Locals Know Best: Myrtle Beach
After more than a decade and a half in Miami, Larry Bond relocated to Myrtle Beach to help his mother with health issues in 2007. Might seem like quite a switch. After all, Miami is typically thought of as a hub of cool, from its design to the bacchanalian clubs to its classic beachfronts. Myrtle Beach, which can see up to 17 million vacationers each year, is not. But that’s changing. And Larry is a torchbearer in that renaissance. Today he owns two restaurants—The Chemist, an ultra-cool hangout with an attention-grabbing cocktail program that involves all kinds of slights of hand (think: liquid nitrogen, from-scratch syrups, essential oil extractions) and ART Burger Sushi Bar, which you might call a nouvelle gallery eatery. The works by local artists change up regularly and it's all for sale, with proceeds going entirely to the creators.) Part of being an excellent restaurateur means knowing your community, and know it he does. We checked in with Larry to get the lowdown on where to eat, drink, and play far beyond the well-trod path of beach vacationers.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
The Myrtle Beach Pavilion was once the beating heart of this seaside town. It was long home to an amusement park which, like Coney Island, featured pay-per-ride roller coasters and more. But the park closed in 2006 and the area became a desolate lot, but today it's in the throes of a galvanizing renaissance, and Larry has been a driving force of that renewal. After the success of ART and the Chemist, he opened the festive Gordo's Tacos & Tequila in 2016 and is in the conceptual phase of another eatery, The Edge. The restaurants are all within three blocks of one another in this downtown hub. (His other spot, The Noizy Oyster, is about seven blocks away on a main thoroughfare.)
When the snowbirds arrive for their warm weather escape, chances are high that there’ll be a wait for a table on a Tuesday at the local surf’n’turf spot. But there’s a roster of eateries dishing out creative or authentic fare. You just have to know where to look. Larry is a fan of Rioz, a classic Brazilian steakhouse, complete with table-side carving ritual, that offers a blockbuster meal for $36.95. Not bad considering there’s a choice of up to 15 different meats. Larry deems it “as good as anything you find in Sao Paulo.”
If he’s looking for a quiet meal away from the maddening crowd (and table-side theatrics), he goes to Jerusalem. It's the ultimate family affair, as a mother and son team in the kitchen turn out kabbabs, hummus platters, tabbouleh, and a roster of other Middle Eastern staples. The restaurant's setting is super-chill, but there's a separate room where lively belly dancing takes place several times a week.
Running a restaurant in a tourist destination—or anywhere, for that matter—can be punishing work. When industry folks wrap up for the night, you can find lots of them hanging out in North Myrtle Beach. The Office, one of the late-night hotspots, is a draw for its from-scratch American-Italian fare, not to mention the $2 well drinks and $3 wines. About two minutes away from there is 39th Avenue, a remarkable sushi and steak joint located in an unremarkable shopping center. Don't miss the excellent live music or the happy hour from 4PM to 7PM, when prices are a steal. There are also late-night specials and live music. Larry trained as a sushi chef in Tokyo for before he opened ART, so we really trust his judgement.
MAKE A DAY OF IT
The Hot Fish Club specializes in lobster pot pie, but otherwise the menu changes regularly, so little wonder that Larry makes frequent appearances there. Of course, that’s to say nothing of the happy hour (Beers for $2.50? We’ll take it?), live music, and a delightful gazebo that overlooks the marsh. When he has the time, he’ll hit the nearby Brookgreen Gardens, a green space, cultural center, and National Historic Landmark offering all sorts of stuff to do. There's a zoo, activities for kids, and the world's largest sculpture garden, featuring over 1,400 sculptures by 350 artists, including some that date back to the early 19th century. It's worth noting that there's a concert series throughout the summer months as well as an art show featuring local artists in June in July. In December, it’s the site of the Festival of Lights/Night of 1000 Candles. Whatever the season, though, Larry's key to making it a perfect day off is a stop at Frank's Restaurant & Bar, which offers modern seafood dishes in a space that evokes a vintage chophouse. Instead of plunking yourself inside, Larry recommends you go around the side and through a small arrangement of trees until you encounter a hostess greeting you to Frank’s Outback. A deck, a canopy of trees, and water fountains make for a relaxed hangout. Larry’s keen on going with a bunch of friends and ordering appetizers, from lamb chops to crab cakes, to share.
