By Erika Mailman
Perched on the southern shores of Lake Erie, Clevelanders are known for their affability and midwestern resilience and pride—and for being fierce advocates for their (formerly) gritty city and its Rust Belt heritage. Spanning the Cuyahoga River, the city offers eclectic architecture, a world-class art museum and symphony, and the first African American theater in the country.
The West Side Market is a large food market, housed in a magnificent 1912 building with a vaulted tile ceiling and clock tower. Among the 100 vendors, try Ora Bell’s Southern Cuisine with prepared foods to take away, including collard greens and homemade banana pudding, or the Food Network–featured Steve’s Gyros (go early if you want a gyro, as they sell out!).
You can explore the 5th Street Arcades and The Arcade Cleveland, which holds the distinction of being the country’s first indoor shopping center, built in 1890. The Arcade Cleveland is “simply one of the most impressive interiors anywhere in the US,” raves resident David Nicolai. The ornate Italianate interior is home to shopping, dining, and a Hyatt Regency.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei, with its asymmetrical levels covered in glass, is worth visiting. But you’ll stay for the fascinating exhibits. Cleveland’s radio DJ Alan Freed coined the term “rock and roll,” and the Cleveland Arena hosted what is thought to be the first rock-and-roll concert in 1952. Among the artifacts on display are John Lennon’s elementary school report cards and Beyoncé’s one-sleeved leotard from the “Single Ladies” video. You can make your own music in an interactive exhibit honoring the garage as the starting point for many a band!
Who knew that the oldest African American theater is in Cleveland? Karamu House, founded in 1915, was especially beloved by Langston Hughes and premiered several of his plays. Today it presents theater productions, live music, and films.
The Cleveland Museum of Art showcases a dynamic, thriving (and free!) collection of ancient and modern art, from Egyptian artifacts to a significant painting by postmodernist African American painter Emma Amos. The broad and eclectic collection lands it on most top 10 lists of art museums in the United States.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tremont neighborhood was once the German immigrant hub and today hosts an array of old churches to admire, including Saint Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral, with its 13 green-patinated onion domes. If you adore the movie A Christmas Story, you can visit the home where it was filmed; the associated museum, just across the street, has Randy’s snowsuit and other props and costumes from the movie. In the Ohio City neighborhood, stroll and people watch (the West Side Market is here), and enjoy a cone of small-batch ice cream from Mason’s Creamery. Similarly, wander through the University Circle neighborhood’s eclectic square mile of museums, parks, and restaurants, and indulge in handmade gnocchi at Tavern of Little Italy.
To see a heartening display of redevelopment (this is the 50th anniversary year of when the Cuyahoga River caught fire), visit The Flats on the banks of the Cuyahoga. It will thrill with its bustling nightlife of music, comedy, drag shows, and restaurants galore.
Thriving dining scene
Locals recommend seafood and steak at Don’s Lighthouse Grille, built on the site of a 1911 barbecue shack serving the patrons of a lakeside bathhouse and later converted into a “palace.” Take a drive through the upscale Bratenahl neighborhood surrounding Lake Erie to see many lovely homes before or after your meal. Near Progressive Field, you can find upscale dining at Greenhouse Tavern or Michael Symon’s bistro, Lola. DW