In the 1980s, the West Bank of the Flats was an industrial wasteland of derelict warehouses and salt mines.
Then, in 1985, a Riverfest celebration showed the area’s potential. Rather than ignore our industrial heritage, we could embrace it. Two years later, the Nautica Complex opened, including Shooters, a Key West-influenced bar and restaurant. Reviews were not kind. “No one considers Shooters a serious restaurant ,” The Plain Dealer wrote in 1987.
But you didn’t go there for the food; you went for the suddenly cool cocktail of industry and alcohol served on hot summer nights.
Winter is hell on Lake Erie’s frozen shores, but summertime on the river is breezy and pleasant. And Shooters, with its plentiful outdoor decks and docks, was the place to enjoy it. You could get sloppy drunk while the barges chugged past hauling pig iron down to the mill. You could dance under the glow of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.
Soon, bars sprouted up all along the West Bank, which quickly became a destination for bachelor parties, post-game shots and even visits by pro athletes. Indians players could be found in the late 1990s rocking at Tribe Jam, and Charles Barkley infamously got into a fight at the Basement in 1996.
That year, Cleveland’s bicentennial, was the peak. The bars had grown less exclusive. And there were fights, culminating in three deaths in a month. At the same time, other neighborhoods were on the rise.
“The Flats was hard to maintain because it relied on single use for bars and restaurants,” says Tom Yablonsky, who recently retired from Downtown Cleveland Alliance.
But to paraphrase Huey Lewis — another ’80s icon — the heart of the Flats never stopped beating. The West Bank is on the upswing again, thanks to the Towpath Trail, the aquarium and other recreational opportunities. And it, too, has benefited from Clevelanders looking to downtown as a place to live, not just work. And after it all, Shooters is still there — just waiting for the next party to start.