Norm Plonski is the retired owner of the Parkview Nite Club (Detroit Shoreway) and Major Hoople's (West Bank of the Flats). He colorfully describes how he came across the two properties and how he has been able to maintain the popularity of each business, despite the ever changing surrounding neighborhoods. For Plonski, the neighborhood bar is a place for people to get to know one another, acting as a persistent landmark that helps to ensure the survival of always-redeveloping and changing neighborhoods like Detroit Shoreway and the Flats.
Plonski, Norm (interviewee)
Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)
Transcription sponsored by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:01] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. I'm here today with Norm Plonski. It is July 17, 2017, and we are at Parkview Nite Club. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Could you please state your name for the record?
Norm Plonski [00:00:17] Norm Plonski.
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:19] And where are you born?
Norm Plonski [00:00:21] Cleveland, Ohio.
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:22] And when?
Norm Plonski [00:00:23] 1946. March 29th.
Sarah Nemeth [00:00:25] Well, happy belated birthday, kind of, by a couple of months. And what side of town did you live on?
Norm Plonski [00:00:33] Well, I lived in a Polish neighborhood between St. Clair and Superior, where St. Casimir's Church is, and it's one of the churches they closed and everybody got together and got it reopened. I lived there till I was a sophomore in high school. Then my parents moved to Rocky River, and I lived there until I got out of college, and I lived in various parts of the city. And then now I've settled in Gordon Square.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:06] Okay. And do you have any childhood memories from living in the Polish neighborhood?
Norm Plonski [00:01:12] Believe it or not, we still... We have a reunion coming up in August of this year and have one every year, and I still see people I went to grade school with.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:22] Really?
Norm Plonski [00:01:22] Yes.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:23] They stayed in the neighborhood?
Norm Plonski [00:01:23] No, they scattered. [crosstalk] But we get together now. Unbelievable.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:30] Was the church Polish?
Norm Plonski [00:01:30] Oh, yeah. St. Casimir's. It's in an area where the streets around it are Kosciuszko and Pulaski. It's stone Polish.
Sarah Nemeth [00:01:45] So it was a community feel in the neighborhood?
Norm Plonski [00:01:48] Yeah. It's back when, you know, you didn't have phones to walk around with, so you played basketball and you played baseball. You know, it didn't have to be organized. You met the guys and you went and played. Now everything has to be organized. So I think that brought us together as friends, and we all took off to different high schools maybe, but we all still came back to the neighborhood. And, you know, eventually the neighborhood changed. People got older, they moved out. But we still get together.
Sarah Nemeth [00:02:18] What is the neighborhood like now?
Norm Plonski [00:02:22] It's pretty bad. Pretty much half of it's torn down already. And it was... It happened with the white flight thing going on. And but in August, again, on the church grounds, they have a three-day festival and people come back. So... And the church... The churches, the whole thing with this group of people, because that's what they revolved around, so they tried to keep it open. It's one of most beautiful churches in the city. If you ever have a chance, check it out. I mean unbelievable. But the area around it is pretty bad. And I'm a big believer in you got to hit bottom before you can come back. And it's hit bottom. It's just that neighborhood isn't... There's no factories going anymore. Used to be White Motor Corp. Everybody worked at White Motors or this place or that place. And those things are all gone, and it's not situated near a lake or a river. So it's in this spot that's just forgotten and neglected. Although St. Clair-Superior organization, St. Clair is starting to come back. So eventually everything comes back, especially what's going on in the city. So we'll see.
Sarah Nemeth [00:03:48] Were there restaurants that people went to in the like neighborhood?
Norm Plonski [00:03:51] Oh, yeah. Everybody hung out at a bar. It was... The bar was the restaurant, you know. All the bars are now churches, the ones that are still standing. But you played softball for your bar. You played against the guys from a few streets over. They played for their bar. You know, stuff like that. That's what went on.
Sarah Nemeth [00:04:15] Cool. Where did you go to college?
Norm Plonski [00:04:16] Kent.
Sarah Nemeth [00:04:18] And what did you major in?
Norm Plonski [00:04:20] Chemistry and Botany.
Sarah Nemeth [00:04:26] And Botany!
Norm Plonski [00:04:27] Unbelievable. I was going to be a lawyer and I went into my first class, first class I ever had actually, Poli Sci 101 or whatever. The guy standing up there, a little bald-headed guy with glasses, he's standing up there holding this, I don't know, four-inch-thick book looked like, you know. He goes, all the answers have to be verbatim from this book on your things. No, general, you know, the way... So I went back. I lived with upperclassman because I was supposed to be commuting. And I says, What's going on with this Dr. Eivel? And they go, Eivel's Bibles. I says, Is this is what it is in the humanities, and they said, Yeah. And I says, well, I went over to the sciences real quick and physiology and stuff like that, because I wasn't about to write stuff, just wasn't me.
Sarah Nemeth [00:05:27] Right. So that ended your dreams of becoming a lawyer?
Norm Plonski [00:05:31] Oh yeah. It wasn't a big dream. It was just... I was young. You know, everybody changes their majors, so.
Sarah Nemeth [00:05:37] I once wanted to be a lawyer myself. That lasted a class as well.
Norm Plonski [00:05:43] Yeah. So.
Sarah Nemeth [00:05:44] It wasn't for me.
Norm Plonski [00:05:45] I was a chemist when I got out. I was bench chemist for a pharmaceutical company. And a bench chemist is like being a bartender, mixing? If you can... Give you an analogy, you're mixing drinks but you're not talking to anybody. You're just doing that all day. I was doing tests on pills. So that wasn't me. So I moved around a few jobs and my last job, last real job I had, we got bought out and I looked at my boss and I says, Well, what are you going to do, Dick? He says, Oh, I got a job up in Pennsylvania. And I'm thinking to myself, Geez is this going to be me one day? And that's when I went into business for myself. Parkview was the second place I opened.
