On March 17, bars throughout our great land will throw open their doors before the sun comes up. And, bedecked in leprechaun hats and ridiculous green beads, folks will line up for green beer and whiskey and eggs, angling for 11 on the blotto meter before the morning news is over.
Yes, the Feast of St. Patrick is Amateur Day. It's the one moment each year when we seek a momentary escape from the 9-to-5 grind for the pursuit of finding a place to pee that will not get us arrested.
But for a privileged few, this is life. The third-shifters who toil while the rest of us sleep need their booze too; it just so happens they need it when you need toast.
In the days when Cleveland's ports and factories churned 'round the clock, countless bars awaited the swell of thirsty workers ending their day at the exact moment everyone else's day was starting. Today, only a noble handful of them still cater to the morning crowd, firing up their neon signs and slinging shots at 5:30 a.m. — the earliest hour at which Ohio law allows alcohol to be served.
There aren't many, and they aren't particularly easy to find. But they are out there, quietly providing the retirees, the overnighters, the unemployed, and the vaguely degenerate with beer and liquor. They are propping up your America.
As the rest of mankind joins them for a day, we celebrate Cleveland's dawn drinkers with a tour of their world — a land where vodka and gin flow like coffee and juice, and where green beer might just get your ass kicked. Here's hoping you'll join them someday.
Rowley Inn, Tremont; 7:13 a.m.
The Rowley Inn is tucked away on a residential street on the non-yuppie side of Tremont — the part with no fancy chefs.
The two-story building sits opposite the famed Christmas Story House, and its perpetually illuminated leg lamp advertises exactly what it is: a watering hole for blue-collar workers and neighborhood folks who congregate for budget booze and talking. Or not talking.
This morning there are three old men sitting on consecutive stools in an otherwise empty bar. They are drinking, in order: vodka neat, Stroh's poured from a bottle into a short glass mug, and a Budweiser can poured into a pint glass. Not one of them says a word.
Perched on a homemade wooden shelf is an unwieldy box TV tuned to Encore Westerns. Cheyenne — a generic cowboy and Indian flick from 1947 — is on, its whoops and hollers and gunshots the only sounds filling the air.
The trio looks like three attentive cats frozen in time at the exact moment they noticed a passing bird. Each is slouched low in his stool and leans back slightly with his head turned to the left and angled up 45 degrees toward the TV. Each moves only to swig from his drink, and even then with careful economy. It feels leisurely and earned, communal and peaceful. And then the movie ends.
As the credits roll, the man in the middle settles up and turns to leave. Before he reaches the door one of the others calls out, "See ya later, Mike."
A half-second later Mike stops and pirouettes. "Don't you fucking talk to me," he screams at the man he had just sat quietly alongside for an untold number of hours. "Don't fucking say hi to me, don't fucking say bye to me. I don't want you to talk to me at all. I thought I've made myself clear that I don't like you. Fuck you." The last two words come out louder and slower than the rest.
And with that he leaves, making sure to slam the door behind him. On the screen, the credits finish rolling: Move along, Cheyenne, the next pasture's always so green. Driftin' on, Cheyenne, don't forget the things you have seen.
"That guy ain't right," mutters the bartender before shuffling off to the backroom.
The lesson: Drama isn't just for the night crowd.