Dr. Know: Charley’s Crab, Interstate Signs, and Stagge’s Corner

The good doctor explores troubling issues, including memorializing old restaurants, highway graffiti, and a nearly hidden plaque in Kenwood.

The famous Carlo & Johnny steakhouse in Montgomery displays oval tiles at the entrance honoring the old mansion’s previous restaurants, but there’s no oval for Charley’s Crab. Cincinnati enjoyed that wonderful seafood destination for over 20 years! Why such a glaring omission? —BAD TASTE IN MY MOUTH

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

The Doctor, whilst savoring the Carlo & Johnny Butcher’s Cut Australian Tender, posed this question to General Manager Charlie Bledsoe. Charlie enjoyed Charley’s, too, back in the day. He offers a theory about the absence of its well-deserved oval tile.

The blame falls upon the Fox and Crow, the venue’s first restaurant, opening in the 1930s as a posh high-society destination. By the late 1940s, however, it had became a not-so-secret Mafia operation, with gambling and other, um, proclivities occurring behind revolving walls. This is clearly the historical theme that restaurateur Jeff Ruby wishes Carlo & Johnny to accentuate today. Prominent portraits of Capone, Corleone, the Rat Pack, etc. gaze upon the lush surroundings. As Ruby has said, “Gangsters should be recognized for their contribution to upscale steakhouses.” Charley’s Crab, while a commendable seafood restaurant in its day, blurs the Bada Bing image.

The Doctor encourages readers to submit more questions about fine Cincinnati restaurants. He shall fearlessly investigate them all, no matter how many expense account evenings they may require.

Somebody paintballed the Freeman Avenue exit sign on I-75 South. It’s covered with big white blotches, like giant bird poop. How much of my taxpayer money has to go for cleaning it? Also (trying not to sound like a compliment here), do they know how the creeps did it? —CAN’T HANDLE THE VANDAL

The Doctor regrets to report that, after two cleanup attempts, the sign has been declared unrestorable. Those weren’t paintballs. Paintballs are tiny pellets that leave easily washable marks of about one inch around. Our creeps used indelible paint that splotched almost three feet wide. The Ohio Department of Transportation, with more than a little experience of sign vandalism, has a good guess about how such a splat was accomplished, but they don’t want to give our readers any ideas.

Currently there is an aluminum shortage, so you’ll be cursed under a bad sign until autumn at least. The 12-by-10-foot rectangle will cost about $1,500 to replace, plus another $1,000 for labor and equipment. And we must unfortunately double these figures: Another exit sign (for Dana Avenue on I-71 North) has suffered the same damage. Our vandals clearly did not wish to imply any favoritism toward Cincinnati’s east or west side.

There’s a newly-built Bank of America branch at Kenwood and Montgomery roads. The parking lot’s corner has a large pedestal with a bronze plaque, but it faces out to traffic instead of into the lot. Nobody sees the pedestal from the lot, and nobody driving by can possibly read the plaque. What is it? —SLOW AND FURIOUS

Do not blame Bank of America for this; their customer service queue is long enough already. And don’t blame the two guys pictured on the plaque; they are long gone. Brothers Jim and Nick Stagge purchased the corner at Kenwood and Montgomery in the 1940s, which was a stroke of either luck or genius. They built a modest Shell station and motel there, followed in 1962 by a multi-business edifice called the Kenwood Corner Building. They then watched their companion corners morph into the parade of Kenwood Mall, Plaza, Towne Centre, Square, and Collection, leaving the little Kenwood Corner Building looking ever humble and dated.

In 2019, the family demolished the old landmark and leased the corner to Bank of America, but with this detail: The corner would display a memorial plaque to Jim and Nick, telling the long (and, in this case, wide) story of their lifetime of service to the community. As you have observed, only the rare pedestrian might actually notice and read it, or perhaps a motorist stuck at what seems to be a suspiciously long red light. Hmm. Might the Stagge brothers have arranged—from heaven—one last corner deal?

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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