From the outside, Judd's City Tavern looks like every other blue-collar corner bar, a gruff brick exterior offering few hints as to what lies behind those cloudy glass-block windows. If Judd's was indeed like every other corner bar, the inside would likely possess tattered vinyl booths, wobbly bar stools, a janky jukebox and grizzled regulars making poor decisions.
Judd's is everything and nothing like the typical corner bar. Step inside the phantasmagorical interior and you're immersed in what appears to be a perfectly preserved relic from another era. Suspended above the bar is a vintage Budweiser carousel sign, its Clydesdales hauling beer-laden wagons in a perpetual loop. A back corner is devoted to an old-timey service station tableau, complete with gas pump, wall-mounted tire inflator and pyramid of faded oil cans. And what's that? A signed photo of boxer James "Cinderella Man" Braddock hanging in the corner?
That assortment doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the beer, sports, toy, automotive, postal and first-responder collectibles on display inside this 40-seat corner bar. They were amassed by owner Charles Judd, a Cleveland police officer who has been collecting for years. The building has been around for 80-plus years, but it hasn't seen a paying customer in about seven.
Over the past four months, Judd's first and only employee has been quietly working inside to ready the bar for opening day, which should occur this month. That person is David Hridel, who hasn't professionally poured a drink since he left Spice Kitchen two years ago. Before that, he was a conspicuous presence behind the stick at ABC Tavern and Flying Fig.
"Pound for pound, I still feel that I'm one of the most tenacious bartenders out there," he says. "I've had so many people reach out to me over the past year asking if I'd come work for them. I decided after Spice that I wasn't going to bartend until I had my own place. But I want to have some fun. I miss the hell out of the people. That's what it was always about."
The bar sits in a hospitality no-man's land. It's on Madison Avenue where it crosses Berea, which is east of Lakewood, south of Edgewater and west of Detroit Shoreway. The nearest signs of life are a welding shop, metal plating facility and Frank's Tackle, home of the freshest bait in town.
"Everybody says 'location, location, location,' and that's true, but there are plenty of great locations that are going under," Hridel points out. "We're stuck between two neighborhoods. There's nothing around here. But this is the way a lot people go back and forth to Lakewood."
It's no coincidence that the sign out front is in the shape of a policeman's badge. Both Judd and his son, Sgt. Tim Maffo-Judd, are on the force. Since taking possession of the building about eight years back, Judd has used it primarily for private social gatherings, the ultimate man cave. Hridel says that when he first started working on the place, it had even more memorabilia.
"The walls were covered with collectibles," he notes. "We took everything down off the walls, sold some, and tried to showcase some of the best stuff. When the sun goes down and you lose the light from the windows, the bar has a really cool glow inside."
A visitor could spend days inside and still not closely examine every relic, many of them high-ticket items. There are elevated tracks supporting antique push and pedal cars, gorgeous old fire extinguishers are buffed to a high gloss, and an artistic grouping of aged church keys is mounted right above an old brass cash register from the Harbor Inn. Restroom visits are made more entertaining thanks to a punch clock, a workplace sign above the urinal counting the days "since the last accident," and walls plastered floor to ceiling with vibrantly hued comic book pages.
There will be four beers on tap, a few good but affordable wines, and Hridel's signature cocktails. Happy hour will run from 8 to 11 p.m. Food will be added down the road.
"I will be doing the cheapest cocktails in town," he says. "Drinks are really getting up there: $12, $14, $16. I don't think I'll have a cocktail over $8 or $9. Everybody pays the same price for booze in town and our overhead is nonexistent; I am the only fixed cost that isn't a utility."
Hridel says that despite the out-of-the-way locale, the bar will see more than its share of life.
"Between police, fire and EMS people, coupled with my regulars and neighborhood people, I think it's going to be one of the most eclectic crowds in town," he predicts. "This was something Chuck always wanted to do in his retirement years. He is truly invested in the city, but what I think he's most excited about is opening a place in his neighborhood where anyone and everyone can come grab a drink, a bite to eat (eventually), and enjoy some of his collectibles."