Uncle Vinny’s Le Cabaret

in Bars, Clubs, and Discos

Uncle Vinny’s Le Cabaret was a popular LGBTQ+ club on Cleveland’s Near West Side that launched Cleveland’s underground drag scene. Multiple gay publications called it Uncle Vinny’s Le Cabaret, so that is the name that the community was most likely familiar with. However it went by several names and variations throughout the years. The club hosted several drag performers and held up to five nights of shows a week during the 1970s and 1980s. It also became a popular LGBTQ+ hangout spot in the late 1980s. The 4153 Lorain Avenue location was home to several names and acts, but the late 1980s perhaps did most to make it a location to remember for queer Cleveland history.

The location that became Uncle Vinny’s Le Cabaret started out as a Hungarian restaurant called the Crown Cafe. The cafe opened on Lorain Avenue 1941, though it had previously operated for four years in another location. It was started by Michael Zambo, a Hungarian immigrant, who ran the Crown Cafe for 23 years. The Crown Cafe was known as Ohio City’s only Hungarian restaurant. It hosted several Hungarian dishes as well as a musical act known as “Rudi Zsiga’s Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra”, who played every Friday and Saturday. This shows that the venue was already used for musical acts, likely making the transition to a burlesque establishment easier.

Between 1978 and 1981 the restaurant operated under the name Ginger’s Crown, and its advertisements placed a heavier emphasis on performers, which, by 1981 consisted of individual performers over an orchestra set-up. The business’s name changed again in 1981, this time to Uncle Vinny’s Funhouse. This time it was firmly stated to be a burlesque location, with affordable pricing too. The performers mentioned before 1982 were all female; however, the location would begin to host male performers on special nights.

The first half of the 1980s was the prime for Uncle Vinny’s in terms of business. This was the era when the establishment had the most advertisements in the Plain Dealer, billing itself as the “Friendliest place in town.” The establishment modified its name in 1982 to Uncle Vinny’s Burlesque. It also added an upper lounge around this time. Uncle Vinny’s closed for a little under a month in 1982 for violations and redecorations. Before the shutdown, the location hosted a big closing party on July 2nd and 3rd. It is unknown what these violations were, but the venue reopened by August 30, 1982.

Once Uncle Vinny’s was back, it was back in full force. In 1982 Uncle Vinny’s would host a Halloween party. That same year the club put out an ad for more dancers. Continuing into 1983, Uncle Vinny’s—by now “Burlesque” had been dropped from the name—hosted a Saint Patrick’s Day gala and began hosting weekly amateur contests. Uncle Vinny’s also expanded their food service to after hours breakfasts. In 1983, they also began hosting male dancers every Wednesday. Clearly Uncle Vinny’s was doing well enough to hire more staff and expand their food and entertainment features.

Uncle Vinny’s changed its name again at the end of 1983 to the Speak Easy. The last ad in the Plain Dealer for the Speak Easy was in 1984. This coincided with the rise of LGBTQ+ use of the space. In the late 1980s the queer scene thrived at 4153 Lorain Avenue. Action Magazine Cleveland, a local LGBTQ+ magazine, reported a birthday meet up at an Uncle Vinny’s. In 1986 a Mr Gay Ohio contest was hosted, and won by Alan Dobson, at Uncle Vinny’s. Throughout the later half of the 1980s several LGBTQ+ magazines reported on events and photos of drag performances hosted there. These magazines often referred to the establishment as Uncle Vinny’s Le Cabaret, so It is safe to assume that it went through another name change. These events were not advertised in the Plain Dealer, so if one did not check the local queer magazines one would not even know it was a bustling LGBTQ+ spot. Although they could not save the location from closing in 1993, the LGBTQ+ community of Cleveland was at least able to make the last years of Uncle Vinny’s truly special.


  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. October 15, 1978. “Food, Spirits and Other Things” Section, Page 15.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. August 23, 1981. Page 6-B.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. December 8, 1981. Page 6-E.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. February 5, 1982. “Friday” Section, Page 20.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. May 5, 1982. Page 8-G.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. June 23, 1982. Page 7-G.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. October 27, 1982. Page 8-F.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. March 11, 1983. “Friday” Section, Page 14.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. April 29, 1983. “Friday” Section, Page 16.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. July 10, 1983. Page 7-G.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. December 24, 1983. Page 6-B.
  • Advertisement. Plain Dealer. January 10, 1984. Page 5-C. 
  • “Charlie’s Calendar.” Gay People’s Chronicle. January 1, 1988. Page 27.
  • “Gay Ohio: Cleveland.” The Guide. October 1989. Page 37.
  • “Michael Zambo” [obituary]. Plain Dealer. April 28, 1964. Page 37. 
  • “…More March.” Kaleidoscope. March 1986. Page 33. 
  • “Profile.” Kaleidoscope. November 1986. Page 96. 
  • “Rita Reads.” Action Magazine. April 24, 1986. Page 3.
  • Sin, Bella. “Cleveland’s Drag Scene Is Expanding the Boundaries of the Artform and Finding New Audiences.” Scene. February 12, 2020.
  • The Ohio Gay Guide. 1990.
4153 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH

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