Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz.  (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

SEIGER’S RESTAURANT

The cops at the Sixth District police station in Cleveland considered me a hippie spy from the Heights.  But when I told the cops I was a Seiger (“My uncle owned Seiger’s Restaurant on E.118th and Kinsman”), the cops warmed up to me. The cops — the older ones, the bosses — all knew Seiger’s Restaurant.

Cleveland Jewish News, 1968

Seiger’s Restaurant was a Damon Runyon casting hall on Kinsman Road. All manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen and shnorers (beggars) hung out there. The shnorers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) collectors who had their own booth in the back.

Seiger’s, 11802 Kinsman Rd., 1957

My Great Aunt Lil Seiger served the shnorers kosher food from her apartment, which was at the back of the store. The shnorers wouldn’t eat the non-kosher food from the restaurant. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher.  “We served the rabonim [the rabbis] on special china and silverware,  milchig [dairy]’,” Lil’s son Danny said.

Seigers: Audrey (daughter), Lil, Danny (son) and Itchy, 1948

Rabonim and cops — ate well at Seiger’s. Nobody ever got a ticket for an expired parking meter, and sometimes cars were parked two-lanes deep on Kinsman.  “I couldn’t even spend a nickel in Seiger’s,” retired cop Bill Tofant said.

Itchy Seiger, my great uncle, was the owner and chief kibitzer (glad-handler/talker).  He had been a cloak maker in Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  Itchy was the greeter.  Aunt Lil did the cooking, except the breads and strudels, which she bought.

There was a party room, seating about 65, in the basement. The matchbooks read: “Seiger’s Restaurant, Delicatessen, Barroom and Rathskeller.”

Danny and Itchy Seiger, back row, from R. Shiva for Anna Soltzberg, South Euclid, Ohio, 1964

I didn’t go to Seiger’s Restaurant often.  My parents didn’t think Kinsman was the right direction for a Sunday drive. More often we wound up out east — the other direction — at the Metroparks.

Danny — my cousin —  started showing up at Yiddishe Cup gigs in the 2000s. I asked him about the mini-feud between his father (my Uncle Itchy) and my grandmother, Anna  Soltzberg (nee Seiger).  Itchy and Anna had been half-siblings. (Enough with the genealogy, Klezmer Guy!)  Danny said Itchy and Anna had had two things in common: sugar diabetes and iron wills.

My grandmother’s candy store — near Itchy’s deli on Kinsman — had frequently been “oyf tsoris” (badly off), and Itchy rescued it, Danny said.

Anna Soltzberg, center, 1950s. Others unknown

“Everybody loved Itchy,” Danny said. Everybody but my grandmother, who complained about Itchy’s buy-out terms on her store.  Later, my grandmother opened a candy store further east on Kinsman, near Shaker Heights.

Cleveland Plain Dealer ad, 1947

Cleveland Plain Dealer , 1947

“At the restaurant, there were two brothers, the Schoolers,” Danny said. “One, Joe, wanted a soft matzo ball. The other, Morty, wanted a matzo ball as hard as a baseball.  Ma made both kinds.  That’s how we thrived.”

Somebody should take Danny, age 80, and a video camera for a stroll down Kinsman. Walk Danny through the old neighborhood and into Seiger’s, which was recently a soul food restaurant.  (Today it’s boarded up.)

New World Restaurant, formerly Seiger’s, 2010.

The audio,
Danny: “This is where Ma made the mish-mash soup. She gave the recipe to Corky & Lenny’s. This is the counter where Jim Brown bounced a $10 check.  I should have saved it for the autograph.  This is where Oscar Schmaltz downed an industrial canister of soup.  Oscar weighed 400.”

Footnote:  Seiger’s is pronounced Sigh-ger’s (rhymes with High-gers) by Jews, and See-ger’s by cops.  Seiger’s closed in 1968.

For relatives only . . . family photo above, taken at the shiva  for Toby Stratton’s mother, Anna Soltzberg.
On floor, from L: Bert Stratton,  sister Leslie.

