Cleveland's Oldest Tavern
Founded in 1919, Hotz Café, located at the corner of Starkweather Avenue and West 10th Street in the Tremont neighborhood, is believed to be Cleveland's oldest tavern. The current owner, John Hotz, is the grandson of the founder, John Hotz, Sr., a Rusyn immigrant who came to the United States in 1905. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Tremont became home to many Rusyns, a Slavic ethnic group that lived in a region of Eastern Europe that is today parts of Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine. John Hotz, Sr., according to his family, founded the tavern to create a place of comfort, leisure and fraternity for fellow countrymen and local laborers. The tavern quickly became a “home-away-from-home” for its blue-collar patrons. In the early era, amenities at the tavern included a “shoe-shine boy,” Blind Robbins herring, and such fine cigar brands as White Owl and R.G. Dun. Regulars also gathered at the tavern to play popular card games like “66.”
Hotz Café was only in business for about a year when Prohibition began. The café survived that era (1920-1933) as a speakeasy, attracting such high-profile characters as Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. During the Great Depression, John Hotz, Sr., showed concern for his patrons by keeping prices low and providing food to struggling neighborhood families. Around the same time, Hotz Café also became known as a place where politicians, judges and even police detectives could meet to anonymously carry on private conversations. Elliot Ness, Cleveland's safety director from 1935 to 1940, was known to patronize Hotz Café. Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the tavern prior to his election as President in 1932.
After World War II, two of John Hotz, Sr.'s sons, Andrew and Mike, joined the family business, which expanded to a storefront next door where Andrew's wife operated a beauty salon. In the post-war era, the café continued to serve as a haven for steel mill workers and laborers stopping in after a shift, or before a shift just to pass the time. Regulars also included police officers and war veterans affiliated with local posts . The tavern featured in these years two Myna birds named Billy and Gabby Girl, who would talk to customers, and a spotted Dalmatian named Tony donated by the Cleveland Fire Department. When Tony was let outside to lounge near the front steps, customers knew that the café was open for business.
In the later decades of the twentieth century, the closing of area steel mills and a declining population brought transition to Tremont. The tavern, however, continues to be a hub of activity and social life for many locals. Today, a fourth generation of Hotzes is active in the family's tavern business. While the faces in the tavern have changed, the physical elements—the original bar and soda-pop-style barstools, the 24-foot-long shuffle-board game, the nostalgic photos and vintage décor—remain intact, as has the tavern's atmosphere and service.