RestauranTOUR: Behind the scenes as Zack Bruell opens Alley Cats

There are fewer things more stressful for a chef than the opening of a new restaurant.  Yet seasoned restaurateur, Chef Zack Bruell, appears cool as an English cucumber as he readies his new river’s edge restaurant, Alley Cats.  

The oyster bar will be the first tenant to open in the new Flats East Bank project, a massive development that promises to revitalize a once-thriving entertainment district in Cleveland.  If the way in which Bruell is finishing Alley Cats is any indication, Clevelanders and their visitors, have a lot to be excited about.


Bruell invited me to tour Alley Cats as he makes finishing touches, and prepares for inspections and a soft opening.  I could feel an almost tangible sense of urgency as soon as I walked in to the construction site.


Electricians, carpenters, and various other contractors working feverishly at this stage of the process.

This two-story building, and enclosed patio went up in about three months.  “That’s insane,” Bruell tells me, chuckling.  

But since he was making such a substantial investment in the building and the property, he wanted to get it up quickly to try and take advantage of the precious, and unfortunately short, summer season along the Cuyahoga River.


The brutal northeast Ohio winter took its toll, delaying construction on the building itself and the roads/sidewalks leading to it.  Bruell tells me he was ready to open around the 4th of July, but it looks like it’ll be the first week of August before the doors actually open.


The lighting is the first thing that caught my eye in the dining room.  It’s something Bruell is extremely particular about in all of his restaurants. (Cowell & HubbardChinatoParallaxL’AlbatrosTable 45Kafeteria, Dynomite)

Even the fixtures in the kitchen must meet his standards of dim, soft, flattering light for his female patrons.  Something, I have to say, I’ve appreciated every time I’ve dined at one of his establishments.  


He shook his head as he saw the fluorescents installed in the prep kitchen.  Even the light from those, he said, was too cold and would spill into the dining room.  Not acceptable.  They’d need dimmers too, he decided on the fly.  Add those to the list of last minute changes he’d have to make before they’d be ready to open.


Alley Cats, like the rest of Bruell’s restaurants, has an open air kitchen.

“Human beings are drawn to fire….it’s a primal instinct,” the chef tells me.  


In it they’ll make casual, Southern California inspired food.  Bruell intends for people to dock their boats along the adjacent boardwalk and stroll right in to the “shore restaurant,” flip flops and all.  It’ll be a much different kind of vibe than the rest of his places.


The fixtures in the rest of the dining room are “industrial cool,” his take on grunge.


 And the seating is an inviting combination of banquet and communal tables.


However, he added partitions (also industrial looking) throughout the floor to help maintain an intimate feel in the 110 seat dining room.  It’s certain to help ward off the sense of emptiness during slower winter months too.


But until dreaded winter descends upon us, and while summer still lingers, the views from the open air dining room, (complete with garage style doors) are classic Cleveland.


As I walked out of the dining room and through the enclosed patio and private dining room, I caught a glimpse of some wood trim that was being artfully stained.  Picture a sophisticated driftwood look…appropriate given the waterfront venue.  Can’t wait to see where that pops up.


There was still plenty to do as I looked around, but Chef Bruell assured me they are close.  He can taste it.