THE PLAY’S THE THING
If you’ve never thought of Myrtle Beach as a destination for adrenaline junkies, think again. First, there’s the water sports. Mytle Beach Watersports is a go-to for all sorts of cruises and, more importantly, jet ski rentals and such. All it takes is a 30-minute safety presentation before you can jump on a jet ski or pontoon. Larry waxes enthusiastic about cruising down the waterway, which curves around into jetties, for about ten minutes to Bird Island, home to 1200 acres of salt marshes and tidal creeks. It's one of ten sites that make up North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. Park your vehicle and zen out at the ultra-chill beach. It's home to a whimsical American treasure: the fabled Kindred Spirit mailbox in which you'll find notebooks. Join the ranks of countless travelers and locals that have written their hopes and wishes in the books for nearly 40 years.
Daredevils are further suited at the Myrtle Beach Speedway. The venue plays hosts to Monster Truck rallies, concerts, NASCAR races, and other marquee events, but on the down days, there’s the opportunity to take a class on NASCAR driving then accelerate on the track. Larry says he’s reached 101 mph.
On a bit of a mellower note, 710 is a funky new bowling alley that Larry describes as a latter day Dave & Busters, the arcade-style burger chain. A much hipper attitude prevails here, where aside from the bowling, everything--shuffleboard, pool, cornhole, etc.—is free.
What's the Coolest Small Town in America 2017?
What makes a small town cool? We’ve all been there. You’re walking down a vibrant Main Street in a small American town you’ve never visited before. The people are especially open, especially proud. The storefronts beckon, one after another, with unique art, food, clothing. Maybe you even discover that the town happens to be the birthplace of a figure from history or the arts that you especially admire. The view from Main Street of, say, distant mountains, or a bustling wharf, or a perfect park, inspires you to post a picture on Instagram. Congrats. You’ve just discovered one of the Coolest Small Towns in America. Tell us about a cool small town Whether it’s your hometown or your favorite weekend escape or a community you’ve recently discovered, we want to hear your suggestions for the Coolest Small Town in America 2017. Tell us the name of a cool American town (pop. under 20,000, please), some inspiring information (where to eat, play, and stay) today. There are three ways to share: Post on social media: Tag us at #BTCoolestSmallTowns on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (we’d love to see images of your Coolest Small Town too).Email us: CoolestSmallTowns@BudgetTravel.com.Post a comment: Scroll down to the bottom of this story and post in the comment box.In a few weeks, just as the official summer 2017 season kicks off, we’ll announce our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2017, carefully curated by the Budget Travel editorial team to deliver world-class travel destinations, reflect cultural and geographical diversity, and honor communities that display the qualities we consider cool. Will your town be on our list?
