August 06, 2013 Slideshows » News, Blogs

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Our 10 Favorite Bars in Cleveland 

Susie Myers and her husband George have helped run Jerman's Cafe, a former speakeasy located on East St. Clair Avenue, for the past 25 years. Meyer's mother Mitzi, who passed away seven years ago, gave the place its legacy as a friendly, no-frills joint with a good selection of domestic and imported beers. The bar itself dates back some 105 years; its pressed-tin ceiling speaks to its age and authenticity. Myers says she's not sure if the place is the oldest bar in Cleveland. "I can't answer that," she says. "There's quite a few bars in the city of Cleveland. I wouldn't even think of claiming something like that." While the bar caters to the neighbors who live in the area, it's also a bit of a hipster hangout and has a good selection of garage and punk rock tunes on the jukebox. "We have a couple of customers who have been coming here for years and they put their heads together and stocked the jukebox with those songs." Not that the place ever gets too rowdy. "We don't tolerate anything but nice people here," says Myers. "If they get out of line, they have to leave."
A former Marine, Sean Mettler has owned this biker friendly, working-class bar at Kamms Corners for the past 13 years. The club has live music every Tuesday through Saturday. You might have a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band and you might catch the Jack Fords, one of Cleveland's coolest alt-country acts. "I only book the best bands in town," says Mettler. "We got voted three years in a row for best blues bar and for the last four years, we placed fourth for best live music venue. The other three clubs are two-hundred set venues." Smedley's is, as Metter puts it, a "neighborhood bar." "There might be 100 motorcycles out front but this is the safest place you can be," he says. Two years ago, the front of the bar was renovated so it doesn't look as beaten-up from the outside anymore. And Mettler has put a greater emphasis on food and now serves grassfed beef burgers and ribs he picks up from the West Side Market. "It's a good atmosphere; it's old school," he says. "Everybody goes home safe, and that's what this bar is about."
About a century ago, big bands filled out the stage at Mahall's, a thriving local business that anchored the east side of Madison Avenue. Once the dance hall was converted into space for 10 more bowling lanes, it might have been difficult to imagine Mahall's returning to status as the place for live music in Lakewood. Hell, just a few years ago that might have been a stretch. But the people behind the ascendant Mahall's resurgence on Madison have the important things in mind: great music, great drinks, great food, great bowling (of course) and, once again for posterity, great music. It's a hell of an odd floor plan once you're inside. Hang a right and duck into the main bar, where bowling pin racks hang from the ceiling and cast rays of light toward the scene below. The booze flows freely here. (It's summer; we recommend a go at the kale margarita, just for kicks. And, yes, it's delicious.) Mason jars stand at attention behind the bar, awaiting any number of possible adventures in mixology. And nearby, there's the counter from whence unbelievably tantalizing meals are served. Order up! Watch out for guest chefs, as well. Those nights are always a good time. But back in the main lobby, a quick left turn will send you into the venue's music hall. Check the schedule, as weeknights and weekends alike are filled with a diverse roster of indie rock, folk, hip-hop, New Orleans-bred brass and much, much more. Mahall's has fast become an institution - and the ideal spot for catching a good show in Lakewood. Of course, you can't forget to roll a little bit while you're there. Quick - grab a White Russian, slip into your best bathrobe and hit the lanes.
The beer comes in boots, folks. Need we say more? If that doesn't convince you, maybe the food deals will. For perfect clarity, the food deals are B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Extravagant tacos are only a buck on Taco Tuesdays. And when we say extravagant, we mean things like "Chipotle Chicken & Bacon & Five Pepper Sausage" and "Black Bean & Corn & Chorizo & Fish." One single American dollar! On Wing Wednesdays, a pound of ginormous wings are — ludicrous, as I'm sure it sounds — only three American dollars. "For under $20, you can eat and drink like a FAT ROMAN," says Matthew U, on Yelp. It's dumpy, to be sure, as far as cosmetics are concerned. It's a windowless giant on the warning track of the Stockyards' outfield, but that's part of its charm. It's got like a million ballrooms -- great for big, lusty Bavarian weddings -- and recall, if all else fails, that the beer is served in boots. You can get a massive litre of Dunkel for $5. This place is old school (in the "Old World" way). It's laid back, low stakes, working class. It's the one place in town where lederhosen and a sombrero would actually make perfect sense.
