In the past year alone, West 25th Street in Ohio City has morphed into one of the most desirable dining destinations around, with its main drag now boasting Crop, SOHO, Market Garden Brewery, Bonbon, Bogtrotters, Alaturka, and others.
That growth is also what drew Fabio Salerno to the area. The chef and owner of Lago, Gusto, and Grotto has claimed one of the few vacant spaces and, with a pair of partners in tow, plans to pump $1 million or so into Town Hall in time for a late spring or early summer opening.
“What we’re doing there hasn’t been seen before in Cleveland,” Salerno says of the concept, which he declines to explain in detail. He does note that it’ll be all-organic and focused on sustainability, with meals served morning, noon, and night. And, this being Ohio City, there will also be a lengthy bar specializing in craft beers.
But Salerno’s plans have led residents and businesses to charge that Ohio City is fast becoming Warehouse District West — in a bad way, evidently — and they believe Town Hall will only hasten the decline. Count neighborhood restaurateur Sam McNulty among them.
“I would suggest that anybody who thinks that this is just going to be a restaurant and not a nightclub go to Bobby’s Barley House on a Friday or Saturday night,” McNulty says, noting the West Sixth establishment owned by Bobby George, one of Salerno’s partners.
“The place is a drug-addled punch palace. And he sold the Warehouse District on the fact that it would be an Irish pub and not a nightclub.”
Coming from McNulty — who is related by marriage to Town Hall partner Sean Heineman — those are no idle words.
“This district has thrived on owner-operators who live in and care for this neighborhood,” says McNulty, who owns Bier Markt and Market Garden Brewery. “The last thing we need is someone bringing Barley House to Ohio City. Look what happened with Moda and Envy,” he adds, citing two former clubs notorious for drugs, violence, and other extracurricular fun.
Salerno can appreciate the concern; as a business owner in Tremont, he participates in a similar process each time a new operator wants to set up shop. He also admits to being cagey with details only to ensure that he’s the first to pull off the concept.
“There has been so much negativity surrounding this,” he says. “Everybody on the street was worried that we were putting in a nightclub. There’s a DJ and dance floor [in Speakeasy] under the Bier Markt. To me, that’s a nightclub. We’re not doing that.”
This concludes this week’s installment of Only in Cleveland!, where shitty neighborhoods become showplaces and everybody complains about it.