Locals Know Best: Charleston, South Carolina
Ten years ago, when Yuriy Bekker moved to Charleston from Brooklyn, he was hit by a bolt of culture shock. But it didn’t take too long for the violinist and principal pops conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (not to mention artistic director of various music festivals and groups and globe-trotting performer), to realize that although there was more sunshine and tranquility and fewer bagel shops as well as Ukranian restaurants like the ones he grew up frequenting as the son of immigrants from Minsk, Belarus, he could feel quite at home in this jewel of a city, where cosmopolitan energy fuses with a laid-back southern attitude and European charm. FEED YOUR BODY, FEED YOUR SOUL The Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s concert hall, Gaillard Center, recently underwent a $140 million renovation. Performances typically start around 7.30PM and he’s usually well on his way home around 9PM. That’s pretty much dinner time, as any New Yorker will tell you. Yuriy prefers not to eat before a performance (even veterans have nerves), so afterwards he heads to 39 Rue de Jean, located just two blocks from the performance hall and known for serving food late-night. The mussels, which are flown in daily from PEI, and French onion soup are his no-fail choices. Charleston is widely known as a walkable city, so it’s easy to spot new joints that frequently pop up. Mercantile and Mash, a relative newcomer that opened in an old cigar factory, quickly became a regular hangout for him and his wife. The artisanal food market, which includes a saloon-style whiskey and beer bar, is a go-to for the house-smoked meats and a top-notch weekend brunch that’s still undiscovered by the masses. It’s located in an area of the peninsula where there’s a bustlng farmers market known for selling local crafts alongside the produce and other food. It's every Saturday from April through November, One of Yuriy’s habitual stops is Roti Rolls, a food truck that serves Indian-style rotis with local ingredients and clever names. (See: the "Mother Clucker") Of course, having been in town for a decade now, he’s well versed in the old-school eateries that make Charleston a legendary foodie destination. When it comes to getting his fix of the classic flavor of the South, he hits High Cotton for what he deems the best shrimp and grits in town, though he also sings the praises of Hominy Grill, a much better known tourist draw. There’s often a wait, but it’s worth it, he assures. A MECCA FOR MUSIC Visitors to Charleston who love classical music are in for a treat. The symphony has two different programs—a pop series of four annual concerts, each of which delivers orchestral versions of familiar tunes, and Masterworks, which features some of the most iconic pieces of classical music, or as Yuriy explains them, “the true reason for the art form.” The CSO makes it easy for everyone to access this exquisite beauty with the launch of CSOgo, a rather revolutionary and budget-friendly way to see performances. A monthly membership is $35, and it allows you to attend any performance with best day-of seats as well as chances to attend social events, making it an exciting option for wallet-watching travelers who don’t want to commit to buying tickets in advance. That means if you're in town for a few days, you can go to several performances for less than the cost of a week of lattes. When Yuriy isn’t performing in grand concert halls, you might spot him playing music elsewhere around the city. In a clever partnership with the world-class Gibbes Museum of Art, there’s an ongoing series, Rush Hour Concerts, in which a string quartet from CSO plays music somehow related to the art in a featured show. Culture buffs would be well served to coordinate their visit to the museum with one of these chamber music performances. Of course, when a musician isn’t performing, there’s a good chance you’ll find him out listening to others perform. He likes to take in the local jazz scene at Charleston Grill, which also happens to be one of the best restaurants in town with a fun bar to go with it. Speaking of bars, the Rooftop Pavilion Bar in the Market Pavilion Hotel is probably one of the best spots for a late-night outing. From several stories above the street, you can gaze out at the water and city landmarks, even in the winter, when heat lamps keep it cozy and classy. Across the street, is The Watch: Rooftop Kitchen and Spirits, an ultra-hip and more lively and rambuctious rooftop hangout, at The Restoration, a boutique hotel. MAKE A NIGHT OF IT Charleston has become an increasingly popular destination over the last few years and as a result, the downtown has a serious hustle and bustle vibe and a parking situation that’s increasingly reminding Yuriy of New York City. John’s Island is a growing community with a great deal of development that makes a fine alternative for a night out, but James Island, located next to it and just seven minutes from downtown Charleston, is where Yuriy and his wife go when they’ve got time to relax. They’ll catch a movie at Terrace Theater, which sells wine and ice cream, before grabbing dinner nearby, either tacos and tortas at Zia or craft beer and modern pub grub (lamb burger, anyone?) at Maybank Public House. DAY TRIPPER Charleston is as much of destination for nature lovers as it is to city slickers. When he has time to escape for the