I recently learned that the Boulevard Tavern, an institution on Youngstown’s South Side has closed after nearly 90 years in operation. Nick Petrella ran the tavern through most of it’s history and it was known for its fish and good spaghetti sauce.
This news reminded me of what an institution the neighborhood bar has been in working class Youngstown. And like most bars, it was not just a “shot and a beer” place but also a place to get good food. You really couldn’t have a popular bar without having a good kitchen.
Every part of town had (and still has in some cases) its places. There was the MVR in Smoky Hollow, the Avalon and the Golden Dawn on the north side, the Royal Oaks Tavern on the east side, and the Atomic Bar on the south side. The Ringside, the Brass Rail and the Blue Ribbon Grill were among the downtown favorites.
Growing up on the west side, there were several bars along Steel Street including the Polar Bear, the Palm Cafe and the Open Hearth. We used to get some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten from Molly O’Dea’s on Salt Springs Rd. Up on Mahoning Avenue was the Town Tavern and Il Solo Mio. The bars on Steel Street and Salt Springs were near the mills and guys would stop there on the way home.
But because most bars had good kitchens, they were also family places. In fact, the question with many places would be, “is it a bar or is it a restaurant” and the answer was yes! There were the regulars at the bar, and then the folks that came in every so often for a good meal out in the days before fast food and chain restaurants.
Bars were part of the rich fabric of neighborhoods in working class Youngstown. You could walk to one nearby just as you could the bank, the local grocery, the beer and wine shop, the drug store and hardware store. Such places still exist but nowadays it seems that you drive to bars in commercial developments some distance from one’s neighborhood. I wonder if this contributes to DUI incidence. As long as you stayed on the sidewalk you weren’t a danger to yourself or others!
Bars were indeed places where “everyone knew your name” if you were a regular. The owners and customers knew each other by first name. Often the owners helped sponsor local sports teams and so further contributed to the fabric of community.
What are your memories of neighborhood bars in Youngstown, or your own home town?
[You can find all the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown posts in the “On Youngstown” category on my homepage]