Big Russ and The Blackthorns

1:15 PM, Jun 24, 2008   |    comments
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They meet on the last Tuesday of every month, in a steamy room full of the aroma of corned beef and cabbage. The conversation flows easily, and there is much laughter. The Blackthorn Club is an exclusive Irish men's social club in South Buffalo, dating back to 1917. The club only allows 75 members, and opportunities to join usually don't come along unless a member passes away. This South Buffalo tradition, and one member in particular, are about to become famous. NBC's Tim Russert, who has already written two books honoring his father and his South Buffalo roots, came home Tuesday night to work on a television story about his father, "Big Russ," and the Blackthorns. "His favorite thing in life is the Blackthorns," Tim Russert said. "Every last Tuesday of every month he comes. The last time he won $44, and it's just an honor to be here in his presence." Russert's book, Big Russ and Me, shares the story of a father who worked two full-time jobs for 30 years to support his family after the war. It also chronicles growing up in a close-knit community in South Buffalo. Now, Russert is working on a story to air on NBC Nightly News in February, featuring his father and the Blackthorns. "I believe so deeply in my Dad and affirm his life," Russert said. "I want the whole world to know how great South Buffalo is and what a terrific guy this guy is." A crew of two cameras, two audio technicians, and a producer followed Russert as he welcomed his father into the Blackthorn Restaurant, chatted with members at the bar, then headed upstairs to the dining room for a traditional dinner of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. Big Russ, who wore an NBC jacket, recently turned 83 years old. "Look at him! He looks great," Russert said, beaming at his father. A man of few words, Big Russ merely said, "they deserve it," when asked how he felt about the Blackthorns receiving national publicity. While the younger Tim Russert was welcome for the dinner, he himself is not a member. "I can't get in! It's a tough club to crack," Russert said, "Big Russ is in!" The club has been meeting at the Blackthorn Restaurant since it opened in 1977. Back then, it was called Early Times. The name changed to Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub in 1994. "We're here to try and preserve our heritage of South Buffalo," said co-owner Pat Lalley.

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