German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

Friendship Glowed in Old German Cafes

"100 Years of Nationalities in Cleveland"
21st of a Series
By Theodore Andrica
Cleveland Press, November 13, 1950

Besides singing societies and Turnvereins, Germans contributed another institutions that brought genuine "gemuetlichkeit" to life in Cleveland.

This was the old fashioned "wirtschaft" or as it was called by the non-German: the saloon, or cafe.

The early German saloons were not only places where alcoholic refreshments were sold but also meeting places for congenial friends. This was an important thing in an era when private-clubs were non-existent.

It would be an error to think that the early German tavern keepers chose their trade only because of money making possibilities. There was a definite pride in the profession on those days, pride that was part of the make-up of every "wirtschaftbesitzer" in the old country.

A Friendly Scene

An old-fashioned German saloon keeper knew every customer by name, and the "stammtisch," the table where the same people met at the same time every day, was an integral part of every German tavern.

One of the oldest German taverns in Cleveland was run by A. Seywert who in 1850 had his restaurant on the second floor of an old brick building at the corner of Superior and Water St. (now W. 9th). Here one could find, day or night, congenial German company.

Since whisky was sold for only five cents per glass, many young Germans who lived in unheated rooms found Seywert's tavern a cheap place to keep warm, meet congenial people, all for five cents a drink.

Slight Interruptions

Nearby was the central fire station. As most Germans who frequented Seywert's saloon were volunteer firemen, when a fire broke out the customers put on their helmets and rushed to the fire. Then they returned to Seywert's and drank to each others health.

In the same vicinity was Friedrich Wagner's tavern and restaurant. In his native Wuertemberg Herr Wagner, was a teacher of writing, poetry, and piano. He came to Cleveland in the 1850's and soon opened a restaurant and tavern but he kept on giving writing, poetry, and piano lessons.

His Home Was Busy

Herr Wagner believed in advertising. Here is how he told the world about his wares:

"I give German lessons to children, 10 cents for 25 hours, when they come in a group. Piano lessons, 20 hours for $1, either on my own piano or at the pupil's home. I will teach handwriting and will write letters to Germany cheap."

"I will also write, and teach the writing of, poems for any occasion, be the subject satire, politics or moral, three cents a line. My wife will teach housekeeping, including the sewing of shirt cuffs, $1 for 16 hours."

Carl Miller opened the winter season of his saloon with a grand ball on Oct. 3, 1851, in his Empire Hall, Miller, who was an officer in the Schleswig-Holstein artillery before coming to America, promised good music and wines from the Rhine and France.

Napoleon House, at the corner of St. Clair Ave. and Water St. (W. 9th) was "Father" Emrich's famous German tavern in the late 1850's. Emrich served under Napoleon in Spain and was a fanatic worshipper of the French emperor.

When guests who knew his foibles belittled Napoleon, Emrich simply put them out of his tavern.

Bechtel House, run by "Father" Bluim, was near Napoleon House on St. Clair Ave. Bluim had only one kind of wine, which he called "Isabella." Whenever a customer criticized his wine, Bluim would throw the man out of the saloon.

First Tapped Beer

To William Richter goes the honor of serving "Lager," or beer on tap, for the first time in Cleveland. Richter came here from Saxony and opened a saloon and boarding house on Ontario St.

After he introduced lager beer, his tavern became one of the most popular German meeting places in Cleveland. Richter's popularity had one drawback, he complained to friends: his steadiest customers were the most irregular payers.

Photo caption: German taverns were among the best known cafes in the early days of Cleveland. Most of them went out of business when Prohibition came along.