Hemingway’s very brief story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” has always been special to me. Set in a presumably Spanish café in the 1930s, it’s barely 1,400 words, almost entirely dialogue, and ostensibly about nothing more than two waiters complaining about a drunken old customer who won’t leave. But its real subject is the value of a place where one feels welcome, at home, refuged amidst the world. Which brings me to The Wine Spot, my own “clean, well-lighted place.”
Opened by Adam and Susan Fleischer in 2012, The Wine Spot took over the site of the former Seitz-Agin Hardware Store in the heart of Cleveland Heights in the Lee Road commercial district. It looks like what one thinks a high-end wine and beer store should look: clean and spare decor punctuated by gorgeous wood tables, with decades-old remnants of the site’s previous inhabitants incorporated into the design.
It is, first and foremost, a retail store, with more than 1,500 carefully curated wines and at least 350 different beers. Unlike most such stores though, it’s also a bar, serving a glass of wine, a cocktail with locally sourced spirits, or one of its on-tap or bottled beers. And unlike your typical bar, they have extraordinarily comfortable couches in the back. I’m not sure why having a beer on a couch at The Wine Spot feels so right–it might be the natural light, the neighbors coming and going, or maybe the beer flights.
The beer flight wasn’t invented at The Wine Spot, but I first discovered it there and I will always associate this perfect beer experience with the place. Before frequenting The Wine Spot, I knew little to nothing about beer; I’ve learned through tasting. Their changing selection of bottle and draft beers means that there is always something new to try, and the beer flight lets you sample four of the 12 rotating beers on tap, in small, five-ounce glasses.
I should also note at this point that The Wine Spot does indeed have wine. They carry a complete offering of wine from all over the globe, with prices ranging from very affordable to car-loan payment, and they can help you find the perfect sip. They also have cocktails. And a growing selection of local products from Clark Pope’s Bloody Mary Mix or BBQ Sauce, to Randy’s Pickles and Restless Coffee. I’m surely leaving out a good deal more–it’s just that I get sidetracked by the beer.
The selection and service alone would all be enough to set this neighborhood shop apart from the crowd, but Adam and Susan clearly had more in mind from the beginning, and this is how, to me, The Wine Spot has become something very special.
Because, unlike almost any similar place I can think of, The Wine Spot feels as though it’s both a part of, and intended for, the community. For example, from the beginning, Adam and Susan have partnered with the Cleveland Institute of Art to create The Art Spot, a storewide gallery of the latest artwork from CIA students, often beautiful, sometimes challenging, and always changing to add new work by students. They’ve also recently started a partnership with Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen to feature their members’ new products, giving customers access to a range of the latest locally produced goods.
And perhaps most important, The Wine Spot has grown to be a community gathering place. On any given night, you are likely to find a PTA meeting in one corner, an engagement party in the back, and a board game night gearing up to start by the front windows. Still, with all the activity, you’re bound to get a friendly greeting and find plenty of space to have a quiet drink.
If you know of another such place, then you are, like us in the Heights, fortunate, because such places are rare and valuable.
As for me, there is something very comforting about having a beer in a space that used to be the neighborhood hardware store my father first took me to nearly 40 years ago. At those times when what I need most is a brief spell in Hemingway’s ‘clean, well-lighted place,’ this is where you’ll likely find me.
Join Edible Cleveland for a special St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Wine Spot or stop in for a flight the Next time you’re in Cleveland Heights. 2271 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. 216.342.3623. TheWineSpotOnline.com. Hours: M 1–9pm, Tu & W 11am–9pm, Th–Sa 11am–10pm, Su noon–6pm.