Cleveland Rocks, Rolls and Steals the Show!
Seasoned travelers and erudite urban dwellers, beware! In the wild and woolies of middle America, Cleveland is a hidden treasure, a bastion of progressive thinking in the midst of the otherwise conservative state of Ohio. Put aside all thoughts to the contrary, because it is impossible not to have a great time in this charming city.
I tried my best to turn up my nose at what locals call "the North Coast" of Lake Erie, but before the plane even touched the tarmac, the verdant green landscape of the Forest City had made a deep impression.
And this beauty isn't just skin deep. Cleveland won the bid for Gay Games 9 and this week tens of thousands of participants and spectators have descended on what was once referred to as "the mistake on the lake." Well, no more.
Reinventing the Rust Belt
The lush new InterContinental is a good bet for those who want to be close to University Circle and its museums, but the no-smoking (even outside) policy can be hard for some revelers to bear. Downtown's Renaissance Hotel is a better fit for those who want to be in the middle of the action and offers the reliable reputation of the Marriott hotel chain.
Clevelanders are natural hosts. Restaurateurs offer their guests an array of seasonally inspired culinary creations, and patrons at local watering holes actually approach visitors to introduce themselves! As a New Yorker, this is a phenomenon I'd only experienced in Lifetime movies about small towns.
There are approximately 300,000 people living in the metro area, and tourism is the fourth-largest industry in this former steel town. Downtown there is a real urban feel, with plenty of people bustling around and lots of worthwhile diversions. And outside of the city proper, in areas like Ohio City or Tremont, it seems as though everyone is creating his own funky little scene.
As a lot, Clevelanders are loaded with moxie and mettle, ready to lift the entire city by the bootstraps and show the world that progress has not passed Cleveland by. They are also avid art lovers, and thanks to endowments made by prominent Cleveland industrialists, there is a wealth of theaters, music halls and museums that compete with those in cities twice the size.
Cleveland is a city of theaters: Its Theater District is the second largest in the U.S., after New York City, with 10 performance spaces crammed into historic Playhouse Square. It has the largest performing-arts center (second to New York's Lincoln Center), featuring a lobby adorned with historic murals by James Daugherty, an award-winning American modernist painter who went from producing propaganda posters for government agencies to painting elaborate (and sometimes controversial) murals filled with vividly colored, often violent scenes.
For live music, Clevelanders flock to Severance Hall, home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. Built by industrialist philanthropist John Long Severance in memory of his wife, Elisabeth Severance, the hall features her favorite things, like carved lotus flowers and the lace pattern from her wedding gown imprinted into the ceiling pattern. The entire hall - with the exception of the modern chamber music hall on the lower level - is decorated in the art deco style. In the summertime, the orchestra takes up residence at Blossom Music Center in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The city also boasts several quality museums. Four miles east of downtown Cleveland, University Circle is the most concentrated mile of museums in the nation. The newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by London-based architect Farshid Moussavi, is a dramatic work of geometric art. The collection is middling, but the gift shop is amazing.
For big art at a small price (free, actually) the Cleveland Museum of Art is a winner! Catch 30,000 works including Renoirs, Monets and Dalis gratis, and pony up a few bucks to see special exhibits like the upcoming manuscripts in The Netherlandish Miniature, 1260-1550 or Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan, set to open in February 2014. Pop in next door and enjoy the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, offering exhibits on the spiny Madagascar desert and the Costa Rican rainforest.
The Home of Rock and Roll
As museums go, you can't beat Cleveland's finest, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. This nonprofit museum charts the history of rock 'n' roll through world-class exhibits, including the featured exhibition Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction. In addition to clothing, instruments and ephemera from our seminal musicians, the museum offers many interactive exhibits, listening stations and live music. Don't miss its upcoming spotlight on the British record label Two-Tone or its recently completed collection of Beatles memorabilia.
Sometimes Cleveland's best art finds can be discovered just by gazing upward, as exemplified by the city's curious love of chandeliers. From the glittering examples hanging in the Renaissance Hotel in Public Square and those adorning the multiple theaters of Playhouse Square to the 34-foot chandelier that is set to be hung outside of the theaters above the street, this town loves glitzy hanging baubles more than a New Jersey mob capo.
