It’s a classic example of a new Binghamton story.
Daniel Sharp was walking down the Washington Street when something caught his eye. It wasn’t the most beautiful sight on the mostly revitalized block – a long-vacant, much-neglected auto shop.
But, Sharp was somehow inspired … and maybe a little hungry. Because the only fixing going on in that garage now is plates. Patrons park themselves next to light fixtures made of old wheels, a Cadillac grill affixed to the wall behind the bar and an industrial air to the whole joint that makes you think a couple tons of Detroit steel could roar right through the bay doors right into the dining room.
Yes, the Garage Taco Bar is typical of the entrepreneurial ingenuity happening all over Binghamton. After stints in Philly and NYC, Sharp decided a few years ago that he had to be a part of the irresistible revival happening in his hometown.
“It’s been such a great privilege to see the growth in the community that’s put so much blood, sweat, tears and grit into the area to make it what we want to be now,” Sharp says. “It’s not going to be what it was years ago, but we have the opportunity to build a new home.”
He’s right – Binghamton is less and less what it once was.
But, that’s because of the creativity constantly being applied to the repurposing of what until recently were structures without a purpose.
The trailblazing Lost Dog Cafe wedged itself into a building that housed what was once among the largest cigar makers in the country. Remlik’s Grille & Oyster Bar, a premier city eatery, took up residence in the legendary (yet empty) Kilmer Building.
“All these different restaurants aren’t just restaurants,” Sharp says. “They’re finding all these things they can contribute.
“I think people are being really inventive in what they have here, the bones that are here, and figuring out how to make it work,” he says.
How appropriate for a city like Binghamton, where a punch clock company evolved into a critical piece of IBM, an employee of the family piano and organ business pioneered virtual reality and a legendary captain of industry introduced radical concepts like health care, company-sponsored housing and an incredible dedication to arts in the community.
Yes, creativity is in the bones of Binghamton. For his part, Sharp adopted tacos as his specialty. The basic ingredients give him plenty of room for experimentation. He calls it the “authentic Binghamton twist” on a seemingly simple product.
“We’re not following the status quo of what is traditional Mexican and what is not,” he says. “We’re a lot of hard-working people and we just like to have fun. With the food … we’re just doing what we can to see what people enjoy.”
Sharp embraces the meat-and-potatoes tastes of his traditionally blue-collar crowd, whether that’s integrating burger ingredients or drawing inspiration from the town’s signature spiedies sandwiches. He also works with plenty of local producers to further infuse a bit of Binghamton into his dishes.
“Binghamton’s really known for great restaurants,” says Mark Yonaty, a local developer and co-owner of the Social on State tapas bar. “Whether it’s a simple taco or wings or a clam bar at a high-end restaurant. The diversity is great.”
All these eats just complement the emerging downtown Binghamton experience. Most restaurants are just steps from burgeoning cultural and entertainment spaces.
“It’s so rapidly growing that there are so many new things to check out,” Sharp says, citing the great range of shops, sports, live music, arts and, of course, restaurants all within comfortable walking distance of each other.
“There are a lot of people who come through Binghamton. It’s always been a pit stop kind of place,” he says. “I’m excited to see that other people are starting to see what we’re seeing here.
“I think they’ll remember that this is a place that’s really growing,” he says.
So, as the pining for the industrial past fades and new ideas emerge, guests are greeted by fertile ground for creating their own memories of Greater Binghamton. For once “It’s not going to be what it was” is a positive statement – and one worth exploring.