“This wall is over 100 years old.” Inside Cleveland’s oldest continually operating bar, the Harbor Inn.
I’m in my hometown of Cleveland for the holidays, a city I love very much. My heart breaks to see it looking so threadbare in this recession. My friends and I decided to celebrate our city via a journey into Cleveland history: a crawl of Cleveland’s oldest pubs and bars that tip their hats to a bygone era.
Our first stop was Edison’s Pub, a local bar that pays tribute to Thomas Edison. We started there mostly because it was a convenient meeting spot for the attendees, but the $2.50 happy hour drink special wasn’t bad either. Cleveland, you truly are the land of plenty!
Next up was the Prosperity Social Club. Although it resides in what was a 1938 ballroom, the atmosphere was more 1950s VFW hall. However, as someone pointed out, it was very traditional, old-school Cleveland. We dug it. It was easy to picture iron workers coming in from the cold for a drink, and the bar is still warmed by a vintage wood-burning stove. I drank a hot whiskey, a comforting combination of Jameson, honey, lemon and clove. Good for what ails ‘ya. I recommend it, as well as the pierogies, the next time you’re there.
Right: Hot Whiskey at the Prosperity Social Club
We jumped in a cab and headed north, stopping at Cleveland’s new mixology sensation, the Velvet Tango Room. From their website:
“At the Tango Room, we believe in craft. We believe that the right combination of ingredients can take you back in time, to a porch in Key West, a beach in Bermuda, a shadowy speakeasy in New York, or a glittering bar in Paris. When you sit at our bar, we want you to connect to those places and that history, so we carefully research old cocktail recipes, lovingly resurrecting classic drinks with historically accurate ingredients.”
Sounds right up my alley, doesn’t it? It’s pricier than most Cleveland bars, at $15 a drink, but it’s worth it. The cocktails taste like a sip of history, respectfully revived and celebrated. I had a pisco sour (Peru’s national drink!) and I plan on returning soon for one of their carefully crafted Manhattans.
This bar is incredibly popular in Cleveland: five years ago, when I was working on my thesis, everyone said a venue like this could never survive locally. As it turns out, perhaps a historically innovative place like the Tango Room is exactly what Cleveland needs.
Next we walked a few blocks past the Westside Market, and into the Great Lakes Brewery. GLB is know for its beers named after famous Clevelanders and events from the city’s history. It’s housed in what was once the Market Tavern, est. 1865.
“Its most famous patron was Eliot Ness, the man credited with taking down Al Capone’s gang. The Taproom retains much of the charm and mystique from the 1930s era in its grand Tiger Mahogany bar (Cleveland’s oldest) and intriguing bullet holes said to have come from Eliot Ness himself.”
The bar in the Taproom at the Great Lakes Brewery. There is a pen sticking out of a bullet hole put in the bar in the 1930s.
Ness’ time in Cleveland is a fascinating one, marked by his fruitless search for a serial killer known as the Torso Murderer that stalked the city streets. The killer would dismember his victims and leave their remains on the banks of the Cuyahoga. The case was never solved.
We cabbed it again, heading for the lake front and the Harbor Inn, Cleveland’s oldest continually operating bar, est. 1895. We were apprehensive about this joint, having heard it was both a dive and a college bar. But upon arrival, it was exactly the kind of place I’m comfortable in: a little worse for the wear, but roomy and convivial. We had a great time playing on the vintage bowling machine and downing $2 PBR tall boys.
Last, we crossed the river and entered the Flat Iron Cafe. Established in 1910, it’s Cleveland’s oldest Irish Bar:
“The building, which was formally a four story hotel, had a fire in the late 1800’s in which the top two floors were destroyed…The first floor was used as a blacksmith’s shop and the rooms on the second floor were used as lodging over the years by the sailors and longshoremen working on the lakes.”
Exterior: Flat Iron Cafe
I don’t remember much at this point…someone was solving a mystery. I ate a gyro from a street cart. Somebody else may have gotten married. At any rate, a good time was had by all. I’m certainly thankful for my Cleveland friends who joined me on my historic antics. And I’m thankful to have grown up in such great town with a fascinating history. I love you, Cleveland!