Adele's as it looked in the 60s. Original image
salvaged from the now defunct "places of d.a.
levy" website (photographer unknown).
Adele's Lounge Bar, Cleveland, Ohio
I was 17 in 1962 when I came to Cleveland to study engineering at Case. I spent four years there, graduated, and returned home to the East Coast.
More than forty years have passed, and my mind still wanders back to those days. The images have grown distorted with age, but they've never faded away. If anything, they've taken on a life of their own swirling, fragmentary recollections of former classmates and teachers, my old apartments, the Case Old Main building with its pervasive smell of dust, ice-covered walkways during the endless gray winters, the Emerson gym echoing with the sound of bouncing basketballs, the student newspaper office in the corner of Tomlinson Hall, the Friday night walks to Hugo's for ravioli, the dinner buffet at Luccione's, the lunch counter at Gray Drug up by 105th, drunk-food helpings of greasy eggs and home fries at Dorsel's, Coltrane playing all night at the Jazz Temple, Tom Rush playing at La Cave, and Dylan playing at the Music Hall downtown.
But it's the memories of Adele's that haunt me more than any of the others.
How long Adele's had been there I have no idea. I believe it was originally just another student watering hole, but somehow in the mid-60s it morphed into a haven for a different sort of crowd. Though it's remembered, if at all, as a bohemian hangout, to characterize it as such is an oversimplification. People of all types were drawn there beatniks, artists, bikers, gays, curious college students, high-school kids on adventure, musicians, tradesmen, wanderers, weirdos, wannabes, proto-hippies. Collectively they created a peculiar atmosphere that was edgy and vaguely dangerous, but also oddly comforting.
For most of my college career, Adele's was barely on my radar, undifferentiated from, say, the Brick Cottage up the street or the student bars on Murray Hill. For reasons long forgotten, sometime during the winter of my senior year I began visiting Adele's more frequently. Soon I got hooked on the place and its remarkable clientele. By the spring of 1966 I was in there every day.
Evidence: the one surviving relic
I have from the Adele's era.
1. The Characters
The physical features of Adele's were undistinguished: Wooden floors, wooden bar and stools, wooden chairs and tables, murky lighting. Of course it wasn't the furniture but the people occupying it who created the singular vibe of the place. Despite their diverse nature, there was a subliminal sense of connection, a shared feeling of estrangement or something.
I've learned that my memory can't be trusted, so some of the names, pairings, descriptions, etc below are surely wrong. Sometimes I can see the faces, but the names dangle just out of reach. Many people passed through that front door, most of whom I've forgotten or never knew. These are just some I remember or half-remember from that long-ago spring.
Marty & Sam
Owners and bartenders. Both seemed fortyish to me then, but it's hard to tell now. At the time I saw them as stereotypes. Did their speech patterns suggest Yiddish inflections, or am I projecting? (My roommate and I had at about that time fallen into the habit of conversing with each other in the heavy accents of our immigrant grandparents.) They were an odd couple, army buddies perhaps. I think Sam was the tall thin one, Marty the shorter squat one. Both acted world-weary most of the time.
The blond bartender (Mike???)
There was a young guy, pretty big, who worked the bar sometimes too. I've long since forgotten his name, but for some reason "Mike" recently popped into my head. He looked too clean-cut and athletic to be working there, but I guess he must have been the designated bouncer. Rowdy behavior was uncommon at Adele's though.
I know that there were waitresses who took care of the customers at the tables, but I can't picture a single one of them.
My roommate. Thoughtful, good-natured, careless, comically brash, and academically gifted, he was a year behind me at Case. He was ranked first in his class when we started going to Adele's. We spent a lot of time talking, commiserating, laughing, drinking, and riding around town on his Honda 50, which looked like a toy beneath his large frame. The year after I left he bought a bigger motorcycle, lost interest in his studies, and dropped out of school. That was the last I heard of him.
Bob's girlfriend through most of 1965-66. She had the rare distinction of being a female Case student at a time when the total coed population still numbered in single digits (there were two women in my incoming freshman class of around 500, neither of whom stuck it out past sophomore year). She had her own motorbike, just enough self-confidence to be immune to Bob's brashness, and spectacular legs. She didn't spend nearly as much time at the bar as Bob and I did. Adele's might've played some role in their eventual breakup, but it's hard to remember now. I do remember that anyone who called her "Bobbie" earned a permanent spot on her shit list.
