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Art, Culture, Dining, and More in…

by Matthew Wexler

Photo: Rudy Balasko







grew up with a chip on my shoulder about Cleveland. Tired of defending my hometown from nomenclatures such as “the mistake on the lake,” I eventually gave up and rolled my eyes as if to say ‘It’s not that bad.’ Well the underdog of the Rust Belt has reinvented itself once again, this time poised to be an international destination for culture, dining, and innovation. Watch out world, Cleveland is back on the map. Of course, ask any Clevelander and they will probably rattle off one of the city’s various claims to fame. Perhaps it is the prized collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which opened in 1916, or the worldrenowned Cleveland Orchestra. Maybe it is Playhouse Square, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, or the Cleveland Indians, Browns, or Cavaliers—who no matter how much they win or lose, attract record-breaking crowds to sporting events year round. What seems to be breaking the mold is not any singular institution or event, but rather a wide-eyed revelation—by locals and visitors alike—acknowledging that there is a hell of a lot happening in this town of less than 400,000 residents. For the LGBT community, the Gay Games next year is another feather in the cap of a city whose rainbow plumage is also gaining international recognition. Bisected by the curving Cuyahoga River, central Cleveland is home to several thriving neighborhoods where a new generation is choosing to live, work, and play.


y exploration begins in Ohio City, Cleveland’s “artisan neighborhood.” Founded in 1818 and an independent municipality until 1854 when it was annexed to Cleveland, the area still maintains the vestiges of that entrepreneurial spirit with its anchor being The West Side Market. Recently celebrating its 100th anniver-


Ohio City Street Art

sary, the West Side Market is an architectural wonder designed by Benjamin Hubbel and W. Dominick Benes. The soaring historic structure is home to more than 100 vendors that feature meats, cheeses, seafood, baked goods, and more. Wander among the stalls, grab a coffee and homemade pastry, and head to the balcony for a picturesque view of the bustling action that becomes denser as the day wears on. Plan your visit strategically, as the market is only open four days per week. Also worth a visit is Ohio City Farm, one of the country’s largest urban farms at nearly six acres and only a mile from downtown. The farm features a stand constructed of re-purposed Great Lakes cargo shipping containers where you can see the bounty of the season’s harvest, as well as spectacular views of the city skyline. Ohio City is dotted with artisans of the non-culinary variety as well. Visit Mark Kaplan at the Glass Bubble Project for unique works of art that he refers to as “Clevetion Glass”—a far departure from the delicate Venetian glass from Italy. Using recycled metal and hand-blown glass, the purposefully clunky and industrial pieces can be seen at commercial properties throughout the city or you can register for a glass-blowing workshop and create your own. For a curated collection of Cleveland-inspired products and other domestic goods, check out R/S Boutique, a charming home and design store founded by Danielle DeBoe in 2007. Signature items include The District Collection by Arterx, a series of graphic prints that celebrate the city’s urban landscape as well as printed apparel and concert posters by The Bubble Process. The creative forces behind Arterx and The Bubble Process represent the multi-faceted creative talent burgeoning in Cleveland. Both companies work in an unusually broad range of disciplines from advertising, product design, and clothing to archival prints. To further celebrate and promote Cleveland’s can-do attitude, DeBoe has put her background in film/TV production, interior design, and visual merchandising to good use to create the local-centric design event “Made in the 216” (inspired by Cleveland’s area code). The annual weekend celebration brings together both established as well as upand-coming local retailers and artisans to showcase their work. The venue changes each year and a rotating roster of DJs maintain a pulsating vibe. In addition, the R/S Boutique features a holiday pop-up shop within the store that launches on Black Friday and runs until New Year’s Eve, featuring a curated collection of locally manufactured products.

Photos by: Mathew Wexler

fter wandering in and out of a few more shops, I take a break for a much-needed sugar rush at the gay-owned Bonbon Pastry and Café. Originally opened as a wholesale bakery by pastry chef Courtney Bonning, whose pastries were so popular that she launched the café, which now offers her signature selection of baked goods that includes croissants, scones, monkey bread, as well as more decadent dessert pastries, such as chocolate eclairs, peanut butter trifle, and chocolate soufflé cake. Savory breakfast items like breakfast nachos are served all day and the European-style setting is the perfect spot for a recharge before exploring more of what Cleveland has to offer. If you want to have the full Ohio City experience, consider staying at The Cleveland Hostel. Originally built by the Victor Tea Company then later converted to a furniture warehouse, the 10,000square-foot property is now a hip minimalist destination for budgetconscious travelers. Mark Raymond founded the property and taps into his experience of traveling to more than 70 countries and his stays in 100 hostels worldwide. His Cleveland outpost features free Wi-Fi, bike rentals, and easy access to Ohio City offerings as well as public transportation.




For the LGBT community, the Gay Games next year is another feather in the cap of a city whose rainbow plumage is also gaining international recognition.
During this trip, I opt to stay at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland. While not the newest kid on the block (the Aloft Cleveland Downtown just opened and Kimpton Hotel Downtown Cleveland is projected to open in time for the Gay Games next summer), the 22-year-old property offers the Ritz-Carlton signature service with a smile, panoramic views of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, marble bathrooms, and a progressive food-andbeverage program spearheaded by Executive Chef Richard Arnoldi and Food and Beverage Manager Scot Shumaker. Various packages are available to personalize your stay. “Be A Rock Star” pairs a relaxing stay featuring deluxe accommodations with a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and “rocktails”—martinis and cocktails inspired by a hit song from each year the hotel has been open. For an insider’s look at Cleveland burgeoning farm-to-table scene, book the “Fresh Market” package that includes overnight accommodations, breakfast with the chef, and a personalized trip to the West Side Market followed by a private cooking lesson with the chef and lunch at Muse restaurant. For a gay-specific itinerary, be sure to consult with the property’s Catering Sales Manager Hollie Ksiezyk, who also happens to be the board co-chair of the forthcoming Gay Games. The Ritz-Carlton is directly connected to Tower City Center, a landmark of the city’s skyline and a convenient destination for dining and shopping (especially if you’re visiting during one of Cleveland’s brutal winters, which seem to last from November until April). Built during the skyscraper boom of the 1920s and 30s, the soaring structure is reminiscent of the beaux-arts Manhattan Municipal Building and from its observation deck you can see up to 30 miles. f you plan on visiting during the spring, be sure to time your trip to coincide with the Cleveland International Film Festival, which screens within the Tower City’s multiplex cinema. The Festival welcomes more than 93,000 visitors and shows approximately 180 films, including a sidebar series dedicated to LGBT subject matter. I happen to catch a screening of James Franco’s Interior. Leather Bar and am pleasantly surprised by the sold-out crowd ranging from curious straight couples to gay retirees in leather chaps. If you’re more interested in gambling with your finances rather than your wardrobe, be sure to visit Horseshoe Casino. I have mixed emotions as I approach the $350 million casino that opened in May 2012, as the casino embodies what was once the historic Higbee Building—one of the most glorious department stores of its time. It was a tradition for many families (including my own) to head downtown for the store’s annual spring indoor barn display. As a child, I would emerge giddy with laughter and smelling like hay, having spent the afternoon in the petting zoo. Today, the casino’s blings and dings provide a different kind of adults-only entertainment, but the glorious architecture and interior finishes have been restored and embellished for a new generation.





Photo: Matthew Wexler


If you’re hungry to explore Cleveland’s thriving food scene, wander over to the East Fourth Street District for some of the city’s most unique and diverse dining options. If you’re looking for celebrity flair with a smile, Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro offers nods to local ethnic cuisine (beef cheek pierogies), farm-to-table (kale salad), and nose-to-tail preparations (lamb heart with harissa and heirloom carrots). The other big name in town these days is James Beard Award–nominee Jonathon Sawyer who, with the hands-on collaboration of Executive Chef/Partner Brian Reilly, brings a JapaneseAmerican mash-up sensibility to Cleveland with Noodlecat. The menu features ramen, udon, and soba noodles, handcrafted by nearby Ohio City Pasta. I begin with assorted steam buns that reflect both traditional and Midwestern preparations from Kyoto-style cucumber and sprouts to pulled pork with pickled onions and slaw. Not missing a beat, I slurp my way through miso ramen with roasted pork, dashi, and crispy garlic, as well as spicy octopus stir-fry udon with a fiery sesame chili paste. I wash it all down with Sho Chiku Bai—an organic, American-made sake. Cleveland’s flourishing dining scene feels, in part, inspired by the city’s thriving cultural institutions and an overall sense of progress and innovation. With a staggering $2 billion in tourism-related infrastructure development slated through 2015, the city is poised to attract more than 11 million visitors this year alone. “Downtown Cleveland is experiencing signif-

icant investment across the board,” says Joe Marinucci, CEO of Downtown Cleveland Alliance. “Major tourism projects will provide visitors an opportunity to experience downtown Cleveland in a brand-new way.” New hotel developments will also afford Cleveland the ability to host major sporting, cultural, and business events such as the Gay Games, but this prominent gay event is just the tip of the iceberg. The first phase of the Flats Redevelopment Project, estimated at $275 million, includes the opening of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium located in the historic First Energy Powerhouse. For business travelers, the Center Global Center for Health Innovation and the Convention Center are slated for an October opening. The LEED silver-certified facilities will feature a 30,000-squarefoot grand ballroom with stunning views of Lake Erie. The $465 million project is expecting more than 300,000 annual visitors.


leveland’s investment in arts and culture isn’t new though. The Cleveland Museum of Art dates back to 1916 with a permanent collection that spans from decorative art and design to American painting and sculpture, photography, textiles, and more. Upcoming noteworthy exhibits include “Less is More: Minimal Prints” (through October 20), which explores works on paper by such notables as Sol LeWitt, as well as “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” (through September 29), the first major museum survey of this socially progressive artist who examines sex, race, and class from both a historical and contemporary perspective.

Gay Games 9
An international sporting and LGBT community-building event…in Cleveland? Absolutely. After tirelessly campaigning and with support from the city government and local businesses, Cleveland (and nearby Akron) won the bid for the 2014 Gay Games (GG9), which will shot put into town August 9-16, 2014. GG9’s Executive Director Thomas Nobbe says, “We’re in the heartland of the country and it will be a transformative experience for so many people, LGBT as well as the broader community.” Founded in 1980 as “a vehicle of change” by Dr. Tom Waddell, the Games are about much more than winning medals. “We need to discover more about the process of our sexual liberation and apply it meaningfully to other forms of liberation,” Waddell wrote. “The Gay Games are not separatist, they are not exclusive, they are not oriented to victory, and they are not for commercial gain. They are, however, intended to bring a global community together in friendship, to experience participation, to elevate consciousness and selfesteem, and to achieve a form of cultural and intellectual synergy.” The massive undertaking is not without its challenges. The Cleveland/Akron region is the smallest in overall population as well as the smallest LGBT population to present the Games, but careful strategic planning and fundraising has positioned GG9 as a winner for everyone involved with a projected $50 million in economic impact. The Cleveland Foundation’s Presenting Sponsor contribution of $250,000 has anchored the efforts and encouraged other organizations, small business, and individuals to show their support. As a result of the partnership between the Cleveland Foundation and Gay Games 9, an LGBT field-of-interest fund is being established at the foundation. The fund will launch at the conclusion of the Games in August 2014. Kurt Dahl, co-chair of the Federation of Gay Games, the sanc-

tioning body of the Games, says this creation of a legacy component is something the federation had hoped would happen when they chose Cleveland/Akron as host. “The Gay Games is about so much more than a weeklong event every four years,” Tom Waddell said when he founded the Games in 1982, “they exist to be a vehicle of change. The Cleveland Foundation is helping to make that vision a reality for Greater Cleveland.” For those headed to Cleveland next year, get ready for a packed week of 35 sports and cultural programs as well as signature parties and the anticipated arrival of more than 11,000 participants from all over the world. The city’s hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues will be overflowing with freshly scrubbed athletes and their supporters ready to celebrate wins, console defeats, and acknowledge the vibrant and diverse composition of the LGBT community.



Photo: Jay W


Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Two new art buildings have recently opened that stretch the boundaries of artistic expression. The Transformer Station, a former substation built in 1924 by the Cleveland Railway Company, has been reinvented as a showpiece for contemporary art and photography. The soaring 22-foot high ceilings and massive horizontal crane are remnants of the building’s original use, but selections from the private collection of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell are anything but dated. Upcoming exhibits include “The Unicorn” (through November 30), a group exhibition inspired by a book of the same name by Martin Walser; as well as “Hank Willis Thomas” (December 14 - March 9, 2014). A fivescreen video installation will feature Thomas’ work, among others, that reflects the experience of the black male, as well as selections of past works in the adjoining galleries. Also embracing a new generation of artists is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Although the museum has been established since 1968, the new MOCA Cleveland is its first permanent home as well as the first building designed in the United States by Farshid Moussavi Architecture. The new space will offer approximately eight diverse exhibitions per year. “Realization is Better Than Anticipation” (through October 13) showcases 12 artists with connections to the region, expressing their creative viewpoints through a range of media, including sculpture, photography, ceramics, video, and performance. After a full day of shopping, neighborhood hopping, and appreciating Cleveland’s art scene, I’m ready to get down with the locals. My first stop is the Prosperity Social Club in Tremont, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Currently owned by Bonnie Filner, the restaurant/bar has been a popular hangout since 1938 and now serves as a

showcase for local beers and a “bad for your heart, good for your soul” menu by self-taught Chef Ed Kubitz. One oversized house-cooked corned beef Reuben on potato pancake sandwich later, I head to Happy Dog for a local brew and chat with coowner Sean Watterson. Packed to the brim with people of all ages, Happy Dog is a quirky find with a one-hit-wonder menu of gourmet hot dogs and local beers. But what makes this favorite hangout really stand out is an oddly curated program of nightly live performances ranging from the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal flutist to a debate series and science lectures. “The cost of risk is so low,” says Watterson of Cleveland’s can-do attitude. “You can try anything here. [The city] has great assets, but we’re much smaller than other markets so it needs to be more accessible.”


peaking of accessible, my foray into Cleveland’s LGBT nightlife scene offers only a handful of venues. It seems as if the city is skewing more toward an all-inclusive environment where gays, straights and everyone in between find their nightlife niche based on their interests rather than their sexual orientation. But if you’re looking for a more gay-centric scene, you have a handful of options. Bounce is a multi-purpose venue that boasts full-menu service, video bar, pool tables, cabaret performances, and a dance floor that throbs six nights a week (closed on Mondays) until 2:15 A.M. Venue highlights include Tequila Tuesdays where you can get wild on $3 margaritas or spend a couple of extra bucks for Patron top shelf. Maybe you’re destined to be the next Jinx Monsoon, if so, break out your wig and heels for Thursday Amateur Drag Night hosted by Mandy Merlot. Locals flock to Bounce on Fridays for Equality




Photo: Spirit of America


West Side Market

Happy Hour (4-7:30 P.M.) and catch the Rust Belt’s sexiest boys at Kari Nickels’ All Male Revue on Saturdays. Located in Edgewater on Cleveland’s west side, Twist Social Club has offered a dizzying line-up of special events from Drag Bingo and gay Zumba to a Madonna Mania birthday party. Best to check the club’s Facebook page for the latest happenings, but it’s a can’t-miss destination during warmer months when the front windows open and the party spills onto the street. The Leather Stallion is a neighborhood hangout that appeals to a broader demographic than you might think. Part of Cleveland’s LGBT scene since 1970, the no-frills bar never charges a cover and is a popular destination for all types in warm weather due to its large outdoor patio. Swing by on Saturday night for a free pool tournament, and if you’re lucky your visit might coincide with a gathering of the Unicorn M.C., the oldest gay motorcycle/leather/Levi club in continuous existence in the entire state. If you happen to be passing through town during the third Friday of the month, be sure to connect with G2H2, Cleveland’s roaming gay get-together that has been on the prowl since 2005.


