THEATRICAL GRILL was a memorable dining and entertainment venue located on SHORT VINCENT. Opened in 1937, under the name Mickey’s Theatrical Grill, the establishment took its name from Mickey Miller, brother-in-law of principal owner Mushy Wexler. Wexler was a character in his own right as the owner of Empire News Service, a wire service operation that supplied up- to-the-minute information about horse races for bookies. The Grill quickly became a fixture of downtown Cleveland.

The night club thrived for decades as a venue that brought a remarkable cross section of patrons together. It was common to find Cleveland Police Department detectives and judges seated next to numbers runners, big name entertainers, and sports figures.

One particularly notorious figure associated with it was ALEXANDER "SHONDOR" BIRNS one of the best-known figures in Cleveland’s underworld for half a century. Born in Europe in 1907 he was brought to Cleveland as an infant. Beginning in the 1920s, his hair-trigger temper and powerful fists found him employment as an enforcer. 

Birns eventually gained a controlling interest in a number of criminal enterprises. One of his ventures was the Theatrical Grill. The street where it was located ran between East 9th Street and East 6th Street and saw a lot of traffic in the 1940s and 50s. By the mid-1940s Birns was a part owner of the Theatrical Grill, although this had to be kept quiet because a previous felony conviction made it impossible for him to hold a liquor license. Birns had a similar arrangement with his Alhambra Tavern near DOAN'S CORNERS at East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue.

In 1945 an expansion led to one of the Theatrical Grill’s most notable features: a raised stage placed inside its distinctive curved bar. Further expansion over the next several years created the Burgundy Room, the Penthouse, and the Grill Room—all desirable venues for meetings and private parties.

Exterior view of the Theatrical Grill, 1960
Courtesy of Cleveland Memory
Exterior view of the Theatrical Grill, 1960

The Theatrical Grill welcomed headline entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and Cab Calloway regularly, as well as sports figures like Joe DiMaggio and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.

Over the years the Theatrical had its ups and downs, weathering fires and owner Mushy Wexler’s brushes with the Internal Revenue Service.

Wexler succumbed to kidney disease in 1979, ending 40 years at the helm of the Theatrical Grill. While relatives continued the business for several more years the Theatrical’s day was done. Patrons complained of slow service and menus reminiscent of earlier years when food preparation involved large amounts of butter and salt.

The final blow came with the Theatrical’s conversion into a strip club. Even this wasn’t enough to save it, and the Theatrical Grill finally gave in to changing times in 1999.

The site of the longtime Cleveland landmark is now the entrance to a parking garage.

Tom Matowitz

Last updated: 5/30/2023


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