The 1870s were a busy time in Buffalo history- and the neighborhood now surrounding The Place was just beginning to develop and grow. Up to then, it was a relatively rural district north of the main city, with orchards, farms, and a few rutted dirt and plank roads moving carriages and people across to the Niagara River or the Erie Canal, the main hubs of transit in those years.
The building that later became The Place was constructed in the late 1870s, with the earliest known occupant being Mr. Jacob Beier (sometimes spelled “Beyer”). A transplant from the heavily German neighborhood of the Fruit Belt, he eventually opened a saloon at 229 Butler Place; it was only later that the street was renamed “Lexington.” Just a short distance from the major commercial zone at Black Rock, the location was surely a convenient stopping point for both businessmen and workers.
Shifting from German to Irish ownership, Edward C. Donnelly took over the property. The west side of Buffalo was known to be where the more upwardly mobile, or “lace curtain” Irish residents tended to gravitate. The saloon business was good apparently, because Christoph Piller eventually took over in the early 1900s, running “Piller’s Cafe” during the Depression (in April 1922 during the early years of the Prohibition era, the establishment was raided by federal dry agents who seized $10,000-$15,000 worth of booze in the saloon’s back room, including Champagne, sherry, home made wine gin, twenty cases of beer and 100 cases of whisky). Nonetheless, “Piller’s Cafe” continued until the 1930s.
By this time, the neighborhood was fully developed, boasting large Victorian wood-frame houses, and yet the saloon offered respite to the working class and well-to-do alike.
Bernie Flynn’s ownership was the most storied, and he is credited with naming his iteration of the business “The Place” and for painting the walls their signature ruby red, alternating with India turquoise. According to The Buffalo News, he opened just two weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and by 1943, he began to post his humorous advertisements in local newspapers. He made “Flynnie’s Thinnie” sandwiches, inspired by an east side German woman’s tavern, and they were a hit with regulars. Tom & Jerrys, the warm holiday egg meringue drink, became a signature of The Place as well in those years.
Frequenting Lyon’s Ice Cream Parlor on Grant Street, Bernie made the acquaintance of Edward “Buddy” Flynn (no relation) who worked there for his parents. He took a liking to the young man and recruited him to tend bar, which Buddy did for nearly 20 years before taking over the business himself. Carrying on the traditions set forth before him, Buddy kept the color on the walls, the Currier & Ives prints, and the various Irish memorabilia.
Kenny Moriarty (Buddy Flynn’s nephew) ran The Place until it closed in May 2015. He started working there when he was 5 and took over the establishment in the early 1990s keeping many of the historic elements intact, including the menu. The bar’s unpretentiousness was a huge draw, bringing in large crowds to eat good tavern food and simple drinks. At the holidays especially The Place was packed with revelers, holding their Christmas mugs sloshing with Tom & Jerrys.
In 2015, Jay McCarthy, Kevin Brinkworth and his wife Elizabeth “Betty” Brinkworth formed a partnership to carry on the tradition of The Place. They went through an extensive renovation between September 2015 and April 2016 making the space more efficient, customer friendly, and helping to restore The Place to its original charm and retaining many of The Place’s memorable elements, including the mahogany wood walls, the original tongue and groove ceiling, and the original plaid wallpaper, coupled with new elements such as the copper bar top, redecorated backroom and new hardwood oak flooring.
Today, The Place on Lexington Avenue is a nostalgic reflection of Buffalo’s past, offering both the classic ambiance and old time charm that Buffalonians have come to love since the original bar-restaurant opened decades ago. Roast turkey dinners, the “Thinnie Flynnie” sandwiches, and the Tom & Jerry holiday eggnog punch are all back and the tradition continues.