Irv's Deli

For decades, Irv's Deli, on the corner of Coventry and Hampshire Roads, was the place to wallow in Coventry Village’s eclectic edginess. The delicatessen and adjoining bar opened in 1959, when the street was mainly a commercial district serving the area's heavily Jewish population. In the thirty years Irv's was in business, Coventry Village changed drastically: at various and often overlapping times a hangout for hippies, biker gangs, punks, wannabes, gawkers, drug seekers, university students, and even middle-class families. For many years, restaurant owner Irving Gulko’s business model and customers kept pace with Coventry's many transformations. However, as Coventry continued to evolve, Irv’s came more and more into conflict with the neighborhood.

When Gulko opened his deli and bar, he served everything from Chinese food and pizza to shots and beers. Although Gulko came from a family of restaurant owners (his father and grandfather both operated delicatessens in Cleveland), his establishment was often associated with unappetizing food and poor sanitation. Rumors accusing the enigmatic Gulko of running prostitution, drug, and bookmaking businesses were common. What is known for sure is that Irv's Deli was indeed a hangout for down-and-outers, counter culturists, and motorcycle gangs such as the Outlaws and Hell's Angels. But it also was popular with other types. At 2:00 AM, one might find Irv’s still crawling with bikers, late-night munchies sufferers, and Case Western Reserve University students cramming for exams.

Irv’s problems escalated in the early 1980s. The neighborhood was becoming more family-friendly, but Irv’s was the epicenter of more and more crimes and police reports. In 1982 Coventry Neighbors, Inc. (CNI), a civic betterment organization formed in 1969, took action. It introduced a (winning) referendum on the 1982 election ballot that stripped Gulko's right to serve wine and liquor by the glass. Gulko fought the election results with little success. Starting in 1983, he could only sell beer by the glass and take-out alcoholic beverages. The facility limped along for another six years and closed in 1989.

Ironically, for a business associated with alcohol, crime and drugs, Irv's was for a short time a popular venue for Cleveland's straight edge hardcore community. Musical performances were organized by local teens, featuring bands like Confront, Project X, Gorilla Biscuits, and other acts known for their steadfast sobriety and lyrics promoting the virtues of "clean living." A decade after its closing, Irv’s also received a fictive cinematic treatment: the epicenter of a movie called The NightOwls of Coventry starring “Marv” as the restaurant’s somewhat too sympathetic owner.

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Audio

Mysterious Place
Tommy's Restaurant owner Tommy Fello talks about what one could find at Irv's Deli.
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The Bugs Help Us
Tommy's Restaurant owner Tommy Fello talks how dirty Irv's was.
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Hell's Angels
Daniel Landau talks about the Hell's Angels on Coventry.
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Hippies
Daniel Landau talks about the Hippies at Coventry Village.
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Police at Coventry
Daniel Landau talks about the police presence at Coventry Village.
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Irv's Scene
Daniel Landau talks about the eclectic scene at Irv's.
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Closing Down Irv's
Dennis Coughlin recalls how Coventry Neighbors Inc. worked to force the revocation of Irv's liquor license.
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