Lucky to Be Local

From Woodstock, while eating an incredibly yummy barbecued meal from a pie tin, I realized how fortunate I am to live in this time and place. Not in the existential sense (though that could be the premise for my next article) but in the geographic one.

You see, I have lived near the corner of Madison and Chesterland for almost six years now. And since my arrival, I have witnessed some serious changes to the neighborhood. I’ve seen Sulivan’s close, re-open, close again, change names and management, then finally open as The BottleHouse Brewry. I’ve seen the opening of yoga studios, furniture stores, thrift stores, toy stores, resale shops, and more. I’ve seen Mahall’s transform into an awesome venue for shows while keeping their lanes. I’ve seen Bella Dubby molt into Taco Tonto’s. I’ve seen an ugly building get demolished almost overnight. And I’ve seen the recent construction of Woodstock, where the food doesn’t just taste good, it feels good to eat.

I used to play open mic’s at Trio’s. It was a nice local bar that brought in nice local people. It was purchased by Robert Togliatti, who decided to give it a complete overhaul. The only thing that looks familiar is the bar. Everything else is brand new and well thought out. The lighting, the wood paneling, the menu, the food selection, and the tall tables all work together to give this spot an air of professionalism. Nothing in this eatery seems thrown together. But as well crafted as its atmosphere and food are, it’s also “come as you are” casual. I like that.

I was able to witness the metamorphosis from Trio’s to Woodstock. And the more I heard about what was being done, the more excited I became. Not just to eat there, but to have a cool addition to the neighborhood. It was exciting to watch the demolition and reconstruction of the brick wall that used to face Madison Avenue. What was brick and mortar is now retractable glass. And the addition of a terrace was a welcome upgrade.

I used to shoot pool. A lot. I used to bring my own personal cue to Mahall’s. Not only did they have some of the finest retro bowling lanes this side of 117th, but about a dozen sturdy professional-sized pool tables as well. Relics from…the sixties? And their billiards room was barren. Which I liked because I could concentrate on my shots. Billiards has been going out of style for a long time. I have witnessed the closing of almost all of the local pool halls so I knew the days when I could walk down the street to shoot some stick were limited. When the remodeling began, I hoped that they would hang on to one table. They turned the room into a venue for what is happening now instead of…the sixties, complete with a stage for bands and presentations, a dance floor, and a retractable wall that faces Madison. They also updated their bar. The atmosphere is hip without ostentation and the brew is divine.  At least they left the lanes alone.

Now, I am within short walking distance of The Bottle House Brewery, which, by the way, you are missing out on if you haven’t been to. Previous incarnations of this location seemed a bit forced. I never quite understood how a steakhouse was going to thrive there or another sports bar for that matter. They came and went. But when Bottle House showed up, I knew that they were the right match. It’s not due solely to  the fine details that they put into crafting a local delicious brew.  Nor is it solely the fact that they showcase their craft proudly front and center, in barrels of ale and mead. At times there are two people behind the bar: a bartender and a barista.

But that’s not why I knew they were a good fit in my neighborhood. It was when I saw the new sign go up outside. It may not stand out as awe-inspiring. But before Bottle House came, there was a plastic banner hanging over the front door to let onlookers know the name of the establishment. When Bottle House arrived, they pulled that plastic banner down, with one hand I assume, and put up a well-constructed sign with a nice font and big, legible letters. After this, they must have realized that something was askew, because they had this sign taken down to have some repair work done to the bricks surrounding it. That, along with all of the aforementioned details, was what stood out to me: taking pride in every detail.

The concept of the butterfly comes to mind when thinking about my neighborhood. Three of the main establishments have taken it upon themselves to put a genuine effort into transforming from acceptable to exceptional, two decided to include serious demolition. Six years ago, when my neighborhood was considered acceptable, the complete demolition of a building may have indicated a downward trend. But after witnessing first-hand how much pride and effort the surrounding businesses have put into creating unique experiences, I can’t wait to see what will be constructed in its place.

J. William Ross is a long time Lakewoodite who has recently decided to get his writing career under way. He hasn’t written an article since college, but remembers the process being very enjoyable. His interests include international affairs, music, and replacing corporate fast food locations with movie theaters.

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