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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

RESTAURANTS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

RESTAURANTS. Since Cleveland's earliest days, restaurants, taverns, and saloons have generally served as social centers for communities or neighborhoods. The isolation Cleveland's first settlers felt would have been lessened at LORENZO CARTER's tavern on Superior St. (ca. 1802) in much the same way that the clubs and bars in LITTLE ITALY provide its 1990s residents with a forum to discuss the state of the neighborhood.

Otto Moser's on East 4th St., a favorite of the theater-going crowd, ca. 1965. Cleveland Press Collection, CSU Archives.

What has changed, however, is the frequency with which Clevelanders dine away from home. Going out to eat was a rare occurrence for most people until the years after World War II. This change in dining habits and, indeed, the growth of a vibrant part of the local 1990s service economy are charted by various statistics. As Cleveland grew, so did its restaurants: by 1837-38, it had a population of 9,000, 10 hotels, and 3 coffee houses. By 1846-47, the population was 10,135, and there were 19 hotels. In 1920 Cleveland had 76 hotels, serving 796,841 townspeople. In July 1928, 681 Cleveland restaurants were feeding an average of 300,000 people daily. By 1930 Cleveland had 1,073 restaurants with 5,959 full-time employees, doing $27,084,127 worth of business. An estimated area population of 1,204,799 in 1937 was served by 120 hotels. When Cleveland became a leading convention center in the 1930s and 1940s, it spurred restaurant growth that lasted into the 1950s. By 1994 there were some 20,000 restaurants in the area. Fast-food chains, steak houses, and a wide variety of ethnic restaurants were patronized not only by travelers, but by a population with increased leisure time and money.

In early 19th century America, the first restaurants developed along transportation routes, catering to travelers who had to dine away from home. Stage lines through Cleveland provided opportunities for such establishments as the DUNHAM TAVERN (Euclid Ave.--the Detroit-Cleveland-Buffalo stage road) and the Brecksville Inn (now the Stage House: Brecksville Rd.--Cleveland-Wellsville stage route). As the city grew, hotels became the sites of the community's most prominent restaurants and bars. During the 1880s there was keen competition in the operation of hotel barrooms. Cleveland's famous bars were at the American House, Forest City House, Kennard House, WEDDELL HOUSE, and Hollenden House (see HOLLENDEN HOTEL). These hotel taverns met with competition from popular neighborhood saloons such as Richards and McKean (northwest side of the Square) and the Oyster Ocean (Bond St.).

Of all the hotel restaurant sites in Cleveland, one, on the southwest corner of PUBLIC SQUARE, has proved the most enduring. It started as Mowrey's Tavern, (1815). Phinney Mowrey purchased land situated on a much-used Indian footpath in 1814 and built a log-cabin hotel in 1820. By 1822 Mowrey's had changed hands several times and was known as the Cleveland House or Cleveland Hotel. The Cleveland House became the social center for the city. In 1832 it was razed and replaced by a larger structure that was a popular place for meetings, balls, and public functions. James W. Cook, its proprietor in 1842, joined the "drys" (who banned the sale of liquor) and renamed the hotel the Cleveland Temperance House. In 1845 the building was destroyed by fire and the land was purchased by David B. Dunham, who built the Dunham House. After several additions, this became the Forest City Hotel. The rich and famous congregated there: in 1876 its dining room was serving "the best meal in town" in "elegant style" for fifty cents. The Forest City Hotel closed in 1915. The Hotel Cleveland, which opened 16 Dec. 1918 on the southwest corner of Superior/Public Square, was built by the VAN SWERINGEN† brothers. Restaurant critic Duncan Hines dined there on onion soup, Lake Erie whitefish saute amandine, fresh vegetables, and crepes Suzette. The hotel was sold in 1958 and became the Sheraton Cleveland Hotel. In 1963 its Town Room lunch menu featured Chicken Salad Jeannette for $1.45. The Sheraton went into receivership in 1976. The next year an investment team bought the property, renovated, and the Stouffer Inn on the Square opened in 1978 (Stouffer Tower City Plaza as of 1985). Sans Soucci and Shuckers Tavern and Seafood Bar were the hotel's primary restaurants in 1994.

