As East Cleveland has changed over the decades, Tucker's Casino has remained largely the same.
Owned by five brothers — Joe, Chester, Columbus, Truman and Melvin — the 40-year-old vintage bar has persevered and remains a common meeting ground for locals to enjoy camaraderie while embracing family ties.
Truman Tucker, a Tennessee native, was raised in Mason and relocated to Cleveland in 1964 for better employment opportunities. Two of his older brothers and an older sister were already in Cleveland as he decided to embark on a new journey that eventually led to helping to start a prosperous business.
“I relocated because back then, there were more opportunities for blacks in the northern cities than there were in the southern cities,” Tucker said.
He started working at a steel mill one week after his transition to Cleveland. After working at the mill for four years, he began working for the city of Cleveland under Carl B. Stokes, the city’s first black mayor. “There [were] 101 blacks working for the city of Cleveland…I was one of those blacks to hold a position never held by a person of color. I am a part of that history,” he said.
Ten years later the Tuckers brothers decided to take on a new business venture when they opened The Room, a bar and deli located on Superior and Hayden. (After a fire in 2016, it closed.)
“We had little money to start off,” Tucker said. “Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Boyd gave us a start.”
That start got them into the nightlife business.
In 1975, with the help of the Boyds, the team opened another location just across from GE Mills park on Noble Rd called The Columbo Room. The brothers also purchased a third establishment on Cedar Rd., Tucker’s Place, in the late 1970s, which they sold to Delmar Yarborough.
And in 1980, they purchased Tucker’s Casino.
Approaching its 40 anniversary in July, Tucker’s has been able to withstand drastic city changes.
“The buildings that are vacant around here now were occupied,” Tucker said. “Everybody had jobs around here and there were a lot of factories and plants in East Cleveland. Most of that is gone. There has been a lot of money that has been taken out of the neighborhood because there is hardly any employment.”
Though Tucker believes the city has seen better days, he admits that it has some positive changes on the horizon. “I might not be here to witness all the results, but I think it is on a comeback,” he added.
The casino has families of returning customers and it hosts many events for folks working at RTA, the Cleveland Clinic and alumni of nearby Shaw High School.
“Of course we cannot forget Shaw,” Tucker chuckled. “[Annually] people come from Forest Hill Park on Labor Day Weekend. They start their meet and greet on Thursday [and] they are here throughout the weekend. There has been absolutely no violence reported, not even at the park. Community members come here and have a great time.” A tradition that started 20 years ago, Shaw Alumni Weekend is just one of many ways that Tucker’s Casino continues to invest in community building efforts.
Bartender Rose “Mama Rose '' Lewis has been working for Tucker’s Casino since it opened. At the age of 16, the Alabama native came to Cleveland after an invite by her uncle.
“He wanted me to leave the south and the cotton field,” Rose said. Also seeking better employment opportunities, Rose began employment with Tucker’s. She admits to, initially, wanting to hide from the customers. Untrained as a bartender, she had no clue what to expect. Over the years, she has adapted and enjoys her relationships with her customers.
“We let them know they can enjoy themselves, and it has been beautiful,” she said. “I have an extended family here.” Lewis has also created a collage of customers and their families that hangs as a portrait inside the casino. “[The collage] started out with the great-grandchildren who are now grown,” she added. “They are happy to see a picture of their families, even though some of them are now deceased.” She enjoys the fact that she and her customers are able to “keep it real” and mentioned the way the customers feels has always been the most important part of job. “If you extend happiness, you get it back,” she said. “I love my job.”
Tucker would like to keep the casino doors open and welcome people of all backgrounds, not just locals. He would like to see more of the younger crowd in hopes that they will continue to keep family-oriented traditions going.
Tucker’s Casino is open for business Monday through Friday 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. The Columbo Room is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon 2 a.m.