A Blue-Collar Throwback
If you are willing to stand up for what’s in your glass, then you’ll have more opportunities to enjoy the ambience. Not everybody would send you to the Harbor Inn in Cleveland. It seems out of place these days in the area known as the Flats, a former industrial part of the city that has turned into an entertainment hotbed.
Step out of the wind whipping off the Cuyahoga River and into this place on a Friday afternoon when fish is frying in the kitchen, and if the floor swayed to the left you’d swear you were on a ship. There’s a 50-foot mahogany bar that could have been here soon after the first bricks were laid in 1895.
The Harbor Inn is a waterfront bar and still a blue-collar haven, a throwback to when the regulars were sailors and steel workers. It’s damp, with foreign currency tacked onto the immense wooden back bar, the ends of which are carved lighthouses. Portholes flank the entrance, a plain blue door. Life preservers hang everywhere. Of course, so do neon beer signs, beer mirrors, Christmas lights, spirits advertising, Cleveland Browns stuff, and other items that have been landing on the walls for years. The arcade games offer the same mix of new and classic.
There are no windows, and it seems brighter at night than during the day. You get the feeling that even regulars haven’t seen everything on the walls. An “Independence for Slovenia” bumper sticker was visible behind the bar the first time we visited, right beside pictures of scantily clad women. The run of spirits is a good 25 feet long and several levels high.
The Harbor Inn has no draft beer, but there are more than 150 bottle choices, a truly international offering. The best way to order is to look at the bottles on shelves behind the bar, occasionally asking the bartender to move a bottle or read an unfamiliar label. Good sense tells us that there’s every chance some of those bottles have been around for a while, but we’ve been twice—and the second time with a group of people who tried a range of beers—and even the more exotic beers were in good shape.