If Music Be – Piano Salon and Café

Located a block from Kleinhans Music Hall, If Music Be – Piano Salon and Café (IMB) will soon be the perfect blend of aromatic smells and melodic music. The keys to the music salon and café are in the hands of owner Elise Alaimo, who sees IMB as a chamber music storefront café, a music studio, and as an inclusive space for lessons and performances.

Timing is everything, according to Elise, who says that this is a multi-pronged project. Interestingly enough, she believes that eating healthy food is just as important as playing and listening to music. You might say that Elise is a bit of a history buff, and lover of architecture. All of these passions are currently being played out, as IMB comes to life.

Elise Alaimo – see her scrapbook

Elise, a longtime public school music teacher, who is now retired, told me that her retirement is like a second childhood. “It’s the next phase of teaching music and having fun. And I know that people and good food go together – I can’t imagine having a recital without refreshments. Students always need a snack. People just get hungry, and they feel more comfortable breaking bread, to feel more human. Everything that I do has a food component. Food is another type of art. I’m on a mission that’s about health and the environment, as well as music. I didn’t want to open a conventional bar, serving wine and beer. I wanted to do something different.”

When Elise began to source unique drinks and foods that were healthy, organic, and delicious, she found that there wasn’t a lot to choose from – at least the types of items that she had already formulated in her mind. That’s why, when she set out to find an organic, non-dairy, wholesome, refreshing treat, Italian ice came to mind. Unfortunately, she could not find anything local without additives that she would rather avoid, so she ended up going with Mount Granita Italian Ice (Little Italy in Cleveland).

“They make it like the Sicilians did 100 years ago – just like the lemon ice that my dad loved,” Elise fondly mentioned. “I’m talking to a couple of chefs locally, but in the meantime, I’m getting it out of town. It’s low in calories, and very satisfying. I’m also on a quest for good coffee that is up to similar standards. Someone gave me an old style espresso machine, which I’m really excited about. I’m talking to a Yemeni bakery in Tonawanda at the moment. I want to have some savory food as well. My main mission is music, but food is just as important.”

IMB will have a vintage historic aesthetic, in line with the multi-step restoration of the building.

“It’s under the care of multiple architects,” Elise reflected. “It’s a much bigger project than I expected. I have been approved for Part 1 of the tax credit process, which designates the structure a building of significance. When people mess with structures in the neighborhoods, they erase them from our collective memories. This building is something of a museum – it dates back to the 1880’s. But there are parts that are even earlier than that. In the back, a section was part of an early estate, close to the Circus Grounds. I went to the Buffalo History Museum to research the history of the neighborhood. My dad was born in 1913, in a primarily lower West Side Sicilian neighborhood that is now an on-off ramp for the 190. That erasure of the neighborhood contributed to the uglification of the city.”

IIMB will host residencies for arts practitioners from here and abroad. IMB will be home to a Youth String Orchestra, Tango, and Gamelan ensembles, for starters.

Elise described the days when her dad would swim in the Niagara River. She told me about the time, when City Hall was being constructed, that her dad climbed to the top and carved his initials on a section.

“There was so much family folklore,” Elise reminisced. “When we were little he moved us all out to Williamsville, although he talked about Trenton Avenue all the time. Then, when I was older, and he was in his 80’s, he tried to discourage me from buying in the city. ‘Everyone is moving out, the city is shrinking,’ he would tell me. But I found myself being drawn back to the city, in North Buffalo, where I lived most of my adult life. I went against his wishes. The IMB property (315 Pennsylvania Street) was owned by dear friends since the 70’s, who also own the Coda restaurant building (now Bellini’s – next to Kleinhans). It had been sitting vacant for over 20 years. I’m a musician – being a block from the music hall was very enticing. For me, it was a huge gift that I was able to purchase it and restore it. I don’t think that my friends felt that I was moving in a sensible direction [laughing], but I felt very inspired… like it was a great adventure. This is so much fun, if I can survive it.”

Elise told me that she has always followed her gut instincts. Now, she is tackling this project for all of the right reasons. As she tries to teach humanity through music, she believes that she can inspire people through other forms of art, including the art of food, the art of architecture, the art of preservation, and the art of community and common sense.

IMB will cater to folks with diverse learning needs, to take piano and violin lessons, play together with others in a small or large ensemble, and/or gather with friends to improvise.

“This world class orchestra, right down the street, gives me the feeling that the world is not such a bad place. Every time that I attend the symphony, or hear someone teaching themselves how to play an instrument, it is a reminder of the beauty that is still around us. It’s why I teach music. It’s why I’m doing this project.”

Later this month, Elise will have a soft opening collaborative recital, featuring renowned cellist (Jonathan Golove – Chair and Associate Professor of Music, University at Buffalo Department of Music) and major american poet (Irving Feldman, who taught in the English Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo for 40 years). The show, to be formally announced on the If Music Be website, will be a benefit for the building/project, which is currently anticipating approval for non-profit status.

For lessons or appointments, email

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