Buffalo News
Friday, April 9, 2004
Section: GUSTO Page: G22

Grown men squirt water at women with toy guns. And it's fine to flirt by tapping the one you fancy with the tip of a pussy willow branch. Showing open affection for polka music is also cool. So is dancing to it.

Such are the rituals of Dyngus Day, a day where fun lasts until the wee hours of the morning, much like St. Patrick's Day or Mardi Gras. Yet the Monday-after-Easter parties -- local Dunlop tire workers used to have the day off as a matter of course -- have a romantic Polish twist that draws busloads of visitors from across New York and even Pennsylvania.

"It's so absurd, you can't help but love it," said Hadley Pawlak, a 26-year-old public relations account manager who grew up on the East Side, where the local Dyngus Day tradition is said to have started at an old Polish singing club 43 years ago.

Her favorite stop on the Dyngus Day circuit remains the century-old Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle on Fillmore Avenue with its Polish beer-stocked bar.

The end-of-Lent celebrating usually involves beer drinking, kielbasa eating, live polka bands and dancing with abandon.

"The day held so much promise: Who's going to be out? Who's going to be squirting you? And who's going to be whipped with pussy willows? Everybody's guard's just down and it's just fun," said Evelyn Sliwa, 30, who also grew up in the once-predominantly Polish East Side.

"It's the whole introduction to spring and the dating season and everyone's feeling frisky," said Sliwa. She, too, goes back to her roots and celebrate at the Mickiewicz club, which she calls Mickey's.

"It's not a drink fest," she said. "It's truly an afternoon to evening of merriment."

Dyngus Day capital?

What is now a slew of public parties -- one Mickiewicz member counted 100 one year -- has become a celebration found only in Buffalo.

"We could really capitalize on this," said Marty Biniasz, 31, who grew up in the old Polish part of the city.

An assistant marketing director at Niagara University, Biniasz sees the Dyngus Day as a cultural treasure Buffalo could market. His Web site, www.biniasz.com, is devoted to local Polish history and features a list of Dyngus Day parties.

He recalls a Dyngus Day when an accordion player took to the street as people danced on their porches. "It is an East Side memory I wish I could revisit," he said.

Dyngus Day celebrations came as a pleasant surprise to a Polish citizen living here. "It's really unbelievable they keep tradition that has already disappeared in Poland. That's something," said Andy Szewcyk, 25, who came to Buffalo for undergraduate studies and has just been elected Mickiewicz vice president.

"In today's Poland, it's not really popular," he said. Back home, Szewcyk is annoyed by the only remnant of the tradition that started as tribute to the baptism of Poland's first Christian prince: Young boys douse people with cold water. "It's really not pleasant," he said.

Dyngus on the East Side

This year, fans of the old East Side neighborhood are working to bring more parties to its historic streets.

The Broadway Market will host its first Dyngus Day affair, with live polka and food, this year. "We're hoping to create an annual event, not for just the Broadway Market but for the entire East Side," said Bill Hibbard, the chairman.

And in hopes of bringing Dyngus Day celebration to the now-defunct Central Terminal, which still needs money to reinstall plumbing and electricity, the Beef Station restaurant on South Ogden Street will throw a fund-raising gala with live music and food.

"We're putting it back into the public consciousness," said Pawlak's father, Russell Pawlak, president of the train station's restoration corporation.

Dyngus Day beginnings

Former State Supreme Court Judge Ann Mikoll said it was her late husband who first had the idea, 43 years ago, to throw a party at the Chopin Singing Society on Kosciuszko Street. He was so fond of the old Polish Dyngus Day custom, she said, that he thought people should celebrate it more.

In Poland it is a mischievous, and now mostly rural, celebration of spring -- mothers sprinkle water on sleeping children, boys dump water on the unsuspecting, and young men spray water, sometimes scented with perfume, on single women they'd like to date.

The Buffalo parties that added beer, music and food to the water and pussy willow-tapping took off. The ones at the old Chopin club were known for dancing, mayhem and the intimacy of the narrow hallways. Jeanette Tymosiak met her husband at the party there 10 years ago. "We danced, and that was that," said Tymosiak, who loved to dance and always had trouble finding friends to join her.