I had a fierce crush on her that winter and casually dated her for a few months, but I never made any romantic inroads. She was from Scarsdale NY, where I visited her one time during spring break. Her mother was a radio personality on WCBS. Jeannie wasn't an Adele's regular, but would show up occasionally looking for Jürgen.
I don't think I ever spoke to him, but he was a semi-regular. He was tall and, I suppose, good-looking in a Bobby Rydell sort of way. I was devastated when I learned that Jeannie's consuming crush on him had effectively shut me out. I wonder if he ever caught me glaring at him. Info gleaned from the SSDI database indicates that Jürgen died in 1971 at age 29, a tragically early demise. Drugs? Vietnam? Accident? I guess we'll never know.
My first serious girlfriend. We were introduced at Adele's by her former boyfriend, Don, who wanted to help her get over him and me get over Jeannie. The relationship was intense, lasting about a year before petering out, a casualty of petty differences, geographic separation, and impatience. In retrospect, a year is a pretty decent run when measured in youth-time. I miss her a little even now, and although it's not quite a perfect fit, I still think of her as my "Beeswing" girlfriend.
Judy's aforementioned ex-boyfriend, a medium-built-guy with blond hair and vaguely Teutonic features. I seem to recall that he was only an occasional patron at Adele's. I first met him at the WRU Student Union, at that time a favored hangout for talk-centered socializing.
A dear and unforgettable person. She was enrolled at Western Reserve, but had a job of some sort and rarely, if ever, attended classes. She had demanded, and by some miracle received, permission from the administration to live off-campus, then an inconceivable option for undergraduate women. I can see her now in her brand new bellbottoms. Diane had an interesting hobby, collecting what she called her "furries" long-haired, typically itinerant, young men of a type soon to be categorized as hippies (a term that had not yet caught on). The worse off they were, the more she adored them. She brought them home and saw to their care and feeding. Diane was one of only two people I've known in my whole life who routinely used the word "groovy" without a trace of sarcasm. She talked tough, but was actually sweet and lonely, and I wish I'd been kinder to her....
Diane's roommate. She was assertive and physically intimidating, a no-nonsense type. Not surprisingly, Bob took up with her for a while after he broke up with Roberta.
One of Judy's circle, and another occasional object of my unfocused but boundless young lust. She came with a bunch of us on a weekend outing to Kelley's Island, off Sandusky, where someone's (Terry Sun's?) parents owned a summer home. She paired off with someone there, but I don't recall who it was.
A clean-cut Reserve undergrad who was a friend of some of the regulars and put in an occasional appearance. Nice enough guy who seemed too normal to fit in well with the usual Adele's crowd.
Not a regular, but a fine guitar player, brilliant student, and motorcycle enthusiast who lived at NOMP, a sort of semi-communal music-and-civil-rights apartment on Deering Ave. I heard from Judy after I'd moved back east that Ed hooked up with Sally for a while. He eventually went on to do graduate work in biology at Yale.
Peter Rigg and Llyana Landes
One of many couples who were regular features of the Adele's landscape. They fought terribly, but the relationship somehow endured. Llyana was Judy's closest friend. Pete's parents were academics somewhere, and he was something of a radical, but too off-the-wall to be pigeonholed. Circumstantial (but sadly convincing) evidence in the SSDI database suggests that Pete died in 1977, just 32 years old. Everyone loved Llyana and I was no exception; I once coaxed her back to my place, but all we did was pass out together my one brush with intimacy with her. "Llyana is a flower," Judy used to say. And she was.
One of Judy's friends. Seemed like a nice kid, dark-haired and not unattractive. She had a bit of a wild streak and lived in fear of her autocratic father. I didn't know her well but once kissed her sweetly, an act of alcohol-lubricated spontaneity that earned me a breathless "Hey, you're sexy!" (not the sort of compliment I received routinely, then or now, which is probably why the memory of it survived through the beer fog).
