by Allyson Smith
“Welcome to the Old 97, and let me tell you about this magical place!” said Keefe Malony, a bartender at Old 97 Café.
Located on a somewhat forgotten strip of Kenmore Boulevard is a 10-year old bar in a 100-year-old building. Walking inside leaves customers with an impression they probably didn’t expect.
“The first thing they do before they even walk in is take a picture of the building and they go around and take [more]. They’re always so flabbergasted by it,” Keefe said.
The building used to be Akron’s 97th, and last trolley stop before the trolley turned around to go back downtown. It was used as a trolley station until 1947, according to the owner Debbie Chapman. Shortly after, someone bought it as a bar. It was a few other things before Debbie bought it in 2008.
“It was a neighborhood bar, it was what it was. But it had the potential to be so much more,” she said.
However, it’s not just the building that is unique. Sitting at the bar, admiring the hodge-podge of décor — which includes vintage signs, lights, and even a mounted deer head — regulars begin to trickle in.
“A lot of [the decorations] are personal stuff,” Debbie said. “All the coasters are a coaster collection, and things that we had found and a lot of things that were given to us when we opened up.”
As the regulars say hello, the bartenders already begin making their drinks of choice: a Moscow Mule for one, a simple cocktail for another.
“We have regulars that have come since day number one. They are so loyal, and they come almost every day that we’re open, so we have drinks named after them,” Debbie said. “We blend them into the history of [the bar].”
Not only are there drinks named after customers, such the Benn Stinger — red wine, champagne and a luxardo cherry — but also cocktails with a classic flair.
“The drinks are really driven by the bartenders,” Debbie said. “They create them and get the feedback, and we’re always trying new things. We always lean toward a more traditional cocktail.”
She recommends the pear martini or the apricot flip, which is a creamy cocktail with apricot preserves and syrup, vanilla, an egg white, and fresh nutmeg on top. She says the Old 97, with American honey, Dewar’s, and Drambuie, is also a great choice.
In addition to crafted cocktails, Old 97 Cafe has a kitchen with unique dishes that seem to fit in perfectly with the mood of the bar. Dishes like goat cheese medallions and bruschetta satisfy patrons while they sip on cocktails, admire the decor, or socialize in the spacious bar.
Many of the cafe’s fresh ingredients are grown in the garden behind the building, or come from the kitchens of the dedicated chefs and bartenders. One of the bartenders makes her own simple syrups and smokes different ingredients for Old 97’s drinks. In the back of the building, they grow their own herbs and vegetables.
The bar isn’t only known by its friendly atmosphere and cocktail selection, but is also known for its space. The building can hold 220 people and extends out of the bar to a spacious patio in the back. Private parties and regulars alike enjoy the scene.
“It’s an environment that promotes being as creative as you can,” Debbie boasts.
Whether you go by yourself, or a large group of friends, Old 97 Café has charm, atmosphere, and classy cocktails that could please anybody. Lounge inside on beautiful sofas and loveseats, or come in the summer and relax on the spacious patio.
Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and teaching people about things they didn’t know before — whether they like or not.