A farewell to the Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern

Uptown staple leaves the University Circle area


Matt Hooke, A&E Editor

The Euclid Tavern has been the reliable fixture of a constantly changing University Circle. The historic bar has been around in some form or another since 1909, with new owners taking over as the years went by. Now its latest owner, Happy Dog, is closing the location marking the fourth time in the new millennium that the bar has closed.

On Nov. 16, one day before its final day of business, the venue hosted its last concert. The venue came to an end that fit its reputation for eclectic programming with two simultaneous shows. The main bar featured three local rock bands: Ceiling Fan, Sweepyheads, and ITEM. In the basement club, called The Underdog, the recurring techno night Headspace kept things going until 2 a.m. letting the patrons of Happy Dog soak up as many beverages as they could muster before the beer taps ran dry.

“We’ve always been about supporting the local music scene,” said co-owner Sean Watterson. “That’s why we give bands 100 percent of what we take in at the door.”

The night’s variety is just one part of what made Happy Dog a unique place in University Circle. There are few venues anywhere in Cleveland that could have a rock group like ITEM perform with a string section, while the dim thud of techno bass bled through the floorboards without seeming out of place.

“We occasionally hosted drag shows here and we called it Dungeons & Drag Queens. Because while there was a drag show upstairs on the stage, downstairs there were Dungeons & Dragons games,” said Watterson. “That kind of event where you wouldn’t think these two things would work together was our wheelhouse.”

Outside of its reputation as a music venue, the satellite of Happy Dog’s main location in Ohio City served hot dogs, burgers, tater tots and fries. They put a unique spin on these staples of American bar food by letting people choose from an assortment of over 50 toppings, ranging from confit pulled-pork, to Spaghetti O’s.

Watterson said financial concerns caused the bar to close.

“Our lease was up at the end of the year,” said Watterson. “We were looking at renewing and the numbers just weren’t there to double down on sticking around. Which is a shame cause it’s a great space and we put our heart and soul into it and I think we’ve done some great stuff in the four years we’ve been here.”  

Happy Dog took over the space in 2014. Watterson said he set out to build ties with the people who lived in the neighborhoods around University Circle.

“We’ve had over 775 different bands play here. Some of them have played more than once, so that’s over 1,250 gigs. Add to that over a hundred poetry events, the dozens of science talks that we did with the Institute for the Science of Origins, and the author talks we did with Literary Cleveland and the East Cleveland Public Library,” said Watterson. “I’m proud of the stuff we did.”

He plans to carry over some of the events, such as the regular poetry shows and monthly bluegrass jam to the West Side Happy Dog.

Watterson said University Circle Inc. plans to preserve the tavern. Happy Dog is working with the development corporation to ensure that whoever takes over the space will have access to the venue’s concert stage and its sound system.

The closing of Happy Dog, coming closely after the closing of another Euclid avenue institution Falafel Cafe has sparked outrage among CWRU students. The Radical Student Union (RSU) organized a protest on Nov. 30 in response to the closing of the two restaurants and to bring more attention to the issue of gentrification.

“We see this as a way for Case students to see the impact of gentrification on them. Two affordable places to eat in the neighborhood have closed without any plan to replace them in any meaningful way,” said RSU co-chair Eamon Sheehan. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the wider issue of gentrification, not just in how it has affected these two businesses, but how it has essentially made our campus a campus that has borders and really distinct demarcations from the neighborhood around us.”

University Circle Inc. did not return requests for comment.