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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Royal Oaks - Youngstown

The last time I was at the Royal Oaks was in 1969 with some of my college buddies. We mostly went there for beer and hot dogs. I went back there last night, and it looked exactly the same.

You never know what is going to last, and what will go by the wayside. While the upper echelon of local restaurants like the Living Room, the Mansion, Cherry’s Top of the Mall, the Mural Room, and the Colonial House have gone the way of the steel mills, the steel workers’ bars are still here and thriving. The Oaks is one of those bars.

For those of you unfamiliar with this Youngstown landmark, the Oaks is located on Oak Street at the corner of Lansing Avenue. It is on the east side…cookin’ in the hood. The sign out front is the same as it has been for years. The painting on the side of the building has been added since the last time I was there 40 years ago. Oh yes, they added a wreath on top of the back door with a pig’s ass sticking out. Nice touch! But then again, it’s the Oaks!

This is first and foremost a neighborhood bar. The owners of the place are a hoot. We visited the Oaks around 5:00 on Saturday. It was pouring down rain and one of the owners (the Brothers Kennedy…Lou and John) was washing his car in the rain parked up on the sidewalk by the rear entrance. This is a young fellow with a lot of ambition and personality to match. My son would go there occasionally at night for a beer with some of his buddies, and tell me that I really ought to try the place. I resisted. To say it’s in a bad part of town is an understatement. But there is security at night, and it is on a busy street during the day, in clear view, giving you a good sense of security. One of the local television stations did a story on the joint, and it looked good, and I wanted to have some my wife and I gave it a go.

This place is GREAT!!!! Looks exactly the same as it did in 1969. In fact, it probably looks the same as when it was opened in 1919 as a grocery store, and when it got the first liquor license in Youngstown at the end Prohibition. It has an elaborate pressed tin ceiling, a tile floor with an apparent vintage of 1950, an elaborately carved wooden bar, and lots of Youngstown and political memorabilia all around you. Look on the back door for the Free Jim Traficant bumper sticker.

The bar crowd is rough. Heavy duty rock music is on the radio, and very loud. But there is a dirty little secret…while the bar operation points to an eclectic group of hard core bar dudes, the food here is outstanding. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not tried it myself. And the people in the booths along the side of the bar, who looked more like me than the guys at the bar, know the same thing.

This is close to the top, if not at the top of the list, of the best BBQ I have ever had anywhere. The BBQ recipes are from the old Ohio Pig House, slightly modified. The ribs are all baby back ribs, smoked with cherry wood, and rubbed with secret spices, and smothered in a raspberry BBQ sauce, hot or mild…are you ready to die yet? Sop those Idora fries up in the sauce, and you will be. But at least you will die happy!!!! Whoa, Mama!!!! In addition, it has wings and burgers, all of which are supposed to be superb, as reported by my son. I trust him. He didn’t steer me wrong on the ribs.

When I rate a place, I try to rate it by the class of establishment it is trying to be. The Royal Oaks is in a class by itself. For a dive bar on the east side of Youngstown with the best ribs in the world, it gets 4 meatballs and a standing O. Give it a try.

The Royal Oaks
924 Oak St.
Youngstown, OH 44506


Amber said...

I just stumbled across your sham of a Youngstown blog. As a regular of The Royal Oaks who does not look "rough to say the least" I really feel like you are completely out of touch with the reality of the restaurants you visit. The location of this bar is safe. Local politicians and businessmen frequent this establishment on a daily basis. As do college professors and lawyers. It is very disheartening that blog entitled Youngstown Eats features few Youngstown restaurants and is in love with anything in Boardman and or Austintown.

Alex Mangie said...

You do realize that the subtitle included Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, right? To call this blog a sham would be unfair, because it states clearly this is not just a Youngstown blog, but rather Youngstown seems to be the point everyone can identify, not to mention it is more central to the region.

If the scope was limited to just Youngstown City proper, the blog would be out of places fairly quickly.

I love the Oaks, and the owner is a friend of mine, but let us not kid ourselves here that the Oaks tends to be a conglomeration of the blue collar and political and legal scene. Blue collar bars tend to have "rougher" crowds to use the term loosely (and I have seen the Oaks have a rougher crowd at times), but I could name a list of politicians and attorneys I know that frequent there. And that is part of why I think the environment of the Oaks is so great.

Also, let's be realistic. The East Side is not a safe place, but the Oaks itself remains to be a safe establishment. The location of the bar is not really that safe, and I would tend to measure that by whether or not I would be comfortable walking around the neighborhood at night. Would I feel safe walking around in that part of town after dark? No. That does not mean I would not go there, just let's call the area for what it is and not kid ourselves.


Anonymous said...

wiill try oaks today