The Family Speakeasy

Skee ball, a G-man, Erin Brew —if only the joint were still around
The stories about Mauda McGinty Neforos are usually told in low whispers by family members old enough to remember her. In the only picture I’ve ever seen of my great-grandmother, she’s standing in the family bar, the James Neforos Restaurant.

She wasn’t your normal matriarch. She had a brash attitude and occasionally cheated at cards, and she certainly wasn’t known for her cooking. The James Neforos Restaurant became simply a beer joint as soon as her husband, the cook, died. The restaurant, at West 73rd Street and Lorain Avenue, had been in the family since the early 1900s. During Prohibition, it never even bothered to stop selling alcohol.

Those were paranoid days, though. Speakeasies and basement brewers were common in Northeast Ohio, but anyone who defied the law had to be careful. Mauda once got a call that a G-man was poking around town, trying to track down James Neforos. She quickly poured 15 to 20 crates of booze down the bathtub drain.

Not much later, one of her husband’s Chicago relatives knocked on the door, unannounced, looking all the law-enforcement agent he was. He wasn’t there to bust anybody, just to visit. Mauda chewed her husband out.

The joint, as the family called it, burned down before I was born and was replaced long ago by a Convenient Food Mart. My uncle, John Neforos, remembers the staples of an old-time, working-man’s bar: skee ball, big comfy stools and a mini-bowling game.

When I look at this photo, with the taps of Cleveland’s Erin Brew ready to pour and a guy in a worker’s jumpsuit seated at the bar, I know I would have hung out there. It looks like the neighborhood joints I’m always tracking down.

I would have let my great-grandma get away with cheating at cards, too.
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