by Connor Walters '09
There are institutions in Ohio City: the West Side Market, Saint Ignatius High School, Lutheran Hospital. They have been here for over a century, a testament to their City of Cleveland roots, to perseverance, to the work that goes on within their walls.
Within the past 20 years, as these anchors of the neighborhood have evolved and grown, new players have emerged, making names for themselves and re-making Ohio City into a neighborhood on the rise.
One of the very first was a Belgian beer bar called McNulty’s Bier Markt. Launched in 2003 in the shadow of the market, the bar/restaurant combo was one of the very first new institutions to plant its roots along West 25th Street.
“There were six of us looking to do it together,” says Mark Priemer ’88. “Everybody came down to 25th street, and the four others kind of got cold feet, and so it was like Sam [McNulty] and I left. They weren’t sure about 25th street, about Ohio City, so Sam and I went ahead with it, and it’s been incredible. To grow your business in a community that's also growing has just been wonderful.”
Priemer and McNulty have been partners since that first step in building their own little beer fiefdom in the market district (along with another Saint Ignatius alumnus, Mike Foran '00). That partnership now includes Market Garden Brewpub and a standalone brewing facility, a bar and restaurant called Nano Brew, and most recently the reinvention of the place that put them on the map.
Bright Side, which occupies the former Bier Markt/Bar Cento space, lives up to every bit of its name. Whereas the space once featured dim lighting and lots of dark woods, with the bar tucked away in the back, the new concept is warm and welcoming, with a beautiful bar brought right up to the restaurant’s front door.
“To us, just the physical space, getting a centralized bar, the central hub, closer to the street was something we always wanted to do, and post-COVID you’re kinda rethinking everything,” says Priemer. He says that McNulty kept reiterating the need for everything to be bright, hence the name.
“In a weird way, the dark days of the past couple years definitely led to some creative thinking as far as when we open back up, what do we want to look like?” says Priemer. “It’s like the opposite of what life has been like for the past couple years. It’s like hey, bright side. Let’s look to the bright side of things.”
Toiling alongside him in the reimagining of the restaurant was Executive Chef Andrew Bower ’03, a celebrated culinary mind who has been within the Market Garden family for about 10 of the past 12 years.
“It was fun creating something from scratch, like a very loose concept, and kind of just gleaning it down into something that you're like, OK yeah, this is it,” Bower says.
An artist and musician by nature ever since he was a boy, Bower already had experience creating a new restaurant concept. After working for several years helping develop Market Garden, he became the first executive chef at 811 Kitchen, Bar and Lounge in downtown Cleveland (which has since closed).
His duties as executive chef include leading the team that has created a mostly-new menu (a few favorites, like pommes frites and pizzas, remain), as well as overseeing the restaurant operations of all places along West 25th. He does ordering, food prep, leads a team of chefs, in addition to a ton of cooking. But as with many small operations, the job doesn’t end there.
“I fix stuff. I do lots of things,” he says. “It's kind of like you have to be a jack-of-all-trades a lot of times. I've done plumbing here. I’ve done carpentry. ... You have to just do stuff and get it done because when it’s go time, it’s go time.”
Priemer sings Bower’s praises for the talent, creativity, and leadership he brings to their business.
“He can prep any of these restaurants, what would take three chefs, he could do it himself in six hours. But he's also got this artistic side, this creative side, that to me is just incredible to not just creativity but innovation, says Priemer. “Eight years ago he would have been putting together a charcuterie program for us. He knew everything there was to know about curing. Now, he's as deep into pickling and lacto-fermentation... To see him and how his menu design has changed from what he was doing a decade ago, and all the seasonality and three restaurants, and then to designing the Bright Side menu today, which I think is one of the best, most creative well-rounded menus I've seen in a long time.”
The two men walked very different paths back to Ohio City. Bower grew up on the East Side and spent a year in college after Saint Ignatius, but it wasn’t for him. He had restaurant experience and so attended the now-defunct Orlando Culinary Academy. Bower returned home to Cleveland, began as a line cook in Little Italy, and has worked nearly every type of restaurant job there is.
Priemer, also a native East sider, attended St. Michael’s College in Vermont after he graduated from Saint Ignatius. Afterward, he joined his family’s construction and real-estate business before several summertime conversations, over the course of a few years, led him and McNulty to pursue their first venture together.
Bower says he values the way his Saint Ignatius education taught him how to think.
“Yes, you learn things from individual classes, but you don’t really value how much logic is taught to you in all your different classes until you're done and you’re like, 'I guess I learned that in high school. I guess I learned that in high school, too.'”
For Priemer, he believes there is something critical to the work ethic and knowing right from wrong that he was taught while he walked the halls of Wildcat High.
“I don’t want to brag too much about the Ignatius experience,” he says. “But sometimes I feel like, ‘Is there really something there, or is it family? Is it just a great college prep school, or is it just very something uniquely Ignatius?’ And I do believe there's very something uniquely Ignatius.”
“Knowing there's such a baseline: the expression Man for Others,” he adds. “I do feel there's a baseline for right and wrong, that I feel I know it when I encounter an Ignatius person that they know it. For me, that's been the Ignatius experience, and I love it.”
Now open for about a month, Bright Side has received high marks from Cleveland’s food scene reporter, Doug Trattner, and boasts full crowds of patrons—who know immediately when they walk by that, yes, this place is open and it’s full of life.
Perhaps Bright Side is on its way to becoming another Ohio City institution. Even with the innovations and renovations, it’s the same committed and creative guys leading the way, charting a course forward.
Their future is, well—you can probably guess for yourself.