Funky-Town's Finest

Parkview Nite Club's menu is as eclectic as its decor. And its clientele.

Parkview Nite Club 1261 West 58th Street 216-961-1341. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
Ribbons of calamari on a bed of soba noodles and stir-fried vegetables just plain rocked. - Walter  Novak
Ribbons of calamari on a bed of soba noodles and stir-fried vegetables just plain rocked.
Like snowflakes, no two pieces of the Parkview's flatware are the same; and the only feature that the mismatched wooden chairs have in common is their wobble. Depending on your point of view, such eclecticism is either charming or evidence of a troubled mind. In any case, this vintage west-side watering hole isn't the place for those who value conformity, either in decor, clientele, or menu offerings.

At first glance, for instance, the joint's decorative persona seems to worship equally at the shrines of music and sports. So it is that, in the late fall, the bar's events calendar touts both big-screen viewings of upcoming Ohio State football games ("Go Buckeyes!") and regularly scheduled Saturday night blues jams, with performers such as Cats on Holiday and Colin Dussault's Blues Project. On the wall, black-and-white photos of a skinny, bespectacled John Lennon share space with a collection of football helmets. And a stuffed wild boar's head, OSU pennant between its teeth, is mounted within snorting distance of a picture of a young Louis Armstrong blowing his horn.

But then, what to make of the Three Stooges poster . . . the pair of antique phone booths . . . or the jumbo caricatures of Jackie Gleason and Jimmy Durante hanging above a dusty upright piano? Only this, I suppose: Put all those elements together, give 'em a good shake, and you've got yourself one uncommon barroom -- an atmospheric hangout that even a confirmed pack rat (or an Applebee's corporate decorator) would find impossible to duplicate.

All of which seems to suit the Parkview's equally eclectic crew of patrons just fine. Like the best neighborhood bars, this wood-paneled hideaway draws its guests from across a wide spectrum, including the young and colorful as well as the middle-aged and bland. During a busy Sunday brunch, for instance, we watched armchair athletes in Browns' sweats chugging Buds and cheering even the slightest signs of life from the somnambulistic hometown boys. Meantime, a nearby five-year-old was besting her daddy in a fast-paced thumb war, and a pale punk princess nursed a Bloody Mary from her perch high atop a pair of lace-up, six-inch platform boots.

But if this odd community would have had a hard time even agreeing on a radio station, its members seemed in complete accord over the virtues of the Parkview's hearty brunch fare: big portions, reasonable prices, and homemade quality. A short stack of buttermilk pancakes, for instance? Light, moist, and attentively griddled, so they arrived at the table piping hot and golden. Home fries? Finely cut, crisp, and just greasy enough to qualify as an indulgence. A cheese-and-tomato frittata? Big as a plate, but soft and fluffy beneath a thick layer of melted cheddar. And Hash Lafayette? A tongue-tingling twist on the standard, now made with coarsely chopped and fried andouille sausage, green peppers, onion, and potatoes, topped with two perfectly poached eggs and slathered with a rich Creole mustard sauce.

The bar opens Sundays at 1 p.m., with a large, international selection of bottled and draft beers, as well as wine, martinis, and mixed drinks. An icy Bloody Mary, for instance, was a spicy reveille for the tastebuds, and with a long dill pickle spear in place of the usual celery, the flavor seemed especially bright and refreshing. On the other hand, those not needing hair of the dog will appreciate the strong, freshly brewed coffee and lots of it, to pry open weary eyelids; and if the cream comes in little plastic tubs, at least it's real half-and-half and not nasty nondairy creamer. (Speaking of happy little surprises, here's another: The only aromas we detected during our brunch visit came from the likes of bacon, blintzes, and eggs Benedict, not the all-too-common scent of stale suds and smokes left over from the previous evening's festivities.)

If brunch fare sticks closely to well-executed basics, the dinner appetizers get a little more groovy, with trendy tidbits such as goat-cheese salads, smoked scallop and avocado napoleons, and an out-of-the-ordinary graham-cracker-crusted calamari steak, sliced into slender ribbons and arranged, like the spokes of a wheel, across a bed of soba noodles and stir-fried veggies in a tangy, sweet-tart dressing. Not too sweet, not too spicy, and with the lush, yielding texture of custard, the calamari rocked; with its artful design and presentation, the dish wouldn't have seemed out of place in a much more stylish setting. (No surprise then, to find that GM and part-time chef Randy Kelly previously worked at the Velvet Tango Room.)

Three chubby crab cakes, on a light chipotle-cilantro cream sauce, made another tasty starter, and while they were composed of more filler than meat, their crusts were crisp and crunchy, their Old-Bay-seasoned innards were firm and moist, and for the money ($6.50), the portion size was impressive. Steamed PEI mussels were tasty, too -- delicately flavored and swimming in a garlicky broth that we sopped up with soft, warm bread sticks.

This being Cleveland -- and this being a bar -- the fresh walleye fish-fry was a mandatory main course, and the Parkview kitchen continued to do itself proud, turning out what may be the definitive version of this North Coast classic, complete with three thick slabs of pearly fish inside a crisp, dense breading; a small mountain of frozen-but-pleasant-enough French fries; and a bowl of freshly made, finely grated cole slaw, all served with tartar sauce and a wedge of fresh lemon.

While the folks at Hyde Park Grille don't need to start looking over their shoulders, the cooks grill up a mean New York strip steak, too. Ours arrived done to order (medium rare) and was juicy, reasonably tender, and full of fine, beefy flavor. Served with buttery mashed potatoes, stir-fried vegetables (asparagus, peppers, cabbage, and mushrooms), and a thick slice of garlic toast, it made about as fine a tavern meal as a casual diner could wish for. The same can be said for the chicken Marsala, which was loaded with tender chunks of white meat and sliced mushrooms in a slightly sweet, caramel-colored cream sauce, prompting a companion to declare this "the type of meal I'd be proud to serve to guests!"

Back in 1934, when the Parkview first opened on the little hillside overlooking Lake Erie and the downtown skyline, Cleveland was still a workingman's town, and the cozy corner bar was a lunchtime destination for broad-shouldered guys from nearby factories. Now, of course, the factories are empty, and Cleveland blue-collars are about as scarce as Nehru jackets. But while the Parkview's lunch menu is full of modern dishes that would have left Uncles Stosh and Tony scratching their heads -- a grilled portobello sandwich? A smoked-salmon BLT? -- the cooks haven't completely abandoned the old ways: Daily noontime specials rotate through a comforting collection of homestyle favorites, such as meatloaf, city chicken, or cabbage and noodles with kielbasa.

Even the bartenders occasionally play the nostalgia card. For instance, from now through New Year's Day, they'll be whipping up classic cocktails -- Gin Rickeys, say, or Whiskey Sours -- from a prized 1943 bartender's guide, for a real blast from the past. So c'mon in and pull up one of those rickety chairs. At the friendly, freewheeling Parkview, you're bound to find something to love.

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