Polish for a Day
Cleveland Celebrates Dyngus Day With Polka, Pierogi and All-Things Poland
By Lexi Hotchkiss
If some guy wearing a fake beard and spinning polka records - all while playing the accordion - tells you to celebrate a Polish holiday called Dyngus Day, we recommend you heed his advice. After all, that guy is the one and only DJ Kishka.
DJ Kishka, aka Justin Gorski, is practically a mainstay here in Cleveland. His monthly "Polka Happy Hours" at the Happy Dog in the Detroit-Shoreway Neighborhood are massively popular. In fact, they often draw hundreds of fans ranging from Polish grannies to mustached hipsters - all busting out their best polka dance moves.
Dyngus Day is the name for Easter Monday (this year it's March 28). Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the observance of Lent, the joy of Easter and the beginning of spring. How do they do it? With tons of Polish food, polka music and, of course, beer.
After learning more about Dyngus Day, Gorski and several Detroit-Shoreway Neighborhood businesses said, "This has to happen in Cleveland." After all, Cleveland's got heavy Eastern European roots, as well as a rather impressive devotion to polka music.
Cleveland's first Dyngus Day five years ago was initially a culmination of smaller events at a handful of bars within one neighborhood.
"But, when we started Dyngus Day in Cleveland, we knew we needed to have some sort of event or focal point," Gorski said. "We wanted it to be about more than just showing up, drinking beer and eating a kielbasa sandwich."
So, the organizers also put on an evening parade that consists of a Dyngus Day float, a large swath of accordionists playing together, Polish dance groups and other organizations.
Slowly, but surely, the concept took off in Cleveland. And, every year attendance has shot up. In fact, this year, the event is expected to draw anywhere from 25,000 - 30,000 people between 11am - 2am.
One of the event's most popular activities? The Miss Dyngus Day Pageant.
Young women (and men, too!) are welcome to apply for Miss Dyngus Day online. Then, DJ Kishka narrows the group down to six or seven final contestants who go through a battery of tests on Dyngus Day.
"In previous years, there's been a pierogi-making contest. Actually, I might do a pierogi-eating contest this year! Then we'll have them fill in a polka song lyric, perform a special talent, test their Polish history and, of course, there's the polka dance off," Gorski explains. "These herculean feats will help us choose the next Miss Dyngus Day."
So, what exactly does Miss Dyngus Day receive as recognition? A scholarship? A modeling contract? Gifts from the official sponsors?
"Once she's crowned, she gets to place the ceremonial pierogi on top of the Dyngus Day float. Then, she sits on a thrown and gets serenaded through the streets of Cleveland to a ménage of accordions."
[We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.]
Many of the event's main activities happen at "Kishka's Beer Heaven Tent" located at West 58th and Detroit. There you can nosh on a sausage sandwich from Sterle's Country House, kick back a few Tyskie beers, listen to polka bands (starting at 11am), watch the Miss Dyngus Day Pageant (5pm), partake in the parade (6pm) and see a tribute to the late Clevelander known as "America's Polka King" Frankie Yankovich.
The event also includes dozens and dozens of bars throughout several neighborhoods including the Detroit-Shoreway Neighborhood, Hingetown, Ohio City and Tremont. Thankfully, Dyngus Day organizers have hired three Lolly the Trolley buses to transport festivalgoers between all four neighborhoods free of charge.
To learn more about the event and view a schedule, visit ClevelandDyngus.com.