Rust Belt Renaissance


Mariners consider Tonawanda the official western end of the Erie Canal — even though New York’s Governor signed a bill about 10 years ago transferring that distinction to Buffalo. Despite this pronouncement, Tonawanda remains the spot where many Looper sailors unstep their masts for transit of the Erie Canal — or step their masts if headed west to Lake Erie. Just 15 miles by water from Buffalo, this busy little town is actually two towns: North Tonawanda on the north side of the canal, and Tonawanda on the south side.

Tonawanda means “swift running water” in the Seneca language. With the Erie Canal taming those waters, boaters will find both sides of the canal have placid dockage, with friendly marina staff ready to catch your lines and share local knowledge. And there’s plenty to see, do and eat on both sides.

North Tonawanda is home to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, a national historic site and fount of information and appreciation for all things carousel. Built in 1872, the building housed a huge wood shop where as many as 75 carvers fashioned horses, roosters, dragons and other carousel creatures; another crew was charged with painting them in vivid rainbow colors. The museum is open April through December; two vintage carousels are available for both kids and adults to ride.

North Tonawanda’s Farmers Market is about a mile from the waterfront and worth the walk. By summer 2018, expect to see a vibrant face lift to this 100-plus-year-old market. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, this is the place to provision your boat with baked goods, cheeses, fresh eggs, locally grown produce, meats and poultry; don’t forget to pick up some local arts and crafts souvenirs.

Canal Fest of the Tonawandas will be held July 15–22, 2018 and celebrates the Erie Canal’s history and contribution to the Great Lakes region. Drawing up to 250,000 people and featuring eight days of entertainment, this is where you can hear artists like River Rocks Band, Back to the Bars, Black Widow Band, and, my favorite, Rust Belt Girls. Don’t forget to partake in the pancake breakfast, bike cruise, car cruise, craft and food booths, and kid’s events.

Keep up your strength at a couple of great local restaurants. As we docked at North Tonawanda, we opted to dine at Remington Tavern and Seafood, located in a historic building that once housed the Remington typewriter factory. Try Faroe Island stuffed salmon, Swordfish Oscar, Thursday’s yellow pike fish fry or Saturday’s prime rib night. Top it off with a lace cookie cup brimming with fresh fruit and berries or the daily featured house-made gelato.

Another great option is the Dockside Bar and Grill, just steps from the city dock. Situated in another historic building once used by the New York Canal Authority to unload barges and store mule feed, the “feed” today includes smoked wings, smoked brisket tacos, crab cake sliders, goat cheese cannelloni and more. Wash it down with a pint of one (or more) of 36 craft beer on draft, specialty cocktails like the Hollywood Kiss, or my favorite, the Frozen Cake Shake, a cake vodka and ice cream smoothie complete with graham cracker crumbs and chocolate drizzle.

Visit for more information.


• Buffalo Harbor State Park Marina (on Lake Erie): maximum length 50 feet; pump-out.

• Buffalo Yacht Club: 4 transient slips for reciprocal club members, maximum length 52 feet, dockside depth 8 feet, pump-out.

• Canalside: lay-along dock, dockside depth 18 feet.

• Erie Basin Marina: 20 transient slips, maximum length 200 feet, dockside depth 21 feet, diesel, gas, pump-out.

• First Buffalo River Marina: across from Canalside, dockside depth 18 feet, pump-out.

• Harbour Place Marina: 10 transient slips, maximum length 70 feet, dockside depth 7 feet, pump-out, repairs.

• RCR Yachts Buffalo: 10 transient slips, maximum length 45 feet, dockside depth 12 feet, pump-out, repairs.

• Rich Marine Sales: 10 transient slips, maximum length 125 feet, dockside depth 10 feet, gas, pump-out.

• Safe Harbor Marina at Buffalo Harbor: 20 transient slips, maximum length 50 feet, dockside depth 8 feet, gas, pump-out.


Rust Belt Renaissance

by Marty Richardson
Who would have thought that the New York Times would include Buffalo, New York on its 2018 list of “100 Places to Visit in the World”? But there it is, testament to the fact that Buffalo is buzzing and making a big comeback from its Rust Belt image. The waterfront leads the way after a decade-long redevelopment, with new hotels, restaurants, patios, parks and bike trails dotting the shoreline and attracting boaters of all stripes.

Check out Canalside 

Start your visit to Buffalo at Canalside, where the Buffalo River and City Ship Canal converge at Buffalo’s Inner Harbor. Here, the city is repurposing historic buildings for entertainment, dining and recreation, turning its long-dormant grain elevators into tourist-worthy attractions. Visitors can take a vertical tour up the silos or rent kayaks or SUPs to paddle through “Elevator Alley.” 

Canalside features hundreds of events scheduled throughout the year. Premier among these is the Buffalo Ribfest held in late July, which combines country music with everything smoked — from hearty barbecue ribs to pulled pork; vegetarians be warned! Regular events include Saturday Artisan Markets, participative fitness activities, and Sunset Sundays with live acoustic music, story time, author presentations, meditation and life coaching. Make sure to check out the summertime Thursday live concert series featuring performers like Platinum-selling songwriter Eric Paslay, popular Canadian band The Tea Party, and Ghostface Killah and Slick Rick. 

