Jack’s Musical Bar was a popular music venue at 6608 Cedar Avenue that enjoyed the height of its popularity in the 1950s. Hungarian immigrant Jack Kowit opened the business as Cedar Tavern in 1933. The bar was located just several blocks north of where he lived in the 6000 block of Scovill Avenue. It was the first tavern on Cedar Avenue to obtain a liquor permit after Prohibition ended. In addition to liquor, wine, and beer, Cedar Tavern specialized in Kosher corned beef sandwiches. It was primarily a neighborhood gathering place until Kowit began to bring in local, regional, and even national musical acts beginning in the 1940s, renaming the business Jack’s Musical Bar.
Cedar Tavern advertised regularly in the Call & Post almost from the start and earned a reputation as a business that welcomed patrons regardless of race. In addition to hiring African American bartenders and servers and featuring many prominent Black entertainers, the bar hosted Black organizations’ cabaret parties in the 1930s. During World War II, Jack Kowit also allowed the Future Outlook League to place coin jars around its horseshoe bar to raise money for the organization.
By the late 1940s, Kowit’s son Ed began to assist him in the business. In 1947 the Kowits remodeled the bar, adding leatherette booths. Ed Kowit convinced his father to purchase a piano for the bar and started booking live musical acts, including jazz and blues artists ranging from pianist-vocalists to full bands. The bar’s first live act was Cleveland’s Harold Connor in April 1948. The decision on whom to bring to perform often began with Ed playing a 78-rpm record in the jukebox for his father’s approval. Sometimes that led to long train trips to cities such as Buffalo, Detroit, and even St. Louis to watch a performance and make a deal. The tavern’s name evolved to match its growing musical emphasis, changing first to ‘Jack’s’ Cedar Tavern in 1949 and then Jack’s Musical Bar in 1950. Jack’s became one of the East Side’s liveliest joints for the remainder of the decade. Responding to its success, in 1952 the Kowits remodeled again, adding substantially to the bar’s seating. Among the many performers at Jack’s were the Do-Ray-Me Trio, Crown Prince Waterford, the Ray-O-Vacs, and Nat King Cole’s brother Freddy Cole.
After Jack Kowit died in 1963, his son Ed continued to run the business. He heeded a bar employee’s advice to get the biggest sign they could find, leading to the installation of a giant, triple-neon, Las Vegas-style blade sign. So many workers from the Thompson Products plant on Clarkwood Road behind the bar came to cash their checks there that by the 1970s Ed Kowit opened a small money exchange with a window in a space adjacent to the bar. As a result of some attempted robberies, he built a trapdoor to give himself a quick escape. Despite the dangers inherent in operating a check-cashing business, Kowit persevered and eventually expanded to several locations around the city by the 1980s.
Kowit’s ABC Money Exchange turned out to be a bigger money maker, but Jack’s remained a labor of love, one he operated for many years without ever instituting a cover charge or raising drink prices. In later years, after Cedar Avenue’s hold on the Cleveland rhythm-and-blues scene faded, Jack’s turned into a sports bar before closing in the early 2000s. In 2019, its evocative sign was removed, leaving only a barren, boarded-up building surrounded by vacant land. Today the legacy of Jack’s Musical Bar lives in the minds of those old enough to remember when Cedar Avenue was a music lover’s paradise.
- Kowit, Ed. Interview by Mark Souther. March 16, 2023.
- “Cedar Tavern Remodeled.” Call & Post. Nov. 15, 1947.
- “Eddie Keeps Bar Musical: Shuffles Off to Buffalo, Choo-Choos in with Jo-Jo.” Call & Post. Oct. 25, 1952.
- “‘King’ Cole’s Brother Featured: Playing Labor Day Matinee at Jack’s.” Call & Post. Sept. 4, 1954.
- “Leon Mays Gets Pat on Back from ‘Jack.'” Call & Post. Sept. 20, 1952.
- “Marriage Licenses.” Plain Dealer. June 13, 1924.
- “Popular Clubwoman Assists F.O.L. Drive.” Call & Post. Sept. 18, 1943.
- “‘Royalty’ Comes To Jack’s Bar: Crown Prince Waterford In Command Performance.” Call & Post. April 25, 1953.