Being old, black, drunk and gay couldn't have been easy back then.
Scary-looking but friendly biker. He was always happy to show off his tattoos. I don't remember what kind of bike he had, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a Honda 50.
Raymond & Carla
Another regular couple. I don't recall much about them, but they were always around. I only knew them well enough to hit them up for beer money once in a while. Carla might have waited tables there on occasion.
Self-described pothead. Carried a harmonica, which he sometimes played; he was a big fan of the harmonica work of Mel Lyman. Never seen without his trademark sunglasses and Mel Lyman cap (the latter perhaps serving the dual purpose of paying tribute to his hero and conveniently covering his advancing baldness).
Wiry and blond in appearance, psychotic and violent by reputation. Most people steered clear of him.... I may be conflating two different people here, but he could be the guy who lived on E 55th and had been in (and kicked out of?) the Air Force.
A young gay man who lived farther out on Euclid toward (maybe in) East Cleveland. I remember going with Diane to a party at his place one night after the bar closed. He played Tom Lehrer records and laughed a lot.
I remember the name but I can't put a face to it. On the other hand, I do have a foggy image of his girlfriend's face, but no idea of her name. She was quite young, a teenager. I think they had an apartment up on Carnegie or Cedar.
A young, gay black guy who was extremely affable and charming, but always on the make. He may have gone by some other name; I can no longer remember whether "Paul" was his real name and he preferred to be called something else, or the other way around. Judy and I ran into him later that summer at the Newport Folk Festival; he was accompanied by one of my Case classmates, a guy I never would have suspected of being gay.
Name is probably wrong. A burly, bearded guy who was a little older than the rest of us, maybe 30. Pleasant enough, as long as you didn't cross him.
Another regular couple whose names escape me. The guy looked a little like Geoff Muldaur. He was big, and said to have a violent side, but I never saw it. I think his girlfriend who might have been Carla (in which case Raymond's girlfriend becomes the mystery one) was small and pretty.
A big blond corn-fed guy who I think was Phyllis' sometime boyfriend. I'm guessing at the name, the only one that comes to mind. He might've been a construction worker, might've worn a baseball cap, might've hung out with Skip's crowd. An oddball by virtue of being a non-oddball among oddballs, but he knew a good thing when he saw it.
Local poet and publisher (Beginning). If I'm thinking of the right person (and I'm pretty sure I am, although I had to enlist the services of google to come up with his name, which I may be associating with the face of a different young poet), he was a bright, friendly kid with café-au-lait skin and a mop of curly hair. Judy might've introduced me to him. He'd come into the bar to sell his mimeographed poetry magazines and stick around to schmooze. I used to have a few of the zines, but they're long lost. The guy in the lower left corner of this picture could be Joe Walker (but I wouldn't bet on it).
Poet and provocateur, arguably the most illustrious Adele's alum. He was around, and I knew who he was he was known by this time, but not yet notorious. I may even have met him, but if so, it's a pity that I don't remember it. Adele's is mentioned in his touching 1967 poem One Death in the Life of Julie and his 1968 work Suburban Monastery Death Poem.
Another of the Cleveland poets. I don't recall meeting him either, but he was obviously familiar with Adele's (confirmed in a recent email communication), as he wrote a 1966 poem explicitly about it, Adele's Lounge Bar (To Paula Marie S.), which he was kind enough to allow me to reproduce on this page.
2. Grainy Clips From The Memory Reel
Maybe these random fragments can help to convey some aspects of the Adele's atmosphere. They're superficial, but I'm not sure that the strangeness would come across adequately even if I went into great detail (or ventured into areas where I'd prefer not to go). Here are some of the pictures that play in my head:
The older, beat-generation guys at the bar, who wore flannel and kept to themselves. Some, it was rumored, had traveled with Kerouac.
Judy pulling the plug on the jukebox if someone dared to play "Ballad of the Green Berets."
Sam and Marty bickering with each other, or complaining about shakedowns by the mob guys who "serviced" the jukebox and "maintained" the neon sign.
