Cheers, Beers and Pioneers

May 28, 2017

The Conways Pave the Way for a Booming Industry


Just across the Cuyahoga River and west of Downtown, Ohio City is home to a bustling dining area. Anchoring the historic district is the West Side Market, which is easily identified for miles by its iconic clock tower. But steps from the market's doorstep resides another important component of this eclectic neighborhood's burgeoning history.

Known for its award-winning lagers and ales, Great Lakes Brewing Company stands tall and proud on Carroll Ave., welcoming guests from near and far to pull up a stool, enjoy a brew (or two) and feast on the company's rich history that served as the driving force of Ohio City's resurgence in the 1980s.


Ohio City (a.k.a. the City of Ohio, a.k.a. the Near West Side) played the role of caretaker from the early days. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this area was home to 2,000 residents, who traveled from as far away as Germany, Ireland and Hungary wanting to plant roots and create a new life in this nearby Cleveland community.

Jobs abounded at the mills, docks and bottling distilleries, but a prospering livelihood was cut short for many, thanks to the emergence of Prohibition, followed by the Great Depression and topped off with World War II. Triple whammy.

As the Prohibition Era of the 1920s took much of the nation's beer production hostage, Cleveland worked hard to weather the storm. While many of the city's breweries reopened their doors after the repeal of the anti-drinking legislation, the decline continued until 1984 when C. Schmidt & Sons, Cleveland's last standing brewery, closed.

Enter Pat and Dan Conway.

Inspired by their European travels paired with their unshaken Cleveland spirit, the brothers set out to reboot one of the city's most vital fallen industries. Dusting off the brilliance of Schmidt's & Sons "brew mastermind" Thaine Johnson and engineer Charlie Price, the foursome led the charge to bring beer back to Cleveland. With the creation of the Great Lake's seven-barrel brewing system, the crew produced the brewery's acclaimed Eliott Ness Lager and later The Heisman, which beer lovers know today as Dortmunder Gold Lager.

While the group focused on the future and the growth of the business, they were steadfast in maintaining a solid connection with the history that surrounded their great venture. The introductory beer's name is a nod to Elliot Ness, commemorating the Untouchable law-enforcement agent's run as Safety Director of Cleveland, and his rumored numerous visits to the tavern where Great Lakes now resides. Legend has it that John D. Rockefeller himself worked as a bookkeeper on the second floor. Little did he know that, years later, he could count on that very room bearing his name--and a few bistro tables and a bar for kicks.

As business prospered over the next couple of decades, brewing operations expanded into more of Carroll Ave.'s 19th-century establishments. What once served as the stables and storage facilities of the Leonard Schlather Brewing Company grew into the Conway brothers' beer brewing empire and production facility that resides on the property today. Expansion poured into the Fries & Schuele Building, which served as the west side's oldest department store until 1979. The building now houses Great Lake's Beer Symposium, where exclusive brews are concocted using the tanks used from the earliest days.


Today, Great Lakes Brewing Company, comprised of both a brewery and brewpub, proudly bears the title of the state's first microbrewery and remains Ohio’s most award-winning brewer of lagers and ales.

The brewery maintains its strong ties to the local community and continues to showcase this commitment by naming each of its beers after local historical events, people and places. In fact, guests can drink the company's inaugural brew next to the bullet hole in the main Brewpub Taproom that (legend has it) came directly from the gun of Elliot Ness--just ask your bartender to point you in the right direction.

Foodies of all ages can enjoy a memorable dining experience from start to finish, which can include Great Lake's famous brats, pierogis or other fare made of fresh local ingredients from the neighboring Ohio City farm.

But dinner isn't the only thing on the menu. Get a deeper look into the magic of the beer world by taking one the brewery's free 60-minute tours. Or better yet, eat, tour and then head over to the Tribe or Cavs game via the Great Lakes Fatty Wagon, which runs on straight restaurant vegetable oil. That's right. You heard me.

It's a must. Trust us.

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