Remember This: Before Paul Brown Stadium and Smale Park, Caddy's ruled riverfront fun
Karen Bells | WCPO Contributor
7:00 AM, Oct 18, 2017
10:56 AM, Oct 22, 2017
CINCINNATI -- These days, the party people in Cincinnati can be found kicking up their heels at one of many clubs in a revitalized Over-the-Rhine or throwing back beers at a brewpub or restaurant along the river at The Banks or Newport on the Levee.
But throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, those who wanted to dance, hear live music, enjoy some drinks and flirt could usually be found in one of the wildly popular spots Downtown in an area known informally as the Second Street Entertainment District. Thousands of revelers spent weekend nights in the bars -- Flanagan’s Landing, Sleep Out Louie’s, Hurricane Surf Club, Daddy Warbucks, Kokomo Key and more.
The undisputed cool guy -- or cheesy guy, depending on your perspective -- in the group was Caddy’s, a cavernous nightclub with a five-story mural of a pink Cadillac painted on the side of the building towering over the corner of Plum Street and Second Street (later renamed Pete Rose Way).
Steve Enderle of Colerain Township worked as a sign painter for Gus Holthaus Signs at the time -- he guesses it was 1983, since Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” played seemingly nonstop on the radio while he worked -- and spent about a month painting the mural.
The project was a bit of a pain in the neck, but it became his calling card and helped him launch his own business, Letters, Lines & Signs, which specializes in painting water towers and amusement parks around the country. He still gets recognized for the Caddy’s mural.
“Just coming around the corner on the highway, that mural hit people right in the face,” Enderle said. “It was a landmark.”
Enderle never actually patronized Caddy’s, but plenty of other people did. Ron Baird of Monfort Heights was there pretty much every Friday night for more than a decade, stopping in after work and hitting the gym.
“I knew everybody, and the bartenders and other employees were always so friendly,” said Baird, who became a regular from the time Caddy’s opened in the early ‘80s. “We just always had a good time.”
He remembers the huge crowds that packed the place during the 1990 World Series, which saw the Cincinnati Reds sweep the Oakland A’s in a four-game series.
“I’ll bet the owner had 10,000 people come through the doors during that series,” Baird said. “That place seemed to make money hand over fist.”
Marilyn Tester and her friends rarely missed a Friday or Saturday night. Reds game days were always a good time to visit, and she even met her future husband there on Opening Day in 1987.
“You would walk in and people were just so friendly, the music was great,” Tester said. “We became close friends with the owner, Charlie Schneider, and the staff and patrons became very much like a family.”
Patrons entering Caddy’s were struck by the sight of a full-size white convertible Cadillac suspended over the main bar. There were often bands playing inside the club as well as on the large covered back patio that connected Caddy’s with other bars lined up in the Second Street strip. Popular local bands like the Websters and the Menus were on frequent rotation, along with Tester’s favorite, Cincinnati Slim & the Headhunters.
Caddy’s fans on Facebook tell stories of touring national musicians like John Mellencamp and Jimmy Buffett hanging out in the bar when they were in town. And countless Reds, Bengals and visiting professional athletes made the club a second home.
People who loved to dance, like Tester, were drawn to the place. And, like most nightclubs, Caddy’s sparked its share of romances, whether it was meeting Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now. Tester isn’t the only one who found love there.
In 1996, 26-year-old Angela Fobbe proposed to her 19-year-old boyfriend Kris Eger on stage during a set by the Websters. She wanted to make things official before Eger went away to Army basic training, but when she made her proposal plans she didn’t anticipate that there would be more than 400 people in the club that night.
Nervous and excited, Fobbe popped the question and Eger said yes. They’re still married, and Eger just retired from Special Forces after seven deployments and a long career. The couple is preparing to move from Fort Bragg in South Carolina to Virginia. And Caddy’s, needless to say, holds a special place in their hearts.
Lisa Masur of Batavia didn’t meet her husband at Caddy’s nor propose to him there, but they had their first date there in 1993 -- the one and only time either of them ever visited the club. Her future husband only danced with her once that night, to a slow song, but when Masur came back to their table after dancing an upbeat tune, he had placed a single red rose on her chair. “I knew right away that he was the one,” she said, and the pair are still happily married.
Sometimes love is eternal, but Caddy’s was not. The nightclub and others in the area were demolished in 1998 to make way for the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, with Schneider’s family winning $3.1 million for the Caddy’s Complex property after a fight with the county in Common Pleas Court.
Schneider invited close friends and regular patrons to the club before the demolition. They wrote messages (“Thanks for the memories, Caddy’s!”) on the walls inside the place, and some took home a brick once the complex came down. Tester still has a Caddy’s brick on her mantel at home; in fact, the brick was even part of her homes in Kosovo and Washington, D.C.
Like Baird, she maintains friendships with many people from her Caddy’s days and considers the place much more than just a run-of-the-mill bar.
“If I could go back to those days and experience those great times in Caddy’s again, I absolutely would,” Tester said.