Sunday, January 02, 2000

'Drew Carey' bar has little resemblance to its inspiration

The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — It's easy to spot Drew Carey fans going into the bar that the star immortalized on his hit TV show. They try to enter through the front door, which hasn't been used in years.

        The Memphis Plaza Lounge is a quaint corner bar in one of Carey's old haunts, the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland. The gray vinyl-sided building is the inspiration for the tavern depicted on “The Drew Carey Show.” It's known as “The Warsaw Tavern” on TV because owner Bud Vance didn't want to sell the naming rights to Warner Bros.

        “That would mean I couldn't sell any T-shirts with the name on it and other things like that,” Mr. Vance said. “That name belonged to me for the last 15 years, and I wanted it to stay that way.”

        What Mr. Vance did settle for was $1,500 from Warner Bros. to use the front portion of his building, which resembles a house more than a bar. Show producers filmed the front of the bar and used this shot as a teaser for the bar Drew and the rest of the cast frequent.

        The filming crew shot the front of the building in 1995 and temporarily replaced the “Memphis Plaza Lounge” sign with a red neon one that flashed “The Warsaw Tavern.” The sign hung there for two years before Warner Bros. took it down.

        “I didn't lose much sleep when they took the sign away,” said Mr. Vance, a recent retiree from General Motors. “I never made my living at this bar. It was basically a side job, so I didn't care if that took away business. But it is still pretty neat to see my bar on TV.”

        The inside of Mr. Vance's bar is quite a bit different than what is shown on television. His small, L-shaped bar has a linoleum floor, fewer than 10 Formica tables and metal-backed chairs. The TV tavern has a wood decor and is large enough to comfortably seat dozens of people for a male revue that Drew's character tried to put on in one episode.

        The real tavern also has a few signs of its ties to the TV show. A sign from Carey states: “I got my buzz at the Warsaw Tavern,” and several photographs of Carey and the cast hang above the cash register.

        What both bars do have in common is that after a hard day's work, people can get together for a beer, a game of pool or darts, and a bit of conversation.

        That's what brought John Haselow and Gino Latina to the Memphis Plaza Lounge.

        “This is a great neighborhood bar,” said Mr. Haselow, who lives in the suburb of Parma. “It's the first time I've been here, but I heard from friends it was a good place to come to. It's definitely a good place to shoot pool and relax.”

        “There's a lot more elbow room than the Parma bars we normally go to,” said Latina, a Seven Hills resident.

        Not much else divulges the Memphis Plaza Lounge's claim to fame, though most of the regulars and even some newcomers know its Hollywood ties.

        “One of my first reasons for coming here was the whole Drew Carey thing,” said Pat Filipkowski, a former Brook Park resident in town for a Browns game. “It was like a novelty, to say, "Wow, Drew Carey came here.' Now that's lost its luster, so we just come to have a good time.”


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