Nighttown Owner Sells Longtime Cleveland Heights Eatery And Music Spot

Brendan Ring and the Nighttown staff posing with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, flanked by Brendan Ring (left) and sister and actress Derdriu Ring (right) with Nighttown staff [Rodescu Hopkins]

Beloved Cleveland Heights restaurant and music venue Nighttown has been sold by longtime owner Brendan Ring. It's the end of a nearly 30-year run for Ring. The Irish immigrant still remembers walking into the Cedar-Fairmount establishment and offering the bartending skills he had honed in New York.

"The place just wraps its arms around you when you walk in there," he said. "I immediately felt like I was in a saloon on Third Avenue in New York, and it had the vibe that I liked. So, I said to John Barr, the owner, 'I'm only going to be here a year because I don't plan on spending my life in Cleveland. I'm going to go back to New York.' And about six months in, he asked me to be the manager."

Ring never made it back to New York. He bought Nighttown in 2001 and proceeded to turn it into a popular night spot that offered live music, comfort food and the dark, wood-paneled ambience of an old-time club. Local promoter Jim Wadsworth booked the acts for Ring, bringing in a mix of local and national performers looking to play in one of the few jazz venues in town.

Music promoter Jim Wadsworth flanked by guitarist John Pizzarelli (left) and bassist Martin Pizzarelli [Bruce Hennes]

Business was so good that he had started acquiring property around his building for extra parking.

"Well then COVID came along," he said. "I don't need the parking anymore, but now I have bills to pay and a lot that I'm not getting any income from."

In addtion to financial worries, the pandemic brought safety concerns, which prompted him to close in March for a few weeks.

"I closed for selfish reasons," he said. "I could see a closure coming. And I just want to get out ahead of it. And then, when we opened, we actually ended up with a very good summer."

But then, it stopped being fun, he said. He and his staff had the uncomfortablr task of policing patrons and keeping them within the coronavirus safety protocols.

"And, quite frankly, four of my customers got COVID," he said. "I don't think they got it at Nighttown, but the point is, I just said, 'This isn't fun. I'm closing.'"

That came in November. He was thinking about waiting until April to reopen, when a buyer came along with an offer. It was too tempting, he said.

"My wife had a couple of health problems last year, as did I, and I just said,you know, it's been 29 years. This opportunity probably won't come up again, to buy everything off us in one fell swoop. So I decided to just go ahead and do it," he said. 

Ring won't reveal who the buyer is.

"All I can tell you is we are in late stage negotiations with one of the top chefs in Cleveland to be the operator," he said. "This is a guy who I have tremendous respect for and I've always liked. So I'm hoping that they'll consummate their deal and open in late June or early July." 

If the deal goes through, the new owner will acquire Nighttown and the adjacent properties. At the same time, a multimillion-dollar, mixed-use retail and housing development is going up right next door.

Ring said he spoke individually with each person on his 45-member staff to break the news. He said he's working with the new owners to try and secure employment for his former workers.

Ring has long been known as an affable maître d who preferred greeting and talking to guests instead of hiding away in a back room doing the books.

"It was so much fun," he said. "I got to meet the giants of jazz. I got to make friends with thousands of people over the years. And, you know, I was there for people when they were burying their loved ones. I was there for bar mitzvahs, communions, weddings, rehearsal dinners. I was there for it with a lot of people. And I'm kind of humbled and honored that I was lucky enough to be able to do that with my life." 

The dark, wood-paneled ambience of Nighttown. [Bruce Hennes]

 

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