chatting with the various people that frequented these spots.

So – without further ado – here is the article that I speak of. Enjoy the nostalgia and be sure to patronize the coffeehouses of today! They are cool in their own way and in 20 years we will look back on them with the same fondness we do for these joints. After all, Grindhaus is Java Temple, Remedy House is Stimulance, Tipico is Topic, and Aroma will always be Aroma. It is all in your perception.

Cover photo of Stimulance coffeehouse was taken by Robert Kirkham.
Not the best headline, but it was the 90s.
Caffe Aroma – still a mainstay of Buffalo, NY
Back when sPot was still The Spot.
References to Hallwalls are so 90s.
Gotta love that ‘coffee ring’. So retro.
Stimulance says, “why drink depression?”
One last capture to acclimate you to the 1997 pop culture scene.

This was truly a great time in Buffalo for coffee and camaraderie. The 90s had it all – grunge, caffeine, nicotine, and that thing where you ingest substances until 4 am and then get up for school the next morning at 8 am like nothing happened – I am pretty sure it is called youth (h/t to Stefan).

2019 is shaping up to be pretty awesome, coffee-wise, too for Buffalo – so check out the Gusto article for more on that. I must say that I was very disappointed that they didn’t include Caffe Aroma in the article, if even just to give a nod with spot and sweetness_7 as one of the originals. At this point, they ARE the original for Buffalo. They also snubbed my favourite coffeehouse in Buffalo: Grindhaus. Why they were left out is confusing since they are an excellent place to get your caffeine fix. They also have awesome food choices for a quick snack or a lunchtime meal – like the VLT with a side of mujadara or a ricotta toast.

Still – lots of awesomeness is finally happening in the Buffalo coffee scene. They have embraced third wave coffee much better than the previous generation embraced fair trade (Stimulance did do fair trade and a cup program, just for the sake of clarity) and the baristas are extremely knowledgeable now by comparison.

The coffee scene in Buffalo has definitely been revived, after surviving a dry spell in the first decade of this new century. So get out there and enjoy!

Peace and happy caffeinating,

Punkgrrrl

Buffalo, Then (Part One)

Certain neighborhoods can be a magnet to those that inhabit them multiple times over several years. Main Street in Buffalo is no exception. Specifically the section located between Hertel Avenue and Niagara Falls Blvd.

In the 1990’s, Main Street was a destination for high school and college students alike. The main meeting place was a coffeehouse called Stimulance. Inhabiting the space next door to Talking Leaves bookstore, Stimulance offered not only some of the best coffee and bagels in town (they mixed, boiled, and baked them in house) but also events that were geared toward the teen and twenty something Gen Xers that were hanging around at the time. This was before NYS passed the no smoking laws so a night at Stimulance could include not only the stimulation of an espresso laden beverage, but also a pack of smokes which you could buy on the premises in the old fashioned cigarette dispenser between the two unisex bathrooms, located across from the counter.

Upon entering the space, one would be greeted immediately by the friendly, hipster staff. For regulars, a specific coffee cup and a seat at the bar awaited them. A refuge from the cold weather or the aggravation of the daily grind was something that could always be found there. A small area with couches and coffee tables was situated up front, to the left of the door and a stage was setup in the back right corner. Open mic night and poetry readings abounded in this space and most Music and English majors from Buffalo State, UB, and Canisius eventually found themselves on the stage singing or reciting poetry and prose.

Staying open late into the next morning was a feature of all the coffee houses during this period of caffeine excellence in Buffalo and Stimulance was no exception. Patrons would shuffle in from the local bars, after a night of drinking, and sober up over a pack of Marlboro reds and a cup of Fair trade Sumatra. Stimulance was one of the only establishments to brew beans that were ethically sourced and they led the movement to get other coffee houses on board as well. Always forward thinking, the owners were happy to provide the best quality products and stressed the importance of these items in the greater landscape of the coffee industry.

When the smoking laws began kicking in, Stimulance tried to keep up by enclosing the front room for smokers. Once the full indoor smoking law was passed though, Stimulance could no longer remain open. Coffee and cigarettes were so intertwined that they lost large swaths of their customer base causing them to sell the business and move on. Much like Java Temple, Topic, Cybeles, Coffee Bean Cafe, and 3Bs, Stimulance was an institution of coffee in Buffalo that will never be recreated. The 90s were truly a golden age of coffeehouse culture in Buffalo and no matter how many pour overs one ingests it can never replace the feeling one obtained from sitting at the bar at Stimulance, smoking a cigarette, reading the artvoice, drinking a quad shot mocha, and talking about the latest news in the world of culture, activism, or music with a truly interesting barista. Those days are most certainly gone and all that remains are the memories of a better time in Buffalo.