Sarah Nemeth [00:06:38] Right. Your first one was the Major...
Norm Plonski [00:06:41] Hoople's.
Sarah Nemeth [00:06:41] Hoople's? And that is an Irish community, right? Or was.
Norm Plonski [00:06:48] It was on Irishtown Bend. It's down on the Flats by the Columbus Road Lift Bridge, which is... Right now they're building that Canal Basin Park, and Hoople's is pretty much going to be the epicenter of that, I mean where all the Towpath trails come together and the Red Line, Green Line paths. It's crazy what's going on, you know. I was... I got to the Flats before the Flats became the Flats the first time. You're probably too young to remember the first time.
Sarah Nemeth [00:07:18] No, I don't know. I didn't remember when it came up and then I do remember when it was down though.
Norm Plonski [00:07:23] Yeah. Well it was cooking. When it came up, it was cooking. It was the party place, I mean in the country, that... Everybody knew about the Flats, and nobody owned their buildings so the landlords just kept raising rent, raising rent, raising rent. So the people that are left there that... or the bars that are left there in the Flats were the ones that owned the buildings. And that's why I'm still there. So I'm seeing it come back. But I am what I am and we are what we are. And we'll be there when they're all gone again. [laughs]
Sarah Nemeth [00:08:02] What did the building look like when you first... like, why did you choose that spot?
Norm Plonski [00:08:08] Hoople's?
Sarah Nemeth [00:08:08] Yeah.
Norm Plonski [00:08:11] It was cheap. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but when my brother in law and I got... found it because we didn't know anything... The Flats, the early Flats, there were no lights, no nothing. I mean, you... We looked for this place. We didn't know. Nobody went down to the river. This was before the Flats became the Flats at all. Just few people. It was good time though. But I got out of the car on the driver's side and I looked up and there was the whole city, and the bar was behind me and I looked up at the bar and there was no window. [laughs] And the door was kicked in. And the lady, Molly Michney, who owned it... The guy that leased it from her stiffed her on a bunch of rent, trashed the place, and booked. So she was older and she was ready to sell the business and the building. So it was all timing because I'm a big believer in owning the building. So you know, the view... It's one of the best, constantly getting awards for one of the best view in the city. So, that sort of closed it, you know. Plus, when I got to know the area, I liked the area. I mean, the river's right there. And now in the last three years the bridge has been all reopened since they shut it down to fix it. More people walking and crossing that bridge in the previous 30 years. I mean, there's I we have a block club now. When I needed to get a Sunday liquor license, I needed to get 5, 5 or 10 percent of the people in my little precinct. That was like four signatures, registered voters. They were all sitting in the bar. [laughs].
Sarah Nemeth [00:10:04] So you just could go to up them like?
Norm Plonski [00:10:05] Sign this. You want to sit here on Sunday? Sign this. But it was pretty cool, you know. But now we've got condos. We've got more condos coming in down the street. We have a block club. Things change.
Sarah Nemeth [00:10:21] Right. So your first people that come to your bar, what were they like?
Norm Plonski [00:10:26] They were peeking in a door, wondering if they should come in. But then they did. And back then, you had Pipeline Development, which repairs oil pipelines. That's where the new Rowing Association for Kids is. Cleveland Metal. There were a lot of shops. So I got the workers. I mean, there was always parking. Even when the Flats was cooking, you could always park by Hoopples. So all the workers when they got off, boom, right to Hoopples. So we we did okay.
Sarah Nemeth [00:11:04] Yeah. So. That was the first place that you took over. How did you get... Did you serve food there at first? Or was it just...
Norm Plonski [00:11:13] Oh, when I first opened, I served food up front in the summertime on a grill and then we built a kitchen. Things evolved.
Sarah Nemeth [00:11:21] What kind of food did you...
Norm Plonski [00:11:22] Just bar food. I'm not a food person. Like my son, who runs it now, if he wanted to, he could have the best thing in the city because of the view. But he doesn't want to and I'm not... I'm retired, so I don't care.
Sarah Nemeth [00:11:40] Yeah. I've never been here before but my mom always told me about it and she used to come here... [cross talk].
Norm Plonski [00:11:44] Parkview?
Sarah Nemeth [00:11:45] Yeah, for the jam sessions.
Norm Plonski [00:11:48] Best jam in the city. When I first got here, I used to hide out here because nobody was here. I mean, so Hoopples was running like a machine, and this place went up for sale and I said, what the hell, I'll buy it. So I bought it and I remember the guy that sold it to me had told people he'll get it back in three months. We'll have it back. Well, I ended up paying off, 'cause when you buy a bar, somebody's got to carry the money and it ain't gonna be the bank. So he carried the note and I paid him off, I don't know, in six years or something. Early, doubled up payments. And then the neighborhood started turning around.
Sarah Nemeth [00:12:43] What was the neighborhood like before you first bought this?
Norm Plonski [00:12:45] Everybody told me I was crazy. Don't do it. We were at the end of nowhere. I mean, I says, well, the cop bar's right down the street. The police... police fraternal organization for sergeants and under is right a block down. [cross talk] Yeah. And I says that's there. And I always liked this place. You know, it's old. It's got that... They're really trying to make things old. You can't make things old. So I bought it and I had to figure out how to get people to come here. So I started the blues. And as of right now, this date, because I shut the music down, because there's gonna be no parking here. I mean...
Sarah Nemeth [00:13:31] Where could you park before?
Norm Plonski [00:13:35] On the street in that lot.
Sarah Nemeth [00:13:37] Okay.
