Nick Kostis is the “Mayor of East Fourth Street” and owner of Pickwick & Frolic.
You opened Pickwick & Frolic in 2002. Can you talk about what East Fourth was like before and what it is like now?
Essentially, East Fourth Street was originally a very charming street, a throwback to an earlier era of Cleveland history when downtown was a hustling, bustling, growing metropolis. Then, the area was home to the Euclid Avenue Opera House, which established early a theater district. What we know as PlayhouseSquare was developed as movie palaces, as they were called then. This was that kind of a street and in the ’60s, it fell on hard times. It became a seedy little street, but had great charm nonetheless. When I came here, it was a row of wig shops and pawn shops, which characterized and stereotyped the street. It was reclaimed about 25 years ago and, after I opened the club, it was at a time when the street was embarking on a transition and the re-gentrification of a very charming street.
What inspired you most about East Fourth?
What inspired me most was the history and lure of Short Vincent. From the early ’40s up until the late ’50s and early ’60s, Short Vincent was the downtown late night entertainment district for people in the region. East Fourth was the last remaining street in the city that had the chance to recapture that spirit. The street was like pioneering. You had to bring people back.
Creating a destination worthy of folks to get in the car and come in from the suburbs and be downtown in a new atmosphere was a challenge. Our venue, of course, does that by marrying great food with great entertainment, and we’re the first to do that, especially on the scale that we undertook, with 7,000 square feet. It’s a cabaret room, it’s a showroom, it’s a martini bar, it’s a champagne bar and, most of all, a great restaurant.
Has the street exceeded your expectations?
I signed my lease in 1998. It took us that time to work out the details and permit process. It took us another 23 months to build it out. It was quite a journey and driven more by passion than good sense. The street has developed along the lines and very much akin to what was just a dream on the part of not just me, but also the developer. The street offers another kind of experience. It’s not just for one demographic. It appeals to a wide demographic.
What do you like best about the city?
I love this town because it has a certain kind of grit to it. I think there is something heroic about a city that stands on its own and comes from a hardworking, industrial and honest background. There’s something real about it. It’s not something that was created overnight. It’s not a phony façade. This is all real stuff. You can’t recreate this. I also like the sense that we are re-establishing the city based on who we are and not who we are trying to emulate.
I know Pickwick is always adding new shows and features. Anything planned for the future?
I like trying things. There’s only one place like this. I’ve been all over the country and there’s not another place like this one. We hear this from our out of town guests all the time. I will just say stay tuned for some new surprises. We are revamping our menu, and we’ve started a USDA-certified Angus beef program. Only eight percent of the beef in the country meets this standard. Only one brand of Angus beef is certified and that will be our meat program. There are ten quality standards that set this brand apart. In the way of entertainment and amenities, we added the champagne bar and we have a new video presentation in the bar. It’s an additional attraction to that room. We’re working on shows in the cabaret room and we are doing our fourth edition of murder mystery. I have something else coming that I’m working on, but I can’t say what it is. It’s a throwback to a former type of entertainment that was very popular and that I now think is going to experience a resurgence. It’s a tasteful tribute to that era of the ‘20s and ‘30s when there was variety and vaudeville and burlesque.
Q+A with Jeff Niesel
It happens like clockwork. The end of January rolls around and I am literally itching for something to do. Call it the winter blues, call it cabin fever, call it whatever you want; it’s a problem, a very expensive problem. I ultimately start planning an elaborate long weekend getaway that I can’t afford so soon after the holidays. Well this year I can’t, just can’t get away right now. But does this mean I have to spend another weekend fine tuning the body imprint on the couch, scanning the latest new releases on Netflix? After some thought and research, I discovered no, there is plenty to do in my hometown of Cleveland in the winter; lately I’ve just been too lazy to get out and do it.
