In 1895, John D. Rockefeller was refining oil in the Flats when a bar opened on the corner of Elm Street and Main Avenue. Today, Rockefeller lays in Lake View Cemetery, but the Harbor Inn keeps plugging along — not only as the city’s oldest bar but as one of the best dives in the country.
Ken Kamola, part of just the fourth ownership group in the Harbor Inn’s 126-year history, never stepped foot in the bar until he took over operations in 2016, but its mystique isn’t lost on him.
“It’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been associated with,” he says.
When Cleveland was one of America’s busiest ports, the bar offered 180 different beers. Sailors from around the world would bring a six-pack from home, Kamola explains, drink a couple and leave the rest, which were resold.
Today, the beer list still features around 100 options, though local craft beers and domestics have replaced the imports. Old-timers still come in for the Carlsberg Elephant Beer, however, which is not for the faint of heart or particularly refined palates. A new crop of regulars visits for the antique bowling machine, weeknight dart leagues and Friday night crowd. Of course, the occasional tourist stumbles in to see Cleveland’s oldest watering hole.
In a place around this long, legends abound — even a ghost story or two. And Kamola doesn’t let facts stand in the way of a good yarn. “Everybody has a story about this place,” Kamola says. “Some of them are even true.” 1219 Main Ave., Cleveland, 216-241-3232, harborinncle.com