Norm Plonski [00:13:37] That building just got sold... That building's being emptied as we speak. And there's about four or five people I've seen look at it. So this is all going to be townhouses all the way down. So that parking is going to be gone. That lot's going to be gone. The City of Cleveland requires one parking space per unit, whether it's got one bedroom, three bedrooms, five bedrooms. So over here, they're expecting 500 people to move into 306 units. That's their estimate. And so they only need 306 parking spaces, but they made 358. That still leaves a hundred-plus cars that are going to be looking for parking spaces. So they were... Initially they thought they'd be full at the beginning and starting in June. But it didn't happen. They got, you know, construction. City of Cleveland, whatever. So I stopped the music the first quarter this year. And I would've kept it going 'til June if I had known, but I didn't. Because eventually there's going to be no parking. So it's time to start transitioning and we're going to.... You adapt or you die.
Sarah Nemeth [00:14:51] Right.
Norm Plonski [00:14:51] So we're adapting now. I have visions of whacking that house and making a big patio. Over here the kitchen's going out. Gonna be a third bigger. We're gonna... The food. The food was always good. We were on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. And, you know, our food's good. But we're gonna get better and... Nothing real fancy, although I intend to have the best steakhouse in the city down the line. But it's still going to be the Park... You know, if you ever eat here, you'll notice that the chairs don't match. The plates don't match. But if nothing matches, everything matches. [laughs] So it will still remain that because I'm a cheap Polack. But we'll adapt, I mean, we'll... We'll get our share. I mean, you know, from my early customers who were people that were in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood was pretty rough. You know, I... One of my first customers just got out of jail. And he was older now and he was the leader of one of the gangs in the neighborhood in. I talked to him. He learned his lesson. He's got older, got smarter. I was talking to him because things were getting tagged in the neighborhood and I guess he was one of the old bosses or whatever. He had pull; they knew him. So he goes no, this is my bar now. Nobody's going to put any paint anywhere around here. And I haven't had a problem. A little bit lately. But now, I don't know what to expect now. The house out the front door, the condo out the front door they're building, the townhouse? Five hundred thousand dollars. So I'm going from felons to whatever. [laughs].
Sarah Nemeth [00:16:50] But at least you said you kept adapting, so...
Norm Plonski [00:16:51] You got to adapt.
Sarah Nemeth [00:16:52] To survive, like you say.
Norm Plonski [00:16:54] Oh, yeah. At Hoopples, I used to cash checks on Tuesdays. And that brought in people. But then they went home, you know, after happy hour or whatever. So then I started darts because I was always a good darter and played... I had to figure out how to get more people there. So I decided, well, I don't know if you want what darts is, you know, a ton 80? Three triple... Three darts in an area about the size, half the size of my finger, you know, three in a bed like that. That's the ultimate. Besides three double bowls. But if you threw a ton 80 in a game, you got your name on a coat hook. So... And you had to be good to do that.
Sarah Nemeth [00:17:40] Yes.
Norm Plonski [00:17:41] And you had to do it in the in the bar. You had to throw it in... So all of a sudden, from one dart board, I went to six and from putting the hook, the name below the hook, I had... I started because I had two things on our coat hook. I put it above the hook. Everybody wanted their name. [laughs] So I was packed. I was packed all the time with darters. You adapt. So, but the Parkview was always a cool place. I mean, it's just... It is what it is. And the neighborhood started changing for the better. But when I'd go to the meetings and when I still go to the meetings, everything's about Detroit. You know. And now you've got Battery Park. All the... You know, I don't know how many people live there. Thousand? I don't know. You got what's going on down here at the end of nowhere, there's a swimming pool that 80 people were sitting by Saturday. [laughs] You know. So we're adapting again. But over across the street, there used to be a bar called Dugan's. And when they tore that bar down, they literally bulldozed the building and the whole building just fell over. I mean, it was just a wood... And that was a local place. And they found a tunnel and the tunnel went to the lake for bootlegging. But the lake wasn't where it is. The shoreline wasn't where it is now. The shoreline was probably where the freeway is. That's all landfill.
Sarah Nemeth [00:19:30] Okay, I didn't know that.
Norm Plonski [00:19:31] Whiskey Island, all that. That... most of that's landfill. So there was a tunnel. This neighborhood was notorious for bootlegging. Do you know what the Huletts are? They were the self unloaders that were—not the unloaders, the self unloaders—loaders that were on the dock to take the ore off the boat. Big, tall structures. And the mouth of the river... The Huletts you could... You used to be able to see—they took 'em down, but used to be able to see 'em out the front window of the Parkview. The mouth of a river used to be down out the front window of the Parkview. They moved it to where it is now. So this, in essence, was a bar that ships people would come and drink. You know, if you go up to West Clinton, you'll see some houses and they look like they got some widow watches on them, you know? That's because the mouth of the river used to be down here. The Shoreway wasn't there, so they'd just walk up the hill. But that's before my time.
Sarah Nemeth [00:20:33] This place has obviously seen a lot of history itself.
Norm Plonski [00:20:36] Oh, yeah. This has been a bar since 1890, best we can tell. It's been the Parkview Nite Club, and I didn't change the name even though it's not a nightclub, I'd say since 1934, because that's when they added on and Prohibition ended December of 1933. So I know it's been the Parkview [a loud truck passes by outside] since 1934 when you get all the paperwork done. So it's been around as the Parkview Nite Club, and I'm only like the third owner. The Socotch family owned it for a very long time. Cashed checks for Westinghouse building, Eveready Battery. They cashed so many checks that Pioneer Savings they own, which is the bank up on Detroit, and the building that the Happy Dog's in. If you look at it, we'll say Socotch - 1946. They built that building. And that used to be a bar, too. And there used to be a bunch of bars there and they closed them all down because it was really rough. And, you know, when the neighborhood changed, they started opening them up again. But the Parkview is the only bar left in this neighborhood that's still got the same name and everything else—it's somewhat like Lakewood, everything. When you go to Lakewood now or I go to Lakewood, well, what was it called before? Because... But the Parkview's going to stay the Parkview, you know, my son has no intention of going anywhere, I guess. But I remember when Pete came to the neighborhood, the owner of Stone Mad, that real fancy... He put a million dollars in that place. Bought this old dump of a bar and literally bagged the whole building to get rid of the roaches and stuff and redid it into what it is now. Beautiful. And when Pete came down here and told me he was coming in the neighborhood, I says, what the hell are you doing down here? Because it was early on still...
