A motley crew gathers inside the Happy Dog one Friday a month for the city's most popular polka happy hour. The older clientele come to hear the songs they remember from their youth; the younger audience members like the novelty.
Lakewood native Justin Gorski, known to the crowd as DJ Kishka, leads the charge as he spins the tunes. Gorski, who christened himself with the moniker after the polka classic "Who Stole the Kishka," dresses in slacks, a T-shirt, suspenders and a thick fake beard to complete his onstage persona.
"It just kind of stuck to me," he says of the beard, which he added to the get-up a few years back at an Oktoberfest version of the polka happy hour.
Polka wasn't always so popular, says Gorski, who has been doing the happy hours at Happy Dog for six years. "When I started deejaying here, it was just me and the regulars," he says. "That's where I got my schtick. I was like, 'C'mon everybody!' because I was trying to get everybody going. Now, I don't know what to say because everyone is enjoying the music."
For Ice Cubes and Beer, Gorski's new CD, he taped one of his live shows with an old four-track recorder and then settled on 27 tracks he liked. He recruited local celebrities Dick Goddard and Big Chuck to give "shout outs" in the attempt to mimic the popular hip-hop convention of having famous rappers make guest appearances on albums. He culled tunes such as "She's Too Fat to Polka," "I Love to Polka" and "Magic Booze & the Barroom Polka" and retained his half-baked between-song banter.
In his teens, Gorski played the accordion. He even gigged with an Irish group and continued to play at the University of Dayton where he studied classical musical performance. But the 34-year-old eventually gravitated toward his Polish heritage.
"My grandmother wasn't so into teaching us the Polish traditions," he admits. "But my dad liked the ethnicity, so I picked this up from him. He used to spin these records in our basement."
When he started, Gorski raided his father's collection. "I only had about 15 records, so I had the set down," he says. "All of those songs aren't party songs. So I played them and would try them out [at Happy Dog]. People come here all the time and bring their own records for me to play."
That's why Gorski will keep donning the suspenders and beard each month. "I just want to bring this music to a new audience," he says. "I want to keep this Cleveland Slavic, Polish scene alive."