Riverfront hotspot

Up next, on the peninsula separating Buffalo’s Ship Canal from the Buffalo River is RiverWorks, the city’s newest waterfront boating, sports, arts, music and entertainment hotspot. Catch a concert, roller derby bout or martial arts match here. In winter, two outdoor ice rinks feature figure skating, hockey matches and, in a nod to neighboring Ontario, curling leagues. RiverWorks also serves as transportation central with History River Cruises, Double Decker Bus Tours, Buffalo Pedal Tours and the Grand Lady Dinner Cruise all departing from here.

RiverWorks is the centerpiece of Buffalo’s ubiquitous beer culture, featuring 110-foot-high grain silos painted like a six pack of Labatt Blue. These “cans” not only offer a unique 360-degree view of the Buffalo skyline and Lake Erie, but sport a brand-new silo-to-silo zip line course. Get your suds on at RiverWorks Brewery, the first in the world opened in a converted grain silo. Direct tank-to-tap lines supply four bars on site, including the Silo Bar inside the Labatt Six Pack silo. In a nod to the city’s history as a grain port, foamy treats include Conveyor Cream Ale, Wheeler Wheat and Bin House Ale. You can even work up a thirst at the new climbing facility in the Wheeler grain silo. 

Redevelopment on the shores of the Buffalo River began in 2011 at Riverfest Park, just across the river from RiverWorks. This three-acre green space features riverside walkways, floral gardens and, best of all, free Wednesday night riverfront concerts with favorite local artists, including Breakaway, JJ Swing and Reset To Vinyl; just bring your lawn chair or blanket.

Explore the shore

Get off your boat and stretch your legs with the convenient Reddy Bikeshare, where visitors can rent bikes parked at stations scattered throughout the city. Check out nearby Tonawanda (see sidebar) as you breeze down the new Rails to Trails project, a four-mile path along a former railroad bed that connects the two towns. Or take your bike for a $1 Queen City Bike Ferry ride, which provides access to miles of lakefront trails along Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.

If you want to leave the captaining to someone else for a change, The Miss Buffalo II offers daily cruises in season. Or take a Lake Erie sunset excursion on the Spirit of Buffalo schooner on “Wine in the Wind Wednesdays,” which departs from the Erie Basin Marina. The marina offers 344 total slips with 20 transient slips, a ship’s store, on-site restaurant, award-winning gardens, an observation deck, a fuel dock and Smith Boys boat sales. 

Families will find lots to do in the new and improved Buffalo. Downtown, a brand-new 43,000-square-foot children’s museum will open this year. Take the kiddos to the boating-themed playground at Buffalo Harbor State Park. Nautical enthusiasts of all ages will appreciate the Buffalo and Erie Naval & Military Park, where they can tour a WWII destroyer, submarine and cruiser. Architectural and design enthusiasts should note that major renovations will soon be completed at two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in Buffalo: Graycliff and the Darwin Martin House. 

Local flavor

Don’t forget to keep your strength up by sampling some of the local food for which Buffalo is famous. In fact, you’ll find Buffalo has one of the most distinctive food cultures in the U.S., with unique regional specialties you can’t find anywhere else. First among them: The original (and world-famous) Buffalo Wings — copied far and wide but never equaled — which originally hail from Buffalo’s Anchor Bar. This local institution is commemorated every fall at Buffalo’s National Buffalo Wing Festival, where you can join thousands of wing fanatics as they make the annual Labor Day pilgrimage to the birthplace of this saucy, spicy signature dish. 

Another local favorite is Beef on Weck, a German-inspired roast beef sandwich on a salty kummelweck roll, dipped in au jus, and served with horseradish. Enjoy one at Steve’s Pig and Ox Roast restaurant not too far from the waterfront. 

Or if you’re like me and are arriving from a year-long cruise and just back in the Great Lakes, you’ll be hungering for Lake Erie yellow perch; this will likely be the first stop where you will be able to order these tasty morsels. For a broader selection of offerings, visit in July and don’t miss the two-day Taste of Buffalo, featuring samples from more than 50 local restaurants, along with live music. Buffalo also purports to be the home of sponge candy, an apparently accidental confection of caramelized spun sugar covered in chocolate, also known as seafoam.

For a taste of Buffalo’s multicultural flavor  evident throughout the year, try the Greek Fest, the Buffalo Pride Festival and Juneteenth Festival, all held in June; the French and Indian War Encampment and Italian Heritage Festival in July; and the Scottish Festival and Irish Festival, both held in August. 

Buy local at South Buffalo Farmers Market, where you can provision with fresh, locally grown and produced goods and join in health and wellness activities for the whole family, including free yoga classes. Stop by South Buffalo’s Cazenovia Park on Sunday mornings from June through September. Or check out the North Buffalo Farmers Market on Hertel Avenue near Delaware Street Thursday afternoons from June through September for more tasty treats. 

To accompany your local gastronomic tour, stop by Big Ditch Brewing Company, another example of Buffalo’s beer craze. Recently-named New York State’s best craft brewery, Big Ditch is named for and pays tribute to the nearby Erie Canal. Taps are shaped like shovels, and a favorite brew is a hoppy golden ale named Low Bridge (Everybody Down!). While Big Ditch is a good hike from the waterfront, it’s worth the trip.

Follow New York Times’ lead and add Buffalo to your 2018 must-visit list to enjoy all that the new Buffalo has to offer, by land or by sea. 

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