Martin Juredine, the longtime owner of the Barking Spider Tavern, elected to stick to selling only beer and wine at this rustic eastside institution for a couple reasons. For starters, "whiskey drinkers," as he called them, tended to get a whole lot rowdier than their beer- and wine-sipping counterparts. But mainly it was because whiskey drinkers are less likely to pay attention to the music. We lost Marty a couple years back and many years too soon. But his spirit and example live on, both through his longtime customers and his daughter Jenna, who hasn't missed a beat since officially grabbing the reins. While we adore the hideaway locale and the leafy dog-friendly patio, it's the music that brings us back time and again. Who needs a schedule when you know that come hell or high water, the Spider will have some kick-ass bluegrass, country or indie rock band taking the stage just about every night of the year. And there's never a cover charge; guests just tip what they want, because that's the way Marty wanted it. "The bands probably deserve more money," he once said. "But we do give them respect while they are playing, which is something they don't always get at other bars."
As Woody Allen might say, "There's nothing good to do on Lake Erie, and it's impossible to get there to do it." We Clevelanders have come to accept the fact that the lake is for other people; those with boats, and babes, and long-winded fish tales. We, on the other hand, are stuck with landlocked bars, where the best views we can hope for include sidewalks, parking lots and the occasional tree. But there is a place – one place – where the land meets the water, and the air is unsullied by the fumes from the #1 bus to Public Square. It's here on Whiskey Island, an odd patch of turf that for years was the best kept secret of some, but now is the best kept secret of many. Cold beers, the lap of the water, the magical setting sun. This is where summer officially begins in Cleveland, and where summer officially gives way to fall. We leave the sand volleyball to those much more ambitious than us, choosing instead to focus on the passing boats, the faded Coast Guard Station, another ice cold beer. No, the food's not great, and when busy the service can be worse, but we don't get caught up in all that. Instead, we just listen to live music, pet a few puppies, order another cold draft beer. Before you know it, August will give way to September, and nobody will be bitching about the food. We'll be bitching about the Browns.
For more than 50 years, Brothers Lounge has been a westside mainstay for kick-ass drinks and top-tier blues. In the past, it was a quaint hole in the wall tucked into the corner of Cleveland. With a full-on renovation about a decade ago, the bar took on a new life and established itself as the central nerve for good music on this side of town. Surely, the neon lights and the promises of live music inside are enough to reel in even the most unsuspecting passersby. Once inside, the mood is familiar and welcoming. The atmosphere is bluesy and upbeat. Perhaps it's Wednesday night and you're in the mood for a melange of local songwriters. Brent Kirby will have your wishes treated with talent and care in the Wine Bar. On Thursdays, you would do well to saunter into the Music Hall for a night of awe-inspiring musicianship, courtesy of the Bad Boys of Blues' jam night. Tip your server well, as guitarist Michael Bay will surely remind you. And on weekends, there's no telling what sort of act - local or national - you might find holding down the fort. G'head and order yourself a Manhattan—up, of course—and sidle up to a seat along the wall. Regardless of where in the week your trip to Brothers is landing, you're in good company here. This is the essence of Cleveland, distilled through a six-string melody on ice. And it's a great spot to initiate the uninitiated. For the wayward traveler ambling out of Cleveland Hopkins at dusk, the only answer to the age-old question, "Where can I find good music?" is, of course, "Brothers!"
