The mystic and missionary St. Philip Neri was beloved in 16th-century Rome as the patron saint of joy and laughter. His contagious affability is precisely the energy that interior designer Samuel Amoia summoned at Saint Neri, a glamorous new cocktail bar and lounge serving up dashes of old-world decadence in his native Buffalo. Along with best friend and business partner Michael Woltz, Amoia delved into the romantic, Art Deco grandeur of Europe’s private members clubs to forge a first-of-its-kind haunt for his hometown that does justice to the city’s architectural past while forecasting a vibrant future. “We dreamt of creating our own place for years,” Amoia tells Surface, “and it always had to be in our home city first.”
When conceiving Saint Neri, the duo stayed close to home while letting their imaginations run free. “There are many different styles, from Gothic and Renaissance Revival, to Art Deco and Richardsonian Romanesque,” Amoia saysabout Buffalo, the only city besides Chicago that boasts buildings from the trinity of great American architects: Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and Henry Hobson Richardson. “We wanted to incorporate those motifs and elements, and mix styles.” Those touches manifest at every turn, from draped curtains made from 17th-century Venetian fabrics and walls gilded entirely with 24-carat gold leafing to stunning Murano glass fixtures emanating a sexy, dimly lit glow. Leopard-print carpet backs some 15 stools facing a show-stopping bar adorned in an enchanting tortoiseshell print. Amoia even crafted a custom scent marked by warm, herbaceous notes that prove instantly transportive.
The hosts also play a part—they flaunt white tuxedos and 1920s flapper-style dresses while serving up James Beard Award nominee Steven Gedra’s menu of elegant bar bites and nostalgic Southern-Italian mains. Cacio e pepe arancini packed with cauliflower and fonduta delights as an appetizer, as do panzerotti, traditional Italian turnovers filled with mozzarella, marinara, and basil. They help build anticipation for the entrées, headlined by a lasagna based on Amoia’s beloved family recipe. He and Woltz’s childhood memories of local haunts inform the cocktail menu, whose rotating list of classic and seasonal signatures by beverage director Jessica Benham and head bartender Megan May are made with ingredients sourced from local farms. For a nightcap, try the Calumet, a mix of agave, guajillo peppers, lime, and chocolate bitters, or the Crocodile, a sweeter concoction featuring amari, mulled pineapple, and citrus.
Saint Neri arrives at an opportune time for a once-overlooked city whose economy was reeling after widespread steel plant shutdowns three decades ago. Once home to some of the cheapest real estate prices in the country, Buffalo is now expected to become the nation’s hottest housing market this year, bolstered by strong employment rates. World-class cultural venues—look no further than the OMA-restored Buffalo AKG Art Museum—are also putting the Great Lakes city back on the map. “It was always the concept to not hold back at all and treat Saint Neri as if it were being built in New York or London,” Amoia says. “Buffalo deserves this treatment and passion from its developers and entrepreneurs. We were once one of the most prominent cities in America. So much is changing in the city. We feel we’re in the beginning of a renaissance, and being part of the rebuild of that is very exciting for us.”