day, he’ll set off to gorgeous Kiawah Island, a small island with landscapes that vary from woodlands to beaches. Yuriy speaks from experience when he says it’s easy to lose the day here amid the tangle of bike trails. There’s also a multitude of waterways, which is “a world in its own,” he says, so you could rent a kayak and explore for hours. This island has a place of distinction in the annals of American musicals: George Gershwin spent summers and it’s known to be his inspiration for “Porgy and Bess.” WANDER So much of Charleston’s exquisiteness lies in the detail, and the best way to take it all in is on foot. “There’s 18th century architecture but there’s also palm trees. It has a European charm, but you can’t compare it to anyplace else. Maybe the South of France? But it really has its own identity,” Yuriy says, noting the iconic sloped porches with ceilings traditionally painted blue. He has a route he regularly strolls, one that gives a sweeping, comprehensive lay of the land. It starts at Marion Square, where the giant farmers market takes place. When it’s in season, he has his “eye-opener” roti from Roti Rolls, the aforementioned food truck, and coffee from Charleston Coffee Roasters, a local outfit that sells its brew both in super markets and at a nearby stand, then stroll north to John Street (off King Street) to Macaroon Boutique, which sells what Yuriy declares the best croissants—homemade, of course. From there, he strolls south down King Street, a boulevard lined with boutique stores, and hang a left on Market Street, an historic strip that's been the site of a market since the early 1800s. Today Charleston City Market is all slow old-world charm (see: people stationed outside making sweetgrass baskets) with a thoroughly hip vibe. Then it’s a right on East Bay, a strip that runs along the water and is home to the sleek Market Pavilion Hotel and the Old Exchange Building as well as historic Rainbow Row, a series of quaint colorful Georgian row houses where fishermen lived in the early 20th century. At the end of East Bay, you end up at the tip of the city’s peninsula where the pretty White Point Garden with views that invite lingering: From the water’s edge you can spot James Island, Mount Pleasant and the historic Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started, in between. That course lets you see lots of the city’s greatest architectural hits, including many historic churches, but Charleston is a city where there are tons of surprises around every corner. “Wander off on a small cobblestone streets and take a moment to get lost. They’re cobblestone streets and they’re lined with old homes. Just wander around, look, and enjoy. Eventually you’ll hit a main street, so you won’t be lost for long.”
Locals Know Best: Wichita
When Wichita was first established as a trading post along the Chisolm Trail, it was a popular stop for cowboys driving their cattle from Texas to the end of the railroad in Kansas. Today, although some still call it a “cow town,” the only outlaws are the business owners and artists who are blazing their own trails. In modern times, Wichita has been known as the air capital of the world because of the high concentration of factories producing aircrafts, a heritage that’s on display at the Kansas Aviation Museum. But more than that, there's been fast and furious urban growth over the past few years, with rapid development in the downtown area, which sits on the Arkansas River, affectionately referred to as “Our Kansas River.” (Wink*) Apartment buildings have gone up and new bike lanes are highly trafficked. To get a sense of the Wichita landscape, we checked in with Andrew Gough, who owns the popular cafe/roastery Reverie Roasters (so popular, in fact, that it’s moving to a much bigger space after opening in 2013 in its original location.) He had the inside scoop on where the eat, hangout, and daytrip. DINE AROUND THE WORLD WITHIN THE CITY LIMITS A few years ago, Andrew was on a dining panel enlisted by the Wichita Eagle, the city’s daily newspaper, because there were too many new restaurants for the one primary restaurant critic to keep up with. Now that’s saying something. Given that, plus the fact that he owns a café and his phone is a who's who of local culinary types, it’s safe to say he’s a trustworthy guide for anyone curious about where to dine around town. To hear him tell it, some of the city’s most interesting meals are offered at tucked-away mom’n’pop eateries that collectively serve a rich assortment of ethnic cuisines. He’s a regular at Manna Wok, a homey Korean restaurant where the kimchee spread is off the charts and the owner clearly loves her customers as much as they love her spot. Why else would the walls be plastered little photographs of diners who’ve visited over the years? It’s a ritual that goes back so long that Polaroids from the early days still hang on the wall. Latin American fare is the pick on the southside of town. Usuluteco, a low-key and family owned El Salvadorian joint, is set inconspicuously in a strip mall just off a busy street where mom cooks and dad runs the front of house. Everything, he says, is 100% authentic, so he has a tough time deciding what to recommend. “Definitely the pupusas,” he says, referring to the classic El Salvadorian masa cakes with savory fillings. “But also anything with chicken or beef is really good. And also their pastelitos--fried empanadas stuffed with