Gay Crosse is best known as a Cleveland saxophone player who led his band Good Humor Six in the mid-twentieth century. He played music for various local venues, such as the Rose Room at the Majestic Hotel, Towne Casino, The Lucky Bar, Gleason’s Musical Bar, Ebony Club, Club Ron-Day-Voo, and the Blue Grass Club. His musical talents were not just recognized in Cleveland but throughout the United States. Crosse played his saxophone at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Erie, Pennsylvania’s Pope Hotel, and Chicago’s Brass Rail and Wonder Bar. When he retired from his music career, he was still not ready to give up his love of music entirely, so he opened his own club.
In December 1954, Gay Crosse used his experience playing at clubs to open his Musicians and Entertainers Club. The club asked that those in the music entertainment business and music enthusiasts come forward and apply to be considered for membership. Once they became a member, they were given a locker at the club that they could store any personal items in, including alcohol. Crosse’s club was not licensed to sell alcohol, but members were permitted to bring and drink their alcoholic beverages there. Therefore, the club operated as a bottle club. The club grew in popularity and had 180 members by the end of 1955.
Black-owned businesses were often targeted for illegal alcohol sales more than white businesses. Police raided Gay Crosse’s Musicians and Entertainers Club on at least three different occasions, tipped off by rumors that alcohol was being illegally sold on the premises. On June 21, 1958, the police confiscated 22 bottles of whiskey from Crosse’s club. Crosse was charged with keeping a place that sold alcohol illegally and his associate Leroy Crump was charged with the illegal sale of alcohol when Michael T. Corsaro was Cleveland’s liquor chief. While Crump was given a $250 fine, the prosecutor decided that the state would not pursue a case against Crosse.
On May 29, 1960, Gay’s Musicians and Entertainers Club was raided again under a new liquor chief, John L. Kocevar. Newspaper reporters and television crews were present during the raid and captured Kocevar using a sledgehammer to open two locked doors in the club’s basement. Once Kocevar broke through one of the doors and turned on the lights, he saw a dozen patrons listening to the jukebox and drinking. Once the patrons identified themselves, they were permitted to leave. Firemen then started to dismantle and cart off the bar, bar stools, plumbing, the counter, and fixtures to be used as evidence. While the bar was being dismantled, police could hear a woman unsuccessfully trying to call 18th Ward Councilman John W. Kellogg. When Kellogg was approached about the raid, he claimed he only knew of the club as a barbecue restaurant and only knew Gay Crosse as a musician.
The liquor agents also confiscated a case and a half of beer and twenty partly filled fifths of liquor. Club members were permitted to bring their own alcohol into the club, but the club was not allowed to sell alcohol to club members. Police on the scene believed that the bar was selling alcoholic beverages because there was a wooden crate with alcohol next to the bar and stickers were behind the bar bearing the names of club members. The police believed that the bartender was going to put a sticker with a club member’s name on the alcohol bottles to make it look like a club member brought their own alcoholic beverage. In addition, prior to the raid an undercover liquor agent allegedly purchased a bottle of alcohol at the club. Despite the claim of an undercover agent purchasing a bottle of illegal alcohol, the bottle was never provided as evidence at trial. In addition, to confiscating liquor, authorities confiscated the membership list and checked license plates on all the cars in the parking lot. Only a few fixtures were left at the club, such as the jukebox and pinball machine that had the proper city licenses.
Following the raid, Gay Crosse was found guilty of keeping a place where illegal liquor sales took place and was fined $100 and trial costs. Leroy Crump was found guilty of illegal alcohol sales and was fined $300 and trial costs, as well as one year of probation. Gay Crosse was very upset and claimed he ran a respectable business and that the police upset patrons and broke fixtures in the club. He claimed that the police did not need to smash their way in and that they could have rung the doorbell and been let in like they had frequently in the past. Crosse alleged that a member sold the bottle of alcohol to an agent and not a staff member of the club.
Cleveland’s liquor chiefs wanted to shut down African American owned and operated clubs that they deemed nuisances. At the time of the second raid, an observer noted that the bootleg raids occurred almost solely in Republican wards. In addition, when the previous liquor chief Corsaro heard of the second raid he said, “it was a tough nut to crack. We have been trying to close the place for the last two years.” This shows that liquor agents were determined to target and close Crosse’s Musicians and Entertainers Club.
