Wanna Buy a Bar in Cleveland With Me?

Monday, March 14, 2016


It doesn't look like a bar. From the outside, the building is totally nondescript, just another quirky Tremont home. If you look closely, you'll notice a Sam Adams logo in the window, but that's about all that distinguishes it from the residences that surround it. On the brick wall to the right of the door is a very small plaque denoting the fact that it's a bar, but it still doesn't sink in because it doesn't look like a bar, doesn't look like it's ever open, doesn't look like you're allowed to go inside.

But if you look a little bit more closely, you'll realize: This place is something weird. This place is something else. This place, specifically, is the Literary Cafe in Tremont, & it's for sale, & I desperately wish I were a person who had any interest in owning a bar or any money to buy this one.

The Literary Cafe only takes cash but has no ATM on the premise. It is open on Thursday, Friday, & Saturday nights only; it opens at 7pm, loosely, & closes whenever the owners feel like closing it. They have a small full bar & two beer taps, though they are always out of at least one of their drafts beers. They serve the other not in glasses but rather in glass chalices, the kind your grandma serves the Manischwitz in. The first time we were there, the only bar they had on draft was Sam Adams. Really. The bar does not serve food, though the owners (who double as the bartenders, of course) sometimes set Styrofoam bowls of Chex Mix along the bar.

There are a handful of barstools (apparently Robert DeNiro stole one?) & exactly two tables, plus a giant piano whose lid you should close unless you want to accidentally set the place ringing. Hanging on one wall is a painting of the inside of the bar, which feels strangely meta, sort of like looking into an angled mirror in a department store dressing room - like you can see tiny versions of yourself forever & ever, into infinity.

The owners, a married couple, have been there 26 years & were instrumental in launching the now-monthly Tremont ArtWalk. They refer to the neighborhood's gentrification as "urban pioneering."

The bar's back room that's more an art space & less a bar, though I suppose people drink in there, too. Two of the three times I've been, the room has been the site of a "drawing parties," filled with local artists of every age & shape & color & kind who sit in a semi-circle around a subject, furiously copying his or her likeness onto sketch pads & canvases. Completed works of past subjects plaster the walls, dozens of sets of eyes staring back at you from God-knows-how-long-ago.

The bar went up for sale in February & is listed at a cool half a mil. That price includes the bar itself, the liquor license that accompanies it, & a two-bedroom apartment above it, plus a backyard garden. According to the listing, the building dates back to the pre-Civil War era, & Cleveland.com says it's one of the oldest in Tremont. The owners want to move south; I guess you can only do Cleveland winters & the Cleveland bar scene for so long.

OK, OK, so I'm not going to buy the Literary Cafe. I wouldn't want to live above a bar, & I wouldn't want to manage a bar, & oh, I also don't have the money to buy a bar, anyway. But I hope that whoever buys it keeps it pretty darn close to the way it is now: the perfect little neighborhood gem, refusing to conform to the trendy standards that the neighborhood is setting around it, hidden in plain sight & perfect just the way it is.

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