From 1925 Bank to Swanky Restaurant & Bar: The Story of Cleveland's Crop Bistro

Posted on: August 16th, 2012 by David Weible 4 Comments

A long summer weekend finds me escaping the stifling D.C. heat back in my hometown of Cleveland and again in the thick of some innovative preservation work, this time at Crop Bistro & Bar, the dual-purpose restaurant and research and development kitchen of chef and restaurateur, Steve Schimoler, in the heart of the historic Ohio City neighborhood.

The kitchen specializes in modern American cuisine with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients and tonight, my quail stuffed with pecan cornbread, drizzled with a fresh plum sauce, and served on a bed of baby kale salad is exceptional. But perhaps the most impressive element of the meal is the setting.

To create both a viable restaurant and a legitimate research and development kitchen, Schimoler needed a big space. What he found was the United Bank Building. The classical 1925 structure designed by architects Frank Walker and Harry Weeks features six massive arched windows along the building’s facade, a coffered  ceiling, 12 bronze light fixtures ornamented in gold, and 17,000 square feet of floor space, including a 5,000-square-foot vault that now serves as a private dining room.

Diners can walk through the original vault into a private dining room.

The space was originally pitched to Schimoler as a manufacturing facility for special items designed in his test kitchens.

“So I came over and did the tour and I’m like, ‘No way,’” says Schimoler. “There’s no way you can turn this into a manufacturing facility. And I immediately was smitten with the space. I’m a total sucker for historic buildings and I knew at that moment when I walked through here, I said ‘I’m going to do a restaurant here.’”

Inside the vault.

Schimoler did much of the adaptive reuse planning and restoration work himself, including the design of the restaurant layout and the building of the bar, which entailed cutting and hand-polishing original white Carerra Marble that was discovered in the basement. He also restored the 1925 mural of a marketplace, which revealed billowing storm clouds in the background – perhaps a prescient nod, Schimoler suggests, to the October 1929 stock market crash that shuttered the building four years after its completion.

“It was almost like it was [originally] designed to be a restaurant,” Schimoler says of the building. “I have restaurateurs and chefs come in here from all over the country and they’re like, ‘we couldn’t have designed it as a better restaurant.’ It’s kind of scary.”

But the United Bank Building isn’t Schimoler’s first foray into historic preservation. He previously adapted a 200-year-old grist mill in Waterbury, Vermont that lacked running water and electricity into a similar restaurant venture, renaming it The Mist Grill (since closed).

Schimoler says his love for historic buildings is the result of his upbringing in an 18th century home on Long Island and a mother who was active in their local preservation society.

“One of the things that I’m really most proud of is that we have thousands and thousands of people that are coming through the doors of Crop who are getting a chance to see this piece of history,” he says.

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David Weible

David Weible

David Weible is a content specialist for the National Trust, previously with Preservation magazine. He came to D.C. from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

Adaptive Reuse, General, Preservation Magazine

4 Responses

  1. Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares

    August 16, 2012

    What was the building used for in intervening years? It certainly seems impossible that it could’ve been shuttered since 1929. Tell us more!

  2. Karl

    August 17, 2012

    Laura, Are you familiar with Cleveland? It is entirely possible that it has been shuttered for 80 years.
    I think after the depression United Bank was bought by another Financial Insitution (Broadview Savings???) which in turn merged with a larger bank after the S+L crisis of the late 80’s and closed this branch.
    Since then the office part of the (12 story)building has been used by ADAMH, but the Banking Lobby has been shuttered.

  3. William

    August 20, 2012

    Crop is definately a stunner and a great example of adaptive reuse in a place that was ahead of the curve in this regard.

    There are other fine examples similar to Crop. “Dante” in the Tremont neighborhood has also done a wonderful job of converting an old bank into a stunning restaurant.

    Cowell and Hubbard in the Theatre District also did an amazing job of turning a legendary jewelry store of days gone by into yet another stunning space and wonderful restaurant. Then there’s Pickwick and Frolic, an entertainment complex that was cleverly inserted into an opera house.

    There are also several carriage house that have been converted to restaurants or coffee shops that are worth a look.

    I think this calls for a whold story and photo spread in the magazine….?

  4. Joyce Roy

    August 24, 2012

    It is too bad that they do not specialize in French cuisine; they could have called it ‘The Left Bank.’