By the mid-19th century, as Cleveland's growing labor force began working farther from home, downtown hotel restaurants began to benefit from the workers' need for speedy meals at modest prices. Other entrepreneurs recognized the opportunity and opened restaurants that catered specifically to the needs of this first lunchtime clientele. Many of these enterprises were located in what is now called the WAREHOUSE DISTRICT. The LS&F Burgess Grocers Bldg. (1406 W. 6th), opened in 1874, has always housed a tavern-restaurant. George's Restaurant was on the first floor of the building from 1953-1983. Two years later the Burgess Grand Cafe opened; it is still serving the public. Alexander and Julius Wohl opened Wohl's restaurant (1280 W. 3rd), Cleveland's first European-style establishment. This restaurant featured musical entertainment that was unsurpassed--Madame Butterfly and The Merry Widow debuted in Cleveland at Wohl's. The clientele was a mix of opera and vaudeville performers, politicians, "captains of industry," and celebrities like Pres. Taft and ELIOT NESS†. Wohl's began to lose business during Prohibition and closed during the Depression. In 1995 the Warehouse District continued its century-old tradition of providing dining opportunities with such establishments as the Greek Isles, Johnny's Downtown, Danny's, Restaurant and Sandwich Shop, and Piccolo Mondo.

In the FLATS below the Warehouse District in the late 19th century was another concentration of restaurants, catering initially to the sailors, stevedores, and factory workers who made their living there. The Flat Iron Cafe is one of the oldest of these establishments. Originally the stable of a hotel, it has been operating as a bar for the better part of the 20th century. When a fire gutted the building in 1980, loyal customers pitched in to clean up the place so it could reopen; it is still in business. Fagan's was called the Beacon House in the early part of the century. The restaurant-bar was 110 years old when John Stinson purchased it and renamed it Fagan's. As the Beacon House it was frequented by the shot-and-a-beer crowd, made up mostly of Irish immigrants. Legend has it that it was a speakeasy during the Depression. The Harbor Inn on Elm St. had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s when Mike The Russian was its legendary owner. At that time the place was crowded with sailors, dockworkers, and prostitutes. Today, lawyers rub shoulders with stevedores at the Harbor Inn and elsewhere; the Flats has evolved into one of the area's major dining and drinking centers, with such new upscale establishments as Shooters on the Water, the Spaghetti Warehouse (in a 75-year-old warehouse), the Boat Club, Sammy's, and the Watermark.

By the late 19th century, restaurants in Cleveland increasingly served a new clientele--members of the middle and upper classes who had come to the city for the theater or other entertainment and who wished or needed to have a meal away from home as part of their evening out. Cleveland's oldest theater restaurant still in existence in 1995 is OTTO MOSER'S, opened around 1892-93 at 2044 E. 4th St. across from a vaudeville house and up the street from the EUCLID AVE. OPERA HOUSE. Moser picked the site because of its proximity to the theaters. A tunnel from the vaudeville theater and the Opera House provided the downstairs entrance to the tavern. On the lower level was the Cheese Cellar Club, where women were permitted. Men went upstairs to the main floor for their libations. The New York Spaghetti House (2173 E. 9th St.) was, in 1995, the city's oldest established restaurant under continuous ownership. It was opened in an old parsonage on 10 Apr. 1927 by Mario Brigotti, who came to Cleveland from the Plaza Hotel, New York, in that year at the request of Chef HECTOR BOIARDI† of the Winton Hotel. Located next to the Empire Theater, the restaurant offered sustenance to theater patrons. In 1994 the New York Spaghetti House was no longer near any theaters, but was across the street from Gateway's Jacobs Field and Gund Arena--definitely still a good location. When the theaters at Playhouse Square first opened during the 1920s (the HANNA THEATER, ALLEN, THEATRE, STATE THEATER, OHIO THEATER, and PALACE THEATER) theatergoers dined at Monaco's Continental Restaurant in the Hanna Bldg. It was then and still is a favorite Playhouse Square gathering place, now known (after undergoing a number of name changes) as Getty's at the Hanna. Other restaurants in the area include the Hunan Renaissance, Pasta Port (Statler Hotel Bldg., see STATLER OFFICE TOWER), and Lu Cuisine (Halle Bldg.).

Another major entertainment-restaurant area has been active in downtown. A 1-block street known as SHORT VINCENT was crammed with after-hours life beginning in 1885. The north side of the street was mainly legal establishments; the south side was the shadyside (known as the Gaza Strip) with strip joints such as Freddie's Cafe, the French Quarter, and the 730 Lounge Bar. It was known to be the spot for the mob, and everyone went there--especially criminals and lawyers. In 1913 Isadore Weinberger opened Kornman's on Short Vincent. This steak-and-chop house, a hangout for sports and show-biz people, was the first in the country to operate a free bus to baseball and football games. It closed in 1967. Around 1937 the Theatrical Grill became part of the Short Vincent scene. This onetime brewery was turned into a "happening" restaurant by Morris (Mushy) Wexler and his brother-in-law, Mickey Miller. A huge, colorful sports and entertainment crowd was attracted to the Theatrical more by Mushy himself than by his steaks, lobsters, apple pie, and hot fudge sundaes. The Theatrical burned to the ground in 1960. Mushy spent $1 million to rebuild, and it reopened in 1961. Other notable Short Vincent spots included the Taystee Barbeque and the Grogshop. By the middle of the 1990s, all of these old establishments, including the Theatrical, which had been attracting diminishing crowds, had closed. The Roxy Bar and Grill (National City Center at E. 9th and Euclid and Short Vincent), a relative newcomer, also closed in this same period, but its location has been more recently occupied by Chicago's Nick and Tony's Italian Chophouse, which opened in June, 2001.