Sarah Nemeth [00:22:44] Right.
Norm Plonski [00:22:44] And he goes... Norm, if it's good enough for you, it's good enough for me. And now we're both sitting here, you know, and they're building... [laughs].
Sarah Nemeth [00:22:57] Does that... Does it frighten you at all that this is a different clientele that's going to be here, that they might expect something else?
Norm Plonski [00:23:04] You know, I'm 71 years old. I don't have a read... I don't really know what a Millennial is anymore. You're probably a Millennial. Yeah. I know all you use is credit cards. [laughs] That's about all I know. So, no, it's, you know, we're just going to be what we are. And I have my ways. There's going to be a bunch of Millennials in there, right? I'm goin' to fire up my bowling machine. I'm going to start a bowling league and we're gonna bowl to Put-in-Bay. I'm gonna go down there. I'm going to beat those guys up for some rooms in spring or fall, when they... because they overbuilt... And get some discounts because I'm bringing a group, I'll get discounts on the thing. Whoever wins the bowling league, whatever team wins, we'll pay for it. Everybody else, their money, they kicked in all year. That's, you know, that's their pay. And then these people will meet each other. And then when they come back, because there's nothing worse than walking in a bar not knowing anybody. When they come back, it's going to be, Hey Joe! We had a good time at the Roundhouse, or wherever. [laughs] I did that at Hoopples too. I took buses... I took buses to the Coliseum when the Cavs played out at the Coliseum. We took boats to the stadium to watch the Browns. We took trips on the bowling league. We took trips back when it was cheap. We took trips to Las Vegas, the Bahamas, Reno. Yeah, we had good times.
Sarah Nemeth [00:24:39] I bet. That sounds like fun!
Norm Plonski [00:24:42] Yeah, well, you know, see, a Millennial...
Sarah Nemeth [00:24:47] Exactly, I think you're selling me. It's still working.
Norm Plonski [00:24:47] Oh, yeah. We're gonna make it... We're going to make it good. I mean, we'll do okay. You know, the guys in the kitchen, they want to start rendering whole hogs and buying sides of beef and aging steak. And I got a connection out in, I don't know what county, for the same places that Red the Steakhouse gets their beef, the same farmer? So. Once we start...
Sarah Nemeth [00:25:11] Yeah, that sounds cool.
Norm Plonski [00:25:15] [unintelligible] No pretense. We are what we are. We're gonna have to... We're gonna have to put in better liquors, more bourbons and stuff like that, because that's what people want. And that'll change us, you know, when we find out what the clientele wants, and we're going to start doing more classic cocktails, not chef-driven cocktails. Chef-driven cocktails, something that you get at the [Velvet] Tango Room. You ever been to the [Velvet] Tango Room? Most expensive bar in a city, right up the hill from Hoopples. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Ten dollars at happy hour, 18 after.
Sarah Nemeth [00:25:51] That's why.
Norm Plonski [00:25:52] But they make cocktails with... Chef-driven. They're a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of this. They're remaking a cocktail, which is fine. And down the street, you ever been to Porco's? Further down? OK. Stefan's doing umbrella cocktails. Zombies and all those crazy ones you'd expect to get in the Caribbean or wherever. So he's doing his thing. So I'm going to do—at Hoopples and at the Parkivew—I'm going to do classic cocktails. I've got a bar guide from 1937 from the Waldorf Astoria and we are gonna do them the way they made 'em. And another guy wrote rewrote that bar guide because some things aren't available anymore. And what we can use now. So if there's some things that you can't use, you know, we can... [loud construction noise] But... They're building! I'll give you an example. If you walked in there and ordered a whiskey sour, they'd throw some whiskey in the shaker. They'd throw some ice in the shaker. They'd squirt some whiskey sour mix out of the gun. They'd shake it and pour it and you'd have it. Well, a classic cocktail, they'd... I might be wrong on the squeeze. They'd squeeze a little lemon, a little lime, I think, a little bit of both. They'd take the white of an egg, throw it in there, and then throw the whiskey in the thing and shake it up. And it takes a couple of minutes. Now, if you tasted the first one I told you about and you tasted the second one I told you about, I'll tell you what. That second one's one you're gonna... Oh, man! [laughs] So we're gonna do that. Yeah. Because everything shortcuts now. I mean, everybody wants to shortcut everything. So we're not. We're going to make things, you know.
Sarah Nemeth [00:27:45] Yeah, well, that's cool, and that's definitely going to get all of them over here, the Millennials that you say you put an eight-point in your drink.
