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Best of Cleveland 2018 Staff Picks 

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BEST TRIVIA SPOT

The Side Quest (West)

This geek haven hosts two forms of trivia each week, but the Wednesday Side Quest Challenge is in a league of its own. Hosted by the incomparable Harmony Moon, each week features a specialty theme. Cartoons, wrestling, Harry Potter, sex, Star Trek, Pokemon, Neil Gaiman, RuPaul's Drag Race, Spice Girls and even a drunken spelling bee have all held the spotlight. Winning bonus rounds allows players to pull prizes from "the fun sack," and the mystery box option for the winning team is always filled with surprises.

thesidequestbar.com, 17900 Detroit Ave., Lakewood

BottleHouse (East)

The ultra competitive Forest City Trivia at the BottleHouse Brewery and Meadery is like an interactive game show featuring video clips, GIFs, photos, and sound bites. Unlike most trivia spots, Forest City Trivia also offers corporate, public and private events, in addition to DJ services. They're a full-scale trivia production company, and not just your typical paper-and-pencil test of knowledge. The brainchild of Jared Plotts, Forest City values personal relationships with players, and brings an exciting level of entertainment to every round of questioning.

forestcitytrivia.com, 2050 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights

Winner: While BottleHouse's trivia undoubtedly has the better production values, the unique weekly themes, crowd participation bonus points and the national weekly installment of Geeks Who Drink on Thursdays puts Side Quest ahead by inches as the best trivia in town.

***

BEST KARAOKE

Tina's Nite Club (West)

No other spot in Cleveland offers cheap drinks and old-school karaoke quite like Tina's Nite Club. It's a hole in the wall with a limited selection of song choices and hosts who are old enough to be our grandparents, but this only adds to the charm. If you're looking to sing "Cherry Pie," make sure you brush up on the Skip & Flip rendition from the 1950s, because the '80s hair metal classic isn't on the list, and you're not going to make that realization until the song starts playing in front of everyone. Not that we know this from experience ...

facebook.com/pages/Tinas-Nite-Club/, 5400 Herman Ave.

click to enlarge Galaxy Karaoke - PHOTO BY DOUGLAS TRATTNER
  • Photo by Douglas Trattner
  • Galaxy Karaoke

Galaxy Karaoke (East)

This brand new karaoke bar in the heart of Asiatown is a dream come true for anyone who loves singing their heart out but hates listening to strangers try to do the same. Inspired by the extremely popular karaoke bars in Japan, Galaxy Karaoke offers soundproof, private karaoke rooms in addition to the more communal experience in the open bar parlor. The machines are from Japan, so selecting the song of your choice takes a little extra effort. If you're lucky, you'll pick a song that doesn't have a music video and you'll get to watch a hastily made short background video that looks like an ABC after-school special.

galaxyktv88.com, 1593 East 30th St.

Winner: Galaxy Karaoke is the bar that is set for all karaoke experiences.

***

BEST CLE NOVELTY SHOP

CLE Clothing Co. (West)

The juggernaut that is CLE Clothing Co. has been dominating all things Cleveland-merch related since 2008. Living in Cleveland and not owning at least one piece of CLE Clothing Co. apparel is almost unheard of. With locations all over the Greater Cleveland area, the flagship shop downtown has become a must visit for tourists and the go-to spot for Cleveland apparel needs. The city's culture, heritage, neighborhoods and sports teams are all well represented by the products offered at CLE Clothing Co.

cleclothingco.com, 342 Euclid Ave.

In the 216 (East)

In the heart of Coventry Village sits a novelty shop filled with products sourced from Cleveland artists and creators. In the 216, which recently opened a location on Clifton, showcases the work of over 100 Cleveland artisans with apparel, accessories, art, oddities, books, games, drinkware, candles, food, home accessories and much more. Stuffed pop culture icons from the Cuddle Cult are definitely a local favorite. The products are unique, often handmade, and help keep the "local" in local business.

inthe216.com, 1854-A Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights

Winner: There is no better way to support local creators than to purchase something from In the 216.

***

BEST MONDAY NIGHT COMEDY

Hilario at Barrio (West)

Hosted weekly by Cody Cooper and The Alan Cox Show's Bill Squire, Hilario at Barrio is a showcase of some of Cleveland's best. Audiences flood the backroom of the taco joint, margaritas in hand, for a night of laughs. The lineup for this Comedic Cleveland award-winning showcase changes weekly, so audiences are sure to get a new bunch of laughs each week. The show is free and there are delicious tacos. What more could you need?

facebook.com/hilarioatbarrio

Make 'Em Laugh Mondays at Grog Shop (East)

Known as "the East Side" show on the comedy scene, Make 'Em Laugh Mondays (#MELM) is hosted by John Bruton at The Grog Shop. Featuring the musical stylings of DJ Stroke, MELM showcases the finest funny makers in Cleveland, as well as national touring comedians. While the west side is bombarded with multiple comedy shows every night of the week, MELM is undoubtedly the most popular comedy showcase on the east and consistently draws the liveliest audiences in the entire city.

grogshop.gs

Winner: Of all of the shows in Cleveland, no show has an audience quite so interactive as the regulars at Make 'Em Laugh Mondays.

***

click to enlarge La Femme Mystique - PHOTO COURTESY BELLA SIN
  • Photo Courtesy Bella Sin
  • La Femme Mystique

BEST BURLESQUE

Shrimp's Oh! Strip! Show

The ever-so-delightful queen of comedy burlesque, Shrimp Cocktail performs all over the area. But her themed showcases of Cleveland's most talented burlesque performers guarantee a night of hilariously sexy entertainment. In just two years, Shrimp's Oh! Strip! Show has become a highly sought-after showcase for fans of striptease and all things sultry. Comedy burlesque, traditional striptease, songbird musical burlesque, and other variety act striptease performances have found the perfect home.

facebook.com/ohstripshow

LeFemme Mystique

This award-winning burlesque troupe founded by international burlesque sensation Bella Sin also holds the distinction of being Cleveland's longest running burlesque show. The classic showcase frequently features national performers, and the troupe performs in every corner of the city. Last year brought the inaugural showcase of Hispanic Burlesque, and this Beachland Ballroom staple has put on a variety of themed "nerdlesque" performances as well. Most recently, the troupe performed after the Cleveland International Film Festival screening of Getting Naked the Movie: A Burlesque Story.

facebook.com/Lefemmemystique

Winner: Shrimp's Oh! Strip! Show may not have the longevity of LeFemme Mystique, but its promise and potential bring a refreshingly new style to the popular art form.

***

BEST SKETCH COMEDY GROUP

The Laughter League

Founded in 2005, the Laughter League showcases "the heroes of comedy to save you from a life of boredom!" Comprising local actors and performers Leslie Andrews, Patrick Ciamacco, Joe Ciamacco, Billy DePetro, Perren Hedderson, Noah Hrbek, Seth Hrbek, and Luke Scattergood, this group has performed in venues like Cleveland Public Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse, and the theaters of Playhouse Square, and is now the resident sketch group at Blank Canvas Theatre. Each show promises at least 20 original sketches and musical numbers guaranteed to keep you rolling with laughter.

facebook.com/laughterleague

Sad Boys' Social Club

The Sad Boys' Social Club has performed all over the city and surrounding areas with their flagship show at the Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls and quarterly showcase at Brother's Lounge in Cleveland. Along with its darkly comedic live shows, the Comedic Cleveland award-winning troupe also creates original video content. Founded in 2016, the Sad Boys' Social Club consists of standup comedians Jeremy Sheer, Drew Mulkins, Mike Calhoun, Tabitha Jones and Nick Yurick. Find them, see them, enjoy yourself.

facebook.com/sadboyssc

Winner: With over a decade of experience and a wide array of talent, The Laughter League displays a level of comedic precision that is truly unparalleled.

