Another Day, Another Chapter for Turning Bridge Tavern

In November of 2019 I wrote about the coming of Turning Bridge Tavern, owned and operated by Joe and Maureen Jacobi. At the time, the couple was living upstairs and working on bringing the old tavern back to life. While much of the bones of the tavern were still intact, a lot of work needed to be done. Luckily, they were in no big rush, as they also needed to fix up the apartment.

It took a while to complete the work on the tavern, which has changed hands (and names) numerous times over the course of its life. The neighborhood owes a great deal of thanks to Joe and Maureen for restoring the tavern, which had seen better days. These days, intact/restored taverns are fairly uncommon, as many of them have been destroyed, while others have been converted to more modern establishments. Still others are lying in wait… waiting for the right person to come around to unearth their original character.

That’s exactly what happened with Turning Bridge Tavern, located at 1797 Niagara Street (corner Niagara and Bridge Street, near the two-span swing bridge at Unity Island). Joe and Maureen were introduced to the forlorn structure by North District councilman Joe Golombek, who told me back in 20019, “I was the one that steered Joe and Maureen Jacobi into purchasing the building. Joe had been my salesman at Riverside Men’s Shop, though he told me that someday he wanted to open a pub. Around 6 years ago, the couple was living across from The Zoo. I introduced them to the building at 1797 Niagara Street, they liked it, and they sold their house and moved into the second floor. Downstairs was an old bar that had been around, in different forms, for over a century. When I was young, it was called Babe and Tess’s, then Mcnally’s, and then Mixers. Mixers closed around ten years ago.”

During a recent visit to Turning Bridge Tavern, I was happy to see that the place was fully operational, with both Joe and Maureen at the helm. Joe was serving up some cold beers, and Maureen was chatting away with some customers, as her ribs were cooking in the kitchen.

I soon learned that there are some definite house favorites, including Red Stripe beer, brilliant purple alliums on the bar, Dead-folksy music, and whatever Maureen happens to be cooking that day (such as ribs and hashbrowns, spaghetti parm and salad, Gondola tortellini and cream sauce, and crockpot corned beef and rye (“there are great rye bakeries in Buffalo”). Turning Bridge Tavern is simple, but that’s the way that everyone likes it.

From the horseshoe bar, to the two performance ‘stages’ (one indoors and one outdoors), Turning Bridge has it all. There’s history, lively banter, personalities, and super cold beer. I could tell after just one visit that this place is already a big hit with anyone that is up for discovering a slice of life that is all but forgotten.

“People that lived in the neighborhood forever ago still talk about Babe and Tess’s,” Joe told me. “They were a shorter couple, which is why the door from the tavern to the upstairs apartment is miniature. We wanted to keep the door just the way it was, so we have to duck when we go upstairs. People still talk about the old cigarette machine that cost a nickel. When we bought the place in 2012 it was just about ready to be knocked down. I couldn’t even get in the back door to get into the building. The people that owned it were essentially walking away from it. I got in here and there were squirrels living there. I got in ASAP and turned the heat on, to start to save it.”

The next step, according to Joe, was to get all the junk out, to load into dumpsters, and to replace the doors and install a security system.

“When the inspector took a look at the building, I was laughing,” Joe told me. “But he came back and said that the bones were good. It looked like a mess, but it was salvageable – the water was fine, and so was the foundation. Today it’s a nice little place to hang out. We serve one meal on the menu that changes day to day, and we’re open three days a week right now, possible four at some point. We want people to get to know Black Rock – to explore this part of the city. When the bridge is turning, people can’t believe it. We want people to sit and relax and talk to people. Not many people are on their phones, which is nice. There used to be so many places like this… these places are so beautiful – we’re lucky to be here… we’re having fun with it, even though by the time Sundays roll around, we’re tired [laughing].”

Joe made point to mention that the signature drink is called the Naughty Niagara (fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and Appleton rum). “It’s like being in the islands, especially when people are sitting out back on the patio.”

This Friday, Workingman’s Dead is playing on the back patio – it’s a sold out show. But it just goes to show that people are now discovering this local treasure, that was almost lost. It took some vision, passion, and dedication, that is for sure. Now, it’s yet another chapter in the storied history of a tavern by a bridge, run by a couple that is dedicated to preserving an old world part of Buffalo that everyone should enjoy from time to time.

Turning Bridge Tavern | 1797 Niagara St, Buffalo, NY 14207 | Open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 3-10pm

Bathroom walls are the same as they were back in the day

Sign by Max Collins

The post Another Day, Another Chapter for Turning Bridge Tavern appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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