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Buffalo: Need to Know

If you are an architecture admirer, Buffalo, New York, should be on your list of don’t miss cities. It reminds me a bit of my town, St. Louis, in that it gets overlooked as a travel destination. In conjunction with a trip to Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada and Jamestown New York's Comedy Center, Buffalo’s location, sights and food made it a great stop.

I traveled to Buffalo several years ago and my business meeting took place inside the Guaranty Building, a Louis Sullivan and Dakmar Adler creation. I was enamored with the terra cotta gem and to see the love and care that law firm Hogdson Russ gave this building. Built in the 1890s, it has been preserved and is well worth seeing—it is considered one of Sullivan’s best buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright worked for Adler and Sullivan and there are two Wright creations in Buffalo that we also visited.

There are many architecture tour options, including Explore Buffalo and Preservation Buffalo. Taking a tour with Explore Buffalo provided rich background stories to accompany the historic buildings we saw, which included the Guaranty Building, the Ellicott Square Building built by Daniel Burnham and Company and St. Paul’s Cathedral by Richard Upjohn. It also gave us a chance to walk off some of the calories we completely enjoyed at Butter Block, a French patisserie that was so good we visited it twice in two days! I still am thinking about the crispy shatter of Butter Block’s perfect chocolate croissant.

Even with all the amazing buildings and history downtown, my favorite Buffalo day was our visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House. The tour was a small group led by a passionate staffer who took us through the 1.5 acre estate, comprised of multiple buildings interconnected by a beautiful breezeway. The Martin House was commissioned by a self-made soap millionaire and was built between 1903-05. It is considered one of Wright’s masterpieces and the “light screens” (otherwise known as art glass windows) create art with light through the house. It is hard to believe that at one point, this estate was abandoned and neglected (and even partially demolished). The restoration is perfect, the art, sculptures and built-in architectural elements are authentic and the estate is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The website for the Martin House has a virtual reality tour and great photography of all the buildings in this complex. But seeing it in person is something not to miss for FLW admirers.

L-R: View of the Martin House, including its Winged Victory replica. Bottom right: Graycliff estate in Derby, NY.

And outside Buffalo, about a half hour drive away in Derby, New York, is the FLW creation that was the Martin family’s “country getaway.” Graycliff was built from 1926-31 and sits above Lake Erie and has gorgeous gardens and water views. The design of Graycliff is thought to be the beginnings of design elements Wright later used at Fallingwater. The staff and volunteers at both the Martin House and Graycliff were so educated, passionate and willing to answer any questions. For a FLW fan, the Buffalo tourism board makes suggestions for a “Wright Road Trip,” so you can see other Frank Lloyd Wright sites in the area including a boathouse, a mausoleum and filling station.

There is a lot to admire in Buffalo and along with architecture admiring, we also ate some artful food at the James Beard nominated Las Puertas. The tasting menu was orchestrated so we had a range of gorgeous bites without being overstuffed—all served in carefully chosen dishware that reflects the creativity of Las Puertas’ chef and owner, Victor Parra Gonzalez. It is a small, intimate restaurant and we loved the smart pacing, the attentive and educated staff and the variety of flavors.

From top left, clockwise:

  • Coconut Squash Cream with roasted butternut and toasted pumpkin seeds

  • Savory Apple Tart with herb cheese and thyme whipped butter

  • Cured Salmon on Nori tortilla with jicama and yuzu

  • Gnocchi in Romesco’ish sauce with shaved romano and almond crumble

  • Braised Leg of Lamb with roasted carrots and potato puree

  • Lychee Snow (so unexpected, tart and interesting!)

  • Café de Olla Tamal with burnt marshmallow and chocolate ice cream

Ready to plan your Buffalo/Niagara trip? Our trip schedule is below in case it is helpful for your planning. Don’t miss the well done Visit Buffalo Niagara website for great ideas and a helpful itinerary ideas. Or feel free to follow our itinerary!


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