***

BEST DRAG QUEEN

Aurora Thunder

The reigning queen of this category skyrocketed onto Cleveland's drag scene with her jaw-dropping makeup skills and a gender-bending approach to the world of female impersonation. Unafraid to perform in a full face of makeup while showing off her "boy chest," her performances are continually envelope pushing. As an example, her Stranger Thingsinspired Demogorgon routine was a striking display of drag perfection. Aurora Thunder is a cutting-edge performer with a look that is drop-dead sickening.

instagram.com/aurora.thunder

click to enlarge Veranda L'Ni with the Tit for Tat podcast crew - PHOTO BY KEN BLAZE
  • Photo by Ken Blaze
  • Veranda L'Ni with the Tit for Tat podcast crew

Veranda L'Ni

As the tallest drag entertainer on the scene, the creator of the Drag Pride flag, and the co-host of the Tit for Tat Show podcast, Veranda L'Ni's unique flavor is continually pushing the boundaries of the art form. She's a dynamite performer and one of the most entertaining hosts in the area. In addition to her contagiously delightful drag persona, Veranda L'Ni is also one of the leading voices for philanthropic efforts in the drag community. She's an activist for drag performers everywhere, regardless of their gender assigned at birth.

instagram.com/veranda_lni

Winner: Incredible performances aside, Veranda L'Ni and her Drag Pride organization have paved the way for other performers and created a positive support system for the drag community as a whole. Simply put, Veranda L'Ni is Cleveland Drag.

***

BEST BIKE LANE

Detroit-Superior Bridge/Detroit Avenue (West)

Late in 2017, portions of the Detroit-Superior Bridge's bike lane were coated in a green glass product that made crossing the bridge considerably safer for cyclists. The green coating has the effect of drawing motorists' attention to the bike lane — it's green! Also, the sandpaper-like texture makes stopping and handling in traffic easier. The lane leads to Detroit Avenue, which finally has a dedicated bike lane (at least for a little while). A few years back, "guerilla stripers" created a bike lane of their own, under cover of darkness, because they were so fed up with the inefficiency and apathy of City Hall. That inefficiency and apathy is still overwhelmingly on display, but official bike lanes are gradually getting implemented via the city's "complete streets" efforts.  

Mayfield Village (East)

Why not? Quincy Avenue and East 22nd are kinda nice; so are portions of Fleet Avenue. But it's tough to give the city of Cleveland too much credit for their begrudgingly implemented, thoughtlessly planned, piecemeal bike infrastructure. The village of Mayfield, by contrast, has a network of bike lanes and trails that effectively integrates the park system with nearby village assets. This should come as little surprise, given that the longtime Mayfield mayor is Bruce Rinker, who daylights as an attorney but moonlights as a commissioner for the Cleveland Metroparks and is all about healthy recreation. (He also represented McDonald's in the Ohio City McDonald's lawsuit, so let's not get carried away.)

WINNER: Mayfield Village. We can't let Cleveland think for one second that it's doing anything remotely innovative in the areas of green infrastructure and sustainability.

***

click to enlarge Gypsy Beans - PHOTO VIA GYPSY BEANS/FB
  • Photo via Gypsy Beans/FB
  • Gypsy Beans

BEST COFFEE SHOP

Gypsy Beans & Baking Co. (West)

At the southeast corner of Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street, Gypsy Beans is much more like Cleveland's living room than the Quicken Loans Arena ever was or could dream of being. A favorite meeting spot for people from all walks of life, Gypsy also features some of the finest baked goods in the city — with sneaky delicious pizza! And it goes without saying, but the "passport lattes" are infinitely better and more original than chain offerings. Plus, they add to the cafe's "European bistro" stylings. You can pop in for a cup of coffee, or stay and read for a couple of hours on the weekend. Whenever and however you go, you'll instantly feel the vibrant community that coffee shops are meant to convene.

Facebook.com/gypsybeans, 6425 Detroit Ave.

Phoenix Coffee (East)

The spirit of the phoenix lives in this rambunctious, oft-growing local coffee chain that began in 1990 with a single cafe on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. (There are now five local locations, including two downtown and one in Ohio City.) Our favorite had been the subterranean spot on Coventry Road, but when that location moved further down the street, the original Lee Road location came back on top. With locally roasted coffee, hip tunes and a spacious interior (with ample outlets for laptops!), Phoenix is the perfect spot for both solo and group outings.

Phoenixcoffee.com. 2287 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights

WINNER: Gypsy. The food menu, decor and homey feel give it the edge.   

***

BEST SUBURB FAVORED BY CLEVELAND PRO ATHLETES

Westlake (West)

Ah Westlake, the leafy home of gilded, late-blossoming subdivisions and Crocker Park! Given the lofty McMansions, there's plenty of ceiling clearance for very tall basketball players. And given the blend of fast food, fast-casual and local chain restaurants (like Michael Symon's delicious B-Spot Burgers), there's plenty of available calories for very hungry football players. Zydrunas Ilgauskas called Westlake home. So, too, did Daniel Gibson and Kyrie Irving. Tight end Gary Barnidge loved seeing movies at the Westlake Regal so much that he moved right next door. Suburbs suck, but both pro and amateur athletes who live in Westlake can at least conveniently restock their equipment at the Crocker Park Dick's Sporting Goods.   

Bratenahl (East)

Bratenahl is an island surrounded on three sides by the city of Cleveland (with Lake Erie to the north), which means that tax dollars from the multi-million-dollar lakefront mansions don't go toward depleted city coffers. In addition to being the home of several pro athletes over the years, it is also the home of Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam and his wife Dee. There's frankly not much doing in Bratenahl, other than 10,000-plus-square-foot homes and primo sunset views, but we must acknowledge, at least, that it's a far shorter commute than the other deep southeast favorites like Chagrin Falls and the CEO commune, Hunting Valley.

WINNER: Westlake, and we're as surprised as you are.  

