An amazing thing happened recently. An international reader of ink. contacted me to let me know that she and her family were traveling to Rochester, MN, and they had looked up our Airbnb rentals that I have previously spilled some ink about. Unfortunately, all three of our apartments were booked over part of the time they needed a place to stay. However, she asked if I had any recommendations for restaurants, bars, and family attractions for the time they were in town. I asked her what kind of atmosphere or vibe she was looking for, and she said, “Anything that feels like what the locals would do!”
I love traveling “like a local.” When Josh and I travel, we often make an effort to be as least touristy as possible, opting to rent apartments in local neighborhoods as opposed to resorts or flashy hotels. We make an effort to cook some of our meals with local, fresh groceries. We prefer to use the national currency of the country we’re in as much as possible instead of throwing around credit cards. We look for hole in the wall restaurants and places off the well-beaten, tourist path. When we were in Switzerland last summer, we had someone come up to us on the street and ask us for directions to some place in town, and though we didn’t know where it was, we were thrilled that we blended in enough that other tourists thought we might just be part of the local crowd!
I had lots of recommendations for the woman who reached out to me, and some of them she may have found on her own via Yelp or Trip Advisor, but I also hope that she appreciated the local take as to why the places I chose had the true feel of Rochester to them. In return she offered me some suggestions of places I should visit if I ever happened to find myself in her corner of the world. And thus started the first inkling of the thINK local series, a collection of posts to highlight not just the top places I’ve found in Rochester, but also the awesome places that have been shared by the local crowd in the places I’ve traveled to AND the places you, the ink community, recommend!
If you have a local hotspot in your hometown that I should feature, drop me a comment or connect with me via social media with the place, town, and why the locals love it! thINK local aims to highlight the best places to visit around the world, so don’t be shy about why your hometown is great, and what places how that off the best!
Today we’re starting with…
Bar Buffalo: Rochester, MN
Choosing Bar Buffalo first is a little bit misleading as this is a new spot downtown, so hasn’t really crossed into “local favorite” territory quite yet. However, on our first trip there, it was immediately evident that they were trying to tap into everything that downtown Rochester bar scene is trying to be: trendy, hand crafted, specialized, and cozy.
The creative team at Bar Buffalo described the drinks and dining experience as follows:
The liquor and craft cocktail selection will highlight gin selections, squashing the “Christmas tree” and “pine needles” mentality. The craft beer selection will feature local and specialty brews that will change often. Our wine menu features a unique experience unlike anything you’ve experienced in downtown Rochester MN.
The menu features small plates from two different ends of the dining world. Vegetarians (herbivores) won’t need to scour the Rochester area anymore for creative and plentiful dishes that are packed with flavor and variety. Meat eaters (omnivorous) can rejoice at the unique combinations of sweet, savory, and spicy dishes for every palette.
Truly, it was the gin menu that astonished us most. The craft your perfect gin and tonic menu, which offered an exceptional selection of both gin and tonic options, is a really unique addition to the downtown scene. And sandwiched in the middle of 3rd street, where The Half Barrel on one corner has the market on whiskey, and Grand Rounds and The Tap House have the market on craft beers down on the other end of the street, it’s also what would pull us out of our old favorites and into Bar Buffalo.
It feels like this is what the trendy bar scene in Rochester is becoming. If you want handcrafted margaritas, there’s a spot. If you want handcrafted old fashioneds and whiskey sours, there’s a spot. If you want craft beer, there’s about six spots. And now, if you want handcrafted gin and tonics, there’s a spot.
It was packed the night we went in. The atmosphere was upbeat and vibrant despite the frigid temperatures outside. A buffalo mount wearing a ski hat adorned the wall next to the bar. The menu was splayed on a massive chalkboard that covered almost half of the dining room. The food was unique and delicious. The cocktails were worth the wait, and well worth a return trip. It felt very millennial and very hip, the kind of vibe it feels like downtown Rochester is shooting for, and definitely the kind of place that would give you the flavor of what it’s like to be a young professional in town.
As an added bonus, take the stairs in the entryway down, and see if you can solve the riddle to get into the underground speakeasy Bitter and Pour. For a small city that somehow supports five different escape room companies, figuring out how to sneak into an underground bar seems a required part of the experience!