Monday, September 7, 2009

Some Traditions Are Meant to Evolve

Tradition is a funny thing. It allows us to cling to a routine that is comforting and normal. At the same time, it can prevent us from recognizing that the only constant in this world is change and that sometimes we need to adapt our old traditions to new ones while respecting the spirit of what once was. While attending my undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve in the early to mid 1990's, I discovered that on the first Thursday night of every month a local band, the First String Band, played at a local bar on the north side of campus called the Barking Spider Tavern. The music was an eclectic mix of early Americana, blues, jazz, Appalachian, rag, and country. The name of the band reflected the group's reliance on all stringed instruments to produce their unique sound.

I can remember spending many a Thursday night at the Spider consuming quantities of Labatt's Blue and listening attentively to the performance of the First String Band. In fact, those nights became very popular on campus and you generally had to show up about an hour early just to be able to get a seat. From 10 pm onward, it was a packed, standing room only crowd. The First String Band became so popular, in fact, that they actually released two albums, one a studio album of the songs that I remember hearing on those Thursday nights and another live album recorded right at the Spider about a year after I graduated from Case. Fortunately, I managed to acquire both (even finding one on and they now occupy a permanent position on my playlist whenever I want to revel in my past just a little bit.

After I moved out of the Cleveland area, returning on a regular basis to listen to the band became problematic and soon my visits stopped altogether. It wasn't until I had returned to the Akron area in late 2004 that I soon became curious and started doing a little digging on the Internet to find out what had happened to the band. As always, there was both good news as well as bad. The bad news is that the band, the First String Band, had officially broken up due to several members moving away from the area. The good news is that two of the band's members were still performing on the first Thursday of every month at the Spider. Information in hand, I called up two of my former partners in crime from my undergrad days and we decided to make a weekend out of it. Fortunately, there is a bed and breakfast type place right next door to the Spider called the Glidden House. And while certainly not inexpensive, if the three of us split a room, it would work out to about $50 per night per person.

We quickly discovered the ill-conceived part of our master plan after we left the Spider when they closed: There was nothing within walking distance around us that was open to grab some grub. The first time we put this plan into action, we stumbled back over to the Glidden House, extremely hungry, at around 2 am or so. I remembered that there was a candy machine on our floor, but the smallest bill I had was a $5 bill. So I went up to the front desk to get change and I don't know whether the woman working behind the counter was scared or annoyed. In the end, she repeatedly stated that she couldn't break a $5. Dejected and hungry, we simply went to bed. Lesson learned.

Nearly two months ago, my two friends and I started talking about doing another Barking Spider visit over the 4th of July weekend. Since the 4th fell on a Saturday this year, all three of us actually had the Friday before off. So, the plan would be to descend on the Glidden House on the evening of Thursday, July 2nd, have dinner on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights and pick up a "snack" for later on in the evening. Since we discovered the error of our ways from that first stay, we've always stopped by a favorite local sandwich place called Grum's Sub Shoppe located at 1776 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights 44118. They can be reached at 216-321-4781, but unfortunately they do not have a website at this time.

Grum's occupies a tiny little shop located very close to the intersection of Coventry and Mayfield. Here is a of shot of the exterior of the store:

Once inside, the entire menu is listed on the wall above you:

The important thing to realize about a Grum's sub is that a half sub is actually more filling to me than an entire footlong sub from Subway. That and a hell of a lot tastier. While I've tried many of the subs at Grum's, the one I always return for is the Turkey Ridge. I do think the bread that they use today isn't quite as good as what I remember from college, but it is still far and above a better product than you'll find in other fast food sub chains. The Turkey Ridge comes with sliced turkey, mayonnaise, tomato, onions, provolone, and an Italian dried spice blend.

