To say that Greek immigrant Jim Swingos had a vision for an otherwise desolate downtown Cleveland in the late '60s would be a gross understatement.
Swingos did not at first gravitate to the restaurant business which would make him a household name and an ongoing Cleveland legend. After graduating from Ohio State, he at first pursued a career in criminology before deciding on joining his father in the more exciting world of the bar business.
It would be easy to focus on what became his successful run that began in 1968 when he purchased the Downtowner restaurant at the corner of E.18th and Euclid for the measly some of 16 months of back rent. However, it was not all immediate success; although his food offerings were unique to what business clientele still remained, Swingos Keg & Quarter, the renamed Downtowner, was pretty much dependent upon those businessmen who were staying at the adjoining Downtowner Hotel, as Cleveland’s downtown offered little else to locals or other potential travelers.
So, Swingos’ next move was to purchase the hotel as well in 1971 with the thought being to prop up a very weak downtown hotel industry with a successful restaurant, Risky, but again, he had vision.
Then, fate intervened.
A promoter for none other than Elvis himself was looking for hotel accommodations during a Midwest tour. They reached out about the Downtowner and after scouting it out decided to make it their “home base” by securing four full floors for the entirety of their Midwest tour. From there, things took off rapidly for Swingos and both the restaurant and hotel, which was quickly renamed Swingos Celebrity Inn.
With the restaurant purchase in 1968 and the hotel acquisition in 1971, Swingos started a run of organized entertainment chaos that lasted until 1984. The hotel became the destination spot for every major act that passed through, but the one casualty of this overnight turn in fortunes for Swingos was that he eventually lost most of the business travelers because the raucous behavior of bands after shows cost the businessmen their much-needed sleep.
What a run Swingos had, though, but not without its unique challenges. The who’s who list of a variety of artists, politicians, athletes and other celebrities and their combined quirks made it a constant challenge for Swingos and his entire staff to meet their needs and, in many cases, clean up their messes.
For example, Led Zeppelin was widely known for their destructive nature in hotels, but always traveled with an accountant who immediately covered damages from a special checkbook. Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, became a dear friend of Swingos, and the man that put him on the map, Elvis, remained Swingos’ favorite guest even when he ordered steaks cut into pieces only to be reassembled like a puzzle before eating.
Local big wigs mixed with the diverse group of performers on an almost nightly basis at the bar, while an all-male, highly trained staff always dressed in tuxedos attended to their every need.
It is very safe to say that Swingos began Cleveland’s downtown resurgence that only continues to this day, and it's nice to be able to share a bit of the story here with you. Although none of his other Swingos locations around town generated the excitement of the original, which is now a Comfort Inn and Subway location, it is very safe to say he was extremely instrumental in giving others the confidence to invest in Cleveland’s future.