Meet Joe Jalsevac, general manager of Margaritaville Cleveland in the Flats East Bank.
Jalsevac, 37, has lived in Greater Cleveland his whole life, running a country club and then a restaurant. When he heard about plans for a revamped Flats East Bank, he was on board.
“My friends and I all had fake IDs. From ‘98 to 2002, we lived down here pretty much,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”
The vibe is different now, he said. The Flats are cleaner. The restaurants are more eclectic; they stand out for their food and drink, rather than for cheap beer and packed dance floors. They attract a more diverse clientele, and people can actually walk along the river.
Margaritaville opened last July, one of 22 U.S. franchises of the Jimmy Buffett chain, with a huge space a block from the Cuyahoga River. There’s a dining room where you can eat in a pontoon or fishing boat, the 5 o’ clock Somewhere Bar that spills outside and the Landshark rooftop bar, which overlooks the river, the port, Lake Erie and the Norfolk-Southern bridge.
“We’re all about having fun,” Jalsevac said. “It’s always 75 and sunny here, no matter what the temperature is outside. We want people to come here, forget about their real life, get in a different state of mind. We call it escapism. Just waste away.”
Hear Jalsevac’s take on the Flats and summer fun.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you like about the current iteration of the Flats?
Being able to walk around, being able to see things, being able to really enjoy the river, you couldn’t do that back in the day, with the buildings. Now you’ve got the water taxis and everything going on. They’ve really been able to open up what the Flats really is.
How does Margaritaville fit in the East Bank?
It fits in because it gives you that tropical feel. Having a huge space, a huge venue with live music all the time it’s great. It’s relaxation, being by the water with the aerial view from the Landshark rooftop bar, to just sit there all day.
It’s amazing. It brings diversity down here, including people in their 50s and 60s who love Jimmy Buffett. It’s not just the younger crowd.
What are your big events this summer?
Memorial Day weekend we have a pre-Jimmy Buffett party because he’s playing at Blossom Music Center on Sunday. In July we’re having a one-year anniversary party. We also have the Parrothead 5K Run and 1 mile walk on July 14.
What’s your favorite Buffett song?
What percentage of your guests arrive by boat?
Maybe 15 percent. There’s not a lot of docking spaces. That’s one thing I would love to see worked on, to get more access here from the Cuyahoga.
Do you feel that the Flats are changing the perception of Cleveland?
Yes. It’s making us a tourist attraction. As much as I didn’t believe that. Being from Cleveland you never believe that.
It gets pretty crazy, especially latenight. Any time after 9 o’ clock it’s hard to get here driving. There are hundreds and hundreds of people walking around. Everyone is blasting music. It’s fun.