After five days, I left Niagara awe-inspired, and full of admiration for nature and her glorified beauty.
I stayed rent-free, parked minutes away from the natural waterfalls — I definitely got more than I bargained for. And no one hassled me.
There was only one unfinished business left — plunging into the refreshing lake water. The icy water would relieve my inflammation and stress and the negative ions from the falls crashing onto the rocks hundreds of feet below would liven my mood and stimulate my senses.
I arrived at Lake Erie Beach, in Angola, NY – a small town just outside of Buffalo with the single intention of doing just that.
The beach was small with only spots for a couple dozen cars – that’s why my semi attracted quite the attention when I pulled up, with all six cylinders roaring under the hood. Like Rochester, the water was frigid, but a little murky from a recent downpour. The water did indeed do the magic and after a quick 30-minute dip – my body cleaned and my soul healed, I was back in the cab drying up, my stomach starting to growl.
It was easy not to notice a tavern located next to the parking lot. The strange-looking pub could easily be mistaken for an air strip. The big letters on the tail of an airplane read Stroh’s Tavern. A prop plane was actually buried halfway into the roof of the bar with the tail section jutting out. This piqued my interest — any place with an actual wreck jutting out of the roof would certainly be a great dive bar.
As soon as I walked up to the deck, I was greeted by a friendly bartender who was still setting up for the day.
“Good morning. You got WiFi?”
“Certainly. Grab a seat. We’re a bit busy this morning. I’ll be right with you.”
The pub was spacious and airy with Buffalo Bills and Sabres gear adorning the walls. I remember driving by New Era field on the way here and I knew that the locals loved their Bills. A lone pool table sat unused – people were gathering outside on the deck by the tiki bar.
I soon learned that the most talked about item on the menu was not the burgers or BBQ Chicken, but the fried bologna sandwich. I wasn’t going to go against history and I savored for a bite of fried, fresh deli meat.
“What’s going on today?” I inquired.
“We’re having our anniversary party,” said July has she continued scrambling to get things ready.
“Really how long has this place been here?”
“Over 50 years, but this is the first year of the new ownership,”
Wow, 50 years!! Perfect timing. I simply came here for a swim before I find my next load and stumbled upon an Anniversary Party at the local-favorite tavern.
The party started without a hitch and soon the parking lot was full of locals, some in Harleys, one family came in an RV – guess they were planning to spend the night.
A classic rock band was performing, and soon the crowd was engaged in the tunes of CCR and Rolling Stones and in avid conversation with each other.
I immediately felt like the only minority in the room. This didn’t deter me from sticking around. I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and inviting the locals were. I met the new owners as well as the old ones – who didn’t want to sell but were ready for retirement, and a handful of guests who were easy to talk to.
I walked towards the bar to grab another $3.50 Michelob lite. Guess I wasn’t going anywhere tonight, either.
A lady, probably in her sixties, who was sitting at the bar immediately moved over to make room.
I smiled and thanked her and asked if she wanted anything.
“Sure vodka and cranberry would be nice.” Found out her name is Debbie and she’s been living in Angola for years, but not quite as long as Stroh’s been in existence.
“So what’s to do here besides socialize and swim on the Lake?”
“That about sums it up. But most of us don’t even get in the water anymore. We just enjoy looking at it.”
“Why is this place called Angola.”
“This place was settled by the Quakers who were supporting missionary work in Angola, Africa,” said Debbie.
“What’s the major industry, here?”
“Besides tourism, there isn’t much. In fact Angola hardly existed before the arrival of the railroad line in the 1850s.”
“That’s right, you might have heard the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald. But here in Angola, we have the train wreck horror of 1867,” said George.
George Salim had been working at Stroh’s for the last fifty years – he started when the first owner, Eddie Stroh bought the property. He could have retired years ago but he had too many friends to keep up with and he loved watching the sun set over Lake Erie each day.
“Yeah, the Buffalo bound New York Express derailed and plunged into a creek. Stoves set coaches on fire – nearly 50 died – many more injured.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“Yeah, John D. Rockefeller was supposed to be on that train. His bags were onboard, but he missed the train by minutes,” said Debbie.
“It was the worst train wreck of the 19th century,” George face turned somber. “The crash led to the banning of wooden passenger cars and open stoves, and the development of air brakes, like what you have in your truck.”
The conversation soon turned to sports and politics, and I turned our attention to the setting sun over the lake.
To cap things off there was a modest fireworks show, teasing us with the big event on July 4th.
Each year Stroh’s sponsors the fireworks show. There is not much of a city council here or a budget. Angola doesn’t even have a police department but shares these duties with Evans town.
They invited me to see the fireworks next week. Unfortunately I would be out of town by the next morning, and by Independence Day hopefully back in Washington, DC for Trump’s July 4th Extravaganza.