October 23, 2015

The Stone Mad Pub in Cleveland

You like live music? Hit Nashville or NOLA. You like swank and style? Head to New York or L.A.

But if you are looking for a place where a bar is just a bar in the most beautiful, effortless, soul-quenching way -- where things are historic simply because they haven’t changed -- Cleveland should be on your short list.

The old facade of the Stone Mad Pub

photo by: Stone Mad Pub

The old RA Lounge occupied the space between the tenure of the I & R Bar and Stone Mad Pub.

The current exterior of Stone Mad Pub

photo by: Stone Mad Pub

The current facade of 1306 West 65th St. -- now Stone Mad Pub.

As the city slowly starts to catch up with much of the rest of the country, it still refuses to change just for change's sake. Outside, you can just begin to see a shift, but inside -- especially in its neighborhood bars -- it’s keeping the most interesting parts of what it always had.

The Stone Mad Pub in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood on the city’s near West Side is a perfect example.

First, full disclosure. I worked here stocking bottles and switching taps for the bartenders in the fall of 2009. I did not love my work, but in my time there -- thanks largely to the staff, owners, and patrons -- I learned to love bars as places of community and culture.

The building at 1306 West 65th Street started out as a tavern and storehouse for the Leisy Brewing Company in 1912. Living quarters in the surrounding boarding houses were cramped, and the tavern was a place for the neighborhood’s Irish, Italian, and Romanian laborers to socialize and blow off steam. Bartenders also operated as intermediaries between non-native speakers and city officials.

Though the brewery went under during Prohibition, the building carried on as a speakeasy and hosted the Society Operia Italiana di Mutuo Soccorso del West Side, an Italian social club, into the ‘50s. By the ‘60s, the building was the I & R Bar -- “I” for Italian and “R” for Romanian.

The R and A Lounge before it became Stone Mad Pub

photo by: Stone Mad Pub

The interior of the RA Lounge.

The pub room at Stone Mad

photo by: Stone Mad Pub

The front pub room of Stone Mad Pub.

As with much of the city, the neighborhood declined through the ‘70s, ’80, and ’90s, but renewed interest in the walkable, transit-accessible area has brought reinvestment in historic properties in what is now one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods.

Eileen Sammon and Pete Leneghan -- business partners who grew up in the city’s Irish community together -- bought the former tavern in 2004, and opened in 2008, after an extensive restoration/renovation, as the Stone Mad Pub.

“It was in pretty rough shape,” Sammon says. “We probably would have been better off knocking it down, but because we liked the history involved with the place, we wanted to preserve the integrity of it.”

The duo participated in the city’s Storefront Restoration Program, which brought the facade back to its original 1912 look. They also paved the parking lot and walls with stones from an old city street. The patio’s sandstone tables and seating that give the pub its name were repurposed or donated, and light fixtures came from a historic building in the city’s Tremont neighborhood.

Sammon and Leneghan also wanted to carry on the culture the building had fostered over the years. The front room is modeled after a traditional Irish pub with a black walnut bar and paneling.

“There were a lot of Irish that worked right down the street on the docks before the Shoreway was built,” Sammon says referring to a highway that connects the city’s West Side to downtown. “So a lot of Irish lived in this neighborhood and that’s what we liked.”

Stone Mad Pub rear exterior

photo by: Stone Mad Pub

The rear exterior of Stone Mad Pub.

Stone Mad Pub's patio

photo by: Stone Mad Pub

The Stone Mad Pub's patio.

Meanwhile, the dining room upholds the building’s Italian tradition, with quarter-sawed oak and a bocce ball court.

Despite the transformation starting to occur throughout the city, the combination of history, culture, and warm surroundings at the Stone Mad Pub just go to show that some things never change. Cheers to that.

Location: 1306 West 65th St. Cleveland, OH 44102

Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – midnight

You’re Having: A pint of Guinness and/or a Tullamore Dew, neat.

Best Yelp Review: "Got to say this place is wonderful. Inside or outside you can't go wrong. Large party room, upstairs private party and they even have Bocci ball too. -- Steve F."

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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