Jerome Jaffe is a character. With his thick New York accent, wiry frame, perma-five o’clock shadow and penchant for misnomers, he’s kind of a minor celebrity in his home base of Brighton in the West End. The artist has maintained a studio/storage space in the neighborhood for more than 16 years and moved his home to the Ice Cream Factory building three years ago. Jaffe recently bought Rake’s End from long-time area resident/developer Fred Lane, and he is determined to see the bar succeed.
The space was previously a den of iniquity for a notorious area motorcycle gang, and after some fairly major scuffles with the law Lane was able to expel the previous tenants and do some necessary remodeling. A seven-foot drop ceiling stained brown with tobacco was removed to reveal a pressed tin 15-foot ceiling; worn plywood and awning pulled away from the building’s façade to expose original antique glass block tile windows; and the entire place was given several coats of primer to cover up the black paint that covered the walls for decades.
Jaffe, a professional artist with the international art collective TODT took over Lane’s renovation and added his group’s artwork along the walls. The place now feels spacious and bohemian with the collective’s distinctive oversized multimedia sculptural pieces affixed to the walls. But even with the changes in décor, Jaffe contends, “it’s a great space for Brighton, but Brighton’s gotta patronize it.”
And the good news is that the neighborhood is supporting it in appropriately creative ways. Rake’s End currently hosts a highly attended Goth night, a shoegaze DJ set and FOGGER: a nearly indescribable mixture of laser show, late ’80s-early ’90s R&B music and fog juice put on by Brighton tenants. On any given First Saturday (Brighton’s monthly art walk), you’ll find area residents as well as many from Cincinnati’s larger creative classes milling around the stretch of Central Avenue just parallel to Central Parkway. Musicians, artists, writers, dancers (“a kind of cross-bred Cincinnati-New York thing,” says Jaffe) are coming out to drink, chat, dance and people-watch.
Since Lane opened the bar last winter, the monthly art event has gotten progressively more successful.
It’s a symbiotic relationship: Jaffe employs Brighton residents as bartenders, DJs, sound engineers and skilled laborers — trades in which the neighborhood is rich with talent. And despite all of the cultural resources available there, especially after the Mockbee closed last fall, Brighton has been a serious vacuum for social gathering spaces.
Usually, neighborhoods develop cultural commodities like galleries and real estate after the businesses that serve the residents are already established. For Brighton, that process has worked in reverse. The area has been a haven for artists since the 1980s when late artist/UC sculpture professor Patricia Renick moved into the area, but most of it was used for art studios and galleries. Consequently, business developers of bars, restaurants and markets have overlooked the area — but that has also kept the price of real estate affordable.
When I-75 was built during the 1960s, the expressway cut directly through the West End — then one of Cincinnati’s oldest and densest neighborhoods — and businesses were subsequently devastated. People moved out, factories closed. The highway cut off a major artery into the community and it never really recovered.
In the late 1990s Renick petitioned the city to make a cut-through street connector leading to Central Avenue from Central Parkway and her 11-foot-high stainless steel sculpture “30 Module Sphere 1” was installed at the new gateway.
Although she passed away in 2007, perhaps the most tangible evidence of Renick’s legacy is the continued presence of artists and artist-run spaces in her beloved neighborhood. After the cross-through’s completion, area galleries like Semantics moved in and are still going strong, owing much to the work of dedicated Brightonites who put on exhibitions year in and year out — often with little-to-no financial backing. The neighborhood’s three-block stretch of Harrison and Central avenues includes no fewer than five art galleries and innumerable artist studios.
In true collaborative form, Jaffe is not resting on his laurels. He’s already thinking about giving people reasons to come back, and with lack of markets and restaurants in the area, food seems to be a big part of the necessary equation. There’s talk of him partnering with Lane again to get an Ecuadorian food truck to park outside of the bar on regular nights. Sunday brunches are in the works and a Monday evening potluck is already getting some good attendance.
This past Saturday, Jaffe opened up the bar to Brighton residents/fine artists Katy Tompkins and Zachary Gillerlain who operate as a collective under the name Forsum. They hosted the kind of event that only could happen at a place like the Rake’s End: part art installation, part DJ set; the evening’s events involved a black-light jungle, a three-dimensional volcano and the sacrifice of a virgin at midnight.
The neighborhood still has some rough spots, but places like the Rake’s End are galvanizing those who live there in a way that’s inspiring. People who have gotten to know each other on the Internet (via Brighton’s very-active Facebook group) are organizing and planning real life weekly get-togethers. Local businesswoman Rosie Kovacs hosted a bi-monthly night of music and food at Rake’s End, and she says she feels a lot closer to her neighbors as a result.
After all, a physical location is integral to the feeling of belonging that one only gets when having face-to-face conversation with a neighbor. Adding a social lubricant like alcohol doesn’t hurt either. “Brighton is one of our city’s most intentional and close-knit communities, so for residents the bar is a great place to strengthen the spirit of the community,” says local, Brittany Skelton.
Let’s hope the rest of Cincinnati joins in on the fun, too.
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