After graduating from The Ohio State University and working in the restaurant business, Jim Swingos took over operations in 1967 at the restaurant below the Downtowner Motor Inn at E. 18th and Euclid in Cleveland, Ohio. He renamed the restaurant The Keg and Quarter. Jim brought an impeccable touch to service, delectable exotic food, a commitment to in-house entertainment, and a willingness to please any customer. He moved into the restaurant with hopes of catering to the theater crowd, but, unfortunately, the neighborhood would soon die around him. Cleveland’s great theater district shuttered its doors rapidly one after another in the aftermath of the famed Hough Race Riots. With the theaters closed and the Indians and Browns beginning a long drought on the other side of town, his food and service continued to draw crowds to downtown. Eventually, the restaurant business outpaced the hotel, and Jim bought the hotel in order to stop paying a lopsided lease. He named it The Keg and Quarter Motor Inn.
The momentum at The Keg picked up dramatically when Elvis Presley visited in 1972. Elvis and his entourage rented out the top two floors of the hotel. Crowds from all around Cleveland came to try and catch a glimpse of the King. In doing so, they discovered the Keg and Quarter. Stories circulated about the stay and soon every celebrity visiting Cleveland wanted to stay where Elvis stayed. In 1974, an equally big name guest also tested Jim’s hospitality – Frank Sinatra. A short year later, The Keg and Quarter Motor Inn was renamed The Swingos Celebrity Hotel.Every room of the hotel was redone to give guests an unforgettable stay. It became a boutique hotel where every room was different, each with its own theme. The hotel lounge bar became a place to see and be seen. From 1967 to 1985, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Yul Brynner, John Travolta, and even Jimmy Carter all graced the halls with their stays. No matter who people were, Jim treated everyone with respect and dignity. Everyone was a celebrity when they stayed at Swingos. Jim was on hand to greet guests and sometimes even cook tableside for them. Every rock star, fan, athlete, politician, and local Clevelander wanted to try the best food in Cleveland and catch a glimpse of the party that never stopped. Along side a high powered radio station like WMMS and great venues such as The Agora and The Coliseum, it gave Rock and Roll bands a reason to come to Cleveland and helped pave the way for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1985, Jim sold the hotel and restaurant in order to focus on his other operations that he had opened, including a restaurant in the Statler Arms Hotel. The era of the Swingos Celebrity Inn was over, but not forgotten. To this day, rock stars still talk about Swingos when they come to Cleveland. The 2000 movie Almost Famous features a scene there. Swingos has become a one-word association with Cleveland for celebrities and fans from the 60s through the 80s. To many local Clevelanders, however, this story has vanished into the rust – no books or movies or major stories of the hotel have ever been told. The Swingos Celebrity Inn Documentary will soon reveal a story that is a true Cleveland historical gem, and a major reason that Rock and Roll thrived in this city.