(CNN) — "But you're from Buffalo!" is something I hear regularly throughout the winter in New York City, where I've lived for nearly 12 years, when I complain about the cold.
It's true. I hail from Buffalo, New York State's second-largest city, a city with a reputation that precedes it. If you're even somewhat familiar with the area, after you make the chicken wing association, you probably think of snow. Last year, the city got dumped on with 94 inches of the stuff; in 2013/2014, it saw 135 inches of snow, or over 11 feet.
Buffalo, called The City of Good Neighbors or The Queen City, tends to be cold and gray during the winter, but the city never stops.
Winters can be long, dark and gray. Many Buffalonians plan travel to Florida or the Caribbean -- anywhere warm to get a respite from the dismal season.
But when they're in town -- the majority of the winter for most residents -- they make the best of it. They're not sitting in a bar watching the Bills lose, well, except for a couple of Sundays each football season.
Buffalo is now home to a number of breweries, and, fun fact: The bars stay open until 4 a.m.
This winter, Buffalo is looking to bring in an outsider to share the experience for one epic weekend. The Rust Belt city, which has recently been breathing fresh life into its downtown area with new bars, restaurants, shops and recreational activities, has a lot to show off — regardless of the season.
The warmest cold city
A small, local company called Oxford Pennant launched a sweepstake on Monday, the winner which will receive an all-expense paid trip for two from anywhere in the United States. Included is a two-night hotel stay at Hotel Henry, an art-focused, architectural wonder of a hotel housed in a former mental facility, hundreds of dollars in restaurant gift certificates, $150 of "walkin around money" just because and much, much more.
Hotel Henry, located near Buffalo's Elmwood Village area, was once a former mental institution.
Courtesy of Hotel Henry
Dave Horesh is the co-founder of Oxford Pennant, a local shop that designs and manufacturers pennants and other memorabilia. He recently spoke with me about the "warmest cold city" sweepstakes he and his partner Brett Mikoll put together in all of three weeks.
Looking for a fun cold-weather activity, Horesh concocted the idea, contacting dozens of independently-owned Buffalo merchants to ask for their participation. After a chuckle or two from the vendors he reached out to, Horesh says all agreed to be a part of it.
Buffalo Niagara Communications Manager Brian Hayden believes that the sweepstakes is "shedding light on what locals have always known: that Buffalo is the warmest cold city for winter travel and a great place to visit during this time of year."
Á la carte
There are so many new and longstanding Buffalo businesses participating that one wonders how the winner and their plus one could possibly experience everything on offer.
Horesh knows this and explains that the idea was to give the winner an "a la carte version of the city," options for exploring The City of Good Neighbors.
Maybe they won't eat their way through the offerings from the likes of Buffalo favorites including $50 for Ted's Hot Dogs, or maybe they'll meet some friendly Buffalo locals and choose to buy a round of drinks at Marble + Rye, a cocktail bar serving burgers and wood-fired octopus.
Ice-skating at Buffalo's Canalside is a popular winter activity.
Although Horesh says they've received over 28,000 entries so far -- the winner will be chosen at random on February 1 -- he admits that he's heard some not-so-kind feedback as well, with at least one individual saying he'd rather get paid to stay home than visit Buffalo.
Still, comments on Oxford Pennant's social channels remain largely positive, and people from near and far seem pumped about the opportunity.
Locals can win and call it a staycation, Horesh says, but his hope is that the person who wins will be someone who is down on Buffalo. He'd like for a Buffalo skeptic to come to the city and "have a wonderful experience," and to recognize how "special, fun and charming the small city is."
A Buffalo native, Katie Addo, who spent over a decade in New York City and San Francisco finds herself happily transplanted back in Buffalo. Of the sweepstakes, she says: "Why not come in the winter? This city may be cold, but it doesn't stop. There is an undeniable electricity coursing through Buffalo, and people deserve to experience it."