***

click to enlarge Matt Zone - PHOTO COURTESY CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL
  • Photo courtesy Cleveland City Council
  • Matt Zone

BEST CLEVELAND CITY COUNCILMAN

Matt Zone, Ward 15 (West)

Matt Zone, son of former councilman Michael Zone and councilwoman Mary Zone, is a Detroit-Shoreway native and chairman of council's safety committee. Last year, he served as president of the National League of Cities and worked, among other things, to produce a report on economic mobility. He is an advocate of the arts and can boast that the vibrant Gordon Square Arts District was developed under his watch. The westside's council representation is notably lame. Zone's stiffest westside competition for mayor in 2021 will come from council president Kevin Kelley, who can count on support from the business community. Zone is unoffensive; he tends to be the soft-spoken mediator at council meetings; and his heart is generally in the right place. On the west side, that takes the cake.

clevelandcitycouncil.org

Blaine Griffin, Ward 6 (East)

Appointed under shady circumstances, months before the 2017 elections, due to the illness of Mamie Mitchell, Blaine Griffin is nevertheless already one of the east side's most senior council representatives. He was appointed as majority whip and chairman of council's Health and Human Services Committee as well, signaling his influence on the body. The former director of Mayor Jackson's Community Relations Board, where he was known to injudiciously tweet, and manager of Jackson's mayoral campaigns in 2009 and 2013, Griffin is now the presumptive eastside mayoral contender in 2021. (Though Zack Reed for whatever reason still intends to spoil.) His orange-and-black yard signs may be seen as an homage to Carl Stokes, who deployed that color combo as well.

clevelandcitycouncil.org

WINNER: It's a tie. (Given that these two men will likely be our mayoral contenders, we'll reserve judgment.)

***

Xinji Ramen - PHOTO BY EMANUEL WALLACE
  • Photo by Emanuel Wallace
  • Xinji Ramen

Best Ramen

Xinji Noodle Bar (West)

Cleveland still lags in comparison to other markets when it comes to the quality and quantity of noodle shops. Fortunately, we have two solid contenders, one of which is Xinji Noodle Bar, a buzzy neighborhood spot on the western edge of Ohio City. Xinji earns praise for rich, clean broths like miso, spicy miso and shoyu, bouncy ramen from celebrated Sun Noodle, thick slabs of buttery pork belly, and nicely textured soft-cooked eggs. Boosting it above much of the competition are the lissome steamed buns, daily chef's specials and full-service setup that stands in the face of the fast-casual tidal wave.

xinjinoodle.com, 4211 Lorain Ave.

Otani Noodle (East)

It didn't take long for Otani Noodle to begin attracting regular crowds to its new downtown shop in the former Noodlecat lair. Folks who had already visited the restaurant's original slurp shop up the road in University Circle already knew what to expect: a fast-casual experience that nets deeply satisfying bowls of expertly prepared ramen at a great price. The downtown spot ups the ante thanks to a cheery, colorful interior with more seating, better flow and spiffed-up service. We can't get enough of the dreamy tonkotsu broth topped with roast pork or savory pork belly, but the tom yum goong also warms the cockles of our hearts.

otaninoodle.com, multiple locations

WINNER: Xinji edges out a win thanks to specials, full service and booze.

***

Best Tacos

La Casita (East)

From spring through fall, a transitory restaurant springs to life behind La Casita Latin Grocery in Painesville. On weekends, entire families visit the alfresco kitchen and dining room for some of the most astounding tacos on the planet. There's no menu, but you can count on tacos, quesadillas and tortas built around chicken, chorizo, tripe, tongue and al pastor. Prices include roasted onion, well-charred jalapeno peppers and a visit to the fixin's bar to load up on zippy toppings like diced onion, radish quarters, chopped fresh cilantro, lime and a variety of salsas. If you ever thought that 40 minutes was too far to travel for a $2 taco, La Casita will disabuse you of that notion.

484 North State St., Painesville

La Plaza (West)

By now, we hope we've all moved past the idea that La Plaza is a "hidden gem" serving the city's best tacos. Best tacos, yes. Hidden gem? Not by a long shot. Any serious fan of Mexican food is well aware of this amazing Latin grocery, open since 2011, and the small but serviceable cafe in the rear that dishes up killer tacos, tortas, tamales and other Mexican delicacies. Come May, that cafe will get even better thanks to a relocation and expansion project that will land it front and center in the grocery, with more indoor — and outdoor — seating. That sounds like a recipe for even better tacos, if you ask us.

13609 Lakewood Heights Blvd., Lakewood

WINNER: La Plaza, just by a whisker, owing to its more convenient location in Lakewood.

***

click to enlarge Il Rione Pizza - PHOTO BY EMANUEL WALLACE
  • Photo by Emanuel Wallace
  • Il Rione Pizza

Best Pizza

Vero (East)

Great pizza, as every single one of us knows, comes in many shapes, sizes and pedigrees. Don't assume that just because a shop utilizes a real wood-burning oven that the pies exiting said oven will flatten the competition. To do that takes a mastery of dough work, oven management and timing. That's precisely what diners get each and every time at Vero, which offers a clinic in the ways of Neapolitan pizza making. Sure, waits can be long and takeout is a non-starter, but who ever said that perfection doesn't come at a cost?

verocleveland.com, 12421 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights

Il Rhione (West)

It's safe to say that there are no other pizza joints in town quite like Il Rione, which offers a tastefully hip alternative to lawless family friendly pizzerias. The warm lighting, stylishly weathered interior and discriminating sound track is the antithesis to Chuck E. Cheese's. It's also safe to say that what these guys do with a standard deck oven is pretty remarkable. While the crust lacks the photogenic qualities of a wood-fired pie, it is every bit as flavorful and texturally superb. And when that crust is topped with chopped clams, salty pecorino cheese, heaps of garlic and fresh parsley, as is the clam pie? Fuggetaboutit.

ilrionepizzeria.com, 1303 West 65th St.

WINNER: Vero, because when it comes down to it, we're suckers for the romance of a real wood-burner.

***

Best Bagels

Bialy's Bagels (East)

Unlike pizza, which is all over the board in terms of agreeable shapes, sizes and preparations, bagels come in only one acceptable model. To achieve the proper results — a thin, shiny exterior shielding a dense, chewy crumb — the bagels must be boiled and baked, preferably in a temperamental antique oven. For 50 years, Bialy's Bagels has been doing it right, batch after blessed batch. A bag of still-warm mish-mosh (never "everything") bagels comes as close to heaven on earth as mere mortals can get. While we think flavors like cinnamon raisin are a sin against god, the rest of the lineup more than makes up for it.

bialysbagels.com, 2267 Warrensville Ctr. Rd., University Heights

Cleveland Bagel (West)

As shocked as we are to admit it, this relative newcomer on the roll-with-a-hole scene has blossomed into a bona fide bagel purveyor. Made with love every step of the way, these hot, malty and aromatic buns o' fun are the real deal. Fresh from the oven, they elicit the requisite oohs, ahs and front-seat snacking. While we believe the operators are perpetrating a grave injustice by calling mish-mosh bagels "everything" bagels, we'll overlook the faux pas because the results speak for themselves. The tidy, bustling Detroit Shoreway bagel shop has become required stopping for commuters heading in either direction.

clebagelco.com, 4201 Detroit Ave.

WINNER: Like Buridan's ass, we are powerless to choose between two equally appealing options.

