Bullet holes by the Burning River: Great Lakes Brewing unveils a modern remodel in historic location

Ever since Pat and Dan Conway opened the doors to Great Lakes Brewing Company in 1988, the location spanning three historic buildings at 2516 Market Ave. has been an Ohio City anchor. The 19th century buildings boast a rich speculative history—of shootouts involving Eliot Ness, to one of the first family-owned small businesses in Ohio City, to even a not-so-reputable hotel and saloon.

On Jan. 26, the establishment closed for renovations to bring a new concept to Great Lakes Brewing while preserving the historic nature of the buildings and their Ohio City tradition.

Market Room Dining area at GLBC.While over the years management has shuffled around layouts, freshened the decor, and added seating, this renovation project is Great Lake's most extensive remodel in its 32-year history.

“We started thinking in the spring of last year about what we wanted the customer experience to be,” says Bridget Barrett, Great Lakes' director of customer experience. “We thought about just doing cosmetic work to the front of the house, and that led us down a path where we wanted a casual beer-drinking, fun space and at the same time a dining experience for people who know us for our food.”

On Feb. 14, the 217-seat bar and restaurant officially reopened its doors with the new concept after an intense two-week renovation.

The new layout gives guests both a fine dining experience and a casual side to meet friends for a beer and a snack. The kitchen has been expanded and updated. The work provides an open, modern feel while preserving the storied history of the 1872 Market Tavern building, the Herrman-McLean Feed and Seed Co., and the Silver Dollar Saloon (and upstairs Elton Hotel).

Herrman-McLean Feed and Seed Co.

The three original buildings, which were fused together when the Conways first began designing the Great Lakes space, basically are now separated into four areas: Brewhouse No. 1 for upscale gastropub dining and the Cellar Bar; the Taproom; an authentic-looking German Beer Garden off of the taproom; and the gift shop and offices.

The three original buildings, shown here in 1963, were fused together when the Conways first began designing the Great Lakes Brewing space.The centerpiece of Brewhouse No. 1 (in the Herrman-McLean building) is Great Lakes' original seven-barrel brewing system. “When you walk in the front doors, the first thing you see are those beautiful tanks,” says Barrett, adding that pub brewer Steve Forman uses the system to brew beer varieties that customers can only find in-house.

Those special brews are currently the Base Solo Milkshake IPA, Base Solo Take 1, Purple Stuff Wheat Ale, and The Universe in a Nut Brown Ale on tap, Barrett says. Proceeds from The Universe go to support Ales for ALS.

Brewhouse No. 1 also houses the Beer Cellar and the Market and Rockefeller dining rooms.The Rockefeller Room got its name because it was thought that John D. Rockefeller once had his office there, says Mike Williams, Great Lakes education coordinator.

Rockefeller never actually had an office in the building, it was later discovered, but the name stuck, Williams says.

There are plenty of open areas—the previous dining environment could be a bit cramped, says Barrett—with lots of tables for the fine dining experience. Here, executive chef Shorty Coleman cooks up new, modern gastropub selections like pork belly cassoulet or bone marrow, as well as some of his signature dishes.

All the food is made in the completely renovated kitchen, also in Brewhouse No. 1, which received everything from new floors and walls to new equipment.

“My favorite part may be seeing that new kitchen, but I have three or four favorite parts,” says Williams. “We never really expanded the kitchen, so there was a big need in there.”

Pieces of Herrman-McLean history were incorporated into the new design, Williams says. What used to be an eating area in the old Great Lakes space is now a waiting area that features a scale once used to weigh bags of Herrman-McLean goods.

“You can stand on it, and the scale still moves a little bit, which is cool,” Williams says. “And a little nook that used to be a cashier’s station and was then used as a servers station is now a coat check area.”

Communal drinking rails are spread throughout Brewhouse No. 1. New light fixtures and décor give an updated look.

The Beer Cellar remains unchanged, with weekday happy hour pricing on food and drinks, as well as weekly stand-up comedy nights, karaoke, and trivia. Friday Brewmaster’s Nights will showcase rare and special small-batch beer drafts.

On the outer eastern wall of what used to be Market Tavern, a billboard still exists, touting the benefits of drinking their draught beer for “family and medicinal purposes.”Market Tavern

Signs of days gone by remain in the Tap Room. On the outer eastern wall of what used to be Market Tavern, a billboard still exists, touting the benefits of drinking their draught beer for “family and medicinal purposes.”

The staff wouldn’t dare think of removing the original 1901 tiger mahogany bar, which only left its place from 1920 to 1933.

“When Prohibition was going on, it was cut up and put in a third-floor office,” Williams says. “It was restored after Prohibition ended, and the Market Tavern reopened right away.”

It is widely believed that former Cleveland safety director and crime fighter (and Prohibition enforcer) Eliot Ness probably drank at Market Tavern, Williams says. He is associated with at least five bullet holes in the taproom walls.

“The infamous bullet holes are rumored to be attached to Eliot Ness in some way,” he says. “But we don’t think he shot the bullets himself. The Conways’ mother was Ness’ stenographer, and she said he never carried a gun.”

Some of the bullet holes are covered, but Williams says a small sign reading “bang” marks one of the holes behind the bar.

Modern-day décor on the walls—such as collages of current and past employees—puts a new stamp on the history.

A true German Beer Garden

East of the Taproom, in a space that once housed another historic building, is the renovated Beer Garden that keeps with Great Lakes Brewing’s commitment to sustainability and provides an authentic German beer garden experience. “It’s that space where you want to come here with a friend and grab a beer and maybe a snack,” says Barrett. “Really what we have here is bar comradery and beer garden experience.”

The refurbished space is heated by a fireplace, has hay in the walls for insulation, and features a retractable roof for use in the summer. Long picnic benches fill the room, which also has big-screen televisions for watching the game.

The Beer Garden has its own bar menu and regular social activities. Tuesday night Euchre tournaments and Wednesday night bingo will be held there.

Elton Hotel

The westernmost portion of Great Lakes Brewing, the former Elton Hotel (which was not your typical room rentals for sleeping kind of place, Williams says) and Silver Dollar Saloon, will continue to house the brewery’s administrative offices and gift shop.

The temporary closure was difficult, both Williams and Barrett say, but customers were eager to stop in and see the changes Feb. 14. Overall, the new Great Lakes Brewing has been well-received, Barrett says.

“We really wanted to keep the historic feeling of these spaces and respect what they’ve been for so long,” says Barrett. “We want to celebrate the past while we want to take the brand into the future. And I think we’ve been able to do that.”

Read more articles by 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.