1. Where to Stay
Crash on the main drag of burgeoning art-centric neighborhood Ohio City at the year-old Cleveland Hostel (from $25), which feels more like a hipster haven than a grungy dorm. All fifteen rooms are thoughtfully appointed with throwback details like needlepoint bedspreads, chalkboards, and old-fashioned alarms clocks that beg to be Instagrammed; there are eight private rooms (from $65), four of which have private baths. When you’re not grilling on the rooftop deck, rent a bike from the front desk to visit galleries in the area.
Explore the art-rich University Circle area surrounding Washington Place Bistro & Inn (from $179), located less than a mile from the Museum of Contemporary Art. Since there are only seven rooms, guests get plenty of service but never in an intrusive way, and the décor thankfully steers clear of doilies and floral prints. On weekends, complimentary brunch is served in the restaurant and includes seasonal fare like ginger biscuits and gravy with housemade chorizo.
Ask for a room on a lofty floor at the Ritz-Carlton (from $319) to enjoy views of Lake Erie stretching north and the city spreading south. Cleveland’s hotel stock is limited and mostly mid-range, so the Ritz’s 205 rooms stand out with luxurious touches like thick Frette sheets on the beds and plush towels in the Italian marble bathrooms. If you let the staff know about your gallery-hopping plans, you might find a small cooler full of San Pellegrino and another filled with snacks in the back seat of your rental car after the valet retrieves it.
2. Where to Eat
Order a hulking board of meat, cheese, and house-pickled vegetables ($19) at Bar Cento—a sliver of an eatery that’s perfect for a pit stop while visiting Ohio City’s galleries. For a more substantial meal, start with a Caesar salad featuring black truffle ($9) and move on to one of the thin-crust pizzas (from $6) topped with housemade pancetta or sausage. Afterward, you can stop in at sister establishments Bier Markt or Nano Brew, both of which offer more than 100 brews and stay open until 2 a.m.
Beg for a seat in front of Taishi Noma’s station at Ginko to be wowed by extra-large cuts of exotic sushi ($3–$9 per piece). Chef Noma relocated from Kyoto to Cleveland to run the sushi program here, and thanks to his special relationships with individual fishermen, almost all of what he serves is flown in from Japan. One specialty to look out for is kai me dai, a pink-skinned fish with a hint of sweetness and a buttery texture.
Book in advance for the much-lauded farm-to-table cuisine at the Greenhouse Tavern, which remains a hot destination three years after Bon Appetit named it one of the ten best new restaurants in the country. The $44 four-course tasting menu is a nice way to experience the menu (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and paleo options available), but stick to à la carte if duck Zampone ($37) is available—the Franken-bird creation calls for the meat to be removed and mixed with a small amount of pork before being re-stuffed.
3. What to Do
See what’s on display at the Transformer Station (free admission), a new contemporary-art space that opened in February. Formerly an electricity-converter building, the structure now houses selections from the photography collection of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell, two former advertising executives, as well as temporary exhibitions curated by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The original brickwork and chains contrast with a new addition made of dark-gray polished concrete, providing an industrial-chic setting for shows like “Excerpts From Silver Meadows,” a dark, jarring photo essay by Todd Hido (through August 23).
Check out the newly renovated Museum of Contemporary Art ($8 admission), which completed a $27 million, Farshid Moussavi–helmed update last fall. A stunner both inside and out, with an angular mirrored exterior and white staircases snaking across the interior, the building is as impressive as the art on display. Current exhibits include a show of work from twelve artists who live in the region (through October 13) and a spray-painted mural by Katharina Grosse that climbs three stories of the atrium and is illuminated at night, even after the museum closes (through December 31).
Conquer the growing number of galleries in Ohio City and the Gordon Square Arts District. Start at BuckBuck, the live-work gallery space of a group of entrepreneurial young artists, where shows burst with youthful creativity. Head to 1point618, where eighth-generation Clevelander and architect Robert Maschke assembles both established and exciting emerging artists. Continue to 78th Street Studios, the enormous site of the former Baker Electric Motor Vehicle factory, now retrofitted into 40 mini galleries and studios. And don’t pass up Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery, a leading player in the city’s art scene.
4. Insider’s Tip
The city’s art scene is still in its budding stages, so for most galleries you’ll need to schedule appointments in advance or plan your visits to coincide with limited opening hours. To simplify things, take advantage of Third Fridays, when all the spaces located at 78th Street Studios are open from 5 to 9 p.m. It’s an easy way to experience must-see spots like Forum Artspace, Survival Kit Gallery, and Hedge Gallery without any planning.
5. Oddball Day
Pay tribute to rock in the city that gave birth to a slew of great bands and musicians—Devo, the Raspberries, Nine Inch Nails—without even stepping foot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Get a late start so you can rock out into the evening, waking up with house-roasted coffee ($2) and the latest vinyl selections at Loop, a record store and café. Hop in the car and tune your radio to WNCX 98.5 for the sounds of classic rock while you head three miles to Gotta Groove Records for a free tour of one of the last vinyl-record-pressing plants in the nation (arrange in advance). Next, head east on Euclid towards Cleveland Heights and stop for a late lunch at grilled-cheese palace Melt, which is owned by former punk drummer Matt Fish, who currently plays with the band Ohio Civil War. Then head to a stretch of Waterloo Road that has become a bastion for Cleveland’s music lovers. First, pop into Blue Arrow Records and look down—the floor is made of LP covers. Catch the opening act at Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, a converted Polish meeting hall where the Black Keys played their first show. Afterward, pull onto the Shoreway and head out to Happy Dog, which showcases local bands. Order a $5 hot dog topped with your choice of 50 toppings, including housemade peanut butter and their “alien” pickle relish. From there, it’s west on Detroit Avenue to Mahall’s, a twenties bowling alley that’s been repurposed into a live-music venue that serves craft cocktails and fried chicken ($3 per piece). After the show, you can bowl till the place closes at 2:30 a.m. and then go east to Steve’s Lunch, a 24-hour greasy spoon opened in 1953, where you might bump into former Guided by Voices guitarist John Petkovic, who’s now a writer for the Plain Dealer. Order like a local and get the Cleveland specialty known as the Polish Boy ($4), a kielbasa topped with fries, cole slaw, and barbecue sauce.
ArtHopper.org, a Cleveland-based website, keeps tabs on the Midwest’s art scene.
Short on web design but long on content, Cleveland Scene tracks the city’s news and culture.
Unmiserable Cleveland trains its local, critical eye on the best eats and happenings in town.
Pick up a copy of the Cleveland Arts Network Journal from any coffee shop or restaurant to get the most current art-scene scoop broken down by neighborhood.
I Heart Cleveland is more design-y than artsy, but blogger Charity D’Amato will keep you in the know when it comes to Cleveland’s delights.
Bill Lipold, the music lover behind the blog I Rock Cleveland, doles out sage advice on where to hear and buy tunes in town.