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A new vision for the Cataract House begins Feb. 18 in Niagara Falls. (Images courtesy of Insight International USA)
A new vision for the Cataract House begins Feb. 18 in Niagara Falls. (Images courtesy of Insight International USA)

Cataract House: New restaurant brings Niagara Falls Underground Railroad history to life


Wed, Feb 9th 2022 10:30 am

Grand opening of Cataract House Restaurant & Academy will pay homage to historic hotel, heroic waiters who helped freedom seekers escape to Canada

The Cataract House Restaurant & Academy, at 310 Rainbow Blvd., may be celebrating its grand opening on Friday, Feb. 18, but the new space has deep roots in some of Niagara Falls’ most proud and prominent history. 

A new restaurant will be a contemporary nod to a historic legacy that uses visuals, art and space to connect people to the stories of the waiters of the historic Cataract House.

The grand opening of the Cataract House Restaurant & Academy and micro art gallery will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., and is free with preregistration. Those interested in attending can sign up for a designated arrival time here

Established in 1825 along the banks of the Niagara River, the historic Cataract House was a world-renowned luxury hotel that became one of the most important Underground Railroad locations in the nation. Under the leadership of head waiter John Morrison, its African American waitstaff led double lives as secret Underground Railroad agents, helping countless freedom seekers escape to safety in Canada.

These heroic tales inspired a partnership between local restaurateur and chef Bobby Anderson – of “Hell’s Kitchen” fame – and the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area (NFNHA) to bring this vision to life. Anderson will run the restaurant through his F-Bites organization. The new Cataract House will directly connect visitors to the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, where they can learn more.

“The history happened right here, and we have to tell it in as many places to as many people as we can,” said Ally Spongr, the NFNHA’s director of public art. “That’s a vision we all share.”

Anderson curated a menu that pays homage to the decadent dishes served at the historic Cataract House, but has added a modern twist.

“We’re doing a remix on all the food they served,” he said. “We’ll have roasted pheasant tacos, oxtail gumbo and red snapper almondine. We’re modernizing, but staying true to what they served.”

The Cataract House Restaurant & Academy will also serve as a micro gallery, and the first featured artist will be Tyshaun Tyson, whose works will be on display at the grand opening.

As part of this collaborative project, the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Society donated a menu from the historic Cataract House to the Heritage Center.

There will be seating for about 12 to 16 people inside the Cataract House, and food is available for high-end takeout experience.

The Cataract House Restaurant & Academy will be open weekends moving forward after the grand opening. 

This event is part of the Heritage Center's celebration of Black History Month, supported by M&T Bank with special support from the NFNHA. For more information or to register for the event, visit the event page.

The mission of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is to reveal authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls, to inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery, and to take action toward an equitable society. The Heritage Center is an experiential museum operating every Thursday through Sunday during the winter season. It offers self-guided tours, facilitated guided tours, school field trips, and numerous public programs throughout the year. Through meaningful interpretive experiences, engaging public programs, services and events, it expands visitors’ understanding of and appreciation for the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls and the enduring impact of slavery in the U.S.

F-Bites, founded in 2009 by Anderson, is an organization that started as an afterschool program in the Niagara Falls City School District. It has since expanded to over 60 institutions around Erie, Niagara and Monroe counties – including schools, community centers, city programs, detention centers and the Niagara County Jail. F-Bites’ mission is to empower youth and adults to be contributing members of society, inspiring them to plan a successful future through the execution and development of workforce skills, soft skills, hard skills, and exposure to culinary art training. The organization’s long-term goal is to have a tangible change in the employment rates, employment opportunities, and the poverty rate of young people.

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