There are other cocktail lounges in Cleveland, and a good many of them are fine places to spend an evening. But we've yet to stumble across one as intoxicating as the Katz Club. Long abused, and occupied by a sad series of doomed ventures, the elegantly decorated Mountain View dining car has been given a new lease on life as the speakeasy of our dreams. Thanks to reality blocking drapery, guests can pretend they're just about anywhere. But we prefer to accept the fact that we're right here, where classic drinks like Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds, Pisco Sours and Ramos Gin Fizzes are crafted with due care. Sitting at the lengthy wood bar and sipping ice cold martinis in a stately bar car from the past just might be our new favorite pastime. If and when hunger strikes, order up a platter of West Coast oysters, or nibble on mini potato latkes topped with house-smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraiche. One friend put it best when he said, "It's a throwback place. It reminds me of a sexy joint you'd find in New York City or Chicago. And the music is great, perfect for a club like this." True and truer.
The Flats have undergone expansion, boom, bust and rebirth. One place that's been there for it all: The Harbor Inn, the oldest continuously operating bar in Cleveland. Tucked into a less-trodden corner of the West Bank, the Harbor Inn has been serving Cleveland's thirsty since 1895. Current owner, and fabulous all-around man, Wally Pisorn bought the joint in 1969 by cobbling together loans from fellow Slovenians. The hordes of dockworkers lining the well-worn bar in the early morning hours may have disappeared along with many of those jobs, but the Harbor Inn still caters to the workaday crowd. Beer is cheap and cold, shots are poured generously, and the patrons a healthy reflection of Cleveland – old, young, blue-collar and yuppies. There's a bar bowling machine, as every good bar should have, and a pick-a-prize claw game (who else can say that?). There are darts – the bar was a main reason for the game's renaissance here back in the '70s, hosting some of the first organized dart clubs and competitions at the time – and some light diner fare for lunch. All part of the charm that makes the hodge-podge Harbor home to all.
What shall we say about McNamara's, the gilded Irish dive bar on Lake Road and West 86th Street, on the raspy fringes of both the Cudell and Edgewater neighborhoods? Shall we call it the city's Best Blue-Collar Bar, as Scene did a few year's back in our annual Best Of Cleveland issue? Shall we admire its verdant, lovely patio, one that certainly didn't appear on Scene's "16 Patios You Have to Visit this Summer" but which is basically heaven, if you ask one of McNamara's three ecstatic Yelp reviewers. Shall we say that the dartboards are remarkably stable? Shall we say that the exterior is awfully pretty, given the condition of its residential neighbors? Shall we say that the beer is cheap? It really is. We could say any of those things, surely. McNamara's is one of those "beyond-the-fray" joints that make you feel cozy and welcome like the best dives should. It's not too dirty, not too clean. Ever since former firefighter Gary McNamara bought the spot in 1998 from the former Gleason's pub, it's been a secret headquarters for low-cost brews and westside castoffs with long, private nights before them. Perhaps what we'll mention about McNamara's is the unlikelihood — the miraculousness — that it's remained this under the radar.
8/10
There are other cocktail lounges in Cleveland, and a good many of them are fine places to spend an evening. But we've yet to stumble across one as intoxicating as the Katz Club. Long abused, and occupied by a sad series of doomed ventures, the elegantly decorated Mountain View dining car has been given a new lease on life as the speakeasy of our dreams. Thanks to reality blocking drapery, guests can pretend they're just about anywhere. But we prefer to accept the fact that we're right here, where classic drinks like Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds, Pisco Sours and Ramos Gin Fizzes are crafted with due care. Sitting at the lengthy wood bar and sipping ice cold martinis in a stately bar car from the past just might be our new favorite pastime. If and when hunger strikes, order up a platter of West Coast oysters, or nibble on mini potato latkes topped with house-smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraiche. One friend put it best when he said, "It's a throwback place. It reminds me of a sexy joint you'd find in New York City or Chicago. And the music is great, perfect for a club like this." True and truer.
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