Norm Plonski [00:27:55] Yeah, that's the way they made it back then. It's in the bar guide. I mean, you know, I found a bar guide in here when I bought the place from... I think it was 1935. And at Christmastime, when we have our customer appreciation party, we make Christmas eggnog the way they made it back in the '30s. And we give little things... tasters to everybody because it's made with eggs and ice cream and three different liquors. And I don't make it so I don't remember anymore. But we give everybody a taste because you can't keep it because it's got the eggs in it and stuff. So everybody just loves that. I mean, they all try... You get one. They come around, well I didn't get Norm! Um, yeah, you did. [laughs] But we, you know, we stopped the music but there's four things that are remaining. And Sunday would be... Sunday... No, Sunday would be reggae brunch. So on the Sunday after Super Bowl, we have reggae brunch here with Carlos Jones and the Plus Band. And it's February whatever, 11th, 10th, whatever the Sunday after Super Bowl is. And that started with... My friend called me up and that's right around Bob Marley's birthday. And at the Rock Hall, they had this group Moja Nya play at the rock wall for Bob Marley's birthday. And they were going up to Detroit for another show. My buddy goes, Hey, Norm, these rasta guys, man, why don't you give 'em a couple hundred bucks and have 'em play it at brunch and feed 'em brunch and, you know, we'll have some fun lessons. And I says, Sure. So these guys come in with all their hair stuffed under. It was fabulous. So the next year, I hired Carlos Jones. And this year, it'll be 22 years of reggae brunch. We don't advertise. There's a line in February to get in when we open. At 1 o'clock, I think, we take out three quarters of the tables, if not more. And there's just a sea of people in here saying we've had enough of winter. And Carlos, and I'll never forget Carlos Jones. He was bouncing up and down. I don't know. You know who Carlos is? Carlos was bouncing up and down. He goes, You know, he bounces and he goes, You know, some people, and he bounces, and goes, Some people who want to move this to a Grog Shop. And he bounces and he bounces. He goes, You know, bounces, We're not going anywhere. And the whole place just erupted. [laughs] It's one of his favorite things in the year, the reggae brunch here, because it's what it is. And then on Monday, on a Monday of the year is Dyngus Day. And actually, we plan Dyngus Day right in there. The guys from the [Happy] Dog and Sean from what's now called Graffiti, and I don't remember what it was called, but we plan Dyngus Day in there. And I... The thing I remember from that thing was, well, we're going to have a parade from the Parkview to the Happy Dog. And I said, no, we're not having a parade. We're just walking from the Parkview to the Happy Dog. If we happen to be walking down the street, we're walking down the street. If you want to have a parade, you got to have a permit. And that's how Dyngus Day started. And what would be the Tuesday thing that we have every year will be Fat Tuesday with Cats on Holidays, and that's a good time. Real good time. And then our Halloween party... I know Millennials like to get dressed up for Halloween. Well, we have one hell of a Halloween party. I look for it to be even better this year. And that's the floater, because you never know when Halloween is. But we'll keep those four things.
Sarah Nemeth [00:31:50] When did Dyngus Day start?
Norm Plonski [00:31:53] Seven years ago now? I went to Dyngus Day... The biggest Dyngus Day in the United States is in Buffalo, New York. I have a friend from St. Casimir's that was working on the railroad out of Buffalo, New York. And I would go up to Dyngus Day 'cause I knew Dyngus Day from grade school. So I went up to Dyngus Day a couple of times and the last time I went up, I walked in a tent and DJ Kishka? was spinnin' records and Sean and Sean were there from the Happy Dog and Billy and a couple other guys and I go, What's Kishka doing here? He says, well I got a gig. And I says, we gotta start it in Cleveland, man, they're stealing our guys. And that was the last time I've been to Buffalo. And that next year we started Dyngus Day and, I don't know, they said thirty thousand people were running around on Dyngus Day this year. I don't know.
Sarah Nemeth [00:32:50] I saw the pictures. It looked pretty cool.
Norm Plonski [00:32:51] Yeah, we're packed. We open 10 to 11 maybe. And by 11:30 people are polka dancing like it's 2:00 in the morning. I mean, yeah, Dyngus Day is pretty out of hand.
Sarah Nemeth [00:33:07] What does it celebrate exactly originally?
Norm Plonski [00:33:09] It was like... What's... Name a dating thing. It's like a dating thing. If you want to... If you want to know. Back then, you know, you can say it's the Anti–Fat Tuesday. You're going to give up something for Lent and it's Monday after Easter. You gave up something for Lent. But really, what was going on back in the day, the boys would throw, what was it, the boys with the sticks would hit a girl, you know, just tap her. And then on the, they called it Wet Tuesday, the day after Dyngus Day, the girl, if she liked the boy, would throw water at him. So it was like a dating thing back in 18-, 1700s, I don't know. But that's basically what it was.
Sarah Nemeth [00:34:01] Did you celebrate Dyngus Day in your old neighborhood?
Norm Plonski [00:34:03] Yes. Yes.
Sarah Nemeth [00:34:05] Did you hit people with sticks?
Norm Plonski [00:34:06] No. No. I was young when I was there. We didn't do it real big either. Actually Buffalo started it big time. And the second biggest one... I don't know if we're the second biggest one now, but the second biggest one is in Notre Dame, where's Notre Dame at? Indiana.
Sarah Nemeth [00:34:33] Over there. Up there.
Norm Plonski [00:34:33] Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's at where Notre Dame is. I can't remember the name of the town, but I happened to be at a golf outing in the area where that is. And you always think Notre Dame, you think Irish. It's a Polish county. There's another Kosciusko there. It's a Kosciusko County, actually. And that's why it's... It was the second biggest or it still is the second biggest one. We're up there. Pittsburgh's starting to get a Dyngus Day going, but that's fine, you know?
Sarah Nemeth [00:35:03] Right.
Norm Plonski [00:35:04] More fun for everybody. But I want to talk about the neighborhood more. Things just flew by in this neighborhood. I mean...
Sarah Nemeth [00:35:15] Well when you got here, so, in 1981, did you...
Norm Plonski [00:35:21] Twenty-five years now, '90...
Sarah Nemeth [00:35:24] Okay.
Norm Plonski [00:35:24] '92.
Sarah Nemeth [00:35:25] All the factories are gone by that point, I mean, closed down.
