CLEVELAND – There’s plenty of parking at the normally packed Momocho Modern Mex restaurant.
A few walk by the hotspot in the Cleveland neighborhood of Ohio City, linger at the door and move on.
Inside, it’s happy hour, and there are empty bar stools and a few tabletops waiting for the promised Republican National Convention crush.
It hasn’t come.
“We aren’t normal. We won’t be normal this week,” said Eric Williams, Momocho chef and owner. “This can definitely be called a RNC lull.”
This Republican National Convention “lull” is plaguing some of the city’s most popular restaurants, especially those on the periphery of the action.
Ohio City and Tremont have anchored the revitalization of Cleveland, attracting young people with their food scene and close proximity to downtown.
But with the main action happening in the heart of the city, these urban neighborhoods are too far from the thousands streaming downtown and too close for locals to make the trek.
William said the media promised the RNC would bring customers to the city’s establishments, but he hasn’t seen it.
According to him, Cleveland has never held the RNC before, so people didn’t know what to expect, but he thinks that corporate sponsors backing out, the decreased desire for locals to go out this week, and the concentration of media near Quicken Loans Arena has hurt his business.
In preparing for the RNC, he even decided to extend the restaurant’s hours to serve lunch, something that hasn’t yielded predicted results.
In an effort to capitalize on the predicted crowds, area bars have extended their hours too, changing closing time from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.
A hostess from Town Hall in Ohio City and a host from Fat Cats in Tremont said it was much quieter than expected. They both said the crowds were smaller than normal.
“It was much slower than we thought it would have been,” said Leah Castelav, an assistant manager at Mitchell’s Ice Cream in Ohio City. “We were able to cut three people from their shift, which is not a typical thing to do in the summer. So it’s definitely been slower.”
Castelav said that, as someone who travels across town from the east side to the west side to get to work, she understands locals not wanting to make the trip to the ice cream shop’s main location.
The Hope Memorial Bridge, the main artery between Ohio City and downtown, is closed for security purposes during the convention, making it even harder to maneuver the city’s current traffic patterns.
But downtown isn’t experiencing the predicted cataclysmic rush, either.
Mabel’s BBQ, located on the media-dominated East Fourth Street, had plenty of open seats at 1 a.m., after the first nights of speeches ended just a few blocks away at the arena, which locals call The Q.
The bartenders began to restock the bar and said they would probably shut down before 4 a.m.
As the speeches ended Sunday and Monday nights, buses, taxis and Ubers were waiting to drive people away from the downtown bar scene to hotels and Airbnbs sprawled across Northeast Ohio.
But there’s hope as the week progresses.
“This isn’t too bad, compared to the crowds we had a couple of weeks ago with the Cavs winning the championship,” said Matt McNamara, an assistant manager at Barrio. “Days leading up to this, it was kind of like ghost town around here … but it’s definitely been picking up today.”
McNamara said it was “three times busier” Tuesday than Monday, so he’s hopeful that trend will continue as the political tourists slowly venture out and discover what Cleveland has to offer.
Peeking into Barrio, two members of the media check their phones before confirming, “Yeah, this is the place.”