There's a lot of ground to cover and thanks to excellent public transportation, it's easier than ever to get around. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has shortened bus commuter times, with its Red Line rapid train moving commuters quickly from the West Side to downtown. The recent addition of the innovative HealthLine shuttle provides residents and visitors alike with quick trips up and down the main drag of Euclid Avenue, from University Circle, where the medical campus is located, to Playhouse Square and the downtown area.
Next page for Cleveland's culinary highlights, Gay Games 9 and Resource Guide.
A Blue-Collar Foodies Delight
When it comes to creating local cuisine, sometimes a melting pot can turn out the best dishes. Cross the Cuyahoga River where the "Guardians of Traffic" flank the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge (aka the Hope Memorial Bridge), and you're in Ohio City, once a sovereign municipality at war with Cleveland over shipping and now part of the city.
Thanks to the area's large Central and Eastern European population, kielbasa and pierogies are ubiquitous, served with nearly every meal and available in a wide variety of flavors at the famed West Side Market, an indoor smorgasbord featuring 180 booths of artisanal goodness. The blue-collar population happily tucks into corned beef and "Polish Boy" sandwiches, soul food and fish fries thrive, and the award-winning Great Lakes Brewing Company has helped to make Cleveland's craft beer scene world famous.
Next door to the market and across from these famed brewers sits the Market Garden Brewery and Distillery, the rustic pub of Northeast Ohio brewmaster Andy Tveekrem. Hundreds of locals belly up to imbibe in his 11 unique beers from happy hour to late-night hangout sessions around the fireplace patio. Too early for beer? Be sure to grab brunch right down the street at Bonbon Pastry & Cafe.
Cleveland also has its share of sophisticated dining with such notable chefs as James Beard Foundation Award Winner Michael Symon (Lola, Lolita) and Food & Wine's 2010 Best New Chef Jonathon Sawyer (Greenhouse Tavern).
And southwest of downtown, the historic Tremont area is experiencing a renaissance, with young hipsters moving next door to old families, gays and university students. This area is hopping with art galleries, clubs and restaurants like Chef Zack Bruell's Parallax.
How the Gays Play
As opposed to larger urban areas, where the LGBT community is bifurcated into groups like "gay Asian twinks" or "butch leather dykes," in Cleveland, the boys and girls all party together. In Lakewood, Twist Social Club is the place to be on a Friday night, with DJs spinning hits while the party spills over onto the sidewalk during warmer months.
Sister Naughty, an acolyte of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who regularly holds court at Twist, says that Lakewood used to be an oasis for young gays in the '70s, while historic Edgewater is a hot spot now.
And out in Ohio City's Detroit-Shoreway, gays, lesbians, trans and straights all pony up the cover price for Bounce/Union Station Video Cafe, Cleveland's largest LGBT bar, featuring a restaurant up front and a dance club in the back. Saturday drag nights are wild; during a recent visit, house queen Kari Nickels (aka Scary Nipples, for her prodigious cleavage) primed the crowd, and "Ru Paul's Drag Race Season 3" contestant Carmen Carrera brought it home as she dared to bare it all.
Cleveland is in the midst of hosting the 2014 Gay Games. Local residents, gay and straight, are unabashedly thrilled to have landed such a boon, which will bring an estimated 10,000 participants, 15,000 visitors and $56 million to the city.
Residents are rolling out the red carpet, offering LGBT athletes all the best venues and accommodations the city has to offer, from the new Convention Center to the Cleveland State University athletic facilities and dorms, plus a welcome that a bigger metropolis couldn't beat.
Whether it's your final destination or a pit stop on a cross-country road trip, Cleveland's inclusive LGBT community and local hospitality will convert any thoughts you may have about what was once dubbed "the mistake on the lake." This is a town that has arrived.
Click and Go
InterContinental Suites Hotel Cleveland
Renaissance Cleveland Hotel
The Cleveland Orchestra
Blossom Music Center
Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland
The Cleveland Museum of Art
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Great Lakes Brewing Company
The Market Garden Brewery and Distillery
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority
Federation of Gay Games
Gay Games 9