***

Best BBQ

Barabicu Smokehouse (West)

From its nondescript home in Parma, this underdog of smokehouses is putting out some of the most delicious and consistent barbecue in town. If you want to know what Texas-style brisket is supposed to look, feel and taste like, go see the pros at Barabicu, where the jiggly, juicy, bark-crusted beef is sliced to order. Meaty, firm, but giving baby back ribs are kissed by mild fruitwood smoke and glazed with a thin, sweet coat. Specials like smoked meatloaf and double-smoked bacon push them over the smoke-filled precipice.

barabicubbq.wixsite.com/smokehouse, 5767 Ridge Rd., Parma

Mabel's BBQ (East)

Anybody who assumed that the barbecue would be "phoned in" at Mabel's because it was opened by a celebrity chef is quickly liberated from that misconception upon arrival. Judged solely on the merits of the smoked meats and ignoring, for now, the immeasurable challenges that come with running a restaurant this busy, we deem the barbecue here among the best in town. The beef brisket, spare ribs, kielbasa and, lord help us, those mother-loving giant beef ribs are the sorts of foods that slip into our nocturnal reveries and impel a visit. It's one thing to put out barbecue of this quality in a small shop that's open only "till we run out," but another entirely in a balls-to-the-wall establishment like Mabel's.

mabelsbbq.com, 2050 East Fourth St.

WINNER: Mabel's, by a nose, if only for the size, seating, service and stellar bourbon selection.

***

Best Seafood Boil

Boiling Seafood Crawfish (East)

Before Boiling Seafood opened its doors in Cleveland Heights, we weren't hip to phrases like "Homemade Juicy," "Baby Spice" and "the Ultimate." Nor were we hip to the shirt-stained joys of digging into a steaming bag of seafood enrobed in a lip-tingling raging Asian-Cajun sauce. Now, we can't stay away from the place. Fresh, firm and sweet seafood like head-on shrimp, whole crawfish, snow and king crab, even whole Maine lobsters, all get the steam, toss, serve-in-a-bag treatment for guests to enjoy with their hands — bibs and gloves provided. In most orders, the fish is supplemented with andouille sausage slices, ears of corn and a few spuds.

boilingseafood-usa.com,

2201 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights

The Boiler 65 (West)

Compared to its counterpart across town, the Boiler is like a seafood-scented Taj Mahal. The relatively new eatery is spacious, modern and well appointed, all of which goes a long way in making the experience a memorable and enjoyable one. That experience involves donning plastic bibs and tearing into head-on shrimp, crab legs and crawfish tossed in a choice of flavorful sauces. Some, like the Bomb Diggity, are so aggressively spiced you'll need a steady stream of cold-beer chasers. Tack on orders of steamed corn, potatoes and sausage for the ultimate feast.

theboiler65.com, 6410 Detroit Ave.

WINNER: In the case of equally messy and delicious seafood, the warm and efficient service at Boiling Seafood tips the scale.

***

click to enlarge On the Rise Bakery - PHOTO BY DOUGLAS TRATTNER
  • Photo by Douglas Trattner
  • On the Rise Bakery

Best Bakery

On the Rise (East)

Since opening shop more than 15 years ago, On the Rise has consistently produced high-quality breads like French baguettes, rustic Italian loaves, pain au levain and focaccia, and pastries like croissants, sticky buns, scones, fruit tarts and cookies. But each and every year, it seems, they find a way to improve the operation, whether by adding a lineup of savory chef-driven sandwiches or expanding into an adjacent space to increase seating and improve the general flow. If you haven't had the bakery's banh mi sandwich — or the oatmeal raisin cookies, for that matter — you're not living your best life.

ontheriseartisanbreads.com, 3471 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights

Blackbird Baking Co. (West)

Blackbird is approaching the 10-year mark, which says all you need to know about the value, service and quality of its products. Any neighborhood in America would be lucky to have a bakeshop like this one turning out spotless loaves of sourdough, baguettes, focaccia and ciabatta. Those savory supplies are bookended by a delectable array of tantalizing sweets like croissants, sticky buns, scones and "the best chocolate chip cookies in the country," according to at least one national magazine. From Day 1, these guys have been doing things the old-fashioned way and it shows.

blackbirdbaking.com, 1391 Sloane Ave., Lakewood

WINNER: This one is too close to call!

***

Best Pancake

Jack Flaps (West)

Tiramisu pancakes with espresso custard, vanilla-bean whipped cream, shaved chocolate and a cannoli? And pancakes with lemon curd, blackberries and graham cracker crust? We're sold. Jack Flaps in Ohio City serves some of the most creative and decadent pancakes in town.  Anyone can make a pancake. The question is, can they perfect it? Jack Flaps has answered in the affirmative.

jackflaps.co, 3900 Lorain Ave.

Inn on Coventry (East)

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to pancakes. Whether it's fluffy or crisp, traditional or decked out with a veritable buffet of toppings, options abound in Cleveland. For traditional, fluffy pancakes, we love the Inn on Coventry. This old-school diner feels like a throwback to a forgotten age, but their ingredients are top notch and the comfort of a weekend morning is delivered with cheer.

innoncoventry.com, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights

WINNER: The abundant options at Jack Flaps has a slight edge over old-school cool.

***

Best Local Live Theater (seating under 100)

None Too Fragile (East)

None Too Fragile Theater in Akron is not exactly "east" in the traditional Cleveland-centric sense, but it's southeast of the Cuyahoga River. More than that, it's an exceptional theater company whose co-founders and co-artistic directors, Sean Derry and Alanna Romansky, continually create interesting and often compelling stage work. These plays feature edgy playwrights such as Martin McDonagh and Neil LaBute, as well as local playwrights such as George Brant. And NTF almost always collects a bunch of awards when those are doled out at year's end. It's a small but wonderfully intimate theater, and it should be on everyone's hot list for a weekend jaunt (if you can get a ticket).

nonetoofragile.com, 1835 Merriman Rd., Akron

Convergence-Continuum (West)

After fighting to stay alive financially, Convergence-Continuum Theater in Tremont is back in full sail, presenting plays that often have a gay twist or theme. Artistic director Clyde Simon, who lives in the building where the theater resides, is bold in his choice of material. Plus, he and his designers always find new ways to reconfigure their tiny playing area. Con-Con is particularly fond of the work of Cleveland-born and internationally known playwright Mac Wellman, having produced most of his innovative and intriguing scripts. It's bracing to have a theater such as Con-Con that is always willing to take big chances.

convergence-continuum.org, 2438 Scranton Rd.

WINNER: None Too Fragile Theater, because their productions are consistently well performed and — oh yes! — they hand out a shot of Jameson to any interested patron before each show.

***

click to enlarge Entry Point Festival at Cleveland Public Theatre - PHOTO COURTESY CPT
  • Photo Courtesy CPT
  • Entry Point Festival at Cleveland Public Theatre

Best Local Live Theater (seating 100 to 200)

Dobama Theatre (East)

Dobama Theatre has been a fixture in Cleveland Heights for several decades, and they are still producing top quality work featuring a volley of superior scripts by esteemed playwrights. In their underground (but very comfortable) space, artistic director Nathan Motta has fashioned a supportive vibe for his designers, directors and performers — and it shows in their work. From staging crowd pleasers such as Peter and the Starcatcher, adapted by Rick Elice, to provocative plays such as An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Dobama has a knack for finding plays that are both entertaining and intellectually challenging.

dobama.org, 2340 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights

Cleveland Public Theatre (West)

Cleveland Public Theatre has developed into an entire campus of theater, near the corner of Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street. They have multiple theaters and small playing areas which are used frequently for myriad events, some of which draw theater artists from around the country and all over the world. In addition to their challenging schedule of major productions, CPT outpaces all other local theaters in their active support of new work, offering developmental programs and production opportunities for budding plays at all stages of creation.

cptonline.org, 6415 Detroit Ave.

