1307 Auburn Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
by Beau Cadiyo
When we got to the bar, Frank Callahan was sitting with her back to the door, drinking coffee and reading The Jungle Book. Frank Mathoslah immediately proclaimed
The Son of Man goes forth to war,
A golden crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams from far —
Who can follow in his train?
while I put down my briefcase and walked to the back, past two couples on dates, possible future couples and a hipster girl smiling at her MacBook Pro screen. When I passed the kitchen, Kipling’s couplets still ringing in my ears, I thought: These are the people I want to know.
The first time I’d seen the Lava Lounge was with my ex, back at the beginning of the summer. We’d been eating at Bac’s, on the patio, and afterward we walked past and decided to check it out. The patio in the back – small, cozy and well lit – was the feature that made me want to return, and the general vibe of being a little more than just a neighborhood bar. Its off-center location put it ahead of Prosperity in my mind, too; Prosperity, pushed onto Lincoln Park, is for hipsters going out of their way to call attention to themselves, while Lava seems like it’s for people looking to talk and have a good time, not be seen and be scene.
We sat down to play Bananagrams, which Des Ayuno told me about and which may be the best game ever invented.
The only sandwich on their happy hour menu is a $5 cheeseburger. I ordered and a minute later realized that the barmaid hadn’t asked me how I wanted it cooked. It was the first time in ages that I hadn’t been asked, and I started to doubt my choice. After all, as Scarlet says, “If they don’t ask you how you want your meat cooked it means they don’t trust their meat – and you shouldn’t, either.”
It came out more well done than I’ve had in ages – dark brown all the way through. As I bit in, my mind was filled with images of filler, of cartilage ground into patties, of rats falling into grinding machines. If this was reality, I wouldn’t have known; the patties were huge and generously portioned and good tasting and textured. The red onion jam added a certain tanginess; the gruyere cheese added creaminess and something to hold onto other elements. The ketchup I added made everything slippery, and I had to consume the filling together without finishing the bread.
This may have been the best thing to happen. The bread at Lava Lounge is phenomenal. It was light, toasted, and perfectly flavored with garlic. It crunched between my teeth and then turned into a chewy, doughy delight. I dipped it in the burger juice on my plate, then in the ketchup, and finally in the garlic aioli that came with my side of pommes frites. I wanted another burger without the meat.
Two others in our group got burgers, and then a third; then we played a question game, then wrote. When we were done the bar had suddenly been populated by middle-aged, professional-looking women and a few small groups of diners and a sole single man sitting at the corner, enjoying his drink. We paid up and walked out into a crisp fall night. It was an evening of food, games, writing and friends – something unimaginable until recently.
Later, Frank wrote me:
So this is the lounge of lava,
Where we've gone for half our lives;
And those who know it prosper,
And those who go there are wise.
These are the people I want to know. And they hang out at the Lava Lounge.