Evemarie Schlehr, 44, fondly remembers all the polka dancing she did there with her brothers. "Everybody was in a great mood," she said.

While Dyngus Day celebrations don't discriminate based on age, there are three parties this year (in the Mickiewicz Library, the Beef Station and IV Stallions Lounge) that will have local rock bands this Monday to lure the younger crowd.

The Chopin Society moved to Cheektowaga in 1995, and this year's party will be in the more spacious rooms of the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. It will feature all the traditions of folk dancing, polka and sausage, ham and rye bread feasting.

But said, Mikoll, who is society president, no squirt guns.

"There's no water permitted," Mikoll said. (People do try to sneak them in. One year, some 300 guns were confiscated.)

But at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, which started its own parties after Chopin left the neighborhood, squirt guns are allowed so long as they're small.

Once water overflowed, pouring through the floorboards and on the head of the club president, who was in the basement fetching a case of beer.

Now there are limits. "We banned super-soakers," said club secretary Robert Sienkiewicz.

In an attempt to chronicle Dyngus Day history, another member, Andrew Golebiowski, has been making a documentary.

The work-in-progress has taken several years -- he can only bring himself to spend part of the party holding the camera.

"It's hard to do it in one year because you want to enjoy it, too," he said.

In past years, that party has become a success with admirers who are as fond of the library as some were of the Chopin Society. During one, a group of young Irishmen Sliwa met had such a fine time dancing that they were sliding across the floor on their knees. On another evening when the electricity went out in the neighborhood, the party quickly moved to the parking lot, where people used car tape decks for music and headlights for lighting.

"The party didn't end," she said. "That's the kind of spirit that exists on Dyngus Day."


Just a few of the places where you'll find Polish food, music and dancing Monday:

Chopin Singing Society's party, the Hearthstone Manor, 333 Dick Road, Depew. Events, scheduled until 2 a.m. Tuesday, begin at noon. Singing by the Chopin Chorus, folk dancers, Grammy-nominated Jerry Darlak and Eddie Biegaj polka bands. $7, $14 with buffet.

Broadway Market, 999 Broadway. Music by the Polish Aires, Blues with Mo' Porter and Wurlitzer organ, food and auction. 5 to 10 p.m. $15 ticket is good for $1 entrance to neighborhood Mickiewicz and St. Stanislaus Church parties.

St. Stanislaus Social Center, Fillmore and Peckham streets, 5 to 10 p.m. $6 includes the New Yorkers polka band, one of Buffalo's oldest. $2 drinks, free kielbasa sandwich and pussy willow.

Adam Mickiewicz Library, 612 Fillmore Ave. 5 p.m. $5, or $1 with proof of admission from another party. An opening hour of free samples of Polish beers and juices. Free sausage buffet. Music by the Polish Aires and Those Idiots. 847-0839.

A fete to raise money to bring water, power and a Dygus Day party back to the historic Central Terminal train station at the Beef Station, 694 South Ogden, Cheektowaga. Polka by Kenny Krew and Phocus inside, rock by Last Conservative in the tent outside. 3 p.m. to close. $7, $13 with buffet. 826-6575.

A traditional Randolph Hall party has moved to the Pvt. Leonard Post Jr. Post 6251, 2450 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga. Food and polka bands from Ohio start at 5 p.m. $8. Or start Sunday at a party featuring the Eddie Biegaj polka band, 6 p.m. $7. 444-8693.

Polish Falcons, 445 Columbia Avenue, Depew. Food, local and polka bands including Steel City Band and John Stevens and the Double Shot. 2 p.m. $7. 684-2373.

Rick's American Cafe, a Polish restaurant once called the Polish Villa, 1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga, 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Kielbasa, pierogi and other specialities. Music includes the Bedrock Boys from 4 to 8 p.m. and the Darlak Band at 10 p.m. 822-4908.

IV Stallions Lounge, 2912 William St., Cheektowaga. 5 p.m. to close. Buffet and polka by the Canadians John Gora and the Gorale, rock by Only Humen. Free pussy willows. 897-1935.