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Rocking the Nightlife

From inspired cocktails to chef Michael Symon's flagship restaurant, an evening in Cleveland offers plenty of encore-worthy options.


Market Garden Brewery on West 25th Street has helