Culture watchers have loved to say of late that “food is the new rock & roll.” They’re wrong, of course. Chefs are certainly at an artistic apogee right now; but they do not create art. And none will ever inspire the levels of both adoration and hatred as do a Bono or a Morrissey.
Music, in fact, has gotten the city of Cleveland through some difficult decades. Its Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has long been a great point of pride – bringing visitors from all over the world, even when times were tough. But on a recent trip, we found the city singing a few new tunes, as revitalization programs and a much buzzed about restaurant scene have reinvigorated and reenergized its downtown.
Hotels always help. And the splashy new Hilton Cleveland Downtown now sits resplendently just above the magnificent waterfront. The striking glass Cooper Carry Architects designed tower notably flaunts the work of local artists displayed in museum quality fashion. And with its Lake Erie view rooms, dazzling seventh floor pool, a pair of excellent bars on the 2nd and 32nd floors, and the stylish New American restaurant Burnham (from hotshot chef Zack Bruell), you’d barely need to leave the premises.
But you’d only have to exit the hotel to be surrounded by the awesome architectural character of downtown. Once one of America’s wealthiest cities, it still shows in notable historical icons like the Terminal Tower, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and the West Side Food Market.
Indeed, Cleveland is back. Here are some of the highlights.
Kara Walker, Frank Gehry, Rock & Roll Politics
The Cleveland Museum of Art holds one of America’s most important collections, from Egyptian, Greek, African and Japanese art, to modern and contemporary masters. Currently showing is The Ecstasy of St Kara, featuring Kara Walker’s latest large-scale works on paper.
Nearby to the museum is the fantastical Frank Gehry designed Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western University. The late namesake mogul was one of the controversial architect’s most vigorous supporters and patrons – and this is a fitting tribute.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is currently featuring Louder Than Words, an exhibit on the relationship between music and politics – from Nina Simone to Marvin Gaye to The Clash to Lady Gaga. Heady stuff.
The Cleveland Arcade is a Victorian era architectural work of art, with fittingly classic independent shops and boutiques.
Cocktails With a View, Sustainable Brews, Local BBQ
Bar 32, up on the 32nd floor of the Hilton, might have one of the most jaw-dropping views of any cocktail establishment in America. Enjoy a sophisticated tipple at what are easily the most sought after terrace tables in the city – though with its floor-to-ceiling windows and endless Lake Erie / downtown views, every seat in the place is utterly ethereal.
The vaulted-ceilinged West Side Food Market has been operating since 1840, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. You could spend a whole day there. Newer but no less spectacular is Heinen’s Downtown, an upmarket grocery fitted into the 1908 Cleveland Trust Rotunda Building, with its Art Deco dome and opulent baroque detailing. It also hosts tastings with a view at its mod little wine bar.
Great Lakes Brewing Company has been doing the “hipster” craft brewery thing since 1988. Its Dortmunder Gold Lager is a classic; but try the new Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale, preferably at their excellent on-site brewpub. They’re also big on sustainability and social responsibility.
Zagat in 2015 called Cleveland’s food scene one of the six hottest in the country. Don’t miss the buzzy new Mabel’s BBQ, local food god and Iron Chef Michael Symon’s sublime take on real Cleveland style barbecue. Or hang with the hip kids at The Plum Cafe & Kitchen. With its white-and-brick interior, groovy cocktails and vegan banh mi and pulled pork cheek sandwiches (NB: try the fried chicken feet), it seems airlifted straight from NoLIta. Eater recently did a good roundup of 16 of the most happening places to eat and drink in the city.