In the wake of the May 1960 raid, Gay Crosse sued the state of Ohio and Kocevar for the return of his confiscated property, as well as to be compensated for the property that could not be returned to him. Although Crosse asked to be compensated up to $500 for property that could not be returned to him, the court ordered that items seized during the club raid were valued at $154 and refused to pay more than that. In addition, sledgehammers were no longer allowed to be used to raid bars and clubs. Kocevar claimed that there was a way to get around that. Kocevar stated that they could target bars under the guise of plumbing, health, and safety violations.
Gay Crosse’s club was raided again in late July 1961 along with another club located at 2368 East 65th Street and Harlem Welfare Civic League at 1039 East 105th Street. The raid of Crosse’s club occurred at 8 o’clock in the morning and there were still members at the club during the early morning raid. Kocevar claimed that there was marked money that was exchanged for alcohol, while Crosse claimed the money was spent on the jukebox. During this raid, ten unlabeled bottles of alcohol were seized from one locker. Crosse was ultimately fined $100 and trial costs.
The Musicians and Entertainers Club stayed open to Cleveland’s music enthusiasts for over twenty years. The club endured after Gay Crosse’s death in 1971; however, the club finally closed its doors in 1976 along with Gay’s Bar-B-Q. Gay’s Hotel stayed open for an extra year and closed in 1977. Gay Crosse’s club may have been targeted on numerous occasions by law enforcement, but he persevered as a prominent musician and Cleveland businessman who ran his Musicians and Entertainers Club, as well as Gay’s Hotel and Gay’s Bar-B-Q until his death in 1971.
- “Bartender Fined, Gay Crosse Next.” Call & Post, June 25, 1960.
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- “Cheat Spot Shut in Pre-Dawn Raid.” Plain Dealer, May 30, 1960.
- “Display Ad 13 — No Title.” Call & Post, May 6, 1944.
- “Display Ad 13 — No Title.” Call & Post, December 25, 1954.
- “Display Ad 21 — No Title.” Call & Post, January 9, 1960.
- Garling, Pat, “Liquor Men Use Different Type ‘Sledge.’” Plain Dealer, June 18, 1960.
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- “Gay Crosse at Gleason’s Reaches Peak; Becomes most Sought After Combo Today.” Call & Post, April 14, 1951.
- “Gay Crosse to Leave on Tour.” Call & Post, July 31, 1948.
- “Gay Crosse Opens in Rose Room Monday, March 3.” Call & Post, Mar 01, 1952.
- “Hi-Lo’s Are Dynamic.” Plain Dealer, August 26, 1956.
- “Judge Williams Hits Sledge-Hammer Raids: Damages Awarded to Club.” Call & Post, January 28, 1961.
- “Liquor Agents Stage Raids for TV Cameras.” Call & Post, January 21, 1961.
- “Liquor Raids Irk Not-so-Gay Crosse.” Call & Post, June 4, 1960.
- Mollenkopf, Fred. “’Phony’ Club Owner Guilty, Fined for Liquor Sales.” Plain Dealer, August 18, 1960.
- “Musicians Club Raided, 2 Seized.” Plain Dealer, June 22, 1958.
- “No Door Charges: Gay Crosse Goes Large at Ebony.” Call & Post, December 6, 1952.
- “Open Heart Surgery Fails Gail Crosse.” Call & Post, March 13, 1971.
- “Photo Standalone 1 — No Title.” Call & Post, November 19, 1955.
- “Return of Seized Bar, Whiskey to be Ordered.” Plain Dealer, January 24, 1961.
- Sabath, Don. “Liquor Agents Hit 3 E. Side Spots.” Plain Dealer, July 31, 1961.
- “Say Crosse Follows Count Basie in the Brass Rail, Chicago.” Call & Post, January 20, 1951.
- “Suspension of Crosse’s Permit Asked.” Plain Dealer, August 7, 1961.
- “Town Casino.” Plain Dealer, January 20, 1952.
- “Trio Great: Clovers, Gay Crosse Next in Club Ebony.” Call & Post, November 8, 1952.
- Williams, Bob. “Judge Williams Hits Sledge-Hammer Raids: Damages Awarded to Club.” Call & Post, January 28, 1961.
- “Woman with Gun, Vanishes, After Raid on Bottle Club.” Call & Post, August 5, 1961.