WINNER: Cleveland Public Theatre, because the spectrum of their involvement in theater and in their community is frankly awe-inspiring.

***

Best Used Book Store

Mac's Backs (East)

Mac's Backs, under the wise management of Suzanne DeGaetano, has been a fixture on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights since 1982. Although the store has occupied three separate locations along that hip strip, customers always find their way to Mac's longtime location next to Tommy's restaurant, to peruse their selection of used and new books. They offer tomes in all genres along with cards, calendars, stuff for kids and literary T-shirts. Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Mac's Backs is also a major supporter of local poets through their continuing series of poetry readings and a large selection of poetry books.

macsbacks.com, 1820 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights.

Guide to Kulchur (West)

Guide to Kulchur on Lorain Avenue stocks plenty of used books as well as new books from presses with which they have a relationship. As owner RA Washington says, "A lot of the books we offer are event-driven, since it's our mission to help build a platform for diverse artists and spark dialog." It calls itself a "bookstore with a cause," and that intent is reflected in the events and readings it hosts, as well as in the Books to Prisoners program and their publications produced by the in-house GTK Press.

guidetokulchur.com, 5222 Lorain Ave.

WINNER: It's gotta be Mac's Backs. Hey, it's their 40th anniversary, which in "bookstore years" is about 600. Huzzah!

***

Best Non-Sports Podcast

Authentic Audio

Aaron Calafato, who works on the east side, is a storyteller par excellence, and he relishes the chance to give other Cleveland voices a chance to be heard. On his Authentic Audio podcast, he interviews a wide variety of guests from the Greater Cleveland area and beyond, people who are involved deeply in the arts, cultural activities and politics. Past guests have included Christopher Johnston, a local playwright and journalist; Derf Backderf, our town's iconic cartoonist; and Van Jones, author, news commentator, and special advisor to President Obama. Calafato also serves as the public relations director for the United Methodist Church, the "oilcan" church on University Circle.

authenticaudiopodcast.com 

CleCast

CleCast won our "Best Local Podcast" title last year for many good reasons, most of which swirl around the hosts Dan Huzai and Brian Harrington. These denizens of the Detroit/Shoreway neighborhhood are open and eager to talk to anyone who is doing good stuff in Cleveland, and their podcasts are clear, often amusing and not overstuffed with self importance. Past guests have included good doers such as Melinda Jackson, founder and executive director of the International Youth Leadership Foundation, and Ed Gorski, the youngest and only openly gay member of the Olmsted Falls city council. And now and then, they also talk to their neighbors, about nothing in particular.

theclecast.com

WINNER: Authentic Audio noses out CleCast, due to the combination of interviewing and storytelling that Calafato does so well.

***

click to enlarge Philip Metres - PHOTO COURTESY PHILIP METRES
  • Photo Courtesy Philip Metres
  • Philip Metres

Best Poet

Philip Metres

Philip Metres, who lives in Cleveland Heights and is a professor of English at John Carroll University, is a stellar poet and translator who often writes about deep and important topics. But why read these words when you can read his, from a poem titled Current Resident:

I am practicing to die ******each time I lie down— like tonight, reading— ******an old man living

minutes from his ancestral ******village that exists now only in his mind, in ******the heaviness of a key

that opens a lock ******to a door that exists only in his mind.

philipmetres.com

Dianne Borsenik

Dianne Borsenik, an Elyria resident, is immersed in the local poetry scene as a poet, performer and publisher/owner of Night Ballet Press, which has printed more than 90 volumes of poetry. Here are some of her words, from her award-winning poem Few Dollar Man:

my Cleveland, I don't mind him being a blue collar, few dollar man don't need him all prettified, gentrified, riverwalked, starched, pressed and lean

I like his urban sprawl his sports bars, sports cars, Ford trucks, Great Lakes brew and bratwurst, his rib fests and bare chests he can put on a suit and tie if the occasion calls for it he cleans up real nice dianneborsenik.blogspot.com

WINNER: It's a dead heat! A tie! Either of these poets will rock your world.

***

click to enlarge Dan Chaon - PHOTO BY FRANK LANZA
  • Photo by Frank Lanza
  • Dan Chaon

Best Local Author

Thrity Umrigar

Umrigar, an Armitage Professor at Case Western Reserve University, is also a beloved novelist whose work has been published in more than 15 countries. She's published six novels and a memoir, the most popular among them being The Space Between Us, which explores the caste system in modern India. It was nominated for a PEN/Beyond Margins Award. Umrigar's novels touch upon themes of immigration, the Indian experience in the United States, modern India, family, friendship and love. As a fiction writer, Umrigar explores the human condition, and we're all the better for it. umrigar.com

Dan Chaon

Chaon teaches creative writing at Oberlin, and between his three novels and three short-story collections, he's written some of our favorite works of the past decade. Stay Awake, his 2012 short story collection that evokes Raymond Carver, is a must read. The protagonists in his stories deal with ghosts from their pasts and Chaon explores these haunted stories in a lyrical and sometimes disturbing way. His 2009 interconnected novel Await Your Reply was critically acclaimed and the 2001 collection Among the Missing was a finalist for the National Book Award.

danchaon.com

WINNER: A tie anyone would have a hard time breaking.

***

Best Jazz Club

Nighttown (East)

The anchor of Cleveland's jazz scene since 1965, Nighttown isn't just a place that locals love; it's received national recognition for its music programming. Down Beat magazine has called it one of the 100 best jazz clubs in the world. The Irish-themed bar and restaurant features a welcoming bar area, a casual lounge, an intimate private room, an all-weather outdoor area and a more formal main dining room that features a small stage where the bands play. The place mostly hosts jazz acts but sometimes features folk and pop artists as well. 

nighttowncleveland.com,

12387 Cedar Rd.  

Bop Stop (West)

In terms of acoustics, the Bop Stop, the tiny jazz club just west of downtown, can't be beat. Though it was closed for several years when its original owner tried to sell the place, the Music Settlement, a leading music education institution in the region, took control of the building and handed the reins to promoter Gabriel Pollack, and the place has since thrived. Now it features music several nights of the week as Pollack strives to present "creative, original music." It's home to Outlab, a monthly jam session that attracts musicians from diverse backgrounds, and numerous local acts have held their release parties at the venue. It'll even host the occasional lecture from local Thomas Mulready, who regularly gives his interactive David Bowie power point talks at the place. 

themusicsettlement.org, 2920 Detroit Ave.

WINNER: Nighttown might have the legacy, but the Bop Stop's programming is so ambitious it's hard to beat.