Middle: Aunt Lil Soltzberg of Washington;  unnamed woman who divorced out of  the family; Aunt Pearl Bregman; Great Aunt Molly Mittman; Marcia Seiger.

Top:  Uncle Milty Soltzberg, Toby Stratton, Julia Stratton, Uncle Sol Soltzberg, Great Uncle Sam Mittman, Aunt Lil Soltzberg of Delaware, Great Uncle Itchy Seiger, Danny Seiger.

(Sol Soltzberg, Milty Soltzberg, Pearl Bregman and Toby Stratton were siblings.)

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

12 comments

1 Ken G. { 05.08.13 at 9:45 am }

Building doesn’t look so hot in ’47 photo, either.
You’ve still got hippie overtones for my money, Bert.

2 Bert Stratton { 05.08.13 at 11:23 am }

To Ken G.:

Building photo is from ’57, and I got it at the Cleveland Public Library. From a file marked “Cleveland bldg dept.,” or something like that. Was taken after a fire at the building. That’s why the store looks so bad.

3 Ken G. { 05.08.13 at 1:43 pm }

Oops – meant ’57. Have used that enormous collection many a time. So was the fire in your relatives’ era?

4 Bill Jones { 05.08.13 at 2:05 pm }

Nu, so was picture taking at shivas at all common at that time. I know all of the relatives were in one place together and that taking the photo then was convenient. But still, at a shiva?

5 marc { 05.08.13 at 2:23 pm }

I had that same reaction, photo taking at a shiva?

6 Bert Stratton { 05.08.13 at 4:02 pm }

to Ken G.:

Yes, fire was during my relatives’ era. I don’t remember it.

To Bill Jones and Marc:

Photos during shiva, yes. We were in the liberal wing of Reform.

7 Ken G. { 05.09.13 at 8:31 am }

There’s a strong market out there for professional photographers to advertise “Shiva portraits!”

8 Mimi Harris { 04.29.15 at 9:22 pm }

Hi Bert! We spoke on the phone a few months ago about you providing hora music for my film. Who knew we’re related! I’m Itchy & Lil’s youngest grandchild. My mom is Audrey Seiger Spiwak (my dad is Bert Spiwak) and Danny is, of course, my uncle. Actually, in the shiva photo, that’s Danny’s wife Marcia next to Aunt Molly and not my mom. I’m the youngest of 5 kids – Debbie, Alana, Susie & Aaron are my sibs. We grew up in a suburb of Detroit. My dad & mom now live in Boynton Beach, FL. By the way, I found some royalty free hora music for the scene in my film. : ) Best regards, your cousin, Mimi

9 Bert Stratton { 04.30.15 at 8:45 am }

To Mimi Harris:

Small-word dept.
I went to a bar/bat mitzvah in Detroit in the 1960s at Shaarey Zedek. I wasn’t sure how I was related to the people there! You were there, no doubt.

I’ll change the name on the family photo (above) to “Marcia Seiger.”

Thanks for getting in touch with me!

10 Mimi Harris { 04.30.15 at 10:49 am }

Hi Bert!
I was born in ’64. The Bar Mitzvah you were at was my brother, Aaron Spiwak’s (lives in Houston, now) in 1976. That was an awesome affair totally befitting the only boy out of 5 kids.

11 Bert Stratton { 04.30.15 at 11:35 am }

To Mimi Harris:
Definitely wasn’t the 1970s. It was in the 1960s.

12 Marcia (Gordon) Rucker { 07.31.17 at 4:08 pm }

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Audrey Seiger for years, and I hope now someone will tell me. I lived on Kinsman, across from the Jewish Educational Alliance, a couple of blocks from the Seiger’s restaurant, and Audrey and I went to John Adams High School. Audrey was bright and gifted, and I hope she’s lived an interesting, fulfilling life and is still alive and well. Please contact me if you have information you’re able and willing to share.

Thank you.

Leave a Comment