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The Rendezvous, Buffalo New York

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Robert Hess Posted: 25 Feb 2009 9:27 AM

A friend of mine was telling me the other day about a bar that he used to go to (in the 60's?) in Buffalo New York called the "Rendezvous". He said the owner was a tad particular, and he had a few rules that customers abided by.

One was that you could only have two drinks, no more.

The other was that he would only serve you particular drinks as your second drink, based on what you had for your first.

My friend couldn't remember any examples of this second rule, but I assume this would be along the lines of... If you started with a Sidecar, you couldn't follow that with a Martini, but you could have a Whiskey Sour. Apparently he had some notion of cocktails which fit within particular groupings, and once you entered a grouping, you couldn't switch.

Does anybody have any knowledge of this bar? Apparently is it now defunct, you can find a very little bit of information about the "re-opened" version here: http://www.greatjoints.com/story.php?id=32

-Robert

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Ahh.  The Rendezvous...

That was a cocktail lounge that was near and dear to my heart. Of course, the fact that my wife and I had drinks there after our very first dinner date, may have had something to do with it.  While we were never regulars there, I DO remember a sign over the bar that said somethink like "Two Drinks Only. A gentleman knows his limit, and a lady will not ask for more."  However, we were served as many as we wanted,.

From what I could piece together, the bar was originally called Johnny's Rendezvous, and started by John Giambrione.  It was rumored to have originally been a speakeasy during prohibition, but I cannot confirm that.  Johnny and his son ran the bar together for some time, and it garnered quite a following.   Johnny apparantely was quite a character and the place had "personality."

You had to knock on the locked front door to get in and Johnny never opened it to first-timers unless you were with somebody he knew.  The bar was dark and cozy with tall and private wooden booths painted red.  Some people claim it was a mob hang-out.

Drinks were very large by the day's standards, (probably what we see commonplace now as 12 oz cocktail glass) and two of them were supposed to be enough for anybody, lady or not.  The bar was also known for drinks with fresh fruit and imported oranges.  Frozen drinks were available during the summertime, and very strong and popular.  John could rattle out the entire history and contents of every drink in his formidable repertoire in a gravelly voice that he had acquired from yelling over the engine of a SPAD as a pilot in World War One.  He was supposed to have been about 5'7", had iron-grey hair, perfect posture, and heavy dark-framed glasses.  He never made any drinks with diary products. "You ever looked down the throat of a cow?" he was said to exclaim.  Johnny refused to serve women more than two drinks.

At some point in recent history, the bar was sold to Timothy O'Leary, and was renamed Tim's Rendezvous.  After a while a Chef Dunbar instituted a Cajun-inspired menu out of the tiny 10x10 galley kitchen.  Dunbar was known for his oyster poboys, muffalettas, and gumbo.   This was the scene I experienced by the time I had discovered the establishment.  In the winter the atmosphere oozed out of the walls cortesy of the original 45 jukebox.  There were red lights and live music in the back room that had a sloping floor. There were two pool tables in back.  People sat themselves into the old wooden booths, tracing the hundreds of carved names with their fingers while waiting for their food and drinks to arrive.  Their was a vine-laden back patio that was popular during the summer.

No one I know can answer why the establishment was shuttered in 2007. There are always rumors that it is re-opening but I haven't heard anything of late.   If it does, I will be one of the first to visit and report back.

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Thanks Jerry!

Any input on the deal where your "second" drink could only be from a certain set of drinks based on your first drink?

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Posts 74

No, sorry.

But, that does seem to fit into the stories about the original owner.

By the time my wife and I were frequentting, I think those those rules were thrown out the window.

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The building is on Niagara Street. One important point Jerry forgot to mention is that for decades patrons carved their names in the booths and tables, though there was a sign saying you shouldn't. Mine is there, "+" my boyfriend's at the time, and also the couple we were with, though I'm sure I'd never find it again. And there were lots of signs hanging all over the place telling you how to behave. (I think there were also pennants on the walls, but I may be convoluting this memory with those of many tipsy nights at Cole's, on Elmwood Ave.)

