For nearly 20 years, Winking Lizard has been a fixture on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. It replaced Pepper Ridge Tavern, which replaced Turkey Ridge Tavern, two popular neighborhood watering holes. That legacy will end in early fall when the Lizard opens its next location, this one in Mayfield Heights. The company recently took possession of the former El Rio Grande (and Buca di Beppo) spot and have begun work to transform it into a Winking Lizard.
“We’re completely gutting the inside of the building,” says Lizard principal John Lane.
When completed sometime next fall, the space will boast roomy dining rooms, high ceilings, and two separate patio bars. One will be devoted to the Winking Lizard brand, while the other will be dedicated to the new Cellarville concept, a 21-and-over pub offering craft draft beers, high-end whiskey and a cigar-friendly perch.
Lane says that when all is said and done, the Mayfield spot will be in the top three in terms of size within the organization.
Meanwhile, the Lizard is killing off its Winks Bar and Grille brand, one that offered a more upscale food experience. The original opened in late 2012 at the Galleria downtown. The second opened in Beachwood late last year. The Beachwood location already has been converted to a Winking Lizard and the Galleria will follow suit.
“The sad thing is, the downtown Winks is doing pretty well, but we just couldn’t get Beachwood off the ground,” Lane says. “We’re finding already that people in Beachwood are much happier since we converted it over. After 31 years of business, we’re still learning.”
Lane says that very little needs to be done to either location for the conversion “other than adding a lizard cage.”
As for his decision to shutter the Coventry location, Lane points to neighborhoods like University Circle, Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway as challenges to the bottom line.
“The competition is insane, and the development dollars are going to certain neighborhoods,” he says.
The Coventry location will remain open until around the time the new Mayfield spot opens its doors.