n my final morning, I head to a blast from my past: Coventry Village. Back in the day, we just called it Coventry and the neighborhood bristled with folksy shops, record stores, midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tommy’s, the only place in town to go for brunch. With nearby John Carroll University and Case Western Reserve, the main strip still has a perpetual college feel, but it also remains a haven for all sorts of eclectic visitors and locals alike. After ravaging my way through a late breakfast at Tommy’s, which includes French fries and an obligatory chocolate malt milkshake, I pop in and out of stores just like I did when I was a teenager. Some have changed but many remain the same and it’s refreshing to see that independent shops still exist. Open since 1967, Record Revolution is one of the oldest independent record stores in the country. This is the place to go if you’re a collector or looking for other music-inspired memorabilia. The trippy interior features graffiti from visiting bands. Big Fun is just down the street and it lives up to its name. Another Cleveland institution, the store was opened by Steve Presser in 1990 and has maintained its cornucopia of kitsch status for almost 23 years, featuring retro candies, greeting cards, custom T-shirts and more. Even though I’m still stuffed from breakfast at Tommy’s, I can’t resist stopping by Grum’s Sub Shoppe. During my senior year of high school I would cut class just to get my hands on a The Grumster, a massive sandwich of roast beef, provolone cheese, special horseradish sauce, and secret spice blend. Another local business that’s been around more than three decades, it’s proof positive that Clevelanders are loyal customers, especially when the eating is good. Cleveland continues to surprise me and part of me is riddled with guilt for feeling like I needed to escape so many years ago. While I still admit to preferring the ocean to Lake Erie, there’s something to be said about coming home. And for those passing through Cleveland or choosing the city as their primary vacation destination, I imagine they, too, will feel like they’ve come home. Local residents are holding their heads up high as each year brings more economic development and civic pride. What was once a frontier village, then a manufacturing center, has now become a premiere destination for food, culture, sports, and entertainment. With the Gay Games on the cusp of the coming year, Cleveland is also laying the foundation for further expansion and integration of its LGBT community. No matter where I may live, Cleveland is home, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Photos by: Mathew Wexler



East 4th Street, a downtown neighborhood packed with restaurants and entertainment venues, featuring notable outposts by Chefs Michael Symon and Jonathan Sawyer. www.eastfourthstreet.comrg Gay Games 9 (August 9-14, 2014), Whether you’re an athlete or a spectator, head to Cleveland next summer for what is sure to be the sporty blow-out event of the year. Register to participate and keep up to date on special events surrounds the games at Ohio City, Learn more about this artisan neighborhood that features the West Side Market and charming retails shops and restaurants. Positively Cleveland is the city’s official website and resource guide, offering the most current listings of activities, dining options, accommodations and upcoming event. For a gay specific guide from Positively Cleveland, visit

BonBon Cafe

casino resides in what was once a historic department store. museum of Contemporary art (mOCa), 11400 Euclid Avenue. Tel: 216-421-8671. Londonbased architect Farshid Moussavi designed this geometrically-inspired building, the first permanent home for the museum, which showcases an ever-changing schedule of commissioned exhibits and notable contemporary works. Ohio City Farm stand, Experience one of the country’s largest urban farms, which features one of the best views of the city. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and museum, 1100 Roand And Roll Boulevard. Tel: 216-781-7625. Explore the past, present and future of rock and roll through a permanent interactive installation, rotating exhibitions and special live performances. The Transformer station, 1460 W. 29th Street. Tel: 216-938-5429. An extension of the Cleveland Museum of Art, this former private transit provider station dates back to 1924 and has been reinvented as showpiece for Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell’s private collection of contemporary art and photography.
Photo: Matthew Wexler


aloft Cleveland downtown, 1111 W. 10th Street. Tel: 330-995-7607. Located in the heart of downtown’s burgeoning entertainment and business district, this contemporary Starwood property opened this summer and features amenities by Bliss Spa. The Cleveland Hostel, 2090 W. 25th Street. Tel: 216-394-1616. If you’re traveling on a budget, consider downtown’s only hostel—a sprawling 10,000square-foot historical building that once served as a factory for the Victor Tea Company. The rooftop deck has one of the best views of the city. $25-75 per night. Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, 24 Public Square. Tel: 216-696-5600. Built in 1918, the historical structure features vaulted ceilings and grandeur from days gone by. Rooms from $434. The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, 1515 W. Third Street. Tel: 216-623-1300. Located in the heart of downtown and adjacent to the shops at Tower City Center, the hotel is the only AAA four-diamond property downtown, is pet-friendly, and features enclosed walkways to Progressive Field and Quicken Loans arena as well as Horseshoe Casino. Rooms from $449.