Sitting in the doorway on a sunny May morning, waiting for the bar to open after pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper. I'd handed the paper to a classmate and blown off class (an 8 o'clock that I normally would have slept through anyway) in order to spend the day making up for lost Adele's time. That night, after a long, arduous day of sleep-and-food-deprived drinking, I was sitting in Wade Park with Judy and fumbled my live cigarette onto my leg. My reactions were predictably sluggish, and the burn was fast approaching the third-degree stage the time I brushed the cigarette away. I still have the scar.
High-school kids from Cleveland Heights who would beg for rides home at last call.
Stroh's and Rolling Rock. "Gimme another Rock, Marty." I drank mainly Stroh's in those days, but went off for a while on a Rolling Rock kick. What did I see in the stuff? When it started turning up in the Boston area a few years later I tried it again and thought it tasted like ginger ale.
Lesbian scene. I recall, sort of, that there was one, but the particulars have evaporated.
My beloved zoot suit. I bought it at the thrift store (Goodwill?) on Euclid Ave up near 105th St for maybe $2. It was a late-40s/early-50s beauty, wildly out of fashion: shit-brown with white pinstripes, baggy pleated pants, double-breasted jacket with mile-wide lapels. Pretty good fit, too. I did not have frequent occasion to dress up, but I wore the suit to Adele's once or twice. The night after graduation, thieves broke into the station wagon my father had borrowed to haul me, Judy, and our belongings back east. The car, already loaded for an early-morning departure, sat in the not-so-secure Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge parking garage. The suit was stolen, along with my tape recorder, typewriter and a bunch of other clothing. The only loss I really mourned was that suit.
Blue laws that limited the Sunday alcohol options to 3.2 beer or nothing. Until midnight.
Nightlife Savings Time. Statutory closing time was 2:30am, but once Daylight Savings Time kicked in (end of April in those days), Cleveland bars could remain open until 3:30. Why? Because all Ohio bars operated according to the clocks in the state capital, and Columbus stuck to year-round Standard Time. During the summer, 2:30 in Columbus was 3:30 in Cleveland. Our bars had to open an hour later too, of course, but somehow that seldom was much of a concern.
Pete Rigg breaking a front tooth out on the sidewalk at 3:30 one morning after a long evening of drinking. Advised that the bar was closing, Pete, who could be a bit volatile at times, decided that he wasn't quite ready to call it a night and went a little nuts. It took some effort for us to get him outside. Almost immediately, he tried to break back into the locked bar and got into a brief but violent scuffle with Bob, who was only trying to keep him out of serious trouble. Pete's tooth snapped clean in half when he kissed the sidewalk.
The jar of pickled eggs on the back shelf. I liked them, but they weren't to everyone's taste. I once tried to sober William up by coaxing him to eat one, but the half-chewed pieces just oozed back out of his mouth and all over the bar.
Pizza? Did anyone ever order it there? I never found good pizza anywhere in Cleveland. Aside from the occasional pickled egg, I can't recall ever eating anything at Adele's.
Badgering Skip: "Skip, why do you always wear that cap?"
"Losing my hair, man."
"Why do you always wear sunglasses?"
"Look, look at the [red] eyes."
I've always asked a lot of questions and have never lost my talent for behaving like an asshole.
A traveling poet named Randy Rhody who breezed through town on his way east from Chicago. I bought him a beer and he gave me a copy of his poetry magazine, "Paracutes." It had a hand-painted cover, on which he inscribed a thank-you note for the beer. The magazine is still at my ex-wife's house someplace, buried, no doubt forever, in one of her vast piles of junk. Randy's 2009 comments can be read here.
How different the place looked in the morning. Much too bright from the daylight pushing through the front window. Tables empty, one or two non-regulars at the bar hardcore alkies or local businessmen maybe. Painfully ordinary. No hint of the nighttime magic.
The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" on the jukebox. That's the soundtrack that plays in my head when I visualize scenes at Adele's.
3a. The Return, Part 1 (2006)
Between 1966 and 2006 I only made it back to Cleveland once, a quick in-and-out to see Sugar at the Agora in 1993. I got nowhere near University Circle on that occasion.
In 2006 I decided it was time to return to Cleveland, check out Jacobs Field, take an unhurried nostalgia-wallow tour of the University Circle area, and make a pilgrimage to whatever remained of the Adele's site. I drove out there in May, a week before the Case commencement and a few weeks shy of the 40th anniversary of my own graduation.
