As a fundraiser for the Lake Erie Opera Theatre, and with financial assistance from The Halle Bros., Higbee’s, The May Company and Society National Bank, a small group of local swells published an exhaustive but selective guide to the best dining, drinking, shopping and services in Cleveland.
The year was 1970.
Priced at $2.50 – and snagged at a local estate sale for $0.50 – the “Selective Cleveland Shopping” booklet runs 225 pages long and serves as a time capsule for the tastes of the day. A Zagat-style tome ahead of its time, the book is filled with shticky blurbs penned largely by one person, Mrs. Harry M. Freer.
Keifer's Tavern, the sign for which still beckons would-be diners, closed back in 1991 after more than 50 years in the meat-and-potato biz. If you want to know what you missed, just open the book to page 21. “It's hofbrau sing-along mit band week-ends. Twirl a frau or two, too. Spatzle and dumplings in gravy.”
For the Kon-Tiki Restaurant in the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel, which closed in 1976 and lives on in both spirit and artifact at Porco Lounge, the book promises “South Sea magic found in bridges, waterfalls, island melodies. Exotic cocktails, hot Tahitian canapes. A fun way to begin an evening. Pressed duck, if you stay.”
Legendary spots like Leo’s Casino at the Quad Hall Hotel, which hosted Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, the Supremes and the Four Tops, and the Theatrical, with “Colorful characters right out of Guys and Dolls
,” join mysterious-sounding spots like the Geisha Room on Cedar Road.
While the book reads like an amusing eulogy for countless places long passed, there are many classic joints within that have stood the test of time. Nighttown, Pier W, and Guarino's all are in there, along with White Oaks restaurant, which already was 40 years old when the book came out in 1970.
It’s not just bars and restaurants featured within, but also shops and services. Of Sam Klein Cigar Co. on E. 6th Street. Mrs. Freer wrote, “Women buy their men Klein’s mixture. It smells divine! You’ll love to be around that aroma.”
Of the old Lincoln Building Barber Shop on St. Clair, the book pronounces it as “Headquarters for scuttlebutt: good rumors start here. Cleveland’s counsel chamber close to City Hall. Continual chess game. Binoculars for girl watching.”
Do pick up a copy if ever spot one. It’s a real hoot.