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The night before: Thanksgiving eve watering holes

There are nights when Buffalo and its surrounding suburbs feel like one big tavern.

Neighbors, friends and families hanging inside or on front porches, laughing and drinking and dancing. Live musicians echoing Tragically Hip tunes throughout city and cul-de-sac-strewn neighborhoods. Unexpected meetings with those moved away but never forgotten; and a pervasive feeling that, no matter what corner of the 716, everyone is doing the same.

Lots of nights feel like this — but there’s one night that actually approaches it as reality: the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.

“Back in the pre-cellphone, email and social media days, you didn’t have the opportunity to contact everyone to make plans — but you knew you would run into who you wanted to see at one of these places,” said Mike Shatzel, owner of such pre-turkey day favorites as Cole’s, Colter Bay and Brennan’s Bowery Bar. “In my college years, I knew if I [made it to] Cole’s by 11 p.m., everyone I wanted to see would be there.”

The holiday before the holiday | Thanksgiving eve watering holes | Buffalo Magazine

Doc Sullivan’s is arguably South Buffalo’s hottest pre-Thanksgiving gathering spot. (Dave Jarosz)

And it’s been like this for decades. On an extended holiday weekend that serves as an annual homecoming, Wednesday night is its kickoff party. Pick a neighborhood and you’ll find a rally point packed with on-break college students, reunited cousins and roaming Buffalonians, recounting nostalgic stories over Jameson shots and craft drafts. Each place may be different, but huddled in booths and hovering over high-tops, you’ll find the same reunions, celebrating everyone’s return to or residence inside a region that you can never truly leave.

Call it a sort of homecoming. Call it a wild Wednesday—or call it a horrible idea before the Turkey Trot. But by any name, it’s always Buffalo’s party of the year. Here are some places to find it.

The holiday before the holiday | Thanksgiving eve watering holes | Buffalo Magazine

Amherst Pizza & Ale House

55 Crosspoint Pkwy., Getzville

The Northtowns favorite is always a great place to find friends home for the holidays. But in the event that these visiting parties would also like to cross award-winning Crown Royal-glazed wings and stuffed banana pepper pizza off their to-eat list—and wash it all down with selections from a formidable craft beer list—Getzville’s favorite ale house is certainly the place to do it.

Brunners Tavern

3989 Main St., Amherst

Think of the faces, banter and backdrop of your idyllic Buffalo-area bar. Generations of drinkers, all laughing over softball game memories and rounds of Miller Lite as 97 Rock hits bounce off polished wood paneling. Team this panorama with friendly service and local culinary classics, and you have the clubhouse that is Brunner’s. Frozen in time in the best of ways, its welcoming embrace is the embodiment of a Buffalo homecoming.

The Byrd House

4190 N. Buffalo Road, Orchard Park

For Quakers local and long gone, there’s only one word in pre-Thanksgiving drinking destinations—and that word is the Byrd. Settled in the heart of OP, the Irish-leaning locale is a great settling space for those looking for a spot walking-distance away from their childhood home. And once there, patrons can choose between its conversation-conducive barroom or cover band-hosting dining room to manage the night’s reunion.

JP’s Checkers

1854 Hertel Ave., North Buffalo

After its brief death earlier this year, the Thanksgiving favorite is back under new ownership, and as a better version of its previously stench-filled self. But despite its freshened interior and modernized drink list, it’s still the same cozy North Buffalo beacon it’s been for returning natives and Adidas-clad Turkey Trotters for decades. Now, its reboot is ready to be the same for generations to come.

Cole’s

1104 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo

If the city of Buffalo is embodied by one bar, that bar is Cole’s, the almost 85-year-old institution on the edge of the Elmwood Village. Its wood-hewn barroom—accented with stained glass, hanging pennants and every manner of Nickel City memorabilia—plays part museum, part old-world beer hall. Pair this ambiance with one of the city’s premier beer lists and it’s no wonder the locale is a must-visit on Thanksgiving week.

Colter Bay

561 Delaware Ave., Buffalo

In Colter’s previous iteration, alums of Buffalo’s private high schools tabbed the Allentown spot as their dependable downtown meeting place—and one that was mobbed every year on the night before Thanksgiving. Things haven’t changed, even as the city’s original craft beer bar has been significantly augmented. Now, visitors can enjoy its draft and decor enhancements, all under the same cherished name.

Doc Sullivan’s

474 Abbott Rd., South Buffalo

Lots of places in South Buffalo can host its neighborhood’s hordes of returning family members now living in satellite Celtic enclaves like Boston, New York City and Chicago. But of all its green-hued corner taverns and renovated pubs, only one offers shuffleboard and plates of signature Smitty wings with the homecoming festivities, and it’s the Irish Heritage District destination known simply as “Doc’s.”

J.P. Fitzgerald’s

4236 Clark St., Hamburg

Whether you grew up in the town or village of Hamburg—and regardless of graduation from Frontier, Hamburg or St. Francis High School—you can depend on J.P.’s to lure parties from all sides around the holidays. Once a nondescript spot with an Irish surname, it’s now an expansive Southtowns sanctuary for generations of nearby residents, or nostalgic spot for returned natives now living elsewhere. On Wednesday night, it’s both— complemented with a steady stream of cocktails and properly poured pints of Guinness.

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