If you’ve been to a bar, brewery or pretty much any watering hole, you’ve no doubt come across a drink, or bar, chip – most likely as a backup to pay for your next drink or a future one. One local outfit is looking to celebrate Western New York’s rich bar history through those very same little tokens.
Buffalo Bar Chips, a new venture from lifelong Buffalonian Ed Bailey, preserves bar chips and turns them into art, from shirts and posters to plaques, puzzles and more. Bailey was first inspired to start collecting chips during a, what else, trip to the bar with friends in May of 2017. After receiving his first drink chip, he told his friends they should seek out other chips from other bars and he has never looked back.
“Since we started in 2017, I have personally had a beer in approximately 950 area bars in my attempt to collect chips,” Bailey says. “I have roughly 450 chips presently, but I’m hoping that number continues to grow. Roughly 45% of the open bars use drink chips and you are most likely to find them in taverns/pubs, however many of the large breweries are using them as well. Although some bars throughout the U.S. use drink chips, I have not found a region that utilizes them more than the Buffalo area.”
As Bailey explains, a bar chip is “a token one receives when someone buys you a ‘backup’ drink. If someone wants to buy your next drink, but you already possess a full drink, the bartender will place a drink chip on the bar in front of you to be redeemed for a pre-paid drink. Chips come in all shapes and sizes, but they are typically round with the average size around that of a poker chip. They are like snowflakes, not one is the same as another.”
While preserving history is one goal of Bailey’s with Buffalo Bar Chips, he also wants to encourage more people get out and ‘Go Chippin’’ for themselves, while hopefully encouraging more bars to utilize drink chips at their establishments.
“My goal I guess is to encourage people to “Go Chippin’,” as we have called it,” he says. “I’m sure there are many others who would like to start exploring bars in every corner of Erie/Niagara County to perhaps start their own collection. In turn, maybe more bars would incorporate the use of chips in their business. These chips are such a great memento to have, especially for those bars that have closed. In addition, I’m hoping to collect chips from people who may have them from bars that have closed long ago. I would love to create some type of history of Buffalo bars with these chips and perhaps create another poster with just chips of closed Buffalo area bars.”
What exactly does ‘Go Chippin’’ mean you ask? “We coined this phrase, which in our terms means going to different bars in an attempt to collect more chips,” he explains. “Our rules are that we can’t call ahead to ask if the bar uses chips. We must go and order a drink and then at some point ask the bartender if they use them. If so, I would buy a chip. Either way, we have one drink and then on to the next bar.”
Anyone who has been collecting bar chips for the last six years is bound to have favorites, right? “There are so many unique chips, but some stand out among others. New York Beer Project arguably has one of the best quality chips, along with the recently closed Fat Sal’s. Both are metallic and very creative and of the highest quality. In the wooden chip category, I would have to nominate Sto Lat Bar, Live Edge Brewing Company, Bottle Rocket Beer Reserve, One Eyed Cat Brewing and Lockhouse Distillery & Bar. Other chips worth mentioning are the guitar pick chips from closed bars Club 861 and Penny Lane Cafe or the bear paw chip from Kodiak Jack’s.”
Some of Bailey’s favorite bars from throughout WNY, include, in Amherst (Brunners, Libation Station), Buffalo (Swannie House, Talty’s, Del Denby’s, The Steer, Buffalo Bar & Grill, Daly’s, Eddie Brady’s), Depew (Bloomfield’s Pub), E. Aurora (General Riley House), Lackawanna (Ice House Pub), Lockport (Groff’s Tavern), N. Tonawanda (Partner’s Tavern), Niagara Falls (Gadawski’s) and Youngstown (Stone Jug).
Visit www.buffalobarchips.com to view their unique inventory and check out the interactive Chip Map. Buffalo Bar Chips has mapped out every open bar in Erie and Niagara County. The map is very comprehensive; if the bar uses chips, it’s labeled with a green beer icon. By clicking on the icon, you can view the chip and it also links to the bar label in Google Maps. Bars that don’t use chips are labeled with a red icon, but also link to the bar label.
“The large poster is by far the most popular item we sell,” Bailey says. “For those bars that are not represented on the poster, I also create one-of-a-kind posters by drilling a real chip in the center of the Buffalo logo on the plaqued posters. In addition, the 1,000 piece puzzles and Buffalo Irish t-shirts with our Irish chip logo are popular.”
Bailey is also constantly on the lookout for new bars and new chips to add to the collection. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Brian Campbell is co-founder and Brand Manager of the Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), and Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague).