It’s been a few years now that bw-3 (or B-Dub’s to those who loved it) completed its transformation into Buffalo Wild Wings in Chicago. While the renovated version fully reflects its suburban brethren with its polished, blonde wood look it has lost much of its original Chicago charm. The wings are as good as they ever were and its bevy of TVs and NTN are sure to keep you entertained, one can’t help but mourn the loss of the original Lincoln Park edition. Buffalo Wild Wings is one of the largest restaurant and bar chains in the world with 495 locations in 37 states and is traded on the NASDAQ (ticker: BWLD). If you love wings and can tolerate the increasingly chain-like feel of the place combined with hit-or-miss service, Buffalo Wild Wings is the place for you.
Buffalo Wild Wings is located on Lincoln Avenue between Wrightwood and Fullerton Avenues, between Hi-Top’s and Lucille’s, and across from Elliott’s Consignment. When you walk in under the black awning and through the wooden double doors, be sure to have your ID ready as they card everyone, all the time. The front room features the take-out counter in front of you and a seating area on your left. Through a portal to your right is where you’ll find the hostess, who will seat you preferably in the main bar room. The bar runs along the north wall of this second space, features about 20 beers on tap (served in glorious 23-ounce glasses) and happens to be the best place to sit because you can avoid the slow and spotty waitress service as well as enjoy a few rounds of NTN interactive trivia (there are several TVs directly above the bar, one of which is dedicated to NTN). Just ask the bartender for your NTN trivia console. Across from the bar are cocktail tables and a few of the low-slung variety in front of windows overlooking Lincoln Avenue. If the joint is busy or you’re just unlucky, they’ll stick you in the third room. This carpeted, wood-paneled room has less televisions and does not have a big screen. And, since the waitresses have to walk a little further, the service suffers beyond its usual mediocrity. Additional seating can be found outside, in the sidewalk cafe in the summertime.
You must try the wings. They’re the best I’ve ever had, bar none, and you can order up to 250 at a time. This limit may be due in part to a group of 10 friends I know, many resembling lead singers of the Barenaked Ladies, who downed 500 wings between them in only a few hours (that’s an average of 50 wings per person). While successful, this feat surely violated at least one article of the Geneva Convention not to mention common sense. The wings are so good that I have often seen people having a beer at the bar while they wait for their carry-out order during the week, and you can get ’em for $0.35 each on Tuesdays. The only place that comes close to being as good overall in Chicagoland is Buffalo Joe’s in Evanston, but Joe’s only has mild, medium, and hot sauces. Buffalo Wild Wings has teriyaki, spicy garlic, Jamaican jerk, Thai, and both sweet and hot barbeque, in addition to their hot sauces. These sauces are also available in bottles to take home for about $5. Of these hot sauces, Blazin’ is the hottest and is, in my opinion, the best tasting, extremely hot wing sauce in the Chicago (and perhaps anywhere). Others that come close to having as good a very hot wing sauce include McGee’s and McDunna’s. My only complaint: the chicken wings at Buffalo Wild Wings are the smallest I’ve ever had. If the sauces weren’t so damned good, I wouldn’t bother with the place at all. Boneless chicken wings are also available but are reserved only for children and sissies ($0.50 on Thursdays).
If you’re not a big fan of wings, have no fear. Buffalo Wild Wings has other selections that are almost as good. Also on the menu are “Buffalitos” (tacos), wraps with Thai and Jamaican Jerk sauces, “Buffalo Chips” (flat-cut potato slices, optionally topped with chili and cheese – absolutely magnificent), and a good variety of sandwiches that includes fish, which at least one of my friends has claimed “the best fish sandwich” they’ve ever had.”
In a bizarre twist of fate, I was served six Blazin’ wings instead of the hot variety I asked for, due to a mix-up with what a friend of mine had ordered. The Blazin’ sauce turned out to be phenomenally good. Most sauces of this caliber are all burn with no taste. The only problem is that I needed extra napkins to wipe the sweat from my face, forehead and neck. These napkins were later removed from the table with tongs and deposited in a red biohazard bag. The experience reminded me of a friend’s account of inhaling tear gas as part of basic training in the US Army. Fortunately, I was able to stop sweating within a half hour after the meal, thanks in part to the complimentary wet-naps, in time for our transition over to Lilly’s across the street to hear some live R&B music.
While Buffalo Wild Wings has the best wings in Chicago, there are a few things about it that drive me crazy. First, they renovated the entire place but somehow managed to skip the decrepit bathrooms, of which the women’s is so bad that my wife refuses to patronize Buffalo Wild Wings, which has reduced my visits by about 95%. And guys, be careful. The men’s bathroom door has a nasty spring to it – one the owner of Jake’s Pub would be proud of. Along with the lack of paper towels, the men’s was much more tolerable when they put up the daily sports pages over the urinals in the men’s bathroom. Now we have cheesy advertising to look at. What a shame. The sports pages have gone the same way as the Chicago Bulls blimp at the base of the staircase. Additionally, when you’re almost done with your food or your 23-ounce beer, mind that the busboy doesn’t whisk it away without your permission. To top it off, the bar supports only non-Chicago teams even if they’re in the playoffs. As a good friend of mine once said, “You’ll never feel like a regular here.”
Teams that are supported by the bar include the University of Colorado Buffalo, Indiana University Hoosiers, Cleveland Browns, and Cleveland Indians, fans of which are the only ones to give the place high marks on the online review sites. Aside from their non-local sports support, bw-3 does have an interesting assortment of Chicago sports memorabilia on the wall, including signed Blackhawks jerseys, hockey sticks over the pick-up counter, Michael Jordan articles, and White Sox photos. There even appears to be an authentic, framed Olympic Russian hockey jersey. In addition, American beer connoisseurs will appreciate the Budweiser clock with a mini-Clydesdale-pulled beer wagon in it. Oh, yeah baby. The clock, by the way, is set 20 minutes ahead so they can kick you out early.
While “progress” has resulted in a more polished and very corporate version of Buffalo Wild Wings, I miss the classic “bw-3” prominent so much in my bachelorhood. Thank God they haven’t f%&$#! with the original hot sauce recipes, even though none of the recent additions are any good. Add to that questionable service from a constantly revolving waitstaff, and Buffalo Wild Wings makes for a nice destination maybe once a year for me instead of once a week like in the old days… For more information, check out the Buffalo Wild Wings website but don’t expect much useful information for their Chicago location. Bon appetit.