The bar did have exotic cocktails, and Johnny was quite a character. I remember that time I got a mint julep (since we were in high school at the time and mostly drank beer, this was quite a treat) and my friend Patrick got a daquiri or a margarita. Whatever it was, it was very cold, and Pat got a lecture from Johnny on how he shouldn't drink it fast, or he'd get "the excruciating pain." Pat, always the contrarian, of course drank it as fast as possible to see if he'd really get the excruciating pain, and he did.

We also got a lecture about how there was "no real liquor outside these walls" — something about the alcohol there coming from Canada and therefore being stronger.  

Last I heard the place was for lease, with all the memorabilia still intact.

I grew up in Buffalo and left 20 years ago, and it's still the drinkingest city I've ever been to. Part of that is because it's in New York State and the bars stay open late, but also I think it's because the winters are so depressing there's nothing else to do. Today I'm a freelance writer, and I'm thinking about trying to get together a book of old Buffalo bars (some of which are still there), if anyone has any pictures or memories to share. Places like the Circus Bar, the Masthead, the Schuper House, Checker's, the PM (Park Meadow, Darkest Ghetto), Cole's, the Continental, Ryan's New Federal Pub, Club Utica, the Colored Musician's Club, the Vermillion Room, Murphy's Omega Cafe, the Essex Street Pub, No Name's, the Pink Flamingo, the Sportsman's Tavern, Anchor Bar, the Locker Room, Mohawk Place, the Central Park Grill (CPG), Mulligan's, the Brick Bar, the Royal Pheasant, Neitsche's, etc. etc. Those are just off the top of my head; I'm sure you could add many more.

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The names of these bars are amazing, I want to hijack each and every one of them and start my own club's in there honor. There are no places around today that have names like these. Well sure there are but, not in the romantic vision that exists in my head.

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Elisabeth,  If you ever do get that book started, I would love to talk with you.  About half of those bars are still open for business.

Some of those have really gone upmarket
(Coles  -  microbrews and fancy pub food)...
while some are only a shadow of their former self
( the Pink Flamingo is now only a 'dark and dirty college - get drunk fast - don't pee on the floor' bar. And with no sign, is now only referred to as 'The Old Pink.'  And some people pee on the floor.)

I'm surprised you did not mention Ulrich's Tavern, the oldest continuously running tavern in Buffalo (1868) and a favorite hangout of mine.

There are a also a bunch of old Irish working-class taverns that still serve, like The BlackThorn.

And, I agree with you about Buffalo being a "drinkingest" city.  Yet, unfortunately, we remain a blue collar 'shot-and-a-beer' town.

There are few places where true drink craftsmanship is going on.  I'm on a one-man crusade to change that!

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I still go to Buff a few times a year, and still go to a lot of those places. (Mostly Sportsman's, the Mohawk, and Allen St.) The Phlegm (the Old Pink) is exactly like it was when I lived on Cottage Street, except less smoky now (finally). My mother still lives there (not at the Phlegm -- in Buff...) and I have a good friend who's a musician there and others I see less often. I'll be there at the end of July; maybe we can meet at one of the places my friend is playing. If I have time this trip I'm going to see whether there's an archive somewhere that might have some old pics or info on some of the places.

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Hi, Robert,

I was introduced to the Rendezvous in the early 1970's by friends.

By that time, you just walked in, no knocking on the door, and were seated by John Giambrone, or, in later years, his nephew.

All drinks were of the frozen variety, but with no ice added.  John was very proud of this, as with many other facets of the operation.  He waited tables, and his wife prepared the drinks and worked the bar, which was usually deserted, as the clientele tended to gravitate to the old, carved-up booths in the rear of the establishment.

They shut down three days a week in order to prepare their unique concoctions.  Each batch of concoction or base was put into a refrigeration unit slightly above freezing,.  I don't think that they had the slush machines back then.

re: the two-drink rule:  Don't remember that, but there were signs dating from the 40's or before, advertising a particular drink,  and carrying  the admonition, "No gentleman or lady would have more than one.".

