BY NINA POLIEN LIGHT
Ring, then serving as the Cleveland Heights landmark’s general manager, was chatting at the bar with a customer about the owner’s offer to sell him Nighttown. Ring lamented that he lacked the more than $2 million needed to make the deal, which also included an adjacent bakery and hair salon and 16 upstairs apartments. The customer said he had been watching Ring, believed in his potential, and asked him to write down P and L figures.
The customer turned out to be Charlie Keane, who sat on the loan committee of Elyria’s Northern Savings and Loan. Keane called the following week to tell Ring he had convinced the committee to back him.“A month later, I was sitting at Marlin (a now-closed Cleveland restaurant) and he basically handed me a check,” Ring says in an Irish brogue. “That’s my American Dream story. Someone at a bar gave me money—and a lot of money.”
That was 2001, nine years after Ring began as a bartender at Nighttown after moving to Cleveland from New York to accommodate his wife’s job transfer. Working in a bar and restaurant was familiar territory. The native of Ireland grew up in his family’s restaurant business and, before moving to Cleveland, owned a 50-seat restaurant in Queens. Coincidentally, his wife’s family ran an eatery on Fulton Street in Manhattan. He met her while tending bar in New York, which was supposed to be a temporary gig following his third year of engineering school in Ireland. But love took hold and Ring ditched engineering school to stay stateside.
Shortly after assuming the reins at Nighttown, Ring ramped up the restaurant’s live music offerings to include performers such as Booker T. Jones, John Legend, Manhattan Transfer, and Stevie Wonder. Business was brisk until the economic downturn of 2008, when people began eating more meals at home. To make up for lost revenue, Ring hit on the idea of catering to the corporate and special-event crowds. Located at the top of Cedar Hill, Nighttown offered the perfect proximity to University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, and other University Circle businesses and institutions. Where else could people host special events between University Circle and the Inner Ring suburbs? “No place, really,” Ring says. “We can have five or six events going on at once, but people at one event wouldn’t know about the others unless they met in the bathroom.”
With a $500,000 initial investment and more along the way, Ring expanded Nighttown into a 14,000-square-foot restaurant and event center encompassing 500 seats spread among six rooms and three bars. Some 5,000 square feet are indoors; the remaining comprise two year-round patios and one seasonal patio. A separate kitchen dedicated to corporate and special-event food preparation allows the restaurant’s regular service to remain fluid.
All rooms are equipped with screens, projectors, and microphones. The Main Room features an oversize pull-down screen, stage, and grand piano. Its paneled walls, art, and Tiffany-style lighting make it an inviting space for a mixer of up to 300 people or a sit-down meal for 170. Many hospital fundraisers and financial-service company pitches occur here. A smaller room is ideal for groups of up to 30 people. Pharmaceutical companies favor the spot for meetings, and University Hospitals entertains new residents here.
Opened last spring behind the restaurant, The Secret Garden accommodates 50-60 people and features a greenhouse-style roof, fireplace, wood floor, and removable wall panels that invite summer breezes. Ring originally built it to accommodate regular patrons when the other rooms were booked with events. “Guess what happened?” Ring asks. “People wanted it for events.” Another patio, dubbed Stephen’s Green after Dublin’s famous park, is also used year-round. It can be heated in the winter. Large doors slide up in the spring and summer to reveal a waterfall and flowers. The Cleveland Film Commission held a party for 300 people here.
Corporate and networking groups may choose from a sit-down meal in a private room with four entrée choices or a mixer with passed hors d’oeuvres. Nighttown hosts about 100 corporate events annually, not counting numerous holiday dinners and business lunches. Bruce Hennes of Hennes Paynter Communications hosts many meetings at downtown venues but favors Nighttown for more intimate business entertaining. He enjoys showing off the Press Club of Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame, which is housed at the restaurant, listening to live jazz, and mingling with a cross section of Cleveland’s population. “When I want great food, excellent service, and a chance to show out-of-towners a real Cleveland joint with a 50-year history, I take them to Nighttown,” he says.
For more information: nighttowncleveland.com