Okay, I’ll admit it right up front — March is not the best time to visit Rochester, New York.
But considering that those travelling to the Flower City this weekend for the Division III Frozen Four are fans of teams from Wisconsin or the North Country of New York State, or for that matter moms and dads and aunts and uncles from north of the border, the weather shouldn’t bother you too much.
Even though you’ll be busy watching some fantastic hockey, you’ll still have some time on your hands before and after the games. There are a few sights you might want to see, and if you don’t get your fill of hockey, some other games in town, too.
And, of course, you’ll get hungry or thirsty.
Like most suburbs around the country, you’ll find a stretch of familiar chain restaurants. You’ll see one of nearly every fast food chain and four or five steakhouses along Jefferson Road (New York Route 252) east of RIT.
RIT fans have made Buffalo Wild Wings at 382 Jefferson Road one of their favorite places to stop after a game. Besides its proximity to campus, a definite plus, the national-chain restuarant features 12 different wing sauces and multiple large-screen televisions. Buffalo wing purists (we just call them wings here) may turn up their nose at some of the sauces, but the wings are meaty and tasty.
As long as you’re in town, though, you might want to sample some of the distinctive local cuisine.
Bill Gray’s is a local family-oriented fast food chain that boasts that it serves the “World’s Greatest Cheeseburger.” (They are pretty good, especially with bacon.) At the location nearest RIT, 1225 Jefferson Road, you can also try a Rochester tradition, the white hot, which is a pale, spicy, pork hot dog.
Bill Gray’s also serves an amazing fish fry, which you might want to check out Friday.
Speaking of fish frys, a real Rochester tradition, one of the best in town is served Fridays at the Rohrbach Brewing Company, 315 Gregory Street, about 10 to 15 minutes from RIT. Local beer connoiseurs will tell you it’s also the best brew pub in town — try their signature Scotch Ale, the Sam Patch Porter, or, if you’re lucky and it’s on tap, the Blueberry Ale. Rohrbach’s also features a menu of sandwiches and American and German entrees, and on Saturdays serves sauerbraten.
The other microbrewery and restaurant in town is Empire Brewing Company, located at 300 State Street in the High Falls district, just kitty-corner from Eastman Kodak headquarters. While many may not rate the brew quite as highly as its competitor, Empire has a menu featuring Cajun food and other spicy delights.
Overlooking the Genesee River, which flows north past RIT and through downtown, is the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The Dinosaur, at the corner of Court Street and South Avenue downtown, serves some of the best slow-cooked barbecue you’ll ever eat. Don’t let the dozens of motorcycles parked in front scare you off; it isn’t a rough place. The Dinosaur also has live blues music almost every night.
There is also a distinctive Rochester-style chicken wing, like those served at Country Sweet Chicken and Ribs, in the Mount Hope Plaza at 1691 Mount Hope Avenue. The sauce is sticky and sweet, but hot. Wing dinners are served on a slice of bread, with macaroni salad.
No discussion of indigenous vittles would be complete without mentioning Nick Tahou’s. Nick’s is famous for its “Garbage Plate” — two hot dogs or two hamburger patties served with your choice of two of the following: home fries, macaroni salad, or cold baked beans, with the whole mess smothered in a ground-beef-based hot sauce. Oh, and a pile of white bread on the side.
(Cold baked beans? Once, the late Nick Tahou was asked in a feature in the local paper why the beans were served cold. “Because we don’t heat them,” was his succinct, and perfectly resonable, explanation.)
The original Nick Tahou’s, just west of downtown at 320 West Main Street, is closed after 8 p.m., but the 2260 Lyell Avenue location, just off Interstate 390, is open 24 hours. There’ll be a line there at 2 a.m. — closing time.
Things to do and see before the game
Rochester is home to the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue. In addition to exhibits of journalistic and artistic photography and film preservation, the magnificent and recently restored home of the founder of Eastman Kodak is open for tours.
Not to be missed at the Eastman house is the music conservatory where Eastman took his breakfast while serenaded by his organist — a fiberglass cast of an elephant head shot by George himself overlooks the room.
The High Falls district is a historic mill area located by the Genesee River’s Upper Falls. For years, the area was surrounded by rotting industrial buildings, but through the efforts of the city government, has been restored as a festival and nightlife area.
During the day, you can view the falls from the old Platt Street bridge, now only open to foot traffic. It isn’t Niagara, but with the above-freezing temperatures predicted for the weekend, it should be flowing fairly impressively.
During the summer, a laser light show is projected on the walls of the canyon below the falls, and on the water itself. The show attracts tens of thousands of spectators each year.
RIT has exhibits of student and faculty art from the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. In the Bevier Gallery, there is currently an exhibit of works by Masters of Fine Arts candidates.
If you love art, and what hockey fan doesn’t, you might also consider a trip to the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery at 500 University Avenue, one of the best collections of art in the state outside of New York City.
Rochester is also a great outdoor recreation area, with boating, golf … oh, right. It’s March.
Since Henrietta is a suburb, it is blessed (?) with plenty of places to shop, including the sprawling Marketplace Mall at Jefferson Road and West Henrietta Road. There is a ten-screen theater nearby, too.
After the game
Despite claims from many locals, Rochester does have a decent nightlife.
If you’re looking for a place to kick back after the game, Buffalo Wild Wings, as I mentioned above, has become a favorite place to hang out for RIT fans.
Also, not far from campus at 2758 West Henrietta Road is Woody’s II, a beer, bar food, and sports joint. It’s big — it used to be a Ponderosa — and has plenty of parking.
A couple of districts in downtown Rochester are the focus of the city’s nightlife.
Just up the street is the Spot Coffee House. Located in an art deco former Chevrolet showroom, this 24-hour java joint has become immensely popular since opening last fall.
Further up East Avenue is the chic dance club Tonic.
Anchoring the Upper East End are two British-style pubs, The Old Toad at 277 Alexander Street, which also serves traditional pub fare along with cask-conditioned ales, and Monty’s Korner, at the corner of East and Alexander, a tavern known for its unusual microbrews and a selection of port wines.
Between the two pubs are a number of places ranging from a couple of twenty-something meet markets, to the tex-mex restaurant Mex, to a fondue restaurant with dueling piano players.
In the High Falls district, there is a dance club, sports bar, and jazz club, all located in the Centers at High Falls on Brown’s Race. Nearby, at 61 Commercial Street, is Jillian’s. This place, part of a chain, has to be seen to be believed.
The Jillian’s in Rochester, located in an old trolley barn overlooking the Genesee River, has a sports bar/restaurant, a billiards room, a bowling alley, a dance club, and a huge game room. It’s a great place to take a bunch of people who otherwise wouldn’t be happy all going to the same joint.
If you’ll still be in town Sunday, the Rochester Americans — Amerks to locals — take on the Norfolk Admirals at 6:05 at the Rochester War Memorial. (The arena actually has the name of a health insurance company attached to it, but some of us still can’t bring ourselves to use it.)
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