So this weekend I’ve planned a vacation for my husband and I to get away. Sure, it’s only 20 miles away from our humble abode but there are plenty of things to do and places to eat that often we complain we “never have time” to experience. Well, this weekend is our chance. The only rule is that we can’t go somewhere where we have been before, just as if we were on vacation in a different location.The weekend will start after work on Friday (no need to waste precious vacation time on travel, perk numero uno.) While I love the Westside neighborhoods of Tremont and Ohio City for a post-work happy hour or weekend dinner, rules state we can’t go to the norm. So, guess we’ll have to go some other time to Momocho, Bier Market and Prosperity. What better way to warm the winter chills than some hearty Italian drinks and dining? Our first stop will be Gusto! (www.gustolittleitaly.com; 216.791.9900) in Little Italy, only 5 miles outside of downtown Cleveland. With a happy hour until 8pm which includes $5 house wines, half priced cocktails and $5 appetizers such as calamari della liguria, prosciutto w/cantaloupe and gusto pizza, this charming restaurant is just the place to get the weekend started.
After some wine, we will hop on a bus to the Cleveland Museum of Art (www.clevelandart.org; 216.421.7350), less than a mile away in University Circle. In the process of a massive renovation, the museum reopened some galleries this past summer, bringing back more than 900 pieces, many of which have been out of the public’s eye for the past five years. With more than 40 galleries still open during the renovation there is plenty to see and the best part is admission to the permanent collections is free and open until 9pm on Fridays.For a late dinner, the plan is to head to Guarino’s Restaurant (www.guarinoscleveland.com; 216.231.3100). Italian traditions like the lasagna and manicotti get rave reviews at the oldest Italian restaurant in the neighborhood, opened in 1918. Hopefully, we’ll have time to swing by Presti’s Bakery (www.prestisbakery.com; 216.421.3060) before dinner and pick up some dessert. With freshly made baked goods, the doughnuts, cookies and cannoli’s would make for the perfect treat to end the evening.
To save money, Friday evening we’ll stay at home. To keep with the vacationing spirit though, no early morning Saturday workout for me. Instead we’ll rise and shine bright and early for skiing and snow tubing at Boston Mills/Brandywine (www.bmbw.com; 800.875.4241). Then, we’ll get in a workout by cross country skiing at Lake Metroparks (www.lakemetroparks.com; 440.358.7275). Hey, if we’ve got this much snow, we might as well enjoy it.While out on the east side of town, we’ll head out to Debonne Vineyards (www.debonne.com; 440.466.3485) for dinner and delicious Ohio wine. In addition to tours and tastings during regular business hours, Ohio’s largest estate winery features European style wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet and Riesling. The worst part will be only choosing one.
After a quick change to prepare for a night on the town, we’re heading to the Kennedy’s Theater at PlayhouseSquare (www.playhousesquare.org; 216.771.8403) to check out Flanagan’s Wake. According to reviews the performance is half scripted, half improvisation as the audience is transported to Ireland. The audiences then participate with the villagers in the telling of tales, singing of songs, and mourn the passing of one of their own, Flanagan. Sounds like something worth the low cost of admission, around $20.
The best part about winter vacations? Hotel rooms at way discounted rates. The Radisson Gateway actually has a “red hot deal” online for only $59! Other hotel properties such as the Wyndham have deals based on the temperature outside. For special hotel packages, click here.Since we’re staying downtown for the night, what better way to finish off the evening than with a nightcap? While both East 4th Street and the Warehouse District are home to a variety of restaurants and bars, to stick to the rules we’ll try the Champagne Bar at Pickwick and Frolic (www.pickwickandfrolic.com;216.241.7425). Known for their comedy club and martinis, Pickwick added the Champagne Bar devoted to bubbles, featuring 50 bottles of champagne and sparkling wines. If we’re ambitious we may also check out the Lobby Lounge at the Ritz Carlton to celebrate our Cleveland vacation with a Rocktail.
Sunday morning we’ll finish off the weekend with brunch at Lucky’s Café (www.luckyscafe.com; 216.622.7773) in Tremont. (You can always try one of these brunch options as well) and head home with a new stash of vacation memories and a bank account still on budget.
For more vacation ideas, hotel information and restaurant listings visit www.positivelycleveland.com.
– Submitted by A.I.