Flat Iron Café: Cleveland’s oldest Irish bar

The unique triangular building on the corner of Center Street and Merwin Avenue has graced the Flats East Bank since the late 1800s. The Flat Iron Café has been the main tenant of the building for more than a century—making customers feel right at home.

Established in 1910, the Flat Iron Café is the oldest Irish bar in Cleveland, serving industrial workers and sailors in its early days, to today’s diverse clientele.

In the late 1800s, developers saw the need to accommodate the Flats workers, sailors, and longshoremen who worked and traveled to the area. They built the odd-shaped, four-story red brick building with stone cornices as a hotel on Center Street to accommodate those travelers. A blacksmith shop occupied the first floor.

It is unclear how the building became dubbed the Flat Iron. Some say it’s named after the 1902 New York City Fuller Building, also known as the Flatiron Building, which was designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. Burnham also designed three Cleveland buildings in the 1890s but did not design the Center Street building.

Others argue that the building’s shape looks like a flat iron when viewed from above.

Flat Iron Café signFlat Iron Café signShortly after the hotel was built, legend says a prostitute accidentally started a fire when she fell asleep with a burning cigarette—resulting in the loss of the top two floors of the building. The lower two floors remained intact, and the building was saved. The prostitute died in the fire, and some report the building as being haunted today—supposedly hearing her screams.

In 1910, the Flat Iron Café opened its doors on the first floor of the building, with the café owners, longshoremen, and sailors in port still using the second floor as living space. Downstairs, the owners served drinks and dinner to hungry patrons.

Longtime former owner Izzy Cohen long ago established a staple menu of daily specials that included meatloaf and mashed potatoes, corned beef and cabbage, and Lake Erie yellow perch, which were served up cafeteria-style to the patrons who sat at long, communal tables. Many of those dishes continue in the menu rotation today.

In 1988, the current owners remodeled the café and building. The café itself was refreshed, the cafeteria-style service and tables were replaced with induvial table service, and the original 30-foot bar was refinished. The second floor living quarters were converted into a banquet room.

Additionally, the Flat Iron Café now offers free transport to and from Guardians and Browns games on its shuttle bus.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.