Now my friend Chris who lives out there always challenges that statement. He says that Las Vegas has "Strip Culture" (referring to Las Vegas Blvd. and not so much the MANY strip clubs that litter the landscape off the strip), and I guess that's true to some extent. Don't get me wrong some of the best meals of my life have been in Las Vegas and I remember having some very memorably (or forgettable depending on who you ask) evenings out on the town. Now here is where the problems start popping up. First, it's too damn expensive to do pretty much ANYTHING on the strip! Seriously by the time you step on Las Vegas Blvd. you can immediately reduce your budget that you prepared for the night by half. If your gambling the fine waitresses will take their sweet time to bring you that watered down jack and coke. Sure it's free but it's really not if you think about it. (I once calculated that I spent $80 on a Amstel Light. ) But you may be saying to yourself about now "I don't like gambling I want to go to the clubs!" Good for you sir/madame you know that budget I mentioned earlier reduce it by two thirds of your original total. $20 cover charge (if your lucky), a Bud Light will probably run you about $7-8 and if you ever want to sit down you have two options. A, mortgage your house and your child's collage fund to get a "VIP table" or B, go to the bathroom and sit in the stall for a while. Now some of you could be saying "what about a bar?" Doesn't exist. The only bar's that are there are either chain restaurants that cater to the "beer crowd" or mini casino's that pose as bar's.
The mini casino's were the closest thing to a neighborhood bar that I ever saw. These were chain restaurant's/bar's that existed in the suburbs of the city that offered a slightly less expensive option to hanging out on the strip. They never closed (a bonus if your an alcoholic gambler), they let in ZERO natural light (great if your a shut in or vampire), there are no clocks, and the cliental seem to like it that way (which is an even bigger problem). I seriously almost got in a fight with some guy because I sat down at the bar to order a drink and it turns out I was occupying the area where his favorite video poker machine was. And if you want to shoot darts, well I have great news for you... you can't. You are more likely to see Beyonce and Jay-Z at a table in a casino (which I did) then find a "ACTUAL" dart board. If I sound a bit bitter about this it's because I am. With the exception of missing my family, friends, sports, seasons, and water; the lack of a decent local watering hole with a dart board was the deciding factor in my return to this city. In the entire state of Nevada I found ONE cork dart board, the rest was a "Dart Board" machine that would spit out these rubber tipped "darts" once you had sufficiently pumped it with money. To some up the bar scene I refer you to my previous statement. They don't exist.
When I came home I found a reprieve from crappy watering holes that don't provide anything but cheep beer and zero entertainment. Here every place has it's own character and style. For the most part every place I have written about to date is a unique dining and drinking experience. But, what about the "local watering hole"? Too many to list. They are all over town and I would say 90% of them are places I wouldn't step foot into unless I lived next door, and even then I may have some reservations. But there are a few that stand head and shoulders above the rest, and of those few there is one that never fails to disappoint.
In 2009 I was invited by a friend of mine (who I had some slight romantic feelings towards) to watch game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at The Q. There were three problems with this. First, the game itself was in Florida (they were just showing it on the big screen). Two, she brought another guy along with her. Three, we lost. In fact we lost so badly that I left early and joined up with a friend of mine at ABC The Tavern on W. 25th just to drown my sorrows. At the time ABC was a super run downed establishment that served PBR for a buck and had nothing but cheep liquor behind the bar. The TV's were old and small (by today's standards), the floor hadn't had a fresh stain (other than beer and blood) for more than 20 years, and even on a Saturday night when the Cavs were playing (albeit losing VERY badly) in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs the place was practically empty except for a few of my friends and some other Ohio City locals. It was great.
Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, and The Clash played on a real Jukebox (not one of those glorified iPods like in most bars). Pin up girls from the 40' and 50's were plastered on the wall by the kitchen. In the front was a old school bowling machine that only asked for a quarter per play. Upstairs was a pool table and on the wall was an honest to god cork dart board. I instantly loved this place. I loved it so much that for weeks after that whenever we would hang out in Ohio City I would want to go to ABC every time. Then sometime in mid summer it closed. No reason, no notification just doors shut and windows covered. Collectively we were all a little concerned about the fate of our little hole in the wall. Would it just be another causality of downtown Cleveland that no one would think twice about when it was gone? Or will it become some horrible dance club that will attempt to attract the W. 6th crowd? And for what would seem like an eternity no answer would come.
In early Fall there was a sign of life. The paper covering the windows came down and revealed the new and improved ABC The Tavern. The space itself didn't change too much. The floor was completely replaced with new wood and the bar was significantly cleaned to a mirror shine. Gone were the crappy old TVs, replaced now by 3 large flat screen's with Direct TV. Two new coolers behind the bar displayed craft brews and new taps that would rotate would offer some great options as well. But it was not so much what they added as it was what they left that truly made ABC what it was. The great Jukebox, the bowling machine, the dart board, and all the other little touches that made this place unique remained in place.
Now I often write about food in this blog as well and ABC The Tavern has a nice menu. Some unique takes on some standard bar food choices that are prepared quite nicely. A great highlight is the BLT. The bacon is actually a house cured pork belly bacon that is melt in your mouth fantastic. The Atomic Dog is also a great addition (although you may feel it in the morning) but as a late night option it is quite wonderful. Plus there are Hush Puppies with a srirachi aioli that are fantastic to nibble on. Is this the best restaurant in Cleveland... no. But, when you are out at the bar and you need some good food to soak up some of the booze it's a great place to go.
But what makes ABC The Tavern rise above most other bars in town is something completely intangible. Its people. Since it reopened in 2009 a solid staff of educated bartenders and cooks have come in to enhance the experience. Ask any one of them and they can make a beer or cocktail recommendation without hesitation. This kind of service has made ABC quite popular since it's return. However, what is quite amazing is that it hasn't turned into the trendy club like so many remodels that came before it. It remains a cool place for very cool people to just hang out sing along with The Stones and play some damn darts. It's Cleveland culture and I wouldn't change it for all the sand in the desert.