Sunday, May 23, 2010

For Goodness Jakes

Public Square
130 Public Sq.
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 241-8099

by Beau Cadiyo

Public Square is great at moving people along, but terrible at holding on to them. It is an expansive, unfriendly concrete desert, and the vast majority of people pass through it trying to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, or pray for the bus to show up NOW to take them away from the Square. It doesn’t have the bars of West Ninth, the clubs of West Sixth or the award-winning restaurants of East Fourth; it offers almost no reason to stop and look around, and every reason to hurry through.

For Goodness Jake’s, a deli right on Public Square, is likewise set up not for pleasant lingering but for speedy exits. It occupies a long storefront with doors on each end, and contains a n extended deli counter and lots and lots of pop coolers, chip racks, pie displays and ice cream freezers. There is a perfunctory counter along the window, but an ice-cream cooler blocks off much of it. There are no chairs. People place their orders at one end of the counter, walk the short distance along it, grab their food and leave. Patrons are unable sit and watch the people passing by on the other side of the window, unable to linger over coffee – and unable to enjoy one of the best sandwiches in the city in the place in which it was made.

Upon unfolding the waxed paper around my Turkey Reuben, I was a little disappointed at how small it was. For the $7, I could have bought a much larger sandwich, with chips, at Jimmy John’s. But For Goodness Jake’s aims for quality, not quantity, in a finely executed balance. The thick rye bread was buttered and grilled, leaving it crunchy yet still soft on the inside. In between were masses of moist, succulent turkey, a small amount of sauerkraut to season it without overwhelming the rest, just-melted Swiss cheese and enough Thousand Island to let you know it was there without punching you in the face. It held together surprisingly well considering how moist and slippery it could have been – a result, I believe, of intelligent design and skill on the part of the sandwich makers. It also only dripped a little; the main reason I needed napkins was to wipe the butter from the bread off my hands and face.

Because the entire eating space at For Goodness Jake’s was effectively taken up by a single man in a striped shirt and tie, I had to eat my Reuben in Frank Howells’ apartment in the Park Building, a heavenly oasis above Public Square. Why should I have had to seek a safe haven elsewhere in order to enjoy such deliciousness? It’s a mystery to me. Fixing For Goodness Jake’s is a relatively simple proposition. They should get rid of some of their less appealing options (who actually eats plastic-wrapped pies?) and refashion the newly opened-up space for customers, adding small tables and bar stools. This would give it social proof, make it a much more pleasant place to patronize, and fundamentally change how people interact with the space.

Fixing Public Square is a more difficult project. Three prominent proposals are now floating around – to build a giant mound of grass, to semi-enclose it in some sort of structure, and to create a “forest” with “clearings.” Each proposal is explicitly pitched to move Public Square in the direction of Chicago’s Millennium Park. This should raise alarm bells in the minds of anyone who cares about Cleveland, since Millennium Park is useful and attractive only during the day. At night it is an empty, scary, unwelcoming wasteland. It’s also only really useful during the warmer months, as fewer people venture out into the cold of Chicago winters. It would be folly to try to emulate this in Cleveland, yet that’s what these well-meaning designers would do: each of these proposals would create a dead zone for the 10 dark hours of every day during the warm months, and 24 hours a day in the winter months. What’s more, the designers consider that an improvement. They’re flat-out wrong: if we want people to enjoy Public Square, we have to make sure it’s clean and welcoming, and making it more like Millennium Park is decidedly not the way to do that.

The best plan of action would be to privatize Public Square. That’s right – we should build on it. Let’s rezone the land so that the ground floor is taken up by restaurants and bars, and put housing on the upper floors, like at East Fourth and West Sixth. Let’s divert motor traffic around it and only allow in light rail. Heck, let’s put in a monorail or a Wuppertal Schwebebahn shooting straight down into the Flats and Tremont, turning the newly christened Private-Public Square into a sustainable, city-expanding transportation hub. Rezoning would accomplish what no current proposal can: it would increase foot traffic and lingering, and would almost certainly increase the business traffic in Tower City. It would create a sociable connection between East Fourth, West Sixth and West Ninth and, with transportation to the Flats and Tremont, would make both places more pleasantly accessible with public transportation, offering bar-hoppers and city-dwellers an easy way to move between these cultural hotspots. It would make people actually use Public Square. Next, we can turn downtown back into a real downtown and start building on those godforsaken parking lots on West Sixth.

Whatever happens, though, keep the Turkey Reubens at For Goodness Jake’s. They're delicious.

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