With its hall of fame and upcoming queerlympics, Cleveland is courting gays
The host city this summer of the ninth installment of the Gay Games festival, which was established in 1994 (then known as the Gay Olympics, before the lawyers stepped in), Cleveland has been the focus of an ambitious, ongoing urban renaissance in recent years. The downtown core, with its considerable stock of stately early-20th-century buildings, has seen an influx of attractions and hotels, while outlying neighborhoods have become magnets for cool indie restaurants, theaters, arts spaces and retail shops.
This working-class metropolis suffered a deep urban decline during much of the second-half of the 20th century, but is looking better than ever these days, and locals are counting on the Gay Games as a perfect opportunity to show LGBT visitors what Cleveland has to offer.
The ninth Gay Games runs Aug. 9–16, and the town is gearing up. More than 35 sports will be represented, including beach volleyball, cycling, flag football, golf, open-water swim, rock-climbing, soccer, softball and tennis. There are also two cultural events (band and chorus), and related gatherings, ceremonies and parties taking place throughout the week. (Learn more about the Gay Games at the official site, GG9Cle.com.)
Ironically, the abandonment of downtown Cleveland during the 1950s through 1970s helped to preserve the commercial core’s bounty of Victorian and turn-of-the-century commercial and residential architecture, from warehouse buildings that stood empty for decades to gleaming art deco towers that have undergone complete renovations in recent decades. Sports stadiums, theaters and a glitzy casino have all contributed to the current urban buzz.
Action has always and still does revolve around Public Square, a regal park of fountains and statuary over which looms the focal point of the downtown comeback, the completely restored
Tower City Center, a 52-story complex housing restaurants, shops and a rail station. The adjoining Horseshoe Casino opened in 2012 inside an impressive Victorian-era department store building and contains more than 2,000 slot machines and about 90 gaming tables.
Several blocks east along Euclid Avenue lies Playhouse Square, the downtown theater district. And a short walk south are two prominent sports venues, Quicken Loans Arena (home to the NBA’s Cavaliers) and Progressive Field (where baseball’s Indians play).
A few blocks north, along the shores of Lake Erie, the pyramidal, I.M. Pei-designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the seminal pop-cultural museums in the world, offering visitors an invigorating tour of music over the past 70 years — exhibits touch on the entire history of the rock genre, with special attention given to the nearly 300 artists who have been inducted into its rolls, including LGBT acts like R.E.M., Queen, David Bowie and Elton John. In 2014, the Beatles’ openly gay manager Brian Epstein was among the inductees.
Across the marina from the hall of fame, Voinovich Bicentennial Park is a pleasant lakeside spot for a picnic, or admiring the city skyline, and it’s also where Cleveland Gay Pride takes place each year in June. Abutting downtown is the Warehouse District, a tract of beautifully restored cast-iron buildings that now house several good restaurants, a handful of funky shops and dozens of gorgeous lofts.
Don’t miss the Georgian-style Cleveland Museum of Art Drive in the 550-acre University Circle, which recently completed an expansion. From here, you’re a quick hop to Cleveland Heights, a diverse and lively community with a sizable gay and lesbian following and a wealth of inviting shops and restaurants, most of them along bustling Coventry Road.
In the other direction, just west of downtown, the Ohio City historic neighborhood abounds with Victorian homes and has become a hot spot for trendy eateries and lounges (notably along West 25th Street) as well as one of the Midwest’s great culinary attractions, West Side Market. Begun in the 1840s, it’s home to 100 vendors proffering everything from fresh produce to Polish pierogis to local artisan cheeses — it’s really a chance for local people-watching at its best.
Venture a short drive south to another of the city’s more recently gentrified neighborhoods, Tremont, where along main drags like Starkweather Avenue and Literary Road you’ll find dozens of inviting lounges and hipster eateries. Another up-and-coming neighborhood on the city’s west side is Detroit-Shoreway, which contains a cluster of cafes and theaters along Detroit Avenue between West 58th and 75th streets.
Dining and nightlife
Cleveland’s dining scene has long been influenced by its sizable immigrant populations, with Eastern European, Polish, Greek and Italian food especially popular. Recently, though, sophisticated downtown restaurants and inviting neighborhood eateries have been making their mark, serving regionally sourced farm-to-table fare and ethnic foods from more far-flung cultures.
In the downtown core, Cowell & Hubbard offers a romantic, pre-theater feast, and the convivial Greenhouse Tavern is an exceptionally well-crafted gastropub. When venturing east, locally beloved Tommy’s Restaurant dishes delish vegan cuisine, while swell-elegant L’Albatros deftly executes contemporary French food.
Ohio City food highlights include Bar Cento for mod Italian fare and neighboring Bier Markt for craft brews, as well as the SOHO Kitchen & Bar, which turns out superb New South cuisine, like NOLA-barbecue scallops and fried chicken with baked mac ‘n’ cheese.
In Tremont, critically acclaimed Lolita (helmed by celeb chef Michael Symon) and Bac Asian American Bistro wow visitors with creative cuisine, while trendy, laid-back Fat Cats is one of the coolest neighborhood restaurants in the city (its Saturday brunch is wildly popular).
Gypsy Beans & Bakery in Detroit-Shoreway’s Gordon Square Arts District is a groovy cafe, while nearby Luxe Kitchen & Lounge can be counted on for pizzas, tapas and eclectic small plates. In the Cudell/Edgewater area, the Diner on Clifton is worth a stop for breakfast, lunch or late-night dining — it’s a favorite among patrons of the area’s nearby gay bars.
The top gay nightspots in Cleveland are include Ohio City’s video club Bounce, which also has a good restaurant serving tapas, flatbreads and sandwiches; the popular Hawk Bar, Cocktails Cleveland and Twist dance clubs, all out west in Cudell/Edgewater; and the rough-and-tumble men’s cruise bar, the Leather Stallion Saloon. Not far from the latter, you’ll find Flex, one of the largest gay bathhouses in the country, which has a men’s hotel, gym and bar.
The Wyndham Cleveland at Playhouse Square earns high marks for its central location, friendly service and spacious rooms — book a king corner unit for stunning views of the skyline.
Arguably the poshest accommodation in town, the stately Ritz-Carlton Cleveland rises high above Tower City and Public Market, its 205 rooms outfitted with such cushy comforts as marble bathrooms, iPod docks and ultra-plush linens. The hotel’s restaurant, Muse, is one of the top spots in town for a special-occasion feast.
The InterContinental Suites and InterContinental Cleveland are excellent, high-end choices, while the Hilton Garden Inn, hip and contemporary Aloft and Hampton Inn are well-located, mid-priced options. (Some new hotels are currently in the works, including a boutique property by the gay-popular Kimpton brand.)
Cleveland has some wonderfully charming, gay-friendly B&Bs as well. Consider the grand Stone Gables B&B, a period-furnished, gay-owned 1883 stunner with high ceilings, numerous fireplaces and five richly appointed guest rooms; and the Wallace Manor B&B, a regal stone mansion with three spacious rooms.
Other great choices are the warmly appointed Clifford House B&B, a three-room, gay-owned inn with reasonable rates; and the handsome J. Palen House, which occupies an old brewmaster’s home, and has nine stylishly romantic, light-filled rooms and suites (including a cottage and a separate guest house).
— Andrew Collins
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2014.