***

click to enlarge My Mind's Eye - PHOTO VIA MY MIND'S EYE/FB
  • Photo via My Mind's Eye/FB
  • My Mind's Eye

Best Record Store

My Mind's Eye (West)

Charles Abou-Chebl opened his Lakewood record store, My Mind's Eye, way back in 1999. Despite the decline in album sales, he's kept the store going. It features a selection of everything from 7-inches to CDs and fanzines and comes off as a throwback to the old-school independent record store (you know, like the one that's in the Nick Hornby novel High Fidelity). An ardent music fan, Abou-Chebl keeps a list of upcoming shows (the slip of paper simply says, "Shows — Go see one or two") on the wall of the store not only so customers know what bands are coming to town but also so he can remind himself of concerts he wants to attend. Abou-Chebl ardently supports the local scene and regularly issues local releases on his My Mind's Eye record label too.

mymindseyerecords.com, 16010 Detroit Rd., Lakewood

Blue Arrow Records (East)

A crate-digging heaven full of rarities and staples, Blue Arrow Records stocks vintage vinyl, cassettes, music memorabilia, books, pulp fiction, vintage magazines, rock T-shirts and vintage posters. We once picked up a vintage Flaming Lips T-shirt there that's become a staple in our concert-going wardrobe. The historic mid-century storefront features a neon blue arrow, and owner Pete Gulyas personally renovated the 1,300-square foot space and created the floor out of vintage album covers. Blue Arrow also functions as a record label and its first signing was none other than Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers fame. 

bluearrowrecords.com, 6001 Waterloo Rd.

Winner: We love the vintage vibe of Blue Arrow, but the eccentric personality of its affable owner gives the edge to My Mind's Eye.

***

Best Happy Dog

Happy Dog (West)

This Detroit-Shoreway concert club and restaurant boasts a cool vintage look and takes a band-friendly approach that both national and local acts admire. Unlike other clubs that ask bands to play for little or no money, the club requires that bands simply play for the door money. It's just one of the reasons that Happy Dog has become the best stage to catch local acts small and large, new and old. It also hosts a monthly classical music jam night and regularly books New Soft Shoe, the terrific local Gram Parsons tribute act. In addition, the place features an array of special programs during which local experts talk about current events. Thank owner Sean Watterson for making that happen and for fostering an atmosphere that local musicians adore.

happydogcleveland.com, 5801 Detroit Ave.

Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern (East)

Five years ago, the Happy Dog's Sean Watterson bought the Euclid Tavern, a historic Cleveland concert club, to create what he calls the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern. Live music scenes in the 1987 film Light of Day with Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett were filmed there in front of local crowds, and the club hosted underground rock and metal shows in the '90s before shuttering for a short time. Like its westside counterpart, the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern hosts local bands and regularly features an array of special programs during which local experts talk about current events. 

happydogcleveland.com, 11625 Euclid Ave.

WINNER: As much as these clubs are nearly identical, the westside Happy Dog tends to book better bands.

***

click to enlarge Mahall's 20 Lanes - PHOTO BY EMANUEL WALLACE
  • Photo by Emanuel Wallace
  • Mahall's 20 Lanes

Best Indie Rock Club

Grog Shop (East)

This Coventry Road concert venue opened in 1992 when owner Kathy Blackman and two business partners took over a Cleveland Heights bar on the corner of Coventry and Mayfield roads. Since that time, the club has moved to a bigger space at the corner of Coventry and Euclid Heights Boulevard, but has maintained its roots and ethos. It regularly hosts a dynamic mix of bands that includes everything from punk and reggae to hip-hop and indie rock. Bands are so loyal to Blackman that they'll often stick with her, even when they move up to bigger venues such as House of Blues, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica and the Agora.

grogshop.gs, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights

Mahall's 20 Lanes (West)

Back in 2011, new owners transformed Mahall's 20 Lanes, an old-school bowling alley, into a popular concert venue. Now, pretty much any night of the week, you've got a good chance of seeing something noteworthy. The programming is particularly eclectic and the club has hosted everything from indie rock to jazz and world music. The bowling alley, which requires you to keep score by hand, remains a draw too. And with the ability to host concerts on the club's main stage as well as in the downstairs locker room and in the upstairs apartment, the place keeps plenty busy.

mahalls20lanes.com, 13200 Madison Ave., Lakewood

WINNER: With its 25-year legacy and personal ties to both national and local acts, the Grog Shop gets the nod here.  

***

click to enlarge This Way Out - PHOTO VIA THIS WAY OUT/FACEBOOK
  • Photo via This Way Out/Facebook
  • This Way Out

Best Vintage Store

This Way Out (East)

This Way Out, the tiny vintage boutique tucked away in the Beachland Ballroom basement, tends to be a hit with the countless bands that play the club. And more often than not, it's the hipster rock acts that find themselves slobbering over the offerings downstairs — everything from vintage clothing to beerware and old record albums. There's an extensive collection of old rock tour shirts that have the authenticity that's lacking in the reproductions you'll see at Target. And if you're looking for relics from Cleveland's punk rock past, this is the best place to find old albums and promo materials from Pere Ubu, the Pagans, Rocket from the Tombs and the like. 

beachlandballroom.com, 15711 Waterloo Rd.

All Things For You (West)

Owners Tim Yanko and Dwight Kaczmarek originally opened their vintage store in Old Brooklyn five years ago. Late last year, they moved into the current location on Lorain Avenue, which has been thriving ever since it opened. The two guys regularly visit estate sales around town to keep the place well stocked with antiques, collectibles and vintage threads. You'll find a great selection of mid-century furniture here too, and everything is priced so that middle-class shoppers like you and me can afford to shop here. 

allthingsforyou.com, 3910 Lorain Ave.

WINNER: This Way Out simply because we love the fact that you might spot the evening's headliner rifling through the place before taking the stage. 

***

Best Independent Theater

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque (East)

Cinematheque founder John Ewing regularly lines up exemplary programs at this local institution. The Cinematheque moved into a new and improved space a couple of years ago and upgraded its projector so it can now show 4-K digital prints. It kept the old projector, however, and still uses it for special 35-mm screenings. The place regularly features everything from Steven Spielberg's early features to Laurel and Hardy comedies, and Ewing goes out of his way to screen rare prints of obscure movies.

cia.edu, 11610 Euclid Ave.

Capitol Theatre (West)

Located in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood that's home to an ever-growing lists of restaurants and shops, the three-screen Capitol Theatre has struggled to attract big crowds since reopening several years ago. But that doesn't detract from the overall movie-going experience. The beautifully renovated place has the feel of an old-school movie theater, and you can even see some of the original seats in the upstairs lobby. While it regularly screens blockbuster movies, it also features special presentations during its Happy Hour Classics series and its various cult movie series.

clevelandcinemas.com, 1390 West 65th St.

WINNER: The New York Times hails the Cinematheque as one of the best repertory theaters in the country, and we agree with their assessment.

***

Best Shopping Mall

Legacy Village (East)

Legacy Village isn't just a mall. It's a "lifestyle center," or so the folks that run the place would have us believe. Settled on a bucolic piece of land just off Cedar Road in Lyndhurst, the place features an array of restaurants (the Cheesecake Factory and the like) as well as retail. During the mid-summer, it hosts Legacy Live, a concert series featuring local acts performing on the lawn between California Pizza Kitchen and Bar Louie. Legacy Village can also lay claim to the fact that it's the location for one of only two Northeast Ohio Nordstrom Racks.

legacy-village.com, 25001 Cedar Rd., Lyndhurst

Crocker Park (West)

Crocker Park isn't just a mall. It's a "lifestyle center," or so the folks that run the place would have us believe. Almost a mirror image of Legacy Village, Crocker Park is settled on a bucolic bit of land in Westlake, right off Detroit Avenue. It features an array of restaurants (the Cheesecake Factory and the like) as well as retail. During the summer, it hosts live music as well as a family friendly film series. Crocker Park can also lay claim to the fact that it's the location for one of only two Northeast Ohio Nordstrom Racks.

crockerpark.com, 228 Market St., Westlake

WINNER: Anyone in pursuit of a lifestyle center.

