What started out as a bar owner repurposing leftover stock-fodder and throwing together a last-minute sauce to satisfy the appetite of her son and his friends has turned into a cultural touchstone, as embedded in the American sports-watching psyche as Bud Light and making fun of the Cincinnati Bengals. Wings are like sex: even when it’s bad, it’s good, because what could be bad about messy and deep-fried chicken pieces coated in sweet and spicy sauce? Of course, when it’s great, it’s a show-stealer, a game changer; perfectly crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside, carrying a fiery heat that makes diners want to stop, drop, and roll while still balanced out by a lingering, buttery sweetness that caresses the taste buds after a scorching. And then there’s the competition in Buffalo, the home of this now ubiquitous staple. These five wing joints in Buffalo will make even a losing game feel a little less tragic for the sports watcher and the time spent watching men hitting a puck on TV a little less wasted for their significant other.
What would live sports broadcasts be without wings and beer? The Buffalo Brew Pub doesn’t want to know, which is why they’ve specialized in the two very specific fields, with a subsidiary commitment to keeping flat-screen TVs around. Not only do they serve classic wings (sauce options: mild, medium, hot, BBQ or Cajun), they also offer a Buffalo chicken wing sandwich, chicken wing soup blended with spicy chicken, bleu cheese, hot sauce, celery, carrots and cream, chicken wing dip (think nachos and wing sauce), and Buffalo chicken mac & cheese, made with a blend of American and cheddar cheeses flavored with chicken wing sauce and topped with bleu cheese. With 34 beers on tap, including local brews from upstate New York, international picks and their own house drafts, there’s really only one place to go for thirsty and hungry sports fans.
Basic food and basic brews live at the Nine-Eleven Tavern, but nothing costs over $10 and everything is delicious. The stand-out wings are cooked to crispy perfection while the homemade sauce is sweet and tangy, with a kick of heat – diners can even see the flecks of butter on the wings to offset the lingering heat. In true Buffalo fashion, the wings are huge, and the fries are seasoned with salt and garlic. Rough around the edges with a hint of dive, while still maintaining a friendly vibe with some excellent shuffleboard, Nine-Eleven Tavern is quickly becoming a favorite among die-hard wing-fans in Buffalo.
Where do the locals consider a neighborhood spot to catch a Sabres game and some damn fine wings? Housed in one of the oldest buildings in downtown Buffalo (the edifices date back to 1864), Gabriel’s Gate provides a warm, cozy wood-paneled dining space with a design scheme best described as "taxidermy chic" serving extra-crispy wings and a piping bowl of extra-cheesy French onion soup, perfect for any cold Buffalo day. Of course, if it’s an extra cold day outside, diners who dare can ask for the Suicide Wings, which the kitchen staff have to wear both gloves and masks to prepare.
Wing-fans with a penchant for spice have a home at Duff’s – their catchphrase is "Medium is Hot, Medium Hot is Very Hot, Hot is Very, Very Hot", which means that their seven levels of heat gets pretty intolerable (first timers should avoid ordering the Armageddon wings lest their taste buds get singed off). Duff’s is an important stop on the Wing trail for a few reasons. Since the opened in 1969, they’ve carved a name for themselves as a classic wing joint, surpassed only by their originators – in fact, some Buffalo folk like to say that "Anchor Bar invented the wing, but Duff’s perfected it!" They have five locations in New York State and two north of the border, and they’re known as much for their consistently good, larger than life wings as their affordable prices.
The story of the first chicken wings originates with – what else? – a group of college bros at a bar. Supposedly, before 1964, chicken wings were typically thrown away or used for broth, but on a Friday night, the owners of Anchor were entertaining their son’s friends and needed a quick and easy snack. Thinking on her feet, the owner’s wife deep fried the wings and flavored them with a secret sauce predominantly made up of butter and hot sauce, and, as we know, it became an immediate hit. The place is as classic as America gets, decorated with rusty license plates, vintage posters, American motor memorabilia; the wings are served as originally intended: fried perfectly and cloaked in sauce, served seconds after being lifted from the oil.