something like beef stew." In other words: everything. But if you were to press him on what food is identifiable with the region the way that cheesesteak is synonymous with Philly and pizza with New York, the nu way, a loose meat sandwich, is "a total Wichita thing," Andrew declares. It originated at a restaurant of the same name (Nu way), and you'd be best off going to the source to try it. "You need to eat it at the restaurant because when you get it to go, the grease just steeps through the bag. Sure, it's a heart attack on a bun, but it's delicious." More generally speaking, humus and all sorts of other Middle Eastern dishes are ubiquitous, thanks to a humongous Lebanese community in town. Wichita is also home to a sizable Vietnamese population, so you’d be well served at any of the many pho joints around town. HEARTY MEALS IN THE HEARTLAND But Kansas is smack in the middle of the heartland, so it’s only reasonable to expect to find places dishing out good ole American comfort food. Wichita, it seems, prefers its comfort food with a healthy dash of creativity. Tanya’s Soup Kitchen is one of Andrew’s go-tos for sandwiches he describes as “well thought out” (smoked turkey, blueberry barbecue sauce and provolone on an onion kaiser roll, anyone?) and soups. On Wednesdays they make a curry soup, but all the locals know that it’s the legendary tomato bisque you’ll want to try. Good thing it’s on offer all week. There’s a neat twist here. “They have recipe cards for all their products so you can make them at home, but interestingly, there’s still a line out the door every day." Sometimes you can find the most extraordinary grub in the most unlikely places. You might not be enticed by the no frills exterior of Dempsey’s Burger Pub, but the creative burgers here will teach you not to just a pub by its façade. The selections rotate, but the Thai peanut butter burger is a recurring choice and Andrew’s favorite. After all, it’s made with espresso from his roastery. COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST Dempsey's is located in Clifton Square, a block-long stretch comprised of mostly Victorian buildings that house an array of businesses, including some that are unique to the city, like College Hill Creamery, a homey neighborhood spot that turns out house-made ice cream. Tissu, a hip, charming little shop that sells yarn and all sorts of notions, features a sewing studio with classes. If you’re in town with friends and up for an offbeat group activity, the Wichita Escape Room is for you. A “live action” escape game, you get closed in a room with your group and all you have is puzzles and logic tricks to figure out how to find the key to get out. Each of Wichita's many neighborhoods has its own very distinctive flavor and character. The Douglas Design District, which is awash with murals and revitalized storefronts, is regarded as the most creative community. Well over 90% of its hundreds of businesses are small and independently owned. Not surprisingly, it’s where you'll find Andrew’s cozy Reverie Roasters, a go-to cafe for thoughtfully prepared java drinks. His is one among the ranks of businesses that’s making Wichita a destination for foodies. Down the street, Donut Whole offers fresh donuts made with local ingredients and coffee made with beans from Andrew's roastery. He says it's the shop that ignited the 'hood's creative energy. Complete with a gallery and a lounge with live music, he describes it as “funky, creative, super-duper unique, and eclectic.” Next door is Piatto, a pizzeria run by a man who went to Italy to learn how to make true Neapolitan-style pies and brought a traditional pizza oven back with him. The aforementioned Tanya’s is across the street. One of the most exciting things in the DDD is the growing craft beer scene. Hopping Gnome and Central Standard Brewing both feature a brewpub where you can hangout and drink the house suds. Plus they’re food-truck-friendly, so people pick up grub from the trucks and bring it inside for a session. Workers at both brewpubs are really engaging and informative, Andrew says, offering history lessons on beer styles, information on where they source ingredients, and elaborate explanations of beer styles. “Every one of these new breweries does that. It makes it all more interesting,” he says. DAY TRIPPER 2016 marked the centennial of Coronado Heights, a castle-like stone structure built into the side of a bluff pathways from spiderweb to the top....pathways carved into hill... Located about an hour and 15 minutes outside town and listed on the National and Kansas State Registers of Historic Places, it features an observatory deck that offers breathtaking views of the Smoky Hill River Valley and it’s one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Geography.” (Who knew?) Coronado Heights is surrounded by a an elaborate network of walking paths with astonishing views. Make a day trip out of it and stop in nearby Linsborg, known as “Little Sweden” because it was built by Scandinavian immigrants back when they settled there in 1869. That history lives on in its Scandinavian architecture and rich cultural sites. About 30 miles in the opposite direction of town is Mushroom Rock State Park, a collection of bizarre oversize standstone formations; millions years ago water left rock formation in the shape of fungi. "There's so many little things and always more to discover. It's a beautiful drive to get there."