Norm Plonski [00:35:26] No that factory, that factory just closed. These factories were closed and they were renting out space to small shops. There was where all those condos are now, the new rentals? That was a factory that was going in. We had a couple of steady customers in there, but that was it. Manufacturing isn't what it used to be. Even back twenty-five years ago [sound of truck passing], a lot of things were, you know, automated. So you didn't need all these people. So, yeah, I had factory workers and I got some cops. I got the neighborhood guys. And then when I started doing the blues, we got voted best place in hear the blues in northeast Ohio. I lucked out because the room... the acoustics in the room are just fabulous. And I did things... I'm always big on... You have to be a little better than the next guy. So I went out and bought a Hammond organ with a Leslie amp, and if you see the Rolling Stones onstage, there's a Hammond organ with a Leslie amp 'cause you just can't duplicate that sound. And when I had my guy come and fix it, I says, Who else has a Hammond in the city? And he says, Well, the House of Blues does, he says, but you're probably the only bar owner that owns his Hammond because he's in the House of Blues. Their sound guy owns it. And then when I stop the music, you should've seen the guy, the musicians come out of the woodwork wanting to buy it. [loud truck in background] And it's still there because I really want to put it somewhere like it was here because you don't... It's not a harmonica or a guitar. You don't carry it around with you easily. [laughs] And when they come in and play it, it was... It's just... It's just so much better than the electronic stuff. This is... You can't duplicate the sound, and in there with all that wood, it's something. If the Indians go to the World Series we're going to have someone come in to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." If it's still here. But, and we got the 15-minute clock from the stadium is sitting next to the bowling machine, and I'm probably gonna get rid of that because I'm probably going to need the space and will either put it outside on the new patio or... because it's made for outside... But it runs because my buddies ran the scoreboard at the old stadium and we bought the scoreboard. We didn't have to take the whole thing. We took what we wanted and we took all the equipment to program it and run it and maybe I'll light it up on the thing. That would get some attention. [laughs].
Sarah Nemeth [00:38:29] Definitely.
Norm Plonski [00:38:29] But I don't know. I just do things. I see something and I do it. And I saw his neighborhood and I was just walking... I walked along the path by Hoopples, and I don't know if you've walked down by the towpath along the river. I'm thinking, geez, this is beautiful. And then I walk down here. Geez, this is beautiful. Then I realized, well, damn, I'm by both of these places! [laughs] And I'm not a big water guy, but I guess.
Sarah Nemeth [00:39:02] Yeah, there are a lot of water people though, especially up here.
Norm Plonski [00:39:05] Yeah.
Sarah Nemeth [00:39:07] Just stick anything by the water or that view right there...
Norm Plonski [00:39:10] Oh yeah. Well you go....
Sarah Nemeth [00:39:12] Done.
Norm Plonski [00:39:12] You know, Edgewater Live. If you go to Edgewater Live or if you go down to Edgewater this Saturday for the hundredth anniversary and they're gonna have Michael Stanley and a fireworks display on Edgewater for the hundredth anniversary of the Metroparks. If you drive down there, you're not going to get out. It's going to take forever. So people are parking up here and walking through the tunnels and walking down there because it's a lot easier. So I'm getting a little overflow off of that. And so are they at Battery Park. I think I'm going to start a little... When they connect us to Battery Park again, we're connected by foot, but we're not connected by street. They cut the street. They're supposed to reconnect it. When they reconnect us to Battery Park I'm going to get all the bar owners together and do a little... Because, nothing against what they're doing on Detroit, but they don't... We're like stepchild.
Sarah Nemeth [00:40:16] Right. THat was one of my questions, I guess. They focus a lot of attention on Detroit Avenue.
Norm Plonski [00:40:23] Yeah, well, that's what they should do.
Sarah Nemeth [00:40:24] You don't feel like they're ignoring, you know, any of the outskirts of the area?
Norm Plonski [00:40:29] Well, they won't be anymore. But I'm thinking of calling our end of it the NOD, because everyone likes that stuff like that. North of Detroit. [laughs].
Sarah Nemeth [00:40:44] NOD.
Norm Plonski [00:40:44] Hey!
Sarah Nemeth [00:40:46] That could catch on.
Norm Plonski [00:40:46] They like that catchy stuff. And, you know, hey, with all these people moving in, my God, this is all going to be townhouses. I mean, I can't imagine. My kid was interviewed on New Day Cleveland, I think, and he put it in a nutshell. They asked him, you know, well, what's going on, you know, all this, you know, redevelopment? And my kid goes, At Hoopples we've been there for 35 years and he goes there's been more going on in the last five years than in the last thirty years, the previous thirty years. And there has been. I mean, and now it's hit this neighborhood. And we're so close to the lake that, you know, I mean, I see people jogging and riding their bikes and, you know, going down to Edgewater just doing this and doing that. And it's still a neighborhood because we got Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. They just had a procession down my street, the priest blessing the houses. Oh, yeah, like the old days. I mean, so it's still a neighborhood. Everybody knows everybody. This next week, the end of July, right where I live, which is sort of a one-way street and dead ends right into my house, Christmas in July. The whole neighborhood comes out, brings a dish and they sit around and this guy Glenn plays Christmas carols and people just get together. And, you know, you don't see that much anymore. No. I mean, it's a good neighborhood. It's a good neighborhood. And it is a neighborhood.
Sarah Nemeth [00:42:24] So you would still say this is a neighborhood rather than just a [inaudible].
Norm Plonski [00:42:29] Well, I don't know what's going to happen with everything that's going on.
Sarah Nemeth [00:42:31] Right. Right.
