Who remembers Brownie’s? No, not the dessert or the Girl Scout classification, nor the simple Kodak camera that brought snapshot photography to the masses. I’m not referring to Cleveland’s elfin football team mascot, either. I’m talking about the little Brownie’s Tavern on Herman Avenue at the southeast corner of West 54th Street, where they made the best burgers on Cleveland’s west side. I have spent futile hours online searching through Cleveland historical archives of beloved restaurants and eateries and taverns. No Brownie’s to be found. How sad.
When Doe and I were courting way back in the early 1980s, Brownie’s was one of our favorite cheap date destinations. Doe introduced me to the Brownie burger, and, for the price, it was love at first bite.
Our actress friend, Sharron DeCosta, longtime veteran of countless musicals at Near West Theatre, vividly remembers Brownie’s. Sharron has lived her entire life on Herman Avenue. I reached out to her to ask her what she might remember about the place.
“When I get to heaven my first request will be a Brownie burger!” was her swift and enthusiastic response. “I grew up there. My dad was a regular and all the kids in the neighborhood were welcome there. It was our Applebee’s. My dad stopped there every night after work, so we knew, if we needed Dad between 4:00 and 4:30 that he’d be at Brownie’s, with Bob, Buzzard, Bill, and all his other neighborhood friends.”
“It was truly our family restaurant. My dad did a lot of Christmas shopping there because Brownie could get stuff “right off the truck.” (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)
Sharron claims that Brownie was in a polyamorous relationship. “His wife was his wife, but Helen lived with them, and it was well known that she was more than just his barmaid.”
Sharron remembers that he had candy and chips for all the neighborhood kids to buy. “It was totally normal for a seven-year-old to walk into the bar and ask for a pop. They’d open it for you if you asked.” She also remembers how clean he kept the premises. “You didn’t spit your gum out on HIS sidewalk,” she says, “He’d come after you.” She also remembers that the tavern was always filled with plenty of tchotchkes. “Crazy statues, and those birds that tipped and seemed to drink.”
But, mostly, Sharron remembers the Brownie burgers.
“Believe it or not, they cooked them with WATER! I’m serious! They were heavenly. I have never had anything like them before or since. My first meal in heaven will be a mushroom steak burger made by Brownie.”
In the grand scheme of things, Brownie’s was probably no big deal, just another mom-and-pop establishment that sustained a family and a neighborhood for years and then quietly vanished. But neighborhoods and families and cities are held together by our collective memories and the indelible landscapes of childhood.
With all the manic building and redevelopment going on in our neighborhoods these days, how many other Cleveland memories are being erased, even as you read this?
Today, I celebrate a memory fragment of Cleveland’s past. A row of townhouses now stands where Brownie’s had been. Probably none of its current occupants have any idea that a beloved tavern once stood where they now dwell. But Sharron remembers. Fondly.
Shelley Andrews-Hinders is an author, poet, artist, singer, musician, activist and spiritual seeker dedicated to envisioning a new world order where all are free to pursue their best possible selves without fear of retribution. She is the author of Medium Brave: How a Transgender Woman Overcame Years of Self-Inflicted Conversion Therapy and Found True Happiness, from Page Publishing.
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