Locals Know Best: Buffalo
You could easily make the case that Leslie Zemsky has the best job title in Buffalo: Director of Fun for Larkin Square. The longtime Buffalo resident, who's also an artists and patron of the arts, oversees a range of activities at Larkin Square, a cluster of once-industrial warehouse buildings from the 1890s that have been revitalized as office buildings and restaurants. It’s also a community gathering point. What started as a smattering of four or five food trucks in 2012 has become Food Truck Tuesdays, a regular Tuesday night event from April through October, with up to 50 food trucks on location, a cozy family dinner vibe, and free parking. Then on Wednesdays in the summertime there are free concerts from local musicians and, of course, plenty of food trucks. Larkin Square is just one example of how Buffalo is undergoing a massive renaissance, even to the point that it’s attracting artists and entrepreneurs from bigger urban centers, who can go upstate and start businesses or rent studios in ways they can’t in pricier cities like Manhattan and Boston. We caught up with the mistress of fun to get the lowdown on all there is to see, do, eat, drink, shop, and eat again around her vibrant city. EAT YOUR HEART OUT It seems like creativity runs in the Zemsky family. Leslie’s son Harry owns Hydraulic Hearth, a beer garden-style brewpub in Larkin Square, and collaboration seems to be his modus operandi. On Food Truck Tuesdays, locals can bring their food-truck fare into the restaurant and order local beer to go along with it. Harry has collaborative brunch with Breadhive, a bakery coop on the West Side. From September through early May, Hydraulic hosts Bagels and Booze, which features Breadhive’s bagels cooked in the restaurant’s pizza oven. Black Sheep, a hip restaurant that bills itself as serving “global nomad cuisine,” stops by to do a pig roast at the restaurant during Sunday Gospel Brunches. Bagels are indeed one of the signatures of Breadhive, which features a café as part of the popular bakery. In addition to their daily sourdough, they make a different loaf each day of the week. Their full roster of sandwiches includes creations like the Bjork (tempe bacon, kimchi, avocado, sprouts, and more.) But far be it from locals to be content with your run-of-the-mill sandwich, even if it is creative. That’s where Five Points Bakery comes in. Their specialty is toasts and offerings run the gamut from sweet to savory. Leslie’s son is also venturing into the sandwich realm: this spring he’s teaming up with another restauranteur to open Angelica Tea Room, where the focus is on classic British tea sandwiches as well as artisanal tea. They’re also planning a serious cocktail program. Buffalo, in fact, has staked its own claim in the craft cocktail renaissance that has swept the United States in the past few years. Key players in town are Buffalo Proper, which is known for its small plates and drinks like the Night in Tunesia (light rum, dark rum, Campari, almond, pineapple, lime). Another go-to is The Dapper Goose, a farm-to-table specialist in a minimalist yet cozy space. With drinks that are as creative as the seasonal dishes, Leslie deems it the best restaurant of “New Buffalo.” STATE OF THE ART With its vast collection of iconic artwork, including Picasso, Frida Khalo, and Georgia O'Keeffe, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is the crowning jewel of Buffalo’s culture scene and it’s free on the first Friday of every month. That’s also the night of the Allentown Gallery Walk, a lively open studio event. Another one of the city's cultural gems is Burchfield Penney Arts Center, which is located on the SUNY Buffalo campus and houses the largest collection of watercolor by Charles Burchfield as well as works by variety of Western New York-connected artists. On the second Friday of each month they host an array of happenings, from concerts and screenings to happy hours. With so much creative energy in Buffalo, it was inevitable that artists, culinary types, and entrepreneurs would team up to maximize their resources and, of course, their impact. The result? Multiple emporium-style establishments that serve as markets, hip food courts, and incubators. Leslie lists them off: West Side Bazaar on the emerging West Side features an assortment of artisans and entrepreneurs, many of them immigrants and refugees, who sell things like jewelry, clothing, skincare, and crafts, as well as a commissary kitchen out of which various culinary types run stall-like