Paul Wilson: Buffalo's Anchor Bar wings it to downtown Hamilton

They say the chicken wing was born in Buffalo, at Main Street's Anchor Bar. Now Hamilton has been chosen for the legendary restaurant's first Canadian outpost.
People go to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo for the history and the chicken. Entrepreneurs on this side of the border think they can make wings fly here too. (Buffalo Anchor Bar website)

Sure, it was great to hear last week that a supermarket will open downtown next spring.

But when it comes to food in the core, here’s the really big, deep-fried news — Buffalo’s legendary Anchor Bar is pushing over the border into Ontario, and the first location in the province will be in the heart of Hamilton.

There seems little argument that the chicken wing was indeed born at the Anchor Bar, Main Street at North in Buffalo. Teressa and Frank Bellissimo opened the doors in 1935. But it was nearly 30 years later — a Friday night in 1964 — that Teressa stumbled upon the new miracle food.

Normally, the chicken wing went into the stock pot for soup. But that night she dumped some wings into the fryer, coated them with a secret sauce and served them with celery and blue cheese dip.

Thousand pounds a day

Now the Anchor serves a thousand pounds of wings a day — mild, medium, hot, spicy and, at a premium, suicidal — to movie stars, big-name athletes and lots of us from Ontario. The Anchor ships its wings too, but Hamilton won’t need FedEx for a feast.

Work starts soon on the restaurant here. Location, Jackson Square. Target for opening, late November.

Dave Copperthwaite has been in the restaurant business 30 years. A recent project was Entertainment Central at Dundas and Trafalgar Road in Oakville, which includes the Wendell Clark Classic Grill & Sports Lounge. Copperthwaite is also a trained chef, and once cooked for the Queen.

His group has secured the Ontario rights for Anchor Bar. They knew right away they should plant the first flag in downtown Hamilton.

"It’s a growing concern, growing by leaps and bounds," he says. "They’re cleaning it up. There’s the new McMaster building, Copps Coliseum, condos being built, hotels being built…

"I think it’s a no-brainer. It’s the old thing — the money starts flowing in, the bad reputation starts flowing out."

Just like Buffalo wings

The Hamilton wings will be exactly like the Buffalo wings, Copperthwaite says. The restaurant will have a wood-burning pizza oven and they will "Canadianize" parts of the menu — more healthy options, more fresh salads.

But there is so much history on the walls in that sprawling brick building in Buffalo. Diners know the wing was born right here. It’s a visit to Mecca, and you can buy the T-shirt. However Copperthwaite says they’re ready to spend up to $1 million to make the Hamilton location feel just right.

A couple of years ago, another party did try to import  the Anchor name to Rochester. It didn’t work.

"They had their own way of doing things there," says Ivano Toscani, general manager and executive chef of the Buffalo Anchor operation.

This expansion, he says, was proposed to them by the Ontario interests. "If they copy us, if they do exactly like we do, it will work." |   @PaulWilsonCBC

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson.