Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Before Starbucks and Craft Beer Pubs


The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

Much is made these days of the idea of “third places” which are places between work and home that function as social gathering places. Starbucks and other coffee shops particularly serve that function for a certain kind of crowd. Free wi-fi, custom-made coffee and other hot and cold drinks, tables, couches, and an ambience that encourages conversation, or for those who are into it, work, and sometimes a bit of both. For the adult crowd, it seems that one of the trendy places where this happens is at craft beer pubs, perhaps with locally brewed beer, or exotic lists of craft brews from all over the world. It does seem that all this comes at a premium–expensive coffee, or beers that cost what a six pack would at the grocery.

I was thinking today of what would have been the equivalent growing up in working class Youngstown. My wife, ever the realist reminded me that for many people with families, there was only work and home, and you didn’t drop money at coffee shops or bars. A treat might be a dinner out together as a family at the Boulevard Tavern or other places like it.

I do think the neighborhood bar served this function to a certain degree. In some parts of town, they were places mill workers would stop at on the way home. Others had the neighborhood regulars, and others who would drop by less frequently. For the younger crowd, places like McDonalds might be a great place to catch a burger and a Coke after school and hang out with friends. In the summer, Handel’s certainly was this kind of place for people who gathered from all over town, and sat in (or on) their cars and enjoyed good ice cream.

For those of us who worked downtown (this was in the late 60’s, early 70’s) you might take a break at the Plaza Donuts in the Arcade, or pop over to the Ringside after work. For those of us who were students at Youngstown State, the Kilcawley Pub on campus was convenient–little did we know that Ed O’Neill would turn out to be famous! Nearby, there were places like the Golden Dawn or the Royal Oaks (which I hear is still quite good!).

I think the big difference between then and now was so many of these were locally owned (some of the new places are as well) and had their own unique flavor that reflected their clientele. They were also good value for the dollar. You didn’t have lots of fancy coffee drinks, you had coffee. No fancy craft beers–heck, I remember when Coors was a big deal!

Where did you go to meet up with friends before the days of Starbucks and brew pubs?

7 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Before Starbucks and Craft Beer Pubs

  1. Great topic! Growing up on Emerald Street in Smoky Hollow had the pleasure of “having” two such places close-by. Of course, I was a kid, born in 1954, so could only partake in my imagination or as a tag-along on certain days. As a kid though, holding the hand of dad and seeing everything from about knee-high up, I certainly had a unique perspective except those times I’d get lifted up to a bar stool or booth to have some “bar food”…perhaps a hot dog and a pink lady like I did whenever we stopped by the Royal Oaks on Oak Street….a favorite stop after haircuts at Louie The Barbers just up the street.

    Living directly across from the Tip Top Cafe (c’mon…it was a “beer garden” nothing cafe about it) I was witness to many, many adventures, noises, scuffles, paddy wagon visits to take the local drunk home, beautiful motor cycles on a regular basis, hot rods, softball teams havin’ a brew after the game and more and more. Especially funs, as a kid was Thursday nights (believe it was original owner Jack who started this) sports reel night….usually the replay of the latest Indy 500, Masters Golf Tournament or World Series…food seemed extra good and special and the side room was loaded with dads and kids…always a fun night!

    Just around the corner on Walnut St was/is the very famous MVR, owned by Joe Cassese and still going strong with the kids involved…a great gathering place for the locals, the stop on the way home for the guys from the mill and more recently the YSU crowd where you’re apt to run into some of Y-town’s “famous” folks…a great crowd that knows its sports….boxing, college, high school and pro…football, baseball and BOCCE! Quite the spot for Bocce….only wish I still lived there….left Youngstown basically in 1989 for South Florida then SoCal and now Seattle, WA.

    As they say, however, you can take the people out of Youngstown but you can’t take Youngstown out of the people and I’m sure a testament of that!

    Youngstown Proud!

  2. I worked the mills through college. I use to go to the OH after working the afternoon shift. I mean most folks that were working the next day were sleeping unless it was the weekend. I worked in the open hearths so a cold beer tasted good. In addition, it gave us some down time to socialize before heading home.

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