Literary City Guide | BUFFALO, NEW YORK

We’ve hauled some cargoes in our day / Filled with lumber, coal and hay / And we know every inch of the way / From Albany to Buffalo.
— Lyrics to "The Erie Canal"


Elen Turner is an editor, writer and traveler who has lived many lives: born in the UK, grew up in New Zealand, taught in Japan, studied in Australia, worked in Nepal and now landed in the USA. She blogs about North America, South Asia, literature and street art at Wilderness Metropolis. 


Relationship to Buffalo: I moved to Buffalo in 2014 from Australia for my partner’s work. I’ve been surprised by how much I like it, how much there is to see and do, and the vibrant arts scene that exists here.

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Margaret Atwood, because she is such a feminist icon, and The Handmaid’s Tale is my favorite book. 

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Pushpesh Pant. I’m in love with his India cookbook. It’s nothing short of the Bible of Indian cuisine.

Writing soundtrack: I prefer silence when working. I already struggle with all of the tabs open in my head at any one time.

Pen or Pencil: Pencil for the initial jottings; pen to formalize it.

Coffee or Tea? Both. I’m originally from the UK, so a good cuppa is a ritual, but I’ve lived in New Zealand and Australia, with what I think is the world’s best coffee culture.

Paperback or Hardback? Whatever I can pick up second-hand. And my Kindle for traveling.

Good Reads


Talking Leaves Books. This is Buffalo’s oldest independent bookstore and there are two branches, one on Elmwood Avenue and the other on Main Street. The latter is more academically focused, as it’s not far from SUNY Buffalo. 

Rust Belt Books. For second-hand books, this is a treasure trove. Until recently it was located in hip Allentown, but increasing rents pushed them out. Rust Belt Books is now located on Grant Street, on the West Side, an area that is undergoing ‘rejuvenation’ at present.

Burning Books. This independent, political bookstore on Connecticut Street specializes in anti-oppression books of all kinds, for children and adults.


The Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museum. The Karpeles Manuscript Library is the world’s largest private holding of important original manuscripts and documents, and there are two branches, with museums, in Buffalo. The buildings of the Porter Hall and the North Hall are themselves an attraction.


Babel. This acclaimed series, run by the Just Buffalo Literary Center, has been bringing world-famous American and international authors to Buffalo for 40 years now. Every year, four notable authors are invited to give a public (ticketed) talk. The public is encouraged to read the authors’ latest book, and the floor is opened afterwards for discussion. In the 2014-15 season, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was one of the highlights. In 2015-16, Karl Ove Knausgard will appear.

Talking Leaves Books and Burning Books. These bookshop institutions (see above) regularly hold readings and launches.

Canisius College Contemporary Writers Series. Canisius College’s annual series bring acclaimed authors to town, and is free to the public.


Explore Buffalo. This tour company specializes in local walking tours that educate locals and tourists alike about Buffalo’s historical sites and buildings. They regularly hold a ‘City of Light’ tour, which focuses on sites that appear in Lauren Belfer’s novel of the same name, which was set in Buffalo in 1901.

Good Eats


Aroma Caffe. Attached to Talking Leaves Books’ Elmwood branch, this is the best place to read with a glass of wine.

Spot Coffee. A local coffee chain with several branches around the city. All are spacious and relaxed, with large comfy couches, making them a good place to park up and do some writing.

Askhers. The fresh juices at Askhers are famous. The café is large, light and decorated with just the right number of pot plants and photography from around the world.


Oshun. This seafood restaurant and bar downtown is the epitome of contemporary class. The lunch specials are very good value, at around $12. They have multiple varieties of fresh oysters, too. The interior is a combination of Art Deco salon and American diner, and works perfectly.

Wasabi. Buffalo is not short on Japanese restaurants, but Wasabi, on Elmwood Avenue, is like an authentic Japanese izakaya.

Bourbon & Butter. Inside the recently-renovated Lafayette Hotel downtown, Bourbon & Butter is like an old-fashioned speakeasy straight out of the 1930s (sans billowing cigarette smoke). This 1904 French Renaissance-style building would have a lot of stories to tell, as it fell into disrepair for many years and was used as a half-way house, until its recent refurbishment.

Romeo & Juliet’s Bakery and Caffe. For seriously good Italian pizza, pasta and desserts, Romeo & Juliet’s, on Hertel Avenue, can’t be beaten.

Allen Burger Venture. The tuna wasabi burgers and truffle fries give Buffalo pub food a good name, and a wide selection of craft beers are available. Allen Burger Venture is on Allen Street in Allentown.


Butterwood Sweet & Savory. In the basement of the Lafayette Hotel, the vast array of creamy cakes at Butterwood Sweet & Savory perfectly complement the sultry bar upstairs.

The Nut House. This little shop in Elmwood Village is presided over by a larger-than-life toy soldier. Inside the tiny shop, nuts, macaroons and bubble tea are the favorites.

ELEN's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: Looking down towards the art deco Buffalo City Hall from Court Street in downtown Buffalo.

2. Favorite place to write: In the summer, sitting on a blanket on the grass in Bidwell Parkway.

3. Favorite museum: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has an impressive collection of early twentieth-century artworks that belie the size of the city.

4. Favorite coffee shop: To be honest, I struggle with good coffee in the USA! Still searching for a good cup in Buffalo.

5. Favorite thing about Buffalo: The fin de siècle homes and elaborate gardens of Elmwood Village, that bloom frenetically in the spring and summer.