It’s something for everyone except it’s everything for everyone.
There are dive bars that have to grow on you, maybe it’s little non-descript outside, maybe the neighborhood is a little sketchy, maybe the number of 22 year-olds inside is a little off putting. Now That’s Class is not that bar. From the sticker-ridden front door to the cinderblock doorstop to the random graffiti-filled trash can next to the entrance, it is obvious from moment one that Now That’s Class is Cleveland dive bar royalty.
Dive bar, live music venue, skate park, museum to the fine art of multi-colored graffiti, Now That’s Class takes on a piece of all of it, like some kind of dive bar Voltron. The first view of the space is striking, a long shotgun-style room with what looks to be ancient wooden flooring and a brown, textured ceiling. Blue booths line the right side of the room not necessarily in what one would conventionally refer to as “a logical pattern.” A long bar lines the opposite wall, stretching what feels like far into the fog of dive bar distance.
Accurately describing the walls and their artwork takes a mastery of the English language that I don’t yet possess. It’s hard to explain, but the space feels like a life-size diorama within a building-sized shoebox. Every inch of the bar is marked in some way, an array of visual stimuli almost impossible to take in. The collection of vintage bar signs alone is like a collection of easter eggs among the walls waiting for their discovery.
Massive black-lettered murals line one wall, framed pictures under the inscription “Hall of Fame” jut out in the distance, a raised platform features a striking image of what seems to be Roberto Clemente and there is more than one shrine to Rodney Dangerfield above the bar. Reasoning remains unclear, but clothespins hold a pair of boxers from the ceiling and a spray paint mural of a turntable flanks a stripper pole in the front of the building.
All of that is true even before turning the corner into the bar’s second room, which on this reviewer’s visit was set up as a skate park but it would be easy to see it serve as anything from a pop-up tattoo stand to some kind of hipster Sunday morning farmer’s market. The dive bar’s second stage commands the front of the room, also with a strangely located blue cushioned booth. And of course there are dart boards, always dart boards.
The sticker game deserves a paragraph of its own. There has to be some kind of Highlights-style hidden pictures game to be devised within, charting the constellations of stickers from all walks of life from all corners of the globe. The sticker-covered hallway to the bathroom is only a precursor to the rainbow-colored, graffiti-littered bathroom itself, the patron saint of all dive bar bathrooms that came before or will come after.
After visiting, it seems clear that Cleveland is the perfect city to serve as home to a dive bar like Now That’s Class. The rock roots, the deep city history, the unassuming nature of one of the cornerstones of the Midwest, that’s the kind of combination that creates a graffiti-filled, multi-purpose, vaguely punk rock Voltron of a dive bar like this one. Quite certainly without trying, Now That’s Class is emblematic of the Cleveland dive bar scene, and a destination onto itself.