By the 1920s many local restaurants and hotel dining rooms began providing entertainment, thus enabling people to have a full evening out in one locale. They began with social dancing during lunch, dinner, and after the theater and went on to host local radio shows broadcast from the premises. In 1925-26, some of these hostelries that doubled as radio "stations" included the Hotel Cleveland, the Hotel Winton (with the Rainbow Room Orchestra), the Hotel Statler, and the Hollenden. During the 1930s remote broadcasts at restaurants continued at the Mayfair Casino, the Alpine Village, and nightclubs in the E. 105th St. area.

The post-World War I era saw the growth of downtown restaurants geared to the needs of women workers and shoppers. During the 1800s and early, 1900s men did most of the dining out, although as early as 1886 a lunchroom for working women called the Wedge opened on Euclid at Erie St. (E. 9th). Nothing on the menu cost more than five cents. By the 1930s restaurateurs began paying serious attention to this segment of the market. Department stores opened tearooms catering primarily to women and children. They included Higbee's Silver Grille, which opened in 1931 and served dishes that intrigued the children (like creamed chicken, potatoes, and vegetables served in individual drawers of miniature kitchen hutches) and pleased their mothers (chef-style Maurice Salad, chicken potpie, almond-topped cheese rarebit on toast, and cakey muffins). The Grille closed in 1989 downtown, but Higbee's (see DILLARD DEPARTMENT STORES, INC.) was still serving these favorites in SEVERANCE TOWN CENTER, Parmatown, and Westgate as of 1991.

The growing popularity of the automobile created a need for more restaurants as people traveled farther from home. Not confined to specific routes as were the stages, canal boats, and railway trains, the emergence of "free traffic" had the effect of encouraging new restaurants at a variety of locations. By the 1930s the public viewed "driving-to-dine" as adventure.

At this time fast-food restaurants spread across the country. The first California-style drive-in in the Cleveland area, Manners Drive In, opened in 1939 (17655 Lake Shore Blvd.). It operated 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and was opened by Robert L. and Mona Manners. Manners introduced the double-decker hamburger in 1954. By 1964 there were 30 Manners Big Boy Restaurants in northeast Ohio, and more than 300 in several countries. Another innovation of Manners was the Hospitality College of Restaurant Management, which was operated at 16201 Euclid Ave. in East Cleveland. CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE joined the Hospitality College in a co-op program for a 2-year associate degree in food service management. In 1968 Manners merged with Consolidated Food Corp. of Chicago. In 1974 Marriott purchased 39 Manners Drive Ins from Consolidated Foods. At the time, Marriott operated Hot Shoppes Cafeterias and more than 600 fast-food restaurants in the U.S. In 1995 the Big Boy Corp. was operating under the Elias Big Boy name.

McDonald's began franchising in 1955. Shortly after, they arrived in Cleveland; the city's first (ca. 1961) was at 16910 Lake Shore Blvd. This began a new era in restaurants--it spelled the end of many not-so-fast family spots.

Automobiles also aided the growth of two new types of entertainment-based restaurant-clubs during the 1940s and 1950s. Cleveland had a number of establishments that became favorites of polka fans: the Golden Goose (E. 123rd), the Rendezvous Bar (W. 25th), the Gaiety Inn (Collinwood), the Bowl Ballroom (E. 93rd), Grdina's Twilight Ballroom (St. Clair), and the Metropole Cafe (E. 55th). In the 1970s these included Timko's Polka, Place (E. 156th), the Hofbrau House (E. 55th), and the Brookstate Inn (Parma). Jazz clubs also became popular throughout the city and included the Theatrical (Short Vincent), the Cotton Club (first at E. 4th then at Quincy/E. 71st), and the Smiling Dog Saloon (W. 25th/I-71). In 1994 Rhythms Nightclub in Getty's at the Hanna featured local and national jazz acts weekly, as did Nighttown in Cleveland Hts. and the Boarding House and Uptown Grille in University Circle.

The popularity of dining out--whether at a fast-food, ethnic, or entertainment-based restaurant--is likely to grow so long as the tradition of eating at home continues to be de-emphasized and 2-earner incomes remain commonplace. But whether the social function of dining out, which has managed to endure since the days of Lorenzo Carter's tavern, can survive the transition from special occasion to everyday necessity remains to be seen.

Bette Lou Higgins

Last Modified: 09 Aug 2009 11:55:22 AM

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