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Howard's Commentary - "Meet 'cha At The Cork"

I was more of an Alpha beer drinker in my high school, college, and early working days.

I would occasionally foray downtown but stayed mainly "Out The Pike". Alpha, Macs, Whistlestop.

But when Ernie opened his "Cork and Bottle" on 12th Street in the mid-70's, things changed.

This was something different. Jazzy, snazzy, new. A place younger adults could really enjoy. Telephones graced every table and you could call the gal across the room who caught your eye. I was never very good at that nonsense, and the phones didn't make it easier--but it felt like they did.

Over the years, "The Cork" changed and grew. Game room. Multiple music levels. Great dinners and lunches (including the famous "seafood coquille" the thought of which still makes my mouth water). It was THE downtown spot for lunch, dinner, cocktails, and late nights (sometimes very late nights). The 80's were it's hey day.

Much of the media made it a frequent stop after (sometimes during) work. Ernie was always complaining about happenings in city government--but usually bought a round when he was done.

Of course the other downtown taverns became part of the routine. The "Bermuda Triangle" of Ernie's, the McLure and the Office Lounge on 12th. Infamous Tin Pan Alley between Main and Market. Down Center Wheeling way was the Palace Disco.

The Eagle 2 out National Road in Woodsdale deserves a memory trip all its own.

For a while, The Cork was home to a celebration of the spoken word that a group of us worked with. "The Empty Step" featured readings of plays and poetry plus an "open mike" session. To quote a friend of mine: "they were heady days and long celebratory nights". Great memories (and some foggy ones).

In the early Italian Festival days, Ernie had outside seating on 12th and it was always a great place to make a final Festival visit after the booths closed down.

As Wheeling changed and culture changed, The Cork started to slide. Crowds were smaller, excitement was diminished.

By the early 90's it was more of a beer bar. "My gang" still hung out. We were friends with Ernie and his staff, like Crystal and Tanya. When I bought my own station and we located downtown, I continued daily visits but it was often me and a half dozen others.

For whatever reason, Ernie never kept the place up. He always had plans to "bring it back again" so rebuffed those who offered to buy or lease it (I was one of those once).

Roof was in disrepair, dust gathered everywhere and the locks were finally clicked for their final time about a decade ago. It's time had passed.

But it sure was fun while it lasted.