The sun sets on Lansdowne Street at just about the same time that the Buffalo Bills faithful, affectionately known as Bills Mafia, begins to file down the street on their way to Bleacher Bar which has become a little slice of home for a diehard fan base. A primetime game brings them out in full force.
In 2009 the Bills Backers of Boston made Bleacher Bar one of their two official bars, and soon it began to feel like home. They had been meeting at The Harp (located across from The TD Garden) for years, but it was time to grow and Bleacher Bar was added to the list. What makes it home? Let’s start with the drink of choice for the fan base, Labatt Blue, which has been advertised as “The Official Canadian Import of the Buffalo Bills.” The beer is brewed in Ontario, but headquarters reside in Buffalo. Bartender Josh Millman has had the early evening shift at Bleacher Bar on Sunday for four years. “We have more Labatt Blue in the cooler than you would believe,” he says, “For just one weekly event, it’s crazy. This crowd loves their Labatt Blue. That and Bills football.”
Mike Jorgensen has lived in Allston for three years, but his heart remains in Buffalo. Born and raised in the Buffalo area and a graduate of Syracuse University, Jorgensen feels like he is on the outside looking in around his new home city when it comes to football. That’s why every Sunday you can find him underneath the Green Monster in his Thurman Thomas jersey with surrounded by fellow Bills fans. “It’s a Patriots-free zone.” Jorgensen said, “I’ve never had to deal with living outside of Bills territory, and for the past few years I have come here.”
The Bills lost to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this evening. A string of controversial calls, or lack thereof, by the referees mixed with the constant flow of Labatt Blue made the end of the night a bit testy. The three-game losing streak put their beloved Rex Ryan on the hot seat heading into the bye week.
Using the bye week to lick the wounds remaining from the Seahawks loss, Bills Mafia returned to Bleacher Bar two weeks later ready to go against the Cincinnati Bengals. This Bills came out victorious in this one, and the crowd was loving it. Jorgensen, back once again, said “This is why I don’t watch the games at my apartment, this environment is a lot healthier. We have plenty of lows but enjoying the highs with Bills Mafia is the best. It’s just like home.”
Millman arrived as the game wrapped up. A win means the crowd will stick around well into his shift, a loss means a lot of closed tabs and unfinished wings. “The Bills-Patriots game, which was the same day as David Ortiz’s last home game, when the Bills shut us out,” Millman said. “Bills Mafia was going crazy. It was quite the atmosphere. Flip that and you’ve got the loss to the Patriots a few weeks after. It was glum in here.”
It’s not that the outcome doesn’t matter. Whether your team wins or loses changes the overall experience and how fondly you look back at it. Team specific bars for NFL teams are notable because of the lack of parity in the league. If you are a Cleveland Browns fan in the Boston area, you have The Crossing on Tremont St. If you are an Oakland Raiders fan in Boston, you have Sports Grille Boston on Canal St. That feeling of community in enemy territory evokes a feeling of closeness to home, even if it’s just for a few hours every Sunday, that can’t be replicated in any other way.
Outside of Bleacher Bar, you are quickly reminded that Buffalo is not as close as it feels. Overlooking the street is a gigantic billboard of David Ortiz, with the sounds of Lansdowne’s Sausage Guy, Dimitri, echoing off the Green Monster which ominously hangs over the sidewalk opposite the Ortiz billboard. After all, you are in the heart of Red Sox Nation. Most fall Sundays there is a little bit of Buffalo too, or as the Bills Backers of Boston website says, “a little 716 in the 617.”
It’s an atmosphere that sneaks up on you. “I had no idea what I was walking into,” Sean Henderson, a New England native who is new to the area said, “Me and my girlfriend came here for some apps and drinks, to check out the view of Fenway Park, but we didn’t know this was a Buffalo Bills hotspot. It was fun, I just didn’t tell anybody I was a Patriots fan.”