Otto Moser’s: The celebrity hangout with the theater crowd for 125 years

Over time Clevelanders have enjoyed a variety of excellent restaurants. People of a certain age will remember Weber’s downtown, Herman Pirchner’s Alpine Village in Playhouse Square, and the New York Spaghetti House on East 9th Street.

Otto Moser 1938 One of the best remembered, and longest lived, was Otto Moser’s—once located in Cleveland’s original theater district on Sheriff Street. The establishment opened for business in 1893 when the Euclid Avenue Opera House was practically across the street.

Built in 1875, the Opera House was the heart of Cleveland’s theater district for years. When the theater was converted from gas light to electricity in 1885 it was one of the first theaters in the country to undergo this transition. Destroyed by fire on October 24, 1892, the theater was rebuilt over the next eleven months. Lasting until 1922, it was replaced by the Hanna Theater.

Otto Moser’s customers were a roster of turn-of-the-century theatrical celebrities. These included entertainers like John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, George M. Cohan, Lillian Russell, Fanny Brice, and a host of others.

Otto Moser's was located in the Krause Building at 2044 E. 4th St., today home of the Wonder Bar.

A fixture there for nearly 50 years, Otto Moser himself held court at the bar until his death in 1942. By then the place had adopted the décor that was its trademark.

Interior of the Euclid Avenue Opera House 1885The theater people who visited left autographed photos. Over time they covered the walls and sparked many a conversation among patrons in the booths.

A large moose head named Bullwinkle watched over diners for years and the sandwiches served there were legendary.

After Moser’s death two long-term employees—oddly, both men were named Max Joseph—took over the business and ran it with minor changes. This became a challenge as the theater district moved east to Playhouse Square in the 1920s. Close ties to the theater crowd remained, and the restaurant periodically closed to the public for a day or two to put on private events catering to show people.

Over time the East 4th Street location became a liability, and the owners decided to move from the location that was home to Otto Moser’s for more than a century.

In 1994 the restaurant moved east down Euclid Avenue to the Bulkley Building. On moving day, Bullwinkle the Moose, 1,200 autographed photos of theatrical and sports celebrities, and 39-year veteran waitress Norma Bunner made the move to new quarters providing three times as much space and close proximity to Playhouse Square.

When E. 4th Street was Fourth Street where Otto Moser's can be seen on the left.A great success in its new location, 10 years later Norma was still there supervising lunch service.

All things must come to an end. For Otto Moser’s the end came in 2018, after 125 years of continuous operation, making it the longest-lived restaurant in Cleveland, a record no other establishment is ever likely to surpass.

Today, Republic Food and Drink stands in the former Otto Moser’s spot—paying tribute to its forerunner by displaying many of the original signed photographs from Otto Moser’s.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.