Mike’s Brown Derby was a bar on Woodland Avenue that was opened in 1945 by Mike Joseph in a building that had previously housed a wholesale grocery. The bar was soon listed in the Green Book and became a go-to drinking spot for many Black Clevelanders. It was integrated, although there were separate areas that were unofficially segregated. The main barroom was where most of the Black patrons would go, while around the corner was what they referred to as the “Midget Bar,” which was where most of the white patrons would go. Mike Joseph put Mike’s Brown Derby up for sale in 1947, and advertised it as an integrated space with a coveted D-5 liquor license that was a “hopping joint.” An article at that time strongly suggests a working-class clientele, noting that 85 percent of patrons were Black and that white customers often worked in nearby factories.
Though popular among drinkers, Mike’s Brown Derby wasn’t so popular among parents in the area. It was close to Case-Woodland Elementary School, though far enough away in terms of the law, and parents thought that having a tavern so close to the school would have a bad influence on the children or be potentially dangerous. One concerned citizen described it, saying, “This place is a disgrace to our neighborhood. It isn’t safe for women or children to walk past the place, for fear of a body or bottle falling at your feet.” When the Brown Derby closed, the problem persisted for the Case-Woodland parents as Cleveland entrepreneur James Trusso was attempting to transfer a liquor license to the building. He was successful and was granted the license in 1950, turning the building into Jimmy’s Bar, at the dismay of some of the community. The Green Book continued to list what was now Trusso’s business as Mike’s Brown Derby until 1955, which may mean that is when the tavern shut down.
Green Book Details
Mike’s Brown Derby appears as “Brown Derby” in the Green Book from 1946 to 1955 at E. 40th & Woodland Ave. under the category Taverns.
- “‘Cafe for Sale’ Bars for both Negro and White.” Call & Post. February 15, 1947.
- Harris, Richard E. “Tavern, at Door of Public School Issued Ohio Liquor License: Blame Neighborhood Negligence for Transfer of License by Ohio Board.” Call & Post. April 15, 1950.
- House-Soremekun, Bessie. Confronting the Odds: African American Entrepreneurship in Cleveland. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2002.
- “Mike’s Brown Derby Now Open.” Call & Post. October 20, 1945.
- “New ‘Brown Derby’ Looms As Sight For Case-Woodland Children.” Call & Post. November 26, 1949.
- “Places like these are revolting…We must educate our children near them.” Call & Post. May 28, 1949.