Duck Island Club
2102 Freeman Ave., 216-621-7676
Though "dive" is perhaps an imprecise term for its reincarnation, the Duck Island Club is at any rate tucked away, around the corner from Cleveland's pricey-cocktail flagship, the Velvet Tango Room. Duck Island itself, the liminal quarter between Ohio City and Tremont, got its name and fame during prohibition as a spot to "duck in" and lose a tail.
According to lore, the Duck Island Club opened back then, as a speakeasy on the first floor of a house owned by a woman named Margie. She served "bathtub gin and bootlegged whiskey" that was stored at a farmhouse on West 49th Street.
These days, to the casual patron, the speakeasy vibes translate as "off the beaten path" and "eclectic clientele," but not it's worth noting anything like a destination for mixed drinks. The Duck Island Club is in this respect the anti-Spotted Owl, a "shot and a beer bar," if you like the literature. Here you can (and should) get a Miller High Life on draft along with any shot behind the bar for $5. Healthy shots. They've got your local brews, for sure Portside Distillery's on draft, Platform's Cleveland Palesner is in a can but domestics and your basic liquors are the name of the game.
Bartender Ronny, of good, stout Brooklyn/Parma stock, pours himself a Jame-o as he pours my second bourbon and mentions that, on Tuesdays, shots are $2: Tito's, Captain, Beam, Jameson.
But today's Thursday, and it's happy hour, and I am the solitary patron, seated comfortably in the almost brothelesque red/black interior and watching The Lost World on one of the bar's two HD screens. Goldblum is giving it his absolute all.
Ronny says that in its newest iteration, after nearly $1 million in restoration and upgrades, he thinks, DIC has become "kind of a late-night place," where closing time is understood to be conditional.
In the quiet shadows of clangorous West 25th, it's often a last stop after a rowdy night. It's also, Ronny appends, a great place to get a quick shot beforehand. As happens in lots of bars without a menu though a small kitchen is alleged to be in the works bartenders or patrons are known to order pizzas for the crowd. A slender central table is transformed, Tuesday nights, into a beer pong battleground, which Ronny oversees. He happily awaits all comers.
In the back, a lounge area with comfy leather seats and a big-screen TV might be mistaken for VIP-grounds, except there's nothing VIP about Duck Island Club. It's a Club in the old-fashioned sense of the word, where all are welcome.