***

Best Place to Get Tea

Cleveland Tea Revival  (West)

We live in a coffee drinker's world. Walk into any coffee shop and ask for tea, and you'll get pointed toward a corner with a selection of eight or so teaboxes. And that's what's so wonderful about Cleveland Tea Revival, a company focused on making tea for people who understand tea is everything. Enter the bright, rustic space and you'll be almost overwhelmed with the extensive selection coming at you from all over the planet. Whether you imbibe by the pot or by the mug, the certified organic infused teas here offer a world of peace and restoration. Kombucha, tea lattes and even jam and bread options don't hurt either.

clevelandtearevival.com, 1434 West 29th St.

Algebra Tea House (East)

You can get coffee here; but really, this Little Italy gem is all about the tea. Algebra Tea House is one of those spots that makes you feel artistic and maybe a little bit edgy just by walking inside. The walls are full of local art, tea comes in fun, sculpted mugs, and the furniture is triangular. On top of that, the music transports and the authentic board game collection is on point. Imbibe in one of the 36 teas on the menu along with a wide selection of Middle Eastern food.

algebrateahouse.com, 2136 Murray Hill Rd.

WINNER: Anyone who prefers tea over coffee.

***

click to enlarge Harbor Inn - SCENE ARCHIVES PHOTO
  • Scene Archives Photo
  • Harbor Inn

Best Oldest Bar

Harbor Inn  (West)

As the oldest continuously operating bar in Cleveland — open since 1895, thank you very much ­— the Harbor Inn has many stories to tell. Thankfully, the West Bank of the Flats spot keeps its secrets, and night after night allows patrons young and old to imbibe in witty conversation and general tomfoolery virtually undisturbed while swallowed up in dim yellow light. Plus, when talking gets old, there are plenty of activities to distract you, including a bar bowling machine, a pick-a-prize claw game, darts and pinball. Those who get there early enough can even grab some lunch. But no matter what part of the day, expect cold, well poured and cheap drinks a plenty. 1219 Main Ave.

Moriarty's Pub (East)

Moriarty's Pub has been helping people drink since Prohibition was repealed back in the 1930s, making it the oldest downtown bar. It's one of those spots where lawyers and baseball umpires alike go to get a cold one — no food offerings at all — late at night. But don't expect any pretension here. The ceiling is low, lighting dark and there's even some women's underwear on the ceiling. The entire bar is roughly the size of your parents' living room, and has a dad-approved jukebox to boot (think country classics and plenty of Frank Sinatra). Drinks are more averagely priced, but nothing like a high-end cocktail bar. Whether it's your first time, or your 100th, the bartenders welcome you in.

1912 East Sixth St.

WINNER: Harbor Inn is the oldest bar in Cleveland, which makes it the oldest.

***

Best Restaurant Bathroom

Stone Mad Pub (West)

While we'd all prefer the comforts of home, the reality is when nature calls, you may not be anywhere near your own bathroom. And it's almost like Stone Mad Pub wants to make your bathroom-going experience a pleasant one. First, the restrooms are beneath the pub, patio, dining room and indoor bocce court, so no one above has to suspect a thing. Second, it's bright and cheery down there, including an intriguing tile mural depicting horses, green grass and sky. We're just saying if you need to take all the time, Stone Mad Pub could be your next restroom paradise of choice.

stonemadpub.com, 1306 West 65th St.

Butcher and the Brewer (East)

This East Fourth Street beer hall may not seem like a prime candidate for one of the best bathrooms in town, but below its gymnasium-size main room and 10-barrel brewery lies a restroom haven. Here there are no separate women's or men's spaces; instead, in true big-city fashion, a large tub-style sink serves as a barricade in the center of the shared middle ground. Stalls are marked with a W on the left; M stalls are on the right. While the open-format setup may be off-putting to some, the inclusiveness of the space adds to its exceptionalism. Sure, everyone washes their hands together, but each stall is its own private, fully enclosed room. Perfect to let it all out in a private and peaceful way.

butcherandthebrewer.com, 2043 East Fourth St.

WINNER: Stone Mad Pub's decor wins everything.

***

Best Spot for Celebrity Sightings

TownHall (West)

Did you hear? One of the Kardashians was just at TownHall. Wait, was that Jennifer Lawrence? It seems any time a celebrity of some note swings through Cleveland, they also make a stop at TownHall, the trendy certified non-GMO and vegan-friendly Ohio City restaurant on West 25th. Even on a normal day, you shouldn't be surprised to be eating and drinking in the company of Cleveland athletes and coaches. And listen, we get it, the meals here are quick and healthy. They offer fresh-pressed juices and gloriously green salads. The room is packed with people. The lighting is golden. It's perfect for those trying to be seen, but not entirely seen.

townhallohio-city.com, 1909 West 25th St.

Quicken Loans Arena (East)

For better or worse, the Quicken Loans Arena is rife with celebrity sightings. We're not even talking about the fact that many of the Cavaliers are famous in their own right, nor that the Q brings some of the biggest acts in music to its stage. No, it's in the seats and suites where celebrities can be spotted. Call it the LeBron factor. Go to any Cavs game, and you'll see them: Usher, Drake, a Kardashian, Justin Timberlake, any Cleveland sports legend. And this is relatively new for Cleveland. Los Angeles and New York are used to this. Here, it's still breaking news. But that's part of Cleveland's charm. The excitement is real, because we don't know how long it will last.

theqarena.com, 1 Center Ct.

WINNER: The Q, as you at least get to see a live game, too.

***

click to enlarge Cleveland Script Sign - ERIK DROST FLICKR CC
  • Erik Drost Flickr CC
  • Cleveland Script Sign

Best Selfie Spot

'Cleveland' Script Signs: West vs. East

Clevelander's Instagram feeds haven't been happier than with the installation of those gleaming white "Cleveland" script signs in 2016. Tourists and residents alike seemingly can't stop snapping photos of themselves with the public artwork. But which of the four Destination Cleveland signs, residing at Edgewater Park, North Coast Harbor, Tremont or Euclid Beach, reign supreme? On the west side, you have the Edgewater Park sign with its magnificent view of the Cleveland skyline. Then there's the sign on the edge of Tremont (1430 Abbey Ave.), which looks like you posed in front of a postcard. North Coast Harbor (1001 East Ninth St.) is where the city meets the lake, and posing with this "Cleveland" script sign means you get the Rock Hall in the background. The newest addition is the Euclid Beach Park sign, which was unveiled last summer and offers stunning eastside views. The signs were placed around the city just prior to the Republican National Convention, but now serve as permanent landmarks for those who need more photos of themselves. For those who can't make any of the aforementioned spots, a fifth sign has now been installed near the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport's baggage claim ... but, well, that's not exactly the best view.

Winner: All Instagram feeds.