We tended to go with other couples, so many of the drinks could be served in very large bowls/glasses, depending upon how many were sharing.  If four were sharing, a more bowl-type container was used, and served with four long straws.  A single drink might have been served in a hurricane-style glass.

One of John's rules (there were a few) was, "Make sure to keep your straws at the bottom of the glass, so you don't get a headache.".

I once made the mistake of asking John to describe some of the "flavors" used in the slushy drinks, as I and my girl-of-the-time had brought an uninitiated couple in for a treat.  

"Flavors!", he shouted, immediately intimidating the entire room.  "We don't use flavors here, we here are family chemists!"  We use the finest brandies of the monks, bonded liquors, Jaffe oranges from Israel...."  etc.  He then gently said, "Now, what would you like to order?"

We would often wait quite a few minutes while the drinks were being prepared, depending upon the clientel volume at the time.  You knew the wait was over when John would approach your table with the greeting of, "Doilies and goodies!".  He would then lay down a small cocktail napkin down in front of each guest, and serve the drink(s), with the aforementioned instructions on how to consume it.

I dined there only once.  A girlfriend and I stopped in for a sandwich, and sat at the bar by ourselves, with Mrs. Giambrone to keep us company.  She, as in most balanced relationships, was much more soft-spoken.  She briefly described the drink-production process mentioned above.

The sandwiches were great.  My date could not eat the second half of hers, and began to wrap it in a napkin to take home.  We were informed immediately that if we were to do such a thing, John would ban us from future visits.  Guess he didn't want the competition to analyze what he was serving...  We, of course, surrendered the contraband.

I vaguely remember the jukebox, probably dating from the '40's; it was something like a dime for two songs.

Bottom line, it was a great place, with outstanding history and character (and characters), and some of the best drinks I can remember from that period.  Truly wonderful memories.

 

Cheers,

Kimball Morgan

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was there in the 80s also have tape of jonny going on and on.your a good looking guy but dense as hell.   lol  20 minutes of jonny

 

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Hi Elizabeth,

Are you still looking to write about the Buffalo bars in the 60's?

I have some insider info on Jew Murphey's Omega Cafe, the Anchor bar, Maxl's Bra Strubel and many others.

Jim

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To all you Buffalo folks from the early '70's. Do you remember?

Niagara and Porter. Northwest Buffalo. Johnny’s Rendezvous.

It was strange every time… sidling up to the oversized wooden door through the façade entry. Knock, knock, knock. Johnny would check you out through the peephole and, if you were okay, let you in. The Pearly Gates. Would not be surprised to see Rod Serling in the corner, with smoke wafting above, either.

To our left was Pat, seeming slightly levitated behind the bar, wearing a starched white apron, tied around again and knotted in front. Her smooth skin and high cheekbones, jet black hair, pulled back in a bun. Ageless. Wholesome, cheerful, gracious, kind. She told us that she was 80. Three tiers of BOLS bottles line the wall behind her. A hint of baking bread.

Only "gents" accompanied by "ladies" could sit in the backroom, through a little passage and then the dimly lit booths, carved up over the decades with hearts and initials and random marks. Moon River and Lemon Tree played on a continuous loop from the jukebox at the back. Quarters?

After about half an hour, Johnny would arrive to take our order. No one complained, we were funny and entertaining to ourselves. Johnny’s jet black hair was brill creamed back, starched white apron also tied around again in front. Ready with pad and pencil.

“Everything’s made from scratch, from the real fruit." His voice gruff, from the back of his throat, but kind. "No pre-made bases here. Everything from Canada. We’ve got: Strawberry, Blackberry, Boysenberry, Blueberry, Banana, Peach, Raspberry, Lemon, Lime……”

An hour or so later our cold confections are served.

“Limit, two, take your time…if you drink it too fast you’ll get a pain across your temples, a killer headache. Put the straw in the bottom of the glass, that’s right, it melts from the top down.”

