Buffalo wings get a profile boost in NYC as Anchor Bar opens in Hell’s Kitchen

New York City's Buffalo wing spots, like John Henninger's takeout counter and new sports bar in the East Village (pictured), are seeing a rise in profile in NYC as self-proclaimed originator Anchor Bar opens its 11th franchise in Hell's Kitchen.
New York City’s Buffalo wing spots, like John Henninger’s takeout counter and new sports bar in the East Village (pictured), are seeing a rise in profile in NYC as self-proclaimed originator Anchor Bar opens its 11th franchise in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

In Buffalo, “Buffalo wings” are just “wings.”

They’re also more than a special game-night snack.

“In Buffalo, it’s almost an afterthought, because it’s something you have with every meal,” says native Buffalonian John Henninger, 38, one of three partners behind the East Village takeout shop Dan & John’s Wings. “Here, you have fries with your burgers. In Buffalo, if you order a pizza, you always order an order of wings with it.”

Henninger and college friend Dan Borowski have seen the profile of their hometown’s indigenous bar food rise since launching their business as a Smorgasburg tent in 2013, he says.

Now the saucy, deep-fried chicken wings with a tangy kick are poised to reach a new level of visibility, as the Buffalo wings’ self-proclaimed creator opens its first New York City location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

Anchor Bar, which ascribes the wing’s invention to watering hole matriarch Teressa Bellissimo, says it’s been serving them since 1964.

That may make their wings technically the most authentic in Buffalo, but Henninger says local wing connoisseurs actually consider competitor Duff’s Famous Wings the “king of wings” in town.

Fellow Buffalonian and chef John Marren, the owner of Buffalo’s Famous in Flatbush-Ditmas Park, speculates that Duff’s reputation is tied to geography: Before Anchor Bar opened an outpost near the University of Buffalo campus in 2016, Duff’s proximity lured downstate-born students.

“They never ma[de] it to Anchor Bar,” says Marren, who swears that he, too, never once set foot inside the wing establishment during all his 25 years in Buffalo.

The Brooklyn transplant, now 35, defers to the upstate chain as “helping put our city on the map for that food item,” but he cautions local foodies to temper their expectations for the Buffalo wings they’ll find in Hell’s Kitchen, the East Village or Flatbush-Ditmas.

“Come with an open mind, but don’t come with lofty expectations,” says Marren, who expresses frustration with locals’ misconceptions about his regional cuisine and with Yelp reviewers seeking “something culinarily on another level.

“Yeah, the fries are greasy and soggy and yes, the wings taste much better when you’re drunk, or with a pizza. But if we were your go-to spot, you’d walk a mile in the snow for us.”

Authentic wings — which are fried extra-crispy without breading, slathered in a cayenne pepper-based hot sauce, and served with a side of blue cheese, not ranch, dressing — will likely always have their detractors, but Marren knows his target audience: “I think we’re speaking to people who know the food product and once they bite into it, they appreciate the authenticity and that we got it down right,” he says. “Then we have the new acquisitions: ‘This is just delicious, and it’s going really well with my beer and my baseball game.’”

Buffalo’s Famous and Dan & John’s Wings have those beer-drinking sports fans in their sights as they extend their wingspan.

In the East Village, Henninger’s shop is just about to open a sports bar in the next-door space formerly occupied by the French-Italian bistro Rustico.

At 135 First Ave., “you’ll be able to eat our wings at a real table,” he says.

In addition to traditional and boneless wings, Dan & John’s new adjacent space will serve beer, a healthy-ish salad topped with Buffalo chicken, and a decidedly unhealthy version of their tater tots, loaded with blue cheese fondue and blue cheese crumbles.

The bar on First Avenue between St. Mark’s Place and 9th Street will feature big-screen TVs on the walls and comfy “seats that can carry the weight of a football player-sized guy, so he can put his elbows on the table and prepare to go to town.”

Buffalo’s Famous is also mixing booze, wings and live sporting events through a partnership with 773 Lounge on Coney Island Ave. The recent co-location — Buffalo’s Famous launched two years ago as a standalone takeout shop — will give Marren more latitude to do catering jobs and run pop-ups at breweries and bars around the city this summer.

At Anchor Bar’s 11th franchise location at 327 W. 57th St. in Hell’s Kitchen, diners will have their choice of two seating areas: a family dining room and a sports bar with large flat-screen TVs.