noodlecat, 234 Euclid Ave. Tel: 216-589-0007. Chefs Jonathon Sawyer and Brian Reilly combine forces for a mash-up of traditional noodle preparations tinged with some Midwestern sensibility. properity social Club, 1109 Starkweather Ave. Tel: 216-937-1938. Local beers and an eclectic menu add to the charm of this local hangout, which has been around since 1938 and still going strong. Tommy’s Coventry, 1824 Coventry Road. Tel: 216-321-7757. From healthy vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options to the best milkshake in town, Tommy’s is a Cleveland culinary institution.


Big Fun, 1814 Coventry Road. Tel: 216-371-4386. “Toy Store” does not do this 3,400-square-foot fun house justice. From vintage-inspired finds to adult-only playthings, Big Fun has it all. Record Revolution, 1832 Coventry Road. Tel: 216321-7661. Since 1967, this independent record store has been serving up the latest releases and rock classics along with imported posters and other music-related memorabilia. R/s Boutique, 2078 W. 25th Street. Tel: 216-6966220. Home and design store featuring domestically made products with a focus on Clevelandbased designs. The West side market, 1979 E. 25th Street. Tel: 216-664-3387. Home to more than 100 vendors ranging from butchers and fresh produce to readyto-eat delicacies, the market is a must-stop for any serious foodie.



Cleveland International Film Festival, this annual festival draws nearly 100,000 attendees for screenings of new films including a specially curated LGBT series. Cleveland museum of art, 11150 E. Boulevard. Tel: 216-421-7350. Dating back to 1916, the museum’s massive collections spans centuries of painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and more. Glass Bubble project, 2421 Bridge Avenue. Tel: 216696-7043. This quirky shop in Ohio City offers one-ofa-kind hand-blown glass collectibles as well as studio classes for those interested in creating their own works of art. Greater Cleveland aquarium, 2000 Sycamore Street, Tel: 216-862-8803. Located in the FirstEnergy Powerhouse on the west bank of the Flats, the aquarium features nearly a half-million gallons of water and the SeaTube®, an underwater walk-through experience. Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, 100 Public Square. Tel: 216-297-4777. Opened in 2012, this $350 million

Bonbon pastry & Café, 2549 Lorain Avenue. Tel: 216-458-9225. Homemade pastries and comfort food from pastry chef Courtney Bonning. Grum’s sub shoppe, 1776 Coventry Road. Tel: 216-321-478. Stop by for any one of more than 15 sub sandwiches from a shop that has been serving up deliciousness for more than 30 years. Happy dog, 5801 Detroit Ave. Tel: 216-651-9474. Forget mustard and ketchup and go for one of the more unusual 58 toppings for Chef Eric Williams’ gourmet hot dogs, which also include chicken and vegetarian varieties then stick around for live entertainment. Lola Bistro, 2058 E. 4th Street. Tel: 216-6215652. Chef Michael Symon’s locally inspired menu offers farm-to-table and nose-to-tail preparations.


Bottom’s Up, 1572 West 117th Street. Two-level LGBT establishment with a more traditional bar upstairs and dance club downstairs. Bounce/Union station Video Café, 2814 Detroit Avenue. Tel: 216-357-2997. “The” place to go on Friday or Saturday night, the restaurant/bar features drag on Friday nights. G2H2, Cleveland’s monthly gay get-together, held at a different location on the third Friday. Leather stallion, 2205 Saint Clair Avenue NE. Tel: 216589-8588. Don’t let the name scare you, Cleveland’s oldest leather bar draws a broader crowd these days. Twist social Club, 11633 Clifton Boulevard. Newly renovated, the lounge presents a rotating roster of DJs.