This week, Playhouse Square announced that shows scheduled for late summer and fall, including sold-out runs of “Hamilton” and “Disney's Frozen,” have been pushed back until January 2021 at the earliest. The decision will postpone or cancel hundreds of planned performances when you take into account plays, concerts, dance troupes, comedians and speakers.
The news is devastating to restaurants in the area, who rely almost exclusively on theatre traffic to fill their seats. While restaurants all over the city are struggling to stay alive in the era of Covid-19, the situation is even more troublesome for those in Playhouse Square.
“It’s quite possible that we don’t open until January when the shows return,” says Seth Bromberg, owner of District, a restaurant located in the heart of Playhouse Square.
Almost overnight, District’s reservation book was wiped clean, with no likelihood that it will be refilled in the foreseeable future.
“Playhouse Square is one of the most unique neighborhoods in Cleveland in that it doesn’t draw any clientele except for theatre,” Bromberg explains. “You manage your lunch business and hours around these sold-out shows. It’s one of the few models in the city that is purely a destination.”
While the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group scrambles to reopen L’Albatros, Parallax, Alley Cat and Collision Bend as early as this weekend, there are no plans at present to reopen Playhouse Square eateries Cowell and Hubbard and Dynomite, says Julian Bruell, director of service. That decision rests entirely with his boss and father Zack, he reports, but odds are not in favor of a speedy reopening.
“Obviously, not having theatre for an entire year is going to really hurt,” says Bruell. “It’s not looking favorable, but we’ll see. The shows are what attract people to the restaurants. It’s not like in New York where people will visit regardless of events if you’re a great restaurant. People will still go to East Fourth Street, but Playhouse is a little off the downtown path, so it’s a huge challenge.”
Operators in Playhouse Square are uniquely challenged, they say, but they also are uniquely privileged in that many have Playhouse Square as their landlord. And thanks to timely, open and honest communication between landlord and tenant, restaurant owners believe they have a partner during the crisis.
“We have a great relationship with Playhouse Square and because of that relationship, this storm can be weathered,” notes Scott Kuhn, owner of Bin 216, Cibreo, Republic Food and Drink and Green Rooster Farms, all located in the theatre district.
It isn’t just the customers no longer visiting his Driftwood Restaurants that Kuhn is losing, but also the business that comes from operating the bars and concessions within the theatres, not to mention the off-site catering and cast parties that act as the gravy on top. Still, Kuhn is confident that he and his neighbors will come out of this alive if not unchanged.
“I do think Playhouse Square has some unique challenges because of the reliance on theatres, but I think some good will come out of this,” he says. “The district will be fine, but it’s going to be different for a while. We will reopen, but this will force us to reinvent ourselves."