El Morocco Lounge Bar officially opened its doors to the public on February 17, 1944. Located at 8219 Cedar Avenue and operated by brothers Bill and Melvin Blackmon, originally from Alabama, the glamorous lounge offered an extensive selection of fine liquors. A notable feature of El Morocco was the desert motif on its walls, painted by Sterling V. Hykes. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Hykes moved to Cleveland during the Great Migration. As a teen in the ’30s, he worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant on Euclid Avenue until he had saved enough money to pursue his artistic talent. Hykes enrolled in the Cleveland School of Art (now CIA) in 1941 and painted the interior of El Morocco a few years later. In addition to Hykes’s artwork, El Morocco was said to have had “[t]he most beautiful bar on Cleveland’s East Side.” By 1946, it had earned a listing in the Green Book, although it was erroneously listed on East 55th and disappeared from the directory the following year.
Not only was El Morocco known for its artistic interior, it also had its own basketball and bowling teams, both of which were very successful and well-known. The basketball team was managed by Joe Gill and many members of the team were former military men. The team went undefeated in its 1946 season, most likely bringing a lot of business for El Morocco. Bill and Melvin Blackmon sold the club in 1958 to Frank and Juanita Thomas but stayed in the bar business, shifting northward into Glenville, which by that time was touted as the “Gold Coast” for African Americans in Cleveland. Four years after purchasing the Mercury Bar on East 105th Street, the Blackmon brothers opened another bar in 1960, the Savoy Lounge Bar, located at 10223 St. Clair Avenue.
Green Book Details
El Morocco Lounge Bar (or El Morocco Club) appears erroneously in the 1946 Green Book at 217 E. 55th St. under the category Taverns. Its true location was 8219 Cedar Avenue.
- “Chicago Sewell Brothers Cop $750 First Prize in United’s Five-Man Bowling Classic, El Morocco 3rd.” Call & Post. May 26, 1945.
- “Display Ad 27 — No Title.” Call & Post. April 5, 1958.
- “Display Ad 32 — no Title.” Call & Post. February 12, 1944.
- “El Morocco Leads Muny “A” League.” Call & Post. February 9, 1946.
- El Morocco Lounge advertisement. Call & Post. February 12, 1944.
- “El Morocco Lounge Grand Opening Set for Thursday Night.” Call & Post. February 19, 1944.
- Fuster, John. “About the Stars.” Call & Post. July 23, 1960.
- “Green Book, National Tourist’s Guide Lists Principal Hotels, Including Dead Ones, Also Shifts Few Cleveland Businesses Off Center.” Call & Post. November 30, 1946.
- “Hykes, Sterling V.” The Cleveland Museum of Art. library.clevelandart.org/may-show/artists/hykes-sterling-v.
- “Melvin E. Blackmon, Owned Many East Side Businesses.” Plain Dealer. December 27, 1997.
- Michney, Todd M. Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
- “Sterling Vance Hykes.” The Enamel Arts Foundation. www.enamelarts.org/sterling-hykes.
- “Sterling V. Hykes Brings New Art Form to Cleveland.” Call & Post. November 15, 1952.
- “Strong El Morocco Five Makes Muny a Deadline.” Call & Post. January 5, 1946.