With a handful of upcoming openings, speakasies and lounges are making a comeback in Cleveland



  • Courtesy of Jillian Wolstein
  • Cassidy Room at Smokey’s BBQ & Saloon

In the old days, restaurateurs were content to carve out a small space in the main dining room for a bar and a handful of stools. Operators these days are going far beyond these old-fashioned strategies in favor of fully separate lounges that are adjacent, below, above or behind the restaurant. These modern speakeasies provide guests with a different atmosphere and dining program than the restaurant, while opening up a new source of income in the form of private events.

1330 on the River is slated to open in the former East End space on the East Bank Apartments later this month. There, Zaman “Zeek” Khan will run a scratch kitchen serving eclectic fare in a rustic space with stellar views. But it’s the underground underground bar that the chef can’t wait to share. Located at river level, Compass Speakeasy will feature a patio and bar that embraces the water’s edge and garage doors that will protect the interior portion during the off season.

“It’s nice to have a separate bar attached to a restaurant where customers can get away from it all and have a different experience,” says Khan. “Upstairs we can stay focused on my scratch kitchen, but downstairs we’ll focus more on drinks, so it’s a nice separation.

As well as providing a different vibe to the main restaurant, Compass and places like it can offer upscale cocktails and spirits that might be more suitable for a lounge than a restaurant.

Jillian Wolstein and her business partner Scott Wolstein continue to reshape the Flats in ways big and small. Next, Smokey’s BBQ & Saloon, a Texan-style truck stop with a country and western theme. Guests who are tired of the smoked turkey thighs, the mechanical bull, and the live fiddle can escape to the Sundance Lounge. Considered “the highest point on the riverside” on the east bank, this rooftop bar will offer stunning sunset views as well as inventive cocktails and small plates. Those looking for a more exclusive hideaway can slip into the adjacent Cassidy Room, an intimate cigar lounge with select spirits.

“It’s like fashion,” spokeswoman Lauren Pepple said of the cigar bar flashback. “It’s like the ’90s are back right now. People are looking for something different and I think there is a unique way to do it for Cleveland. There is a market for different experiences; you don’t want to do the same things over and over again.

When it opens this fall in Ohio City, Amba will draw constant crowds for its creative Indian-inspired cuisine, but owner Doug Katz wants his new neighbors to consider visiting the property even when they’re not dining. This is why he reserves a space adjoining A Bar, a well-appointed lounge which rises well above the “waiting room with drinks”.

“We wanted to create a bar next to Amba that would give you more reasons to come than just dinner,” Katz explains. “It will be a fun and relaxed meeting place for you and your friends that offers a different atmosphere than the restaurant.”

Goma has been open for three months, but it has already become a huge attraction on East Fourth Street. But owner Dante Boccuzzi has one more trump card up his sleeve: Giappone, his take on a Japanese craft cocktail club that will open underground. When the speakeasy is ready for prime time, it will serve spirits and entertainment to an exclusive crowd. The space will be “difficult to access”, promises Boccuzzi.

At the end of the block at Indie, which meets nicely in the old Greenhouse Tavern space, owners Gabriel Zeller and Julie Mesenburg reserve a dining area for a VIP lounge. What was previously known as the rear mezzanine has been isolated from the restaurant as a whole and will be called E4SE, short for East Fourth Speakeasy.

“As clients, when Julie and I go out of town, we’re looking for those kinds of places, so creating our own was kind of a no-brainer,” says Zeller. “It’s very private compared to the main dining room. With the rooftop, we will have three different concepts in the same premises.

The dark, clubby environment will accommodate less than 20 guests and will offer a different selection of spirits than the restaurant below.

Zdenko Zovkic recently closed the Warehouse District’s XO Prime Steaks pillar, but will soon be opening Jade, a multi-level restaurant on the east side of the apartments. Like his neighbors at Smokey’s, Zovkic is reserving the rooftop space for something special.

When it opens in the coming weeks, Jade will offer customers a different experience on each of the three levels. The ground floor will be a stylish but relaxed sushi bar, while the second level will be more upscale. At the top is Jade Social, an exclusive, semi-private rooftop lounge with cabanas, dining, and live music. Later, only subscribers will have access to the club.


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