Norm Plonski [00:42:32] But yeah, we're over on 65th, 69th by Herman, north of Herman. And really, you've got all the old Italians, some Ukrainians that used to live in this neighborhood. And their kids still live here. You know, they bought the houses because the houses were cheap before everything turned around. And, yeah, it's still a neighborhood. They talk about what's going on, you know, and we don't know what's going to happen. You know? The old print shop that was on the corner here that used to be a bar before it was a print shop, probably will be a bar again. I'm on that committee that lets new bars in. And the only reason I'm on a committee is I don't want some bar coming in and telling me that they're going to valet to some thing and we'll end up like Tremont without any parking. Somebody builds a big 200-person bar or something. That ain't going to happen. No, you're going to tell me. [laughs]
Sarah Nemeth [00:43:37] So, what was the next bar to go in up there after this? Well, were there no bars when you decided to reopen this?
Norm Plonski [00:43:48] No, this was open when I bought it.
Sarah Nemeth [00:43:50] It was open?
Norm Plonski [00:43:50] I reopened Hoopples. Hoopples was closed. No, this was open, barely existing. On the corner was Myron's, I think it was called, where Spice is. And that was a good dive bar. The Happy Dog was closed. It was called... No, it was a restaurant. And the lady that owned this place... Remember I told you about the Socotch family?
Sarah Nemeth [00:44:20] Yes.
Norm Plonski [00:44:21] Ma Socotch was running that. So when I bought this place, I went in there to see Ma Socotch, you know, just to introduce myself and tell her. So I went in there and there's all these cards because it wasn't bar. So where the bottles are now, there were all these birthday cards. Happy birthday, Grandma. Great, great, great grandma, you know. So this little lady comes walking out of the kitchen and I go, Mrs. Socotch? And she goes, Yeah? I said, Well, I'd like to introduce myself. You know? Boom, boom, boom. I bought the Parkview and I know, you know, you used to run it. And she goes, Oh, no, no, no. That's my mother. She goes in the kitchen, this other little old lady comes walking out. [laughs] I mean, Ma lived to be in her late 90s. And she came walking now and that was Ma! [laughs] So that was pretty cool. But the neighborhood? It's changed. I mean, when I...They threw in these houses when I bought the bar. He goes, Norm, you want the houses? Why wouldn't I want the houses. If you own a bar, you don't want neighbors. So, yeah, I'll take them. Well, I know why he wanted to get rid of 'em. He was renting them to guys by the week. They were using the all the windowsills in the cold weather as their refrigerators and they were filled with roaches and stuff. I mean, it was disgusting. So it took me quite a few years.
Sarah Nemeth [00:45:54] I bet.
Norm Plonski [00:45:56] And we made 'em into a double and a triple over there and cleaned 'em up. You know, I used to have the best exterminator. He died, but I used to have the best exterminator in the city. I mean, I always like to deal with... You know, now we've got... I don't know, General Exterminating or something and, you know, which is fine. I mean, I haven't had any problems, but it's usually somebody that's working for somebody. Whereas when I had my other exterminator, he was the owner of the thing. So when he would come in, I knew I was getting things done. And he was my exterminator for thirty years, thirty-plus years before he passed away. Now I'm with a company... Still don't sign contracts. And I said, Nah. You do your job, I'll pay my bill. Look at my credit history. [laughs]
Sarah Nemeth [00:47:00] So people live in them now, in this house and that house over there.
Norm Plonski [00:47:03] Yeah. Yeah. You don't want neighbors. A neighbor can cost you more than a house. I mean, all they got to do is complain. I mean, down at Hoopples when the Flats became the Flats the first time and people started moving down there, well, they were on the other side of the river. They were complaining about all the noise. Well, the noise was there when you moved in. It's like these people that move into Battery Park and they're complain[ing] about the trains. Didn't you see the tracks? [laughs] So, but you still don't, you know, I have that house and then HKM, which if they sell, is going to become a high-rise apartment building. Over here, this house and then the house next door, which they were supposed to sell me as part of the deal, I says, Well, I'd like to buy that house too. And they go, Well, if we sell it, you get first right. Well, they didn't give me first right. He sold it to his brother-in-law or something like that. And I haven't had a problem with him [or] nothing but he came in and he wanted these crocks that he used to pickle pickles in. And the deal was I would give him the crocks. And I says, you don't get the crocks. I didn't get the house. I mean, if you do that to me, I do that to you. And what you did to me is a lot more than a couple of ceramic crocks. [laughs] But I kept 'em and we're going to start pickling our own pickles. But, yeah, the houses were a thing. But that one, the patio... You need a patio around here. People want to sit out and I've got plans. We're gonna... I might enclose a section of this like they did at the South Side so it can be used a few more months a year, but then we're gonna to do that. And I'm actually looking at some kids from Cleveland State, an architecture class from Cleveland State, to do the landscape as a project.
Sarah Nemeth [00:49:15] Oh that's cool.
Norm Plonski [00:49:16] Because I have no... It's not my thing right now. But...
Sarah Nemeth [00:49:20] What about maybe African American community coming into the Near West Side or the Hispanic community, do they frequent this part as well?
Norm Plonski [00:49:33] Everybody frequents this bar. I mean, everybody, you name it, they're in here. Gays, lesbians. I mean, I don't care. I shouldn't say this. The only person I throw out is an asshole. [laughs] And I don't care if you wear a suit or, you know, or a pair of ripped shorts, you know, just as long as... You're an asshole, you're out.
Sarah Nemeth [00:49:54] So a true community neighborhood bar.
Norm Plonski [00:50:00] Well, yeah. And I'm not a big person. And if I was trying to throw out some big person... Not that I've had to. Well, over the years, I've had to. Well, it wasn't only me. It was everybody, because people that come in this place consider it their place. Same thing at Hoopples. I got customers coming to Hoopples for 35 years and they're still coming.
Sarah Nemeth [00:50:22] Mhm.
