In the mid 1970s yours truly ventured downtown to a tavern called the Round Table. The lure was a local band called Dragonwyck whose specialty was covers by the then-immensely-popular Moody Blues. The music was great; but even a scrawny 20-something could see that this was no ordinary saloon. It looked more like an under-maintained millionaires’ club, replete with high ceilings, heavy furniture, classy fixtures, stained glass windows and ornate murals portraying beer consumption through history. And oh the wood! Virtually everything was made of dark, finely carved quartered oak. Ornate carvings. Bas reliefs. Gilded figures. Fancy paneling. Dominating the scene were an immense oaken bar and wonder of wonders, a gigantic curved staircase with no immediately visible means of support. Some honkeytonk!
Few attendees (self included) knew or cared that the place used to be the uber-elegant Weber’s Restaurant, a sumptuous food palace inconspicuously hidden behind 43 feet of frontage at 242 Superior Avenue just east of Public Square and directly across from City Hall headquarters in the old Case building (now the site of the Howard M. Metzenbaum United States Courthouse). For almost 70 years Weber’s and its predecessor, The Casino Restaurant, were a see-and-be-seen destination for politicians, lawyers, celebrities, newspapermen, big spenders and even ordinary folks with occasionally full pockets.
The three-story building that housed The Casino and later Weber’s was built in the early 1890s by wealthy German immigrant and brewmaster Leonard Schlather. At the time, Schlather was already in his sixties, having achieved immense success with his L. Schlather Brewing Co.—once Cleveland’s largest brewery—at West 28th Street and Carroll Avenue in Ohio City. (The brewery’s stables and storage facilities are now home to Great Lakes Brewing Company’s main production facility.) When Schlather sold out to the Cleveland and Sandusky Brewing Company in 1902, the plant was producing 150,000 barrels per year.
Architects Israel Lehman and Theodore Schmitt (who also designed the Cuyahoga County Courthouse on Lakeside Avenue) blended Flemish and Victorian styles in the new restaurant’s design. Arriving through separate entryways, male and female patrons of The Casino (1894-1904) and Weber’s (1904-1963) were met by a giant dining room with tables for almost 200 patrons. To one side was an oyster counter; on the other a massive oak bar. Adjacent to the bar was that amazing staircase, which Cleveland Press writer Winsor French once described as “drifting to the second floor in one graceful curve . . . it alone is worth going to the place.” A wood carving of the Schlather family crest was built into the staircase adjacent to the bar. At the top of the stairs were private dining rooms and a giant banquet hall with large windows overlooking what was then called Superior Street. The establishment’s third floor comprised rented living quarters for bachelors. This later became a meeting area for the nascent City Club and an early home to the John Marshall School of Law.
The Casino’s run ended in 1904 when John A. Weber bought the building and changed the eatery’s name to Weber’s Restaurant. In 1927 Ivan Kaveney bought the establishment from Weber and his son Walter, but Kaveney kept the Weber’s name. Kaveney operated the restaurant until he died in 1959 and the restaurant was shuttered. Over the last decade, the place’s cachet had waned: more run-of-the mill food served by “morose men using the ‘thumb in the soup bowl’ technique” (the latter recollection drawn from a somewhat hyperbolic article by the Plain Dealer’s George Condon). The restaurant remained closed until 1963 when Broadview Savings and Loan bought and re-opened it as the Round Table. Ironically, the building became a formally designated local landmark in 1977—just before the Roundtable was shuttered. No buyers could be found and the structure was demolished the next year. Fortunately, Broadview promised the Cleveland Landmarks Commission that the interior woodwork would be kept intact. Thus the staircase was reinstalled at a Westlake restaurant called The Atrium, where it remains to this day. The massive bar found a new home at Gamekeeper's Tavern (now the Bull & Bird Steakhouse) in Chagrin Falls. Original glasswork was installed in several area restaurants.
Today, the Superior Avenue site is occupied solely by the 200 Public Square Building (built in 1985 by the Standard Oil Company) and an adjoining parking garage on the building’s eastern edge next to the Arcade. To create the new structure, the Cuyahoga and Williamson buildings along Public Square also were demolished.