On the corner of Grant and Lafayette streets on Buffalo’s West Side, Sweet_ness 7 Café has grown in popularity over the past decade. Next to and a part of the coffee house is an old Tabernacle that was turned in to bar about a year-and-a-half ago. While the name remains Tabernacle, the location has undergone many recent changes, including adding several new music events.
Among the Tabernacle’s hand painted walls and ceiling, sculptures and neon signs, owner Prish Moran reflects on the building’s history.
“It started off as a tabernacle. That name wasn’t just pulled out of a hat. It was a Methodist Tabernacle for only two years in 1920. Then it turned into a bank, a dance hall. Then it mostly was a bakery work room for 40+ years,” Moran said.
Moran purchased the building in 2007. The Tabernacle was a part of that purchase and was the last piece she got to developing. How it all happened was quite spontaneous.
“I didn’t even know I was going to buy the building when I came buy here. I was going to Guercio’s. It was a beautiful spring day. I see this boarded up, beautiful Victorian building. I mean I’m a decorative artist. I repair old buildings. I love it. My soul is connected to old things. I swear to God, I didn’t even know. I bought it that day,” Moran said.
Moran said when she realized she wanted a coffee house, originally she planned to rent it out because she had no experience in running a restaurant. That changed once she got to know the neighborhood.
“I decided to do it myself. I was 50 and I loved the neighborhood. I thought it’s like home," she said. "I’m going to run this myself and my kids were like, ‘Mom! What’s the matter with you? You don’t know anything about that.’ And I was like, ‘Well I’ve had so many sleepovers at this house I think I could do it.’ And I didn’t think anyone would come anyway. Because of how desolate, so many boarded up houses, everything. And from day one it was extremely positive.”
In years past, Moran says Buffalo’s West Side had a negative reputation among property owners.
“Nothing I’ve been told about the West Side happened from the minute I bought this building,” Moran said.
A little after a decade of owning the property, that spontaneous nature led to the current form of The Tabernacle. Most of the sculptures and painted walls you see inside came from a few people associated with Sweetness Seven. Moran gave them almost complete creative control, which lead to some unique accidental features.
“Those lights were supposed to be over my stage. And I came in one day and they were hooked to the cabinets and I was like, oh that’s cute,” Moran laughed. “And then I realized, I love that.”
Even some of the current bartenders started as former café workers. It’s this spontaneous nature that’s created what exists today.
“Most importantly I think we’re all very productive when we’re excited about building. So for me it was like, phew," Moran said. "The whole café. ‘Let’s see what they did yesterday.’ Everybody worked at night and it was exciting.”
However, Moran quickly found out booking music for this venue would need a more careful approach.
“You need professionals when it comes to music. Because man, did I make some mistakes,” she said.
Enter music manager Ellen Pieroni. She worked for Nietzsche’s the past few years and after starting at the Tabernacle in July, booked the entire fall season with performances featuring a jazz series.
“People have been pretty enthusiastic about wanting to be a part of it already since I’ve announced the fall series. I’ve been blown up about people who want to play the winter series. So that’s cool. People are starting to get excited about it,” Pieroni said.
The job Pieroni does includes social media, booking music, organizing it, advancing it, communicating between employees, and dealing with the unpredictable circumstances musicians have, which is something Moran is happy to have her do.
“Ellen sent me an email one day saying I’d love to chat with you. Love your place. I live in the neighborhood. I said I’d love to chat with you. Then I met her and I loved her the minute I met her. I was like, thank you, thank you God for sending this girl to me,” Moran said.
There’s a couple of reoccurring events, including a jam session the first Thursday of every month led by the DonnyFrauenhoferBand (DFB).
“There’s not that many jams left in Buffalo. There’s the last Wednesday jazz jam of the month at Gypsy Parlor and then there’s Sunday’s at the Colored Musicians Club. But that’s it as far as jazz jams go, at least that I can think of,” Pieroni said. “So I’m excited that there’s going to be one here. Because I always love the vibe of a jazz jam.”
One thing Pieroni wasn’t ready for right away—Moran’s idea to hold Friday night disco dance parties, which has become a reality.
“I think it would be kind of awesome to have gran and gramps come have a place they feel comfortable to come and dance or watch people dance,” Moran said.
“I’ll take over the booking here and the first thing Prish wants is me to throw a disco party every week and I’m like, ‘Ok. Here we go,’” Pieroni laughed. “I was totally open to it, but I had to call my cousin, who is a DJ, because I don’t know any DJ’s besides my sister and cousin. I go out to Nietzsche’s or go to see live music. I don’t really go clubbing so to say. So I had to call my cousin and say, ‘Oh my God who spins disco and funk?’ So he sent me a couple of names and then those people sent me more names so now we have like a rotation going of like five people. But it was so bizarre for me that my first big project here was booking a disco DJ dance party night.”
Filled with art, cocktails and now sometimes disco, The Tabernacle is looking to become a fixture for local music on Buffalo’s West Side.