The Facebook page The Northwest Side of Chicago posted this photo of The Buffalo today, and the moment I saw it I was catapulted into my past.
When I was a little girl, living about two blocks from this corner, the Buffalo occupied the corner space, the place that is girded by that neon sign that says “BUFFALO – SODAS – BUFFALO’S OWN MADE ICE CREAM” If I remember correctly, it had ten old, high-backed wooden booths with black marble-topped tables, and jukeboxes affixed to the wood-paneled walls at the center of long, tiled mirror panels. There were coat hooks on the posts between booths. At the very back there was one long table for big groups, with a long booth on one side and bentwood chairs on the other. The floor was tiled in black and white hex tiles with black grout that had probably been white originally.
There were two wooden phone booths on one side, next to a long candy counter which had ceased to be used for candy before I was born. I think they had stuffed toys displayed there, but it’s hard to remember. That was where we’d line up to wait for a booth, so it was just as well nobody was trying to do business there. Across from the defunct candy counter was a counter with stools. That was where the magic happened, with freezers, pumps for the various toppings, mysterious machines, a big vat to keep the hot fudge sauce hot, stacks of glasses and dishes, and soda water spigots with pull-down handles that always fascinated me. We almost never sat at the counter. When we did, I felt like I was being let in on a huge secret as I watched the soda jerks work their magic
My parents and I went there about once a week. It was one of the only places where my dad was willing to stand in line which is a testament to their ice cream. Yeah, you could get sandwiches, too, but we went for the ice cream and so did most of the other patrons who would stand in line out the door and down the block on a hot summer night. Once you got a booth, you’d give your order to a high school boy who never wrote anything down (hoping he’d get it right; he usually did) and fed a quarter into the jukebox for three plays.
I usually ordered a chocolate a la Boston soda. I don’t know what made it Boston style, but I do know I loved it with a passion that endures to this day. My dad was a soda man, too. My mom liked her banana splits. When I got older, I wanted to try some of the “creations” like the “Hubba Hubba” but my folks always said they were too big. I never did try the Hubba Hubba, but I remember I did try the “Chop Suey – Not Chinese or with celery.” I can’t remember if I liked it. Mostly if I wanted something really fancy, it was hot fudge. That was when hot fudge tasted like… fudge. It doesn’t anymore.
I loved their malted milks too, so thick your spoon would stand up in them. Since the advent of high fructose corn syrup sweetened chocolate syrup, shakes and malts haven’t tasted the same. And I still remember the packet of cookies that came with them. One Nabisco butter cookie and one Oreo wafer. No cream filling, just the single wafer.
Later they expanded. They took the space behind and the one to the west. They did all the carry outs from the rear, and the new dining room area was relentlessly modern and I never liked it all that well. But every year, on the last day of school, we went there for lunch and hung out for the afternoon the way adolescents had done, probably since the place opened.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, this print is for sale.
Later they opened a bar and grill, but I never went there. I’d moved out of the area and going there wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Then Shell bought the property and tore the building down to put up a service station so there’d be three corners with gas stations at that intersection. What a boost to the neighborhood! I’ve had a grudge against Shell since 1978, when the parlor closed
There have been other ice cream parlors in the Chicago area, Chicagoans love their ice cream. There’s even another Buffalo out in Buffalo Grove, owned either by the same folks who owned the original, or by relatives of theirs, I’m not sure which. They have a lot of the same ice cream creations, like the Hubba Hubba, and there’s a Boston shake, but no Boston sodas. But none of them come close to the Buffalo for me.
I can still remember being sent down to buy a pint of hand-packed ice cream, and I can remember how good it tasted. Most ice cream doesn’t taste that good anymore. I remember how beautiful the place was with its dark wood paneling and warm incandescent lights. And the crazy thing is, I can still remember how that place smelled. It was a cool, dark, ever-so-slightly sweet aroma that seemed to float around you as you walked through those double doors on the corner.
Like most of the other great things about my childhood, it’s gone forever. And like those things, I miss it. I miss its magic.