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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, Ohio

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we head to Cleveland to visit one of America's great brewpubs.

Great Lakes Brewing Co.
2516 Market Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44113
(216) 771-4404

A brewpub is an extremely difficult business to run successfully over a long period of time. Some of my all-time favorites, places like Empire Brewing in Syracuse, Commonwealth Brewing in Boston and Dock Street in Philadelphia, served up great beer along with good food, but now they are gone. The restaurant business is notoriously difficult, while the brewing skills and marketing acumen required to launch a successful line of beers is hard to find in most small business teams.

That's why Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland is so impressive to me. Founded in 1988 as the first microbrewery in Ohio by brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway, the area around the restaurant featured a number of disused buildings and not much that would generate customer traffic. Great Lakes brewed about 1,000 barrels that year. Now several of the nearby buildings make up the Great Lakes campus. Some of the buildings used by Great Lakes were once the horse stables and kegging facilities for the Schlather Brewing Company, which dates back to 1878. Schlather once brewed up to 90,000 barrels a year and was one of 30 breweries in Cleveland. The first expansion by Great Lakes took place in 1992 and then in 1998, driven by increased market demand and regional growth, Great Lakes spent $8 million and installed a 75-barrel system capable of producing up to 70,000 barrels annually. You can now find Great Lakes' beers throughout Ohio and in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Great lakes restaurant is still going strong and now there is meeting and banquet facilities available.

Great Lakes is known for its award winning beers, including Dortmunder Gold, Burning River Pale Ale, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Holy Moses White Ale and seasonals like Conway's Irish Ale, Moondog Ale and Christmas Ale.

The brewpub is housed in a Victorian building that is a smoke-free environment. Originally The Market Tavern, which dates back to 1865, it became a popular watering hole for Cleveland's law enforcement officers, civil service employees and tradesmen. Its most famous patron was Eliot Ness, former leader of Chicago's "Untouchables" and the man credited with sending Al Capone to jail. The Taproom has a great Tiger Mahogany bar said to be Cleveland's oldest with a pair of bullet holes that legend has it were made by Ness. Below the Taproom is a new Beer Cellar, a beautiful turn-of-the-century "Rathskellar" complete with stone walls, a wooden bar and a viewing area of smaller brewing tanks. The Brewhouse is where most of the restaurant patrons are seated, but you can also enjoy a beer or a meal in the indoor/outdoor Beer Garden and in seating under trees in front of the Brewpub. Above the Taproom are two rooms available for private events known as the Market Room and the Rockefeller Room, which served as law offices for a young John D. Rockefeller before he got his start with Standard Oil.

The Great Lakes menu comes fully furnished with beer recommendations for every dish. The culinary team at the restaurant is not restricted by the rules of standard brewpub fare. You find things like a lobster and ricotta stuffed squash blossom appetizer, Stilton cheddar cheese soup made with Dortmunder Gold Lager and Alaskan halibut with yellow gazpacho sauce. You can also get a great bratwurst and pierogi plate or a wood fired pizza.

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