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.
 

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 has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

I’VE BEEN DRINKING

My dad admired bankers. In my dad’s pantheon of great Cleveland families, the number one clan was the Bilskys, who started out making bagels, then went into medicine (#1 son), bowling alleys (#2 son, Mayflower Lanes, Cedar Center), and ultimately started a bank (#3 son, Metropolitan Savings). My grandmother used to say “The Bilskys make big bagels out of little bagels.”

Scott Bilsky — who is a young man — called my klezmer band to book us for a temple event. He said 12 Bilskys would be at the event. Dr. Harold Bilsky (#1 son)? Nope. He died in 2007. Harold had grown up with my dad on Kinsman. Leo (#2 son) wouldn’t be there either. He had died in 1998. I asked Scott. “What about the banker [#3 son]?”

“That’s my grandfather Marvin, He’ll be there.” Marvin was 90.  (This was in 2011.) At the temple gig, I cornered Marvin during the band’s break to schmooze. He told me, “Everything I ever did began with a B — baker, banker and builder.” I already knew that. “And brewer,” he said. That, I didn’t know.

Bilsky, a brewski?

Marvin said, “My father bought Cleveland-Sandusky Brewing in 1955. There were very few Jews involved in the brewing business. In the 1960s, Israel came to us for brewing tips and equipment.” Bilsky bottled Gold Bond beer and Olde Timers Ale. Marvin said there had only been five Cleveland breweries in the 1950s: Bilsky, Carlings from Canada (“very nice people”); Standard Brewing, Erin Brew (Irish); Leisy’s (German); and Pilsener’s P.O.C. (Czech). “We all used to meet on Mondays. I didn’t have any trouble with anybody,” Marvin said.

I didn’t know about breweries and still don’t. My father rarely drank; it would have interfered with his worrying. (A Jewish joke.) I knew something about Carlings from Cleveland Indians’ broadcasts; that was about it. I drink a Miller Lite once in a while now. I’m mostly a seltzer guy. Bilsky’s brewery was a blip in the Bilsky family history. Move on to the main subject, coconut bars . . .

The preeminent Bilsky business was Bilsky’s Bakery, which started on Kinsman Road and moved to Cedar Center in 1948. Who invented the Cleveland coconut bar? I should have asked Marvin Bilsky. I didn’t. I called Marvin the next day and said, “Marvin, this is Bert Stratton from Yiddishe Cup, the klezmer band. We played for your family.”

“Thanks for the concert last night. You did as well as you could,” he said. “No, seriously, we enjoyed it. And to answer your question, I’ve always said my father invented the coconut bar, but — and I have to tell you this — I went to Sydney, Australia, and I went down into the subway there. They have a small subway system. They had coconut bars down there. They didn’t call them coconut bars. Where did they get them? Maybe from England. Australia used to be part of England.” [Australians call coconut bars lamingtons.]

“Marvin, I have a friend, Seth, his grandfather was a Kritzer of Kritzer Bakery on Kinsman. Seth says his grandfather invented the coconut bar.”

“It was my father!” Marvin said, groaning. “Who knows.”

I dialed my cousin George, whose father had owned Heights Baking on Coventry. George said his father didn’t  invent the coconut bar, but hey, maybe. Scott Raab, a former Clevelander, wrote in Esquire (July 2002): “Ask for coconut bars in any Jewish bakery from New Jersey to Los Angeles and you’ll get some version of this: ‘So, you’re from Cleveland …We don’t have ’em.’”

Nowadays Seth buys his coconut bars at Davis Bakery. I get mine at Zagara’s grocery store. I once asked the Zagara’s clerk where the grocery store got their bars, but the clerk didn’t know. I even looked at the shipping box, which was unmarked.

I invented the coconut bar.

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1 comment

1 Ken Goldberg { 01.15.20 at 11:00 am }

Bert – Please…. It took me three days to read all that! The Millers Lites and c-bars got to your head…. Tell Seinfeld about them.

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