Ohio City is great, dive bars are better.
In some ways, ABC the Tavern is a space acting like a dive bar to attract a dive bar-friendly crowd in an area littered with more expensive options. And in some ways, ABC the Tavern is a legit dive bar that happens to have attractive neighbors and the grave injustice of a great kitchen. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but for a low-key drinking option in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, ABC the Tavern is by far the best choice.
The stretch of road home to ABC Tavern is also home to some of the best, nicest (sometimes expensive) restaurants in the city as well as Great Lakes Brewing a few doors down. The block is almost continuously crowded, at night because of the proliferation of food & drink options and during the day thanks to West Side Market, the city’s oldest open-air market. ABC opens a bit later during the week but doors open noon on Saturday and Sunday.
Despite the foot traffic, ABC is sometimes spared the crowd (no promises), making it not just the best drinking option on the strip but also a welcome refuge from what can be a pretty intense throng of young professionals wandering from restaurant to Uber and back again. For what can be a pretty polished neighborhood, the ABC sign sticks out, a purple art deco inscription above the front door and a handful of picnic tables that comprise the front patio outdoor seating.
The shotgun-style space inside is long and narrow, including, by divine Cleveland decree, a vintage bowling game a few steps from the front door. So pervasive are these bowling games across Cleveland dive bars, it would be near sacrilegious to operate a self-respecting dive bar without one. Painted brick runs the full length of one wall, old-school jukebox a bit behind the bowling game and some sporadic seating farther down.
An impressively long bar runs along the opposite wall, making for a lot of bartender room to cover but ample seating. Stapled dollars and Christmas lights provide the requisite dive bar ambiance, well-worn trophies and a couple of screens further up the wall. Though the bar’s food menu isn’t necessarily extensive, everything this reviewer has ever tried has been delicious, again making ABC a worthy stand-in for dropping $25 more for a burger a few doors away. ABC menu favorites include the signature Atomic Dog (deep fried & jalapeno stuffed) and a pork belly BLT complemented by fries with their own share of positive reviews.
Visually, a loft looking over the space dominates the view, additional Christmas lighting drawing the eye. Upstairs, said loft includes a few chairs, a pool table and some patchwork paint work. On a weekend, claiming this prime space can be a tricky proposition with the amenities attractive enough to warrant an extended stay. The view of the bar and the vintage pool light make the stairs worth climbing, drunk or not.
Though the space isn’t densely populated, the space’s simplicity is, again there’s this phrase, a welcome contrast to the starkly different options that surround ABC the Tavern. And none of that is to speak ill of Ohio City, an attractive concentration of Cleveland restaurants and bars that doesn’t feel unauthentic, but probably wouldn’t scream ‘dive bar’ at first glance.
ABC the Tavern’s appeal is more complex than simply an antidote to the town that surrounds it. In true Cleveland style, the dive bar packs everything needed in a simple space without excess, a compelling combination no matter the business or neighborhood.