BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The man whose namesake covers the corner of Elmwood and W. Utica is no longer with us, but Milkie’s on Elmwood will live on.
On the night of March 23, it was announced on social media that Mike Milkie, co-owner of Milkie’s on Elmwood, had died. According to his obituary, Milkie was 87 at the time of his passing. But even in his upper years, he was still hard at work.
The son of two immigrants from Syria and Lebanon, Milkie was born in Buffalo and graduated from Lafayette High School in 1952.
During his more than six decades in the business, the restauranteur ran numerous establishments; most recently, Milkie’s on Elmwood, which has played host to numerous comedy and music acts over the years, including Buffalo legend Lance Diamond — a longtime performer on the Milkie’s stage.
Nikki Rosenberg has spent the past nine years working at Milkie’s on Elmwood, the last two years as co-owner. She’s going to continue running the bar as the sole person in charge.
“It’s a lot of transitioning and figuring things out without Mike,” she says.
Milkie battled congestive heart failure, which made walking a more difficult task for him due to blood circulation issues in his foot. In January, Milkie entered the hospital, and was not seen at the bar again.
He later entered a rehabilitation facility for his foot before spending the remainder of his life in assisted living.
Following his death, a funeral was held at St. John Maron Church in Williamsville, which was then followed by a celebration of life with his family and bar regulars at Elmwood and W. Utica.
“This place kept him going, it gave him something to do and he loved that,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg said she had a good friendship and partnership with Milkie, noting their similar work ethic.
“We have a big age difference there — 50 years — but we understood each other,” she said.
Going forward, Rosenberg plans to keep a lot of what makes Milkie’s what it is the same — live music, comedy, and more.
“I mean, we’ve gotta keep it our weird, little quirky place, but yeah, just a couple updates would be nice,” she said.
Some of those changes include an expanded menu beyond just fryer food. Rosenberg also spoke of “changing the décor a little bit,” including painting, fixing up the bathrooms and maybe getting rid of the carpet.
“I’m figuring it out,” she said, noting that it’s all been a bit overwhelming, but added that she’s has been connecting with business owners and others in the industry.
“I want it to be that same safe space that we have, that everyone just feels welcome and at home. We joke around that we’re the ‘Milk Duds’ — all the regulars,” she said. “We’re like the weirdos and the misfits, and we feel like we all belong here, but it’s true. I mean, I definitely wouldn’t want to change that. I embrace that.”
Mike Milkie left behind a legacy, and even had a book written about him and his various business ventures by Kristy Mangel.
Ryan Gurnett, a local music promoter who booked a number of bands at the bar, said Milkie was “a really kind man.”
“I was talking with some regulars recently and I noticed that most of the regulars at our bar are neurodivergent in one way or another, and then I really realized what Milkie’s was: It was a place for us outcasts, the weirdos who didn’t find themselves comfortable at a lot of the other area bars for one reason or another.”
Gurnett’s work with Milkie allowed him to try things he says other venues wouldn’t let him do.
“He also never got credit for running one of the only venues on the West Side that would book hip-hop music,” Gurnett said.
Although Milkie ran a number of venues over the years, Rosenberg isn’t planning to do the same. She’s focused on Milkie’s on Elmwood. Some of the bar regulars have even created a GoFundMe campaign to help keep it in business as Rosenberg seeks more funding.
As of Monday morning, more than $5,400 has been raised, with a $10,000 goal.
Rosenberg’s hard at work, just like Milkie always was.
“He was like, ‘I’m going to do this as long as I can,’ and he did,” she said.
Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.