CLEVELAND, Ohio – One of the oldest bars in Cleveland is about to end its 100-year run, closing the door on a colorful past, rich history and many memories.
Morgan Cavanaugh, who owns Moriarty’s Pub, an E. 6th Street fixture nestled between Superior and Euclid avenues, started a gofundmepage page this month to finance a move to store the bar’s items. Wednesday afternoon, as people were preparing for quiet Thanksgiving dinners at home, Cavanaugh was hustling kegs around, running to the bank, and lining up tradesmen, plumbers, laborers and carpenters.
It’s not the first challenge Cavanaugh has faced, but it might be the toughest. In 2015, the neighborhood was under construction. Scaffolding blocked a dwindling number of customers, many of whom were construction workers. But the work got done, and Cavanaugh pushed through.
Then, in January of this year, the Baker Building – home to the pub – was sold, and tenants have to leave by the end of December, he said. That will end an era.
Longtime sportswriter and television personality Dan Coughlan once relayed an anecdote he had about the bar in a 2013 Plain Dealer story.
“One night in 1959, I won two box-seat tickets to an Indians game by calling in a tip to WERE: A body had just washed on shore at Clifton Lake Apartments. I had a pal in the seminary. I told him, ‘I’ll meet you at Moriarty’s.’ He got lost. I sat there all night. A guy died for those tickets, and they went to waste.”
On St. Patrick’s Day in 1993, a bartender summed the bar’s clientele.
“We get the lawyers, the stockbrokers, the dirty cops,” she said. “Even people from out of town stumble in here from the bus station and fall in love with the place. The shamrock in the window is a beacon.”
On that day, about 150 people crammed into an area with maximum seating for 37. When asked about a potential fire-code violation, owner John T. Feighan had a quick retort.
“The guy who writes the code’s probably here,” he said.
St. Patrick’s Day is close to Cavanaugh’s heart: “This would have been my 18th St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “That’s how I keep track of time here.”
With time comes memories.
Cavanaugh is only a couple steps removed from the early owners.
In the beginning
Moriarty’s opened in 1920, he said, as beer-speakeasy when the building was being completed. It fit in with the legendary Short Vincent area and its vibrant nightlife, colorful characters, clubs and gamblers.
“The man who worked the speakeasy was John Moriarty,” Cavanaugh said. Moriarty’s opened officially on Dec. 5, 1933 – the day the 21st Amendment was ratified, marking Prohibition’s death. Moriarty owned the bar for 17 years, then returned to Ireland after selling it to the Feighan family, who owned it from 1950 to 2003.
Cavanaugh knows the neighborhood and its history well. Growing up in the sole Irish family in a predominantly Italian neighborhood, he graduated from St. Joseph’s in 1976 and then went to Kent State. His grandfather, Jim Morgan, was a Wells Fargo agent in the 1920s and ’30s and sat on an organized task force with Eliot Ness.
“They used to come in here,” Cavanaugh said.
His father, Bill Cavanaugh, was a lawyer next door to the bar in the 1950s. According to Cavanaugh, his claim to history is coming up with the idea for government student loans for everyone. Eleanor Roosevelt helped publicize it, he said, and the idea eventually evolved into legislation.
Bill Cavanaugh – who flew more than three dozen missions in World War II - attended law school at Cleveland State University on the GI bill.
“He came up with this idea – ‘Why not do this for everybody? The world would be a better place,’” Cavanaugh said.
“My family has been in this neighborhood for 100 years. I’m like living history,” said Cavanaugh, not from ego but from the vision of a man who has seen the area from the anchored lens of a watering hole, a bar rooted in the nation’s dry days. One where toasts were made for the Indians’ last World Series championship in 1948 and the Browns title in 1964. Where pockets of change continue to pop up in the growing city around it. And the latest change means by the second or third week of December, Moriarty’s will leave its longtime home at 1912 E. 6th St.
An authentic bar’s values
Wherever Cavanaugh lands, he’ll take the values of Moriarty’s with him.
“Our No. 1 rule was ‘Be nice or leave.’ The Number 1 rule A is ‘What happens at Moriarty’s stays at Moriarty’s.’ ” That means it became a hangout for sports figures, CEOs, elected officials – “I gave ‘em all a ride home before Uber ‘cause it was the thing to do, and I’ll leave it at that.
“They come here just to be themselves, just so they don’t get harassed. This is the bar that’s perfect. Every town should have one, where people can go and be themselves. The thing about Moriarty’s, it’s authentic. You can’t be pretentious and expect to hang out here too long. In this day and age, with phonies and hipster doofuses. … this is a little oasis. You come in here and try to impress somebody … we’ll laugh you right out.”
Cavanaugh understands the economic situation and doesn’t harbor ill feelings toward the owners. In January, investor J. Scott Scheel sold the 11-story building to an undisclosed buyer. Subsequent reports tied the purchase to Walton Enterprises.
“I understand it’s their building,” Cavanaugh said, “but this is my room and my business.”
What he doesn’t know is where he will land or what will become of the low-ceilinged haven on E 6th. Between city prices and the economic squeeze on downtown business from coronavirus, staying nearby might be tough.
“One place wants 36 bucks a square foot,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m like, ‘What, are you on acid?’”
He said he’s “open to anything right now – Kamm’s (Corners), Willoughby, Lakewood,” he said. “All those places are jamming. Everyone is afraid to come downtown.”
But still, he says, “This is my neighborhood. This is my family’s neighborhood, at least for the last 100 years.”
He’s keeping as much of a positive outlook as possible in a year that has resulted in “a total loss,” he said: 2020 was his worst one financially, he posted on his fundraising page, but he hangs on to memories of “all the friendships, careers and so many marriages that may have started with a simple smile.”
He’s urging everyone to take a breath and stay positive. “Just be extra kind. Stop all the hating. Especially the political stuff. Just stop it. We’re Americans - love your family, love your country, love your community.”
On the gofundme page a photo shows Cavanaugh standing, proudly with beer in hand, in front of a sign. A young man brought it in about five or six years ago, he said, saying his grandfather had worked at Moriarty’s in the 1960s or early ’70s. The grandfather had salvaged the sign that had been tossed on a tree lawn. Cavanaugh hung it. It reads:
“This bar is dedicated to those merry souls of other days
Who again will make drinking a pleasure
Who achieve contentment long before capacity
And who, whatever they may drink
Prove able to carry it
And remain gentlemen.
Note: Cavanaugh requests that anyone who has old photos of the pub email him – email@example.com. For details on contributing, check out the gofundme page. As of Wednesday night, donations were just under $13,000 of a $37,500 goal.