Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Turns Syracuse Into a Ghost Town

We were a little worried at first.

We had just arrived in Syracuse and the afternoon sun was shining and the air brisk – yet it was as if we had entered a ghost town.

Entering a ghost town – fitting considering we were there over the Halloween weekend, I suppose. Yet it had nothing to do with the holiday: We simply picked a bad day (Sunday) to visit Syracuse.

Most of the shops, restaurants, and bars were closed down as we walked through the downtown area, noticing more parking garages than people (that seriously might not be an exaggeration).

We were staying at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel – a historic hotel of America. It’s a really comfortable place (free parking, Internet, and breakfast. And it wasn’t a crappy breakfast – it was a buffet and they even had an omelette station).

We had an executive suite (check here for rates), and I have absolutely no complaints. Its location is impressive – it’s in the heart of downtown (50 restaurants within six blocks).

Which brings us back to our problem that day: Very few were open, and the ones that were open were empty.

Travel experience has taught me to never become discouraged – there’s always some fun to be had – so I suggested to my friend that we take a drive up the hill, go check out Syracuse University’s campus. I had read about two bars in the vicinity that supposedly were not loaded with wobbling college students.

Syracuse University Campus.

We found parking easily and took a walk through the campus. Syracuse is located on a hill that provides an unblocked view of the sky, and it was nice to stroll around as the day turned to evening. It’s a really nice campus, although the real treat was seeing other people out and about – the shops and restaurants busy.

We thought we had found a place to hang for the evening – but we weren’t done being tested yet. Both places I had researched were closed.

We only had one option left: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Not that it was a last resort – it is very famous – but we were planning on eating there for lunch before we got out of town the next day. Back to the car and down the hill to the Jefferson Clinton, we parked and walked. The streets were still bare but as we turned the corner from South Clinton onto West Willow Street, we saw the lights and the people standing out front.

Walking through the front door we laughed, barely able to push through the crowds to the hostess station. I swear everyone who lived in Syracuse was inside that building – and we were told it would be a forty-five minute wait for a table for two.

Restaurant Tip: When it’s crowded, be sure to ask if the full menu is available at the bar. We went to order a beer, and within a few minutes the couple on the end paid their bill, got up from their stools. We slid in and smiled, feeling awfully good about our change of luck and perfect timing.

No need to repeat how much I enjoyed the Pumking Beer, but let’s talk chow.

At the recommendation of our bartender, Michelle, we ordered Tres Hombres – a sampler platter of Bar-B-Que pork, sliced Texas Beef Brisket & 1/4 rack of ribs – as well as an additional 1/4 rack of ribs. Both orders came with two sides, and we decided on: Mac & Cheese, honey-glazed carrots, mashed potatoes with gravey, and a cup of chili.

If that’s not a bad-ass barbecue meal, I’m not sure what is.

View from our bar stools at Dinosaur.

It was the perfect amount for two people – two hungry people, let’s say. We paired it with a pitcher of the delicious Pumking (Southern Tier Brewing Company), and we were happy campers. I could take you through each food item, tell you the ribs fell off the bone and that it’s almost an insult to put the pork on bread, but I think the best way to sum it all up is that it’s just really, really solid barbecue. Go hungry, and order with confidence.

Great conversation with others at the bar and interactions with the staff made me smile, as we were finally able to meet some locals, see what they were all about. They confirmed for us that visiting on a Sunday was not the best idea, but directed us to Al’s Wine and Whiskey Bar, featuring the “Wall of Booze.”

It was on our way back to the hotel, and when we saw the live band we decided on an after-dinner drink. Walking in and seeing the wall was truly impressive – literally bookshelves full of booze, complete with ladders. I decided on a Romana Sambuca – an Italian anise-flavored liqueur (takes like licorice), enjoying the warmth it brought on the chilly night.

We grabbed a seat on the leather couch (that’s right) and leaned back, put our feet up. It wasn’t crowded but it wasn’t empty, either, and the band had just started to play and I sipped my drink.

I’ll tell you what: Travelers passing through Upstate New York should not fear an overnight in Syracuse. I met some very friendly people and could definitely see myself having a good time at the restaurants and bars of the downtown area on a future visit.

Just remember that if it’s Sunday, everyone is at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Wall of Booze at Al's.
This is so cool.
View from our bar stools at Dinosaur.
Dinosaur Beer List.
Scenery on the drive from Ithaca to Syracuse.

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