43 years later I see something else. He was looking over us like a father. Slowing us down. Helping us to leave safe. That's why everything took its own time. He wasn't into the buck.

The sandwich menu was the kind of menu you'd find in Heaven. Rod has his hand in this, too. The whole place, the whole experience…Johnny, Pat the music, the most delicious of everything was surreal.

After another half hour Johnny would return, take our sandwich order, and let us know that the bread was actually going to be finished baking just before the sandwiches would be made. The freshest bread, he promised. Pat is the baker.

An hour later, the sandwiches arrived. We are in the zone, Johnny running this ship, we the grateful beneficiaries.

“My sons, they are doctors.” He would say. “They don’t know enough to come in out of the rain. They should take over this place, I built this place and I have no one to leave it to. Too much stress, being a doctor.” His goals for his sons not the usual fare in 1971.

I wonder if he would ever have guessed someone would be writing this down so many years later. I wonder if his sons are still alive. I know Johnny and Pat are. They continue, without pause, in some other dimension, unchanged.

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 I think the 2 drink rule was about keeping us 20 year olds alive for the drive home.  He was very fatherly.

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To all you Buffalo folks from the early '70's. Do you remember?

Niagara and Porter. Northwest Buffalo. Johnny’s Rendezvous.

It was strange every time… sidling up to the oversized wooden door through the façade entry. Knock, knock, knock. Johnny would check you out through the peephole and, if you were okay, let you in. The Pearly Gates. Would not be surprised to see Rod Serling in the corner, with smoke wafting above, either.

To our left was Pat, seeming slightly levitated behind the bar, wearing a starched white apron, tied around again and knotted in front. Her smooth skin and high cheekbones, jet black hair, pulled back in a bun. Ageless. Wholesome, cheerful, gracious, kind. She told us that she was 80. Three tiers of BOLS bottles line the wall behind her. A hint of baking bread.

Only "gents" accompanied by "ladies" could sit in the backroom, through a little passage and then the dimly lit booths, carved up over the decades with hearts and initials and random marks. Moon River and Lemon Tree played on a continuous loop from the jukebox at the back. Quarters?

After about half an hour, Johnny would arrive to take our order. No one complained, we were funny and entertaining to ourselves. Johnny’s jet black hair was brill creamed back, starched white apron also tied around again in front. Ready with pad and pencil.

“Everything’s made from scratch, from the real fruit." His voice gruff, from the back of his throat, but kind. "No pre-made bases here. Everything from Canada. We’ve got: Strawberry, Blackberry, Boysenberry, Blueberry, Banana, Peach, Raspberry, Lemon, Lime……”

An hour or so later our cold confections are served.

“Limit, two, take your time…if you drink it too fast you’ll get a pain across your temples, a killer headache. Put the straw in the bottom of the glass, that’s right, it melts from the top down.”

43 years later I see something else. He was looking over us like a father. Slowing us down. Helping us to leave safe. That's why everything took its own time. He wasn't into the buck.

The sandwich menu was the kind of menu you'd find in Heaven. Rod has his hand in this, too. The whole place, the whole experience…Johnny, Pat the music, the most delicious of everything was surreal.

After another half hour Johnny would return, take our sandwich order, and let us know that the bread was actually going to be finished baking just before the sandwiches would be made. The freshest bread, he promised. Pat is the baker.

An hour later, the sandwiches arrived. We are in the zone, Johnny running this ship, we the grateful beneficiaries.

“My sons, they are doctors.” He would say. “They don’t know enough to come in out of the rain. They should take over this place, I built this place and I have no one to leave it to. Too much stress, being a doctor.” His goals for his sons not the usual fare in 1971.

I wonder if he would ever have guessed someone would be writing this down so many years later. I wonder if his sons are still alive. I know Johnny and Pat are. They continue, without pause, in some other dimension, unchanged.

 

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Posts 145

Sadly I know nothing of this bar.  I used to go to the buffalo area quite a bit when I worked for Praxair.  Would have LOVED to go there!! 

 

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