While we ordered and waited for our subs to be prepared, I asked my friend Mike to walk around the corner to the convenience store and pick up a bag of ice. I had stopped at the grocery store the night before and spent $3 on a disposable Styrofoam cooler that would serve as the refrigerator for our sandwiches. Once we got back to our hotel room, I prepped the cooler:

I added some ice to the bottom, layered in our sandwiches, and filled the rest with remaining ice:

I can only imagine what someone would've thought if they walked into our room and just saw this container sitting there. Were we transporting kidneys or hearts or something? Nope, just Grum's.

Our snack for later now safely stowed away on ice, we headed next door to the Barking Spider for a bit of pre-show drinking. The entrance to the Spider is actually behind the Arabica coffee shop and looks like this:

As there was a particularly large crowd assembled in the main bar area for the act before the one we were there to see, we decided to sit at a table in one of the outer rooms and wait for some space to open up. Once there, we decided to continue the very long tradition of converting our pitcher of Labatt's Blue to a pitcher of Barking Tans. What on earth, I hear you asking, is a Barking Tan? In a tradition based on the Black and Tan, you start with your basic ingredients:

You then pour out one sacrificial glass of Labatt's Blue:

And then create the Barking Tan by adding the bottle of Guinness to the pitcher:

Here is a Youtube video I shot using my camera phone. And, yes, gentle reader, I know that the video is sideways. This was the first time I had used the new video recorder feature on my phone and I didn't realize that it wouldn't rotate the image. So, just kind of tilt your head a little bit and you'll be fine.

And that first glass of sacrificial Labatt's? Don't worry, it is still happily consumed. We simply rotate who drinks the first glass for each new pitcher of Barking Tans we make. Adding the Guinness was a genius move on the part of the person who decided to first try this. It adds a real depth of flavor to the resulting brew and in a strange way actually takes off the hoppy edge of the Labatt's.

As usual, many pitchers of Barking Tans were consumed, the band was simply amazing, the night air was cool and a zephyr gently blew from the one side of the room to the other. If this had to be my last night on earth, I would happily spend it this way. I shut my eyes and happily regressed into my memories of those nights when I was an undergraduate and realized how lucky I am to be able to experience this again.

At 1 am the Spider promptly closed and we left to stumble back to our room for a little post-Spider revelry. My associates immediately went for their Grum's sandwiches, but I had some photos and video to process and before you knew it, the room was dark and my two associates had turned in for the evening. At about 2:30 am, I realized that I, too, was pretty darn hungry, so with all the lights off, I snapped a few final photos before tearing into my Turkey Ridge sandwich. First, the sandwich wrapped:

And finally, unwrapped:

My recollection of this particular sandwich is actually pretty poor. Imagine that. However, I've had this sandwich enough times to know just how good and filling it is. After polishing off my sub, I shut down the laptop and wearily climbed into bed. It wasn't long before I drifted off to sleep and relived the night's experience at the Spider in my dreams.

My friends and I try to get together about twice a year to have this experience. In fact, I wrote about the last time we did this here. But after rereading the older entry, I realized that all I talked about were the restaurants we went to and not the Spider/First String Band/Grum's Turkey Ridge experience that I also cherish so much. While I realize I can't go back to 1995 and relive the experience as it originally was, I am happy that I am able to spend just a little bit of my time now spending some quality time with my friends, listening to some absolutely great music, and eating and drinking a little bit of the Cleveland from my past. I highly encourage you to check out both The Barking Spider Tavern and Grum's Sub Shoppe if you happen to be in the Case campus area.

Grum's Sub Shoppe on Urbanspoon  Barking Spider Tavern on Urbanspoon


bonnjill said...

There's no harm in investing money in a real cooler. This is the second time you've bought a styrofoam cooler in just a couple months. :-)

Tino said...

I know, I know. To be fair, this event actually took place before the other time I needed a cooler (my trip back from Kansas City). This time I planned ahead and bought the container and didn't think I would need it again, so I discarded it.

On my way back from Kansas City, I wasn't expecting to need one and only discovered that I did when I found out my hotel room didn't have a mini-fridge in it. That being said, I still do have the second one I purchased and will be happy to reuse it. :-)

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