businesses. Buffalo, Leslie explains, has a history of being immigrant-friendly and supportive, so you’ll find quite a few operations specializing in ethnic cuisine. She calls out the Burmese food purveyors in particular. The Expo Market is new to downtown and, like West Side Bazaar, it serves as an incubator for new business owners. From build-your-own burritos to creative salads and even a bar and from crafts to jewelry to baked goods (artisan dog biscuits, anyone?), the calling card here is local, local, local. There’s also the Horsefeathers Building, which houses a variety of permanent vendors, including Lait Cru Brasserie, a laidback general-store-chic eatery which is known for its French-inspired eats and selection of grilled cheese sandwiches (we told you—Buffalo is obsessed with sandwiches!), and Nickel City Cheese & Mercantile, Leslie’s stop for all kinds of global cheeses and delicious specialty items, like housemade hot chocolate mixes. The building also houses a seasonal craft and food Winter Market. TESTING THE WATERS To hear Leslie talk about the abundant watersports in Buffalo, you’d think she was talking about the California coast or the Colorado River. “One of my favorite things to do when visitors come to town is go kayaking on the Buffalo River,” she says, launching into an enthusiastic explanation of Canalside, downtown waterfront. The state has been focused on and investing in developing the area and cleaning up the river. It shows. These days there are free concerts on Thursdays throughout the summer and the riverside is home to the largest outdoor artificial ice rink in New York State. (Skating there will only put you out $5.) There’s also free fitness classes and lightshows projected on the massive grain elevators, remnants of the industrial past. Leslie suggests BFLO Harbor Kayak as a convenient place on the waterfront to rent kayaks. In just and hour of paddling, you can glide down Elevator Alley, a stretch of the river that runs between huge grain elevators on both sides. If kayaking isn’t your thing, there’s paddleboards as well as inventive water bikes you can rent from BFLO that are so innovative that they’ve been recently patented. And landlubbers, don’t despair. There’s a few miles of trails nearby and Reddy Bikeshare, a bike-share program that allows you to cruise the city on two wheels. MAKE A DAY OF IT New York City is, of course, a town where pedestrians rule. Cities upstate, however, are more sprawling, but that’s not to say there aren’t walking districts. Elmwood Village seems almost designed for strolling. The Albright-Knox Museum sits at the north end of the neighborhood. From there, Leslie suggests heading down Elmwood Avenue and pop into Lexington Co-Op, which offers a king’s ransom worth of local goods and sustainable organic fare. Grab one of the mean coffee drinks at the café to take on your way. Continue along to Talking Leaves, a bookstore that opened in 1971 and bills itself as “Independent and Idiosyncratic.” (Leslie collaborates with them on an author series at Larkin Square.) After you browse the stacks, hit the adjacent Aroma Café, a cozy spot that does triple-duty as a café, a wine bar, and a trattoria. There are plenty of cute boutiques to weave your way through, like Half and Half, which opened in 2016 and sells stylish threads for men and women as well as quirky home goods. Fern Croft Floral, which is loaded with creative arrangements, neat gift items, and planters made by a local potter. It is, Leslie declares, very different from any kind of flower shop you know. Apparently people in the Elmwood Village are really into gardening. To wit: Garden Walk Buffalo, biggest garden festival in the state where you can wander through people's backyards and enjoy their blossoms, happens each July. But to hear Leslie tell it, the pièce de résistance of the neighborhood is yet to come. Hotel Henry is slated to open this April in the Richardson-Olmsted Complex. The now Landmark building housed the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane when it was completed in the late 1800s on a landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The building underwent a $100 million renovation to retrofit it for the ultra-hip boutique hotel. The featured farm-to-table restaurant will use food grown on the grounds. “In a year, I think it’ll be like a museum because of all the architecture,” says Leslie. “They’re pricing it well because they want it to be an affordable experience. I think people will come to Buffalo just for Hotel Henry.”