Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not a Nightmare - Martin and the Barking Spider

Recently I asked for bands to tell me about their nightmare gigs. The ones where everything went wrong on stage - or they never even got to play. So many reports came back with anger toward the bar managers or owners.

Yesterday I got news of a different bar owner. Martin Juredine who owned and operated the Barking Spider Tavern in the University Circle district of Cleveland Heights. He passed away from cancer.

Actually, until I Googled it, I could not remember his last name. He was just Martin. One of those guys in our community who if someone says "Martin", it has to be the Barking Spider Martin. Every other Martin had to have a surname.

As far as I knew, the Barking Spider had been around since prohibition. I never knew it to not be there. Unchanged and unapologetically simple. Its location is actually behind everything else. Stately brick buildings that house a coffee shop and other businesses are on one street in front of the Spider. Fraternity houses are on the road behind the Spider. You have to walk through the frat house yards on one side or drive thin alleys past the tall brick buildings on the other side. How this thing had an address, I have no idea.

When you get to the club, on the face of the wood slat building, there is a carved logo with the name Barking Spider and a jovial fat man holding high a big mug of beer, while perpetually leaning back on his chair to release the Barking Spider. (If you still don't know what a Barking Spider is, google that) Picnic tables fill a space just out the front door and inside to the left, a standard bartop lines the back wall behind half dozen small round tables and chairs. On the wall opposite the bar is a small wood burning stove in the left corner and a grand piano in the right. A bench runs the length of the wall between these two iconic pillars.

It is on this bench, and in front of it, that tens of thousands of musicians have played. Doesn't look like much of a stage. More of an area than a stage. Crates under the bench are the storage spot for cables, speakers, mics and other PA equipment either purchased by the bar or left there by other bands. Who knows where it all came from. But I know a capo and cable left there by my band one gig were there three months later.

When a spider is not blamed for the odd noise among the seats, there was Blackie for many years. A black lab who would quietly move among the shadows, not looking for scratches or to steal food. He just seemed to want to be there among the crowds.

Blackie was Martin's dog. And back to him for a while. Martin ran the place like it was his living room and you were just stopping by to get warm before heading home. Or cool off. Or to not go home.

No cover charge that I ever recall. There was a hockey game table in the room to the right of the entrance. And you had to go upstairs to use the bathroom. Bands were booked, but their sets usually strayed from the big stage performance into cozy hang outs. Bands were free to play what they wanted (though I remember one band being banned for butchering Angie to the point that Martin almost pulled the plug), and could go off into random jams or bring friends up on the floor with them.

Goth bands would bring acoustics, singer songwriters would have a band magically appear from the audience. Established bands would work out lots of new material.

Bands made money with a tip jar. For a long time, Martin had hired a guy named Tom to work bar. Tom was a piece of work. I don't have the words to fully describe him here. But sometimes his requests for "Tips for the band" were more entertaining than the band. One band I was in used to make up a wandering jam while Tom would come up to ask for our tip money. Tom might rant for 15 minutes about some nonsensical story - one eye larger than the other, graying hair askew, his off line teeth getting in the way of his words (or was it the "one shot for you, one shot for me" bartending code that got in the way of his story?), and would end with a rousing "Tips for the band" shout. Even when Tom no longer worked there, Martin kept a psychedelic portrait of Tom on the wall that was painted by an art student one day.

Tom may have been the weird awkward uncle you'd see at a family reunion. But Martin was the dad. Or the grandpa. This was a family place. Is? I don't know. I've been away a year. It can't have changed that much. I mean it was that way forever, right?

No, without Martin, it will be different.

In all those years, I never heard of a band complain about Martin. He would be booked up six months in advance. Nobody paid for a sound man. There was never a security issue. I never heard of a Martin giving grief for a band not starting on time or finishing early. But then again, to play the Spider was an honor and bands seemed to just do their best all around.

Sure Martin had his favorite bands and may have given them a few more gigs than others. It was his home, after all.

Yet I never noticed if the Barking Spider did any advertising. I know they never tried to capitalize on the college crowd or cater to the nearby museum crowd. It is what it is. A simple friendly place to grab a drink and hang out. And for decades, that is all it took to get people to keep coming.

Martin is the reason. It's not the decor. It's not the sound system. It's not the beer selection (though he was way ahead of his time for pouring unique beers). It was the unassuming, welcoming-but-stay-in-the-background attitude which made the Spider one of the community hubs for musicians, poets, artists, college student and friends. It was pure Martin.

A guy named Michael posted this on a friend's Facebook status, "I drank many, many beers at the Barking Spider during my eleven years in Cleveland. Martin was a gracious and always friendly host, and a man who knew how to support great musical acts. When I returned to the Spider years later to have a quick drink with my then new wife and introduce her to the bar where I spent so many nights, he not only remembered me by name but gave us a free round as a congratulations on our wedding. A sad day indeed."

If heaven is as I see it, Martin is bringing Blackie to God's tavern and they're going to host music for the rest of eternity.


  1. Nice job, Tim. The Barking Spider - and the people who worked there - was a very special place for me and my friends when we were in graduate school at Case Western Reserve University. We spent many afternoons and evenings on those picnic tables, drinking pitchers of beer after our softball games, or waiting for our favorie band to play. It was just a great place with great atmosphere, and Martin and Blackie were an institution.

  2. Nicely written. I have fond memories of Martin (and Blackie!). I think Tim nailed it here - Martin ran the place like it was his living room. And we were all welcome.

  3. Tim, Cheers for writing the article - plenty of grand memories over the years which you've captured here. I believe the tipping phrase is "Money for the Band". Cheers.

  4. Thank you for that recollection Tim! A beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul.

  5. I drank many, many beers at the Spider with the aforementioned Michael; it was with him that I first ventured into the Spider (when there was still a jukebox) to watch Craig Robertson set his fretboard aflame in the fall of 1991. Four years later we somehow found ourselves in charge of the Spider’s softball team, which we loaded up with enough ringers to win the championship against the Boarding House and bring Martin the trophy which you can still see on the wallpaper of the Spider’s website! In that way I like to think there will always be a part of us there, just as the Spider will surely forever be a part of us.

    Yesterday surely marked the closing of a large chapter of a book which I hope has a lot of pages left.

  6. Wow, thanks for all the comments. Keep the memories coming. And if you found your way to this blog in a haphazard manner, please join the Martin JaredinMemorial on Facebook.

    EnglishmaninOhio, you are right! I will edit my blog to correct. Your memory is better than mine.

  7. Rest in peace brother Martin. You sure done good by us.

  8. What a beautiful person was Martin. He had the uncanny ability to remember someones name upon a first introduction and then be able to rattle it off years later after an extended absence like that person was a dear old friend of his. He was always cordial and friendly and ruled his castle without being pompas or nasty, even if into his cups.
    I grew up out east in Lake County where I cut my musical teeth and almost 30 years ago Martin hired our then trio to play a The Barkingspider Tavern...our very first paying gig in Cleveland. I remember him saying, "I won't be able to be here that evening. I'm going to be in Amsterdam, so just do you're best and have fun." We've played there every year since.
    I call Martin my friend and always will. He will be sorely missed by all those who freely call him FRIEND.
    Keep a place open on the schedule in Heaven's Tavern for me Martin. I sure hope I get there to see you again.
    Dave Pethtel
    The Silver String Band