We didn’t expect the motorcycles – dozens of them, inside, tire to tire, perched on ledges surrounding every wall of the bar proper. Harleys, Indians, Triumphs. And the hundreds of license plates announcing the pan-US clientele. All to say this bar is authentically American.
As if any of that were necessary.
The wings made the case on their own.
Where It All Began
Anchor Bar is where, 45 years ago, the impossibly perfect marriage of the best part of the chicken, perfectly deep-fried, first met the best spicy, buttery vinegar sauce on planet Earth. When paired with essential celery and blue cheese dressing, that combination of protein and piquancy became America’s quintessential bar food (and hangover breakfast – shhh, don’t tell).
Parking was not an issue. Despite its popularity among locals and tourists alike, and the resulting half-hour wait times, nearby parking abounded. This is because everything else in nearby Buffalo is unappealing, which makes Anchor Bar all the more remarkable for its success. It’s a bustling bar in an overtired section of a modern ghost town.
The menu suggests numerous alternatives to the signature wings: burgers, salads, pizza – and a few to-go patrons swooped in to pick up Anchor’s pepperoni pies. But throughout the bar and in the dining room itself, virtually every set of shoulders were hunched over plates of spicy, crispy, poultry magic.
As well they should.
First You Order
A single order is 10 wings. That’s the minimum. You might choose a double (20) or a bucket (50), because wings are tiny and delicious and need to be eaten by the dozens. But you can, if you are wide-eyed unsure visitors as we were, order but 10 to test your mettle.
Which we each did. Rachel 10 medium. Me 10 hot.
During their preparation we surveyed the joint: its bustle and flow, its patrons and taps and decades of varnish. Anchor Bar is a proper bar – noisy and jostling and unkempt. Overfilled pints and bottom-shelf well drinks filled the barkeep’s order list from the start of her non-stop evening shift.
“We want to taste the wings. Not to burn our tongues off,” said the middle-aged tourist couple to our left. The barkeeper leaned into them, conspiratorially. “They’re not that spicy. You’ll be fine.”
She was right. Where too many establishment across the country have tried to outpace each other in a race to maximum Scovilles, the Anchor Bar attends to flavor, not to heat. (They do have a “Suicidal!” sauce option, which, to be fair, I would try someday if I were to return to Buffalo. But I won’t be coming back by choice.)
Then You Eat
The wings arrived under small wooden bowls. Underneath those throwback woven covers were what we had crossed the country to have as our anniversary dinner.
But were they good?
They were good.
Anchor Bar has perfected the deep fry: equally crispy and chewy, still hot when served, done but not leathery, and sauced just so – neither swimming nor scanty, in an ideal cayenne-to-butter marriage. And with not a carrot or ranch dressing anywhere in sight.
Visiting this Mecca has been on my bucket list for years, and Anchor Bar did not disappoint. Especially valuable was tasting the direct gold standard for the dish I’ve been approaching asymptotically in my home preparation, and for judging how close local eateries come to this plate of wing perfection.