More Than Jake

Most bars and restaurants that have sprung up around Jacobs Field share dubious similarities--an entree named after one of the hometown heroes (the "Travis fish-Fryman"?), bass-thumping jock jams, and beer prices better suited to a millionaire right fielder.

But off the beaten basepaths, some locales still sport pre-Jake beer rates or offer food that doesn't come in a paper bag.

"In twenty years we've never sold a can of beer," says Bill Lekas, co-owner of the Rathskeller Restaurant on East 4th Street. According to Lekas, the Rathskeller traditionalists like their beer in a bottle and their bar with some background. The background part's no problem, as the Rathskeller was around when the local ballclub was named the Spiders.

Established in 1897, it's the oldest bar in Cleveland still in its original location. Its bright red sign overhangs the condensed street, where brick surface and close walls impart a Bourbon Street feel.

Inside, the place feels familiar. Halfway down the impossibly long wooden bar is a shrine to Cleveland's last baseball champions--the 1948 Indians. Customers donated almost all the items in the display, including a pennant and newspaper clippings from that year. It's appropriately worn, as are many of the stories told by its habitues.

For John Graafmeyer--or "Doc John," as he's known at the Rathskeller--the changeless aura of the tavern is a reminder of earlier Indian dynasties. "My first job, at sixteen, was painting the foul lines and cutting the grass for (legendary groundskeeper) Harold Bossard at the stadium." Now a season-ticket holder (and a doctor), Graafmeyer's choice for pre-game is tradition. "All around that ballpark, places that resemble each other have cropped up. All I've ever wanted was a place that maintained a certain sense of identity."

Getting the ordinary Joe to try a little raw fish with his rawhide is an arduous sell--but that's what the Ginza Sushi House on Carnegie is trying. Although only a one-minute walk from the ballpark, the restaurant wisely sticks to the traditional Japanese decorations and eschews any Jim-Thome-in-a-kimono cutouts. The one concession is a television at the end of the sushi bar--allowing fans to turn away from the octopus (or any other sea dweller) that is displayed inches from their faces and catch the game. Although most of the employees speak little English, one chef manages to shout, "Sit down, Albert!" when Albert Belle whiffs at a recent game with Baltimore.

"Who says it's a weird meal for baseball?" says Concord resident Andrea Wisniewski. "Besides, we have a certain place we like to park, and this is right along the way."

Over at the Clubhouse Restaurant and Tavern, co-owner Nick Hillman still smarts at his original name for the joint: the Dome Grill, after the city announced plans to build a domed station. Nice try.

"We filled the place up with all these pictures of domes from all over the country," he says. "And the city builds the Jake!" Hillman and his partner sold the place, and the name was changed to Schenley's. Then they bought it back. Now it's strictly a baseball tavern, open only for home games ("81 days--and the playoffs, of course.").

Still sporting the old Schenley's sign, the Clubhouse lacks the pressed-tin ceiling and varnished-walnut table appeal. The star of the bar? The KingCan, a 24-ounce, $3.95 beer that's cheaper (and colder) than the smaller version at Jacobs Field. But the bar's ten-cent hot dogs have recently gone the way of pepper games. Now they have a printed menu, and hot dogs are a buck ninety-five. Pass the salt.

--Tim Piai

The Rathskeller Restaurant, 2052 East Fourth Street, opens at 9 a.m. and closes at game time; call 216-694-3744. The Ginza Sushi House, 1105 Carnegie Avenue, serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner daily starting at 5 p.m.; call 216-589-8503. The Clubhouse Restaurant and Tavern, 1146 Prospect Avenue, is open from 3 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; call 216-621-1552.