19309 Nottingham Rd
Cleveland, OH 44110
by Beau Cadiyo
Bite: brilliant burger in a surprising setting.
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself," said FDR, but I feared the Lady Luck Casa Lounge II. I first saw it while driving downtown from my house; it was alone in a large parking lot, looking seedy and ominous. For months I saw cars there but never saw anyone on the premises. My imagination ran away: first I thought it was a private club, with a dilapidated exterior and surely affluent interior, and then I thought it might be a strip club. I was blind; the fact that they advertised beer and a variety of fatty or deep-fried foods, and that it was in a dark, semi-abandoned neighborhood, never made me think that it might be a regular bar that served comfort food. Googling it turned up no information - there were references to another Lady Luck Casa Lounge, perhaps v.I.0, and an assortment of unrelated sites. What were they doing, flying under the radar like this?
Its image wasn't helped when, on a dark, late-autumn night, I was driving to the Cleveland Rock Gym with Frank Hoxha. Cruising past LLCLII, a man suddenly shot out of the parking lot on a bicycle. I would have hit him if I hadn't been looking at the building in fear and awe. I braked hard and honked; he apparently forgot he was on a bicycle, for he turned to look at me over his left shoulder. His right hand, connected to the handlebars, pulled the wheel right, his body went straight and he toppled over hard in the middle of the street. I swerved around him, turned around down the street, and came back. We saw him walking his bike on the sidewalk. "You ok?" I called out, and he mumbled affirmatively, almost embarassed. This incident, plus the summertime appearance of people smoking outside, gave it an even more threatening aura, and thus a new reason not to venture inside.
LLCLII is what Prosperity Social Club wishes to be; it's a true dive bar with great food and cheap drinks. The clientele - working-class, loud and boisterous - are the sorts PSC's hipster patrons might aspire to befriend, if they were not too busy trying on tight jeans and vintage-inspired hats. It is dark inside, and dingy, but not dirty. Men line the bar.When we went in, a lone woman, maybe 75, tended the bar. The TVs blasted sports, a digital jukebox played hits and pool tables stood ready for action. A sign proclaimed that they trusted in God; "All others pay cash."
When the food arrived, we were starving. My fish sandwich was brilliant - the fish was delicious, with a crunchy, breaded crust. The bread was mediocre, if a bit dry, and the fries were better than average. A small debate ensued about what sort of cheese can go on a fish sandwich - is American cheese truly the only one that can be used, or does Swiss work, too? When Scarlet and Reuben dug into their burgers, though, the discussion turned to their pure deliciousness. The buns were, again, mediocre, but the filling was simply amazing - the meat was tender and juicy, the cheese melted perfectly, and the house sauce - I believe it was called "Bull" sauce - went with everything on the table. With a better bun, these creations would easily be in the running for the best burgers in Cleveland - up there with Lolita, Heck's, Five Guys or any other establishment. The buns – a relatively minor, easily correctable element - are all that keep them down.
Recommended? Definitely. It may not look like it, but LLCLII is a great neighborhood bar, warm and friendly, and has incredible food and cheap drinks. Just don't do as I did and let fear get in the way of taking that first step through the door.