By: Rich Tarrant
The best word I can think of to describe it is “dive.” Fresh out of the Army in February of 1967 it was the type of place where I felt quite at home: It was dark, dank, smoky and often very loud. It was not the type of place you’d take your mother. And that was just fine with me. I’d just left Vietnam and though it was cold in Ohio when I got back I was still in a sweat. But that’s another story. So let it suffice for me to just say that the place called Gino’s Lounge was a good place to cool down.
How many nights of my life I wasted there is something I don’t recall. But I remember being there in the crowd with friends talking, laughing and watching what seemed to me to always be the same Go-Go girl dancing on the bar in a two-piece bathing suit to a Mitch Ryder song called “Devil in a Blue Dress.” To this day every time I hear that song I think of Gino’s and the blond girl dancing to that song on the bar.
Currently (2017) the place is a very nice restaurant decorated in the fashion of a “Speakeasy” of the yesteryear; a time when men and women danced the Charleston and enjoyed a few drinks while the “Feds” chased the providers of that booze – bootleggers – up and down the Lake Erie coast. I don’t know much about that, but what I do know is that a “speakeasy” would’ve been a major upgrade from the place I once knew. As I said it was a dive – and there was certainly nothing romantic about the place.
The owner was a guy most folks called Gino. After all that was the name of the place. But his Christian name was actually Floyd. And he was hardly Italian. But that’s okay, because he didn’t look Italian either. He was a diminutive figure – not really small – but slight. He might’ve weighed 140 pounds soaking wet. His hair was dark. But it was actually hard to tell the color exactly because he didn’t have much of it. The one thing I would give him, however, is that there was no question about his being the boss and owner of the place. I don’t have a picture of him, but I can see him now just as clearly as when I first walked into the joint. It certainly fit his persona.
Everyone (including myself) knew he was running some heavy card games in the basement of the bar. And that was, in truth, no big deal because his game would not have been the only one in the area at that time. But that, I later learned, had not been Floyd’s real vice. He had allegedly been peddling pornography in the basement. In retrospect the whole thing was (to my way of thinking) very apropos.
On September 3, 1968 State Liquor Agents raided Floyd’s Lounge and confiscated a plethora of pornographic materials. They also seized a movie projector and screen that were apparently used for private parties. In an article that appeared in the Sandusky Register on September 21, 1968 Floyd told a reporter that, “…the material came from his private collection and was not generally available to customers of his establishment.” He told the reporter that the raid took place without a search warrant, and went on to explain what happened, “A fellow came in and after a while, he said he was going to have a party and would I sell him the stuff. He seemed like a nice enough fellow and I let him have some of my own merchandise. Shortly afterwards, the rear door burst open and two other men came in and said the place was being raided. They told me the money used to make the purchase was marked. I sold the man one strip of film and some cards (playing cards said to have lewd pictures on the backs). The liquor control board men went to my desk and found the other film strips and cards.”
He also stated that merchandise, such as he had sold the agent, could be purchased at many places in a nearby city. “Why, I can show you any number of places along … where the same kind of stuff can be bought.” He said he had a “party room” in the basement of the establishment but it is infrequently used. I have always run a legitimate place,” he emphasized, “Why, I can get a petition signed with hundreds of names stating that I am not that kind of a guy. The newspapers are crucifying me.” Ol’ Gino was in a panic because a temporary order had been requested by Lorain County Prosecutor to padlock the bar. Moreover an October 7 hearing had been set to consider permanently closing the place. In the end he was indicted on two counts of the possession and sale of obscene materials he was slated to go on trial in Lorain County, Ohio on November 26th to answer those charges. But he never made it.
On Wednesday October 23, 1968 a barely conscious Floyd was found by a carpenter working nearby lying in a field off Foster Park Road just east of Amherst’s (Ohio) Main Street. He was reportedly suffering from pneumonia and had apparently gone without insulin for his diabetes for perhaps two days. He was taken to Amherst Hospital. The report said that the carpenter who discovered him hearing his moans told authorities that Floyd had managed to tell him that he had been kidnapped. He was only wearing a light knit shirt and pants. Both his shoes and socks were missing and they were never found.
His bartender had filed a missing persons report with the Vermilion Police the previous day. The report said that Floyd had left the bar on Monday evening with an unidentified blond woman and drove away in her car. Exactly what happened to the guy we called Gino was never determined. The local gendarmes never followed up on the case because whatever happened to him appeared to have happened outside their jurisdiction. The Amherst police were unable to get a statement from him before he died on Friday, October 29th.
He was buried the following Monday in Woodlawn Cemetery in Norwalk – his hometown. No trace of the car he left from the bar in or his shoes and socks were ever found. And no one ever saw the blond gal that he’s left the bar with again.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org