***

click to enlarge West Side Market - ERIK DROST FLICKR CC
  • Erik Drost Flickr CC
  • West Side Market

Best Place to Impress Out-of-Towners

West Side Market (West)

A perfect day begins at the West Side Market Cafe for coffee or very black tea. Any out-of-towners you may have housed the evening before need caffeine after all, and you do too. Yes, all the guidebooks say you have to go to the West Side Market; it seems almost too obvious. But the difference is now you're playing host, and therefore it's personal. You can show your best friend from Houston or the parents from Seattle exactly where you buy cheese every couple of weeks. Shake the hand of the guy who gives you gyros. Grab the freshest pasta and seafood around, take it home and make the best meal together: wine flowing, music blasting. People come from out of town because they want to see you (and LeBron), but long after they've gone, let them remember the bustle of the century-old market. Let them remember the way the place made them feel alive.

westsidemarket.org, 1979 West 25th St.

Wade Oval Park (East)

Drive by this spot for the first time, and you'll be forgiven for thinking: "Wait, this is in Cleveland?" Designed to complement the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1927, Wade Oval Park features a lagoon and a pebbled path and plenty of bronze sculptures. It's meant to be awe-inspiring, and any guests you take here — as long as they appreciate things like beauty and the outdoors — probably won't believe how picturesque the place is. Obviously, you'll show off the neoclassical art museum and Severance Hall where the Cleveland Orchestra plays. And then you'll walk in the sunshine and soak in the fresh Cleveland air. During the summer you can even take out-of-towners to a music-filled Wade Oval Wednesday, where you'll dance and lose yourself.

universitycircle.org/destinations/wade-oval, 10820 East Blvd.

Winner: Do both and be the biggest winner of them all.

***

Best Monthly Art Party

Mix at the Cleveland Museum of Art (East)

If once per month is all the cultural mingling you can get your introverted self out for, you've got some choices. On the first Friday of every month, Mix at the Cleveland art museum offers a chance for shenanigans and fun, with local musicians, specialty cocktails and free admission to the exhibition du jour. It's an opportunity to loosen your tie, hobnob with the goober smoochers and party with Rodin's "Age of Bronze" in the museum lobby. And admission to Mix is free for CMA members.

clevelandart.org, 11150 East Blvd.

Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios

Every month, Third Friday reigns over the 78th Street Studios complex. Here, your tie is already loosened, as this monthly art walk has you rubbing elbows with artists in their own studios and gives you all the opportunities in the world to expand your own art collection.

78thstreetstudios.com, 1300 West 78th St.

Winner: 78th Street Studios, where you can party with more living artists than dead ones.

***

Best Drink & Paint Experience

Artists Uncork'd (West)

Whether it be painting the Cleveland skyline on canvas or on glass block, Artists Uncork'd is here to help build your artistic CLE pride. Uncork'd has several locations, but the Lakewood studio offers adult classes at $35 a pop (it's BYOB, fyi) and a great opportunity to flex your creative muscles in a fun, unassuming atmosphere.

artistsuncorkd.com, 17020 Madison Ave.

Urban Paint 'n' Sip (East)

Urban Paint 'n' Sip was our kind of party, with music, food and unlimited drinks already included in the $35 price tag. We weren't recreating the "Mona Lisa," but the party atmosphere and laughter were a delight and a much-needed way to relax — regardless of how good, or bad, our final product turned out to be.

urbanpaintsip.com, 1512 South Green Rd., South Euclid

Winner: Urban Paint 'n' Sip, due to the all-inclusive price tag.

***

click to enlarge Dittrick Museum - PHOTO COURTESY DITTRICK MUSEUM
  • Photo Courtesy Dittrick Museum
  • Dittrick Museum

Best Small Museum

The Museum of Divine Statues (West)

If you want to be thoroughly moved by the spirit, but only on Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m., make your way to the Museum of Divine Statues. Located in the Lakewood neighborhood of Birdtown, the museum is housed in the former Church of St. Hedwig. Riddled with reliquaries, informative literature on the history of the saints and artifacts such as the St. Wenceslas Monstrance, made in Germany and "used for adoration during the 1935 Seventh National Eucharistic Congress," nearly every piece on display has an educational booklet detailing the religious object or life of the associated saint. This museum is successful in creating a mood for reflection and repentance. You probably also didn't know it existed, and you should fix that.

museumofdivinestatues.org, 12905 Madison Ave., Lakewood

Dittrick Medical Museum of Medical History (East)

Housed inside Case Western Reserve University's Allen Memorial Medical Library, this museum is a beacon for anyone who likes to gaze at, or faint in front of, the crazy medical devices used over the centuries in the name of science. One can learn about STDs and observe why corsets do terrible things to a woman's internal organs, or observe a model of a baby in utero, which was used as a 3-D instruction manual for birthing a child. Check out all the microscopes and, for sure, attend a lecture on bioethics or one of their mixer events.

artsci.case.edu/dittrick/museum, 11000 Euclid Ave.

Winner: Dittrick, due to its hours, events and accessibility. They are closed on Sunday, however, which is a perfect day to visit the Museum of Divine Statues.

***

Best Public Artwork

'The Politician' (East)

"The Politician: A Toy," by Billie Lawless has been a controversial sculpture for what seems like forever. Like Claus Oldenberg's "Free Stamp," it is both loved and loathed by anyone who has seen it. At its current location at Cleveland State University on East 18th and Chester Avenue, it maintains its status as the statue that Mayor Mike White didn't like and one that continues to give politicians the heebie jeebies. Aesthetically it is not an attractive artwork, but it packs a punch and opens a dialogue to this day.

The 'Cleveland' Script Sign (West)

The "Cleveland" script sign at Edgewater Park, or the other assorted westside locations, is indeed a public artwork. It's a neat-o, if cheesy, installation, giving visitors the opportunity to clamber up and take a photo, perfectly placed in front of the downtown skyline, as they beam with civic pride. It's a happy-go-lucky sculpture that draws a lot of attention from locals and tourists alike.

Winner: "The Politician: A Toy." It's different — and it may be ugly — but it's got personality and that goes a long way.

***

click to enlarge Spaces Costume Party - PHOTO BY EMANUEL WALLACE
  • Photo by Emanuel Wallace
  • Spaces Costume Party

Best Art Showcase

Spaces (West)

Spaces has been a mainstay of the Cleveland art scene for 40 years and continues to bring engaging and cutting-edge art to the masses. Having held several locations, its latest (and greatest) home in Hingetown has proven to be a huge hit, as well as an upgrade over previous spots. In addition to The Art, Spaces is also well known for its spectacular, costumed fundraising parties, which are not to be missed. The institution will be celebrating its 40th anniversary soon, with exhibitions curated by four of the past and present executive directors, which should be a hoot.

spacesgallery.org, 2900 Detroit Rd.

MOCA (East)

MOCA, aka The Gem, moved from the Cleveland Playhouse to their new spot in University Circle in 2012. For 48 years they have brought major contemporary artists into the Cleveland spotlight, and they continue to bring thought-provoking exhibitions to the fore. In warmer weather, they extend their art openings to the patio, along with music and cocktails, and admission is free every first Saturday of the month, thanks to PNC.

mocacleveland.org, 11400 Euclid Ave.

Winner: Spaces! Because, really, their parties are legendary.

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