I approached the city from the south, driving up E 55th to Euclid, then east from there, following the old #6 bus route back to the campus. Excitement turned to disorientation and dismay. I recognized nothing. Everything I remembered had disappeared, and I mean everything. It was as if one of those #6 buses had sprouted giant pole axes on both sides and leveled all the buildings for 50 blocks. "My city was gone," observed Chrissie Hynde more than 20 years earlier, and she wasn't kidding. For mile after mile, Euclid Avenue, once a busy East Side artery, had become a pothole-infested byway passing through mostly emptiness. For block after block after block, the old buildings have been replaced with weedy open spaces, unused parking lots, and an occasional strip mall or condo. Starting around E 100th St, there's a bunch of newish-looking medical facilities, most of which appear to be affiliated with the sprawling Cleveland Clinic. Signs of life are few.
I'll skip the long-winded recitation of all the places, both on and off campus, that have vanished, or of the few that remain. That's a topic that really deserves a separate page... perhaps sometime in the future. I'll just say that the much-anticipated University Circle grand tour evoked precious little nostalgia; it was more like some kind of weird nightmare. Now let's move on to Adele's.
The return-to-Adele's story isn't so great either. It turned out that I had made a big mistake by not bringing a copy of the above photo with me. I'd assumed that as soon as I got close to ground zero, the location would be unmistakable. Not so. I am quick to succumb to confusion, and I was thrown off by the street-numbering scheme. Forgetting that Adele's (11605 Euclid) was described as being at "Euclid & E 115th," I wasted a lot of time poking around in the wrong block, peering into the shuttered Euclid Tavern, examining storefronts, and finding nothing that looked or felt right. None of the buildings in the previous block seemed familiar either.
It wasn't until I got home and compared my photos to the period photos that I managed to pin down the location. The two-story building once occupied by Adele's is, like most of the Cleveland I knew, gone. In its place are trees. Behind the trees sits a small parking lot. See the photos below for a more detailed accounting.
3b. The Return, Part 2 (2007)
I did go back to Cleveland again, in July 2007, and finally managed to see a couple of games at Jacobs Field. But first I returned once more to the corner of E 115th and Euclid and shot a few more photos, presented below.
4. Why is this page here?
I put up this webpage because I searched for online information about Adele's and found almost nothing. Besides the departed levy site mentioned above (curse you, AOL, for summarily throwing away everything on your "Hometown" member pages), there's a reference to Adele's in this Hotel Bruce Blog reader letter (scroll to the bottom) from Sep 2004. There were references to several of the characters discussed above in the summer 1966 chapter of Glen F. Nemeth's online journal, A Foolish Consistency, which unfortunately vanished when his website, glennemeth.com, abruptly went belly-up. Adele's is briefly mentioned by a neighborhood resident in this article from May 2009 and in this historical discussion of Cleveland architecture. There's a passage describing University Circle in the 60s in an online novel by Gair Linhart called Crazy Blue City that includes a passing reference to Adele's (as well as a reference to Dylan playing La Cave, which, if it happened at all, must have occurred prior to Sep 1962).
It also turns out that R. Crumb was an Adele's patron. He mentions both the bar and a trip to California with Skip in this interview:
5. The death of Adele's
It's not too surprising that there wasn't much left to see of Adele's when I first went back to look for it in 2006. Reader comments indicate that it "burned down" in 1968 and Geoffrey Cook refers to it as being "condemned." Supporting evidence can be found on this page of the March-April 1968 edition of The Buddhist Oracle. According to that article (the theme of which is that a number of buildings associated with non-mainstream culture in Cleveland were deliberately torched with the city's tacit approval), The Coffeehouse burned on 14 Mar 1968. The Victorian house directly behind it, described as belonging to one Joseph Zill, burned the next day. It's reasonable to infer that Adele's, being attached to The Coffeehouse, was either destroyed outright in the fire or damaged seriously enough to be condemned.
6. Your thoughts and comments
Do you have any Adele's memories you'd like to share? email me and with your permission I'll add your reminiscences to the reader comments page.