Norm Plonski [00:50:23] And the guys that come in there are, you know, they consider it their bar. I had to throw out... We get a lot of union guys down at Hoopples, and after a union meeting, they brought the union meeting to the bar and they're arguing about dumb stuff. And I went up to them. I says, hey, keep it down. [makes whispering sound] They went right... You know, they kept it down for... By the time I got to sit down again, turn around. So I said, you guys gotta go. [In a simulated voice] Norm, we're gonna take the whole union and never come back! I says, well, you know what? So be it. Let me know where you go, I'll come and buy you a beer. [laughs] But, you know, you can't let somebody run your bar.
Sarah Nemeth [00:51:08] Right.
Norm Plonski [00:51:09] I mean, you gotta... you've got to set the tone and it's what it is. I'm not going to... It's not gonna be a fancy restaurant. It's not going to be this. It's just what it is. It's a bar. But it's gonna be whoever likes it—their bar. I mean, we're getting... They rented to some of the Cleveland Browns. The rookies? They didn't make 'em sign a lease, which is smart. It's like the people that rent the furniture, they don't make 'em sign a lease for the furniture. But I don't know if you've ever saw the ad, but the ad for the rental furniture place and the Cleveland Browns rent from us and the Cleveland Indians because they don't know how long they're going to be there and they're going to get cut. So they rent it. And it's good for them to say that. These guys have come in here and they like the place. Yeah. You know, I'm not saying football players are nuts, but we will accept anybody unless you're an idiot. I mean, I've I've had it throw out some of the locals. Actually, I just, one of the guys I threw out was walking down to Edgewater when I was... I do a walk through and I was walking up and I saw him. I says what are you going down there? [loud sound] And he said, Yeah, I got ten beers and some suntan lotion. You said you can't take beers... [In a simulated voice] Don't worry about it! [laughs] We're still friends and he understands. I mean, I gave him a chance. I had to throw a guy out of Hoopples. My son threw him out. You know, he says, you can't drive. You know, you can't... You're not gonna... I'm not giving anymore. You're not getting anymore. You're getting drunk. And he says, here's my keys and gave him his keys, and so he gave him a drink, you know, he was going to get a ride home, he said. And he had another set of keys, and my son saw him drive off. And that was the end of that.
Sarah Nemeth [00:52:59] Right.
Norm Plonski [00:53:00] You know, don't, don't come back. Don't bother. He's begging to come back for the last ten years. No, you haven't. [laughs] So you set the tone, what you want, and keep it clean and give people what they want. And what this neighborhood's... This neighborhood is kind of funny. Tremont became Tremont because all the artists moved in because it was cheap. And that was a Polish neighborhood too. And people came after the artists came. And this neighborhood changed in spite of that. I mean, we didn't have that many artists, but 78th Street Studios with all those artists in there and this and that. But we have in this neighborhood what nobody has. Other neighborhoods. We have the theaters. They redid the Capitol Theater, which I don't... I think they're underusing. The Near West Theatre moved from the top of the church, you know, third floor of the church where you used to go see shows. And they got a million-dollar building here. And you got Cleveland Public Theatre. It's like a little Off Broadway for Cleveland. I don't know if you've ever gone to any the shows, but some of them are pretty good.
Sarah Nemeth [00:54:16] Yeah, some...
Norm Plonski [00:54:17] So, experimental theater, whatever you want to go, so that's this neighborhood. And Sweet Moses moved in, you know, and I don't know if you've ever been there to the ice cream place.
Sarah Nemeth [00:54:30] I have yet to be there, but hopefully... I'm interviewing Jeff.
Norm Plonski [00:54:34] Jeff. Yeah. Well, Jeff. Jeff went from, you know, everybody doing retro ice cream parlors, going to the '50s. Jeff went to the '30s I think. [laughs] And he's done a fine job and he's right at the corner of my street and that's bad. Because I got a sweet tooth. But yeah I mean, this neighborhood is, you know, you come back in a couple of years when this is torn down and that's torn down and everybody goes, you know, they go, Norm, you did it again. I go, yeah, I knew. I knew this was gonna happen. I knew. I thought the Westinghouse building, which is still sitting there on a corner... Because you can look at the lake and the city. So if you had a corner loft, I always thought that was gonna be developed and that was going to be the start of... Well, this guy that's older than me that owns that building put a high price tag on it. And I don't know what he's waiting for or whatever, but I don't know what's going to happen there now because... And it would be... It's got some environmental issues, probably. But now, I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know how many... I don't know where all these people are coming from, to tell you the truth. I mean, but, hey, I'm just going to do what I do. Here you've got a big bee. I told my son, you know what? You know how you get rid of them? You take dryer sheets and you put 'em in the eaves. They don't like that.
Sarah Nemeth [00:56:08] And they'll just go away instead of killing them.
Norm Plonski [00:56:11] Yeah, they just go away.
Sarah Nemeth [00:56:14] That's a good idea.
Norm Plonski [00:56:16] But those are... Those are... I think it's a wood bee. He's looking to bore in. But those are... Those are screws. So he's hitting... He's got a little hole, but he's got a screw head. But those are... They dig where they actually a bore a hole. They bore into wood and they don't bite.
Sarah Nemeth [00:56:37] I've been seeing some of those around on my porch lately. I guess that's what they're doing.
Norm Plonski [00:56:41] Try to save some dryer sheets. Put 'em in a canister or something, or they have another way to catch them. I don't remember what it was. I looked it up on the internet. Yeah, they'll go away because they they can cause some damage.
Sarah Nemeth [00:56:55] Yeah, they're huge. They're scary!
Norm Plonski [00:56:57] Yeah.
Sarah Nemeth [00:56:58] Okay, well, thank you for...
Norm Plonski [00:57:01] Okay. And I I'm gonna give you this... [ends abruptly]
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"Norm Plonski interview, 17 July 2017" (2017). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 955036.