Filed Under Music

Nighttown

When John Barr opened Nighttown on February 5, 1965, it was a one-room bar. Constructed in 1920, the building had previously housed the Cedar Hill Diner, a deli, Sam’s Beauty Parlor and Stock's Candies. The Silhouette Lounge, which was run by mob-operated Cadillac Amusements, replaced Stock's Candies in 1960. After the feds shut down the Silhouette Lounge, Barr leased the storefront and named the tavern after the Dublin red-light district in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The space was quite small and had an upright piano upon which a few local musicians would occasionally play. A restaurant area was added in 1966.

As Nighttown became more popular, Barr expanded the restaurant and bar into three other storefronts surrounding the original space. Today the 400-seat establishment comprises six dining rooms and three bars: the entire first floor of the three-story building. Barr sold Nighttown to Ireland-born Brendan Ring in 2001. As the building expanded (including a large covered patio named Stephen’s Green after Dublin, Ireland’s, best known city park) so did the list of guest performers. Barr had been a fan of stride piano, a type of jazz that was popular when the bar opened, but he only had space for one or two local players. When Brendan Ring became Nighttown’s general manager in 1993, he brought in Jim Wadsworth to book bigger national acts.

Nighttown now is one of the world’s premier venues for jazz music, according to DownBeat magazine. A short list of Nighttown’s performing alumni includes Freddy Cole, Jane Monheit, John Pizzarelli, Brian Auger, Ann Hampton Callaway, Tommy Tune, Ray Brown, Basia, Cyrille Aimee, Esperanza Spaulding, John Legend, Dick Cavett and Dick Gregory. In addition to formally booked acts, numerous musicians—from Wynton Marsalis to Stevie Wonder—have dropped in for impromptu performances. Nighttown also became the permanent home of the Press Club of Cleveland’s Journalism Hall of Fame in 2007.

Audio

Wynton Marsalis and Stevie Wonder Brendan Ring remembers famous musicians who made surprise visits to Nighttown. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
One of the Best Pickup Joints Brendan Ring explains why Esquire magazine in the late 1960s named Nighttown one of the nation's best "pickup joints" for culture-minded singles. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
People Still Came Nighttown's first owner, John Barr, recalls how, in the business's early years, wintertime meant lots of cigarette smoke in close quarters. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Nighttown, 1977 Nighttown manager Robert Durrin hands a dinner menu to a patron. The menu cover is suggestive of the cover of one 1960s edition of James Joyce's Dubliners. The restaurant and jazz club's name was inspired by a chapter in Ulysses, another of Joyce's works. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections Date: 1977
Bill Roberts Mural This original full-size mural by Cleveland Press artist Bill Roberts once hung at Kornman's restaurant on Short Vincent and the Press Club of Cleveland before it was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society. The reproduction, photographed by Tim Ryan, is now on display at Nighttown restaurant in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, "home" of the Press Club of Cleveland. Image courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Brendan Ring and the Nighttown Limo Nighttown's proprietor Brendan Ring personally chauffeurs his establishment's performers to and from shows in this limousine, seen parked outside the Cedar Road jazz venue. Ring also maintains a distinctive, vintage London taxicab. Image courtesy of Nighttown
Brendan Ring Brendan Ring, the second owner of Nighttown, has expanded the restaurant and jazz club's musical offerings impressively in his dozen years at the helm of the Cleveland Heights landmark. Photo by Brynne Shaw, courtesy of Nighttown
Dublin Lawyer Dublin Lawyer, Nighttown's signature dish, combines Maine lobster, Irish whiskey, steamed rice, and a host of other delicious ingredients. A chapter in James Joyce's novel Ulysses inspired the restaurant's name. Image courtesy of Nighttown
Bar at Nighttown Clearly taken outside business hours, this photo gives a rare look at Nighttown's bar unobstructed by many patrons. Image courtesy of Nighttown
Party at Nighttown Known for its jazz, Nighttown has also been a longtime preferred site for parties, wedding rehearsals and receptions, and a host of other formal and casual gatherings. The restaurant's large collection of photos and art fills its walls, adding to its air as a fixture in Cleveland Heights. Image courtesy of Nighttown
Nellie McKay at Nighttown, 2009 London-born singer/songwriter Nellie McKay entertains a crowd. Image by Roger Zender on Flickr, Creative Commons.
Basia at Nighttown Polish-born jazz-pop artist Basia performs on Nighttown's stage. Basia is an acclaimed singer and songwriter whose music has charted repeatedly on Billboard's jazz, adult contemporary, and hot 100 lists. Image courtesy of Nighttown

Location

12387 Cedar Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44106

Metadata

Robin Meiksins, “Nighttown,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/550.