My first drink in a bar was at Edison's Pub in Tremont. It was a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, and I was not yet of legal age. Looking back, it couldn't have happened at a better place.
A friend who was a cook in Brecksville would go there with his kitchen buddies and eventually invited me to tag along, since Edison's on weeknights was a low-key, neighbors-only type affair, and you could saunter from the front door to one of the booths in the back without so much as a glance from the bartenders.
There was popcorn and good music and 100 beers that you couldn't find at most bars 10 years ago. And so it became a weekly stop: my favorite bar, my home base — the place that I could count on.
Everybody could use a favorite bar, really. The warm comfort, the familiarity, the avenue of escape, the first and last resort, the place to start the night and to end it, the place to go alone because you'll never feel alone once you're there, the place you want to bring everyone but not everyone. You could pinpoint some arbitrary reasons for whatever watering hole you call home — cheap beer! lots of girls! walking distance from my place! or whatever — but who really knows why we settle into one place or another. Mostly it just feels right.
My paternal grandparents came over from Poland in the late 1940s. Grandpa had fought in the Polish army and worked on a German work farm after being captured. Once the nightmare had ended, he and Grandma got married and hopscotched over the Atlantic to Cleveland, finding a home in the ethnic working-class streets of Tremont, commiserating with their fellow Polacks from St. John Cantius, the Catholic church caddy-corner to Edison's where I was baptized.
I grew closer to Grandpa in his later years. His English was little more than serviceable; he'd been part of an enclave of other Polish guys at the iron plant during most of his working life, so he never learned much more English than he needed to. The smoldering air from the job had melted his lungs, leaving him wheezing and frustrated as the COPD robbed his strength. But he had stories to tell and advice to share.
Chief among his life lessons was this: Drink every day. He said a doctor told him that, so it must be true. And he took this advice to heart and glass. Whiskey was his poison, and on particularly good days he'd have a glass, say "just one more," and then say "just one more" two or three more times until he sat in giddy silence before nodding off. He also made wine from the fruit in his garden that managed to be both delicious and strong enough to clean graffiti off a brick wall.
I recently moved to a small street in Tremont near Edison's after years spent in suburbia. When I mentioned the address to my dad, he said it was the same small street where Grandma and Grandpa first set up shop after arriving from Poland. Of course, like all good Cleveland Polacks, they eventually migrated to Parma, but not before spending years downtown.
Now that I'm down the street, I find myself at Edison's a lot again. I gravitate there on aimless walks, on lazy afternoons, and on late nights. And I think about the neighborhood and Grandpa and drinking a lot. He inventoried liquor at the Polish club down the street for years, but surely he drank in all that the neighborhood had to offer. I have too, but nothing feels quite like Edison's, one of the few neighborhood bars that remain.
I'll get home eventually. But first, just one more.