There’s a lot to love and hate about Niagara Falls. On one side it’s a fun little tourist destination. It could be a playground for the family, a romantic getaway, or a night on the town all encompassed by a pair of casinos, some expensive restaurants and some natural wonder. On another, an area that offers valuable and significant wetlands that are full of ‘Paradise’ and other prospective developments. For those that live here, Niagara Falls has always been everything away from ‘the strip’ – a tough working class city, a border city, full of urban decay, dive-y establishments and sports bars. But lately, things have been taking a different turn for the locals.
While the city has their fair their fair share of gems — an excellent fine dining scene, a couple of great breweries, a caring library system, a hip History Museum and farmers market, and some of the best burritos and wonton soup money can buy on this side of Ontario — over the past few months, three new bars/restaurants have opened up and have made people excited about going out to these downtown hotspots.
Over at 5984 Main St., local., opened by Nathan Warriner, Steve Kellerman and Kevin Kelly in late November, replaced an old book store named Page One Books with ‘Niagara’s newest local pub.’
“The gentleman who ran the store passed away, so a friend of mine who runs the building asked me to list the place, as I’m a realtor as well,” explained Warriner. “It needed a lot of love and work and I wasn’t getting any luck. It was around the time that marijuana was about to become legal, so, Steve and I decided to try and create a retail marijuana store. Around that time, my phone started blowing up with people wanting the space to do the same thing. Kevin was actually one of the guys who called me, we actually didn’t even know each other before we started this place.”
After realizing that they were never going to be one of 25-in-17,000 applications they decided to turn the space into a bar. After pulling some favours from friends along the way, they were able to transform an old book store into a comfortable bar/lounge and kitchen.
“It took us a full year. We started in November of 2018, and our liquor license was issued on November 28, 2019 and we opened up the next day,” laughed Kellerman.
“There were literally table saws all over the restaurant an hour before we opened. We were able to do a soft opening and invite a bunch of our friends.”
The restaurant boasts an all-Niagara craft beer and wine roster that are coupled with a variety of salads and sandwich options. There’s no screens (aside from an arcade machine), just a nice comfortable room. local. offers a simple but intimate experience for people to just relax and wind down, have some drinks and some conversation.
Although generally neglected, Main St. offers a wealth of untapped potential with the Niagara Falls History Museum and Farmer’s Market just around the corner, with a $12.3 million Cultural Hub coming some time in the future. Plus, the area is less than a kilometre from the Fallsview Casino and the new entertainment facility that’s nearly finished.
“You need to lead by example and let people think ‘Hey, these guys were crazy enough to give this spot a shot, let’s see what we can do too.’ The spot needs it,” said Kelly. “Change is slow and we’re thinking long-view and what this could all be in five or ten years. We can see that there are things happening here, it’s just a work in progress.”
On the other side of Stanley, Camp Cataract, at the old Capitol Q at 4317 Queen St., around the corner from the Niagara Falls Bus Terminal, opened their doors in October, 2019. Best explained: Camp Cataract is a “hats off to the nostalgia of Niagara Falls bygone places, while capturing that catch-all place that you would find in any cabin town up north.”
Adam Buller and Katie Webb of Brainkite Co. Artistic Solutions, much like Kellerman and Warriner, never intended to create a bar. Their initial idea was to open a pinball museum, aptly tiled the Niagara Falls Pinball Museum. After collecting the pinball machines, things didn’t quite pan out for them because of a few “operational variances”.
“A bright idea lightbulb just popped out of nowhere, and a little voice in my head said ‘make a northern catch-all space called Camp Cataract’. All the ideas came together in one hour,” explained Buller. “I was feeling a lot of anxiety, and a lot of push from the landlord, and this place was ready to bypass all of the city’s regulation problems as a bar, but not a pinball museum.”
The Camp offers two items on their menu: pizza and nachos. “And I think we do them pretty damn well,” said Buller. “I never thought I’d be thinking about pizza dough as much as I do now,” laughed Webb.
Upon walking into the space, retro arcade and pinball machines look to the right, and a tuck shop greets you on the left. Facing the bar on the right, camp tables, crokinole boards and a canoe adorn the left side facing the bar. Further back into the bar, sit a ping pong table and a table top hockey machine before you reach the stage that hosts music, theatre and comedy shows. The whole space conjures feelings of play and immediately immerses you into the space. It just feels like a modern and adult take on the camp counsellor’s hangout.
“For a long time, we’ve just worked on art projects and blitzed them for a few days or weeks and then walked away to the next project,” explained Buller. “This is the first project that we’ve never been able to do that with. Making it was great fun, and now we get to work on a living breathing art installation that has a chance to provide perpetual income for us artists. Thankfully, old school main streets and mom and pop places are becoming cool again..”
Further down the street, a newly renovated restaurant just opened up at their brand new location this past January. Jeffros BBQ, now home at 4555 Queen St., finally made the move across the street.
Jeff Freimanis and his wife Jenny started their restaurant six years ago, born out of a love for backyard barbecues, owner Jeff Freimanis explained. “We had this pool party and people were just going nuts for the BBQ, saying I should open a restaurant. At that time, I owned a couple of vac trucks doing hydrovac excavation and I had never though of opening a restaurant ever. Then Jenny just said ‘Let’s try it out’, and hell ensued,” he laughed.
The Freimanis then worked towards creating a downtown BBQ destination that offered great food and drinks for a modest price, that also hosted live music and a variety of events that ranged from shrimp boils to whole hog barbecues. When they started turning people away due to lack of space during peak times, they knew they had to expand their business.
“I’m really excited about this new space. The vibe over there is the same, just on a bigger scale. It just has more opportunities for more people,” said Freimanis “It’s going to be a kick-ass venue for live music.”
Freimanis, a musician himself, explained how excited he was for the potential for the restaurant to become another venue for live music in Niagara Falls. The space is spacious and hosts a stage larger than the majority of restaurants in the Niagara Region. “I know a ton of local bands that can’t wait to play on the stage, and I can’t wait either,” he said.
Much like the previously mentioned restaurants, Jeffros BBQ was anticipated to open in September / October and things didn’t work out that way. But then again,
“Good things take time,” said Freimanis, a message passed on from one of his neighbours. “We’re really proud to be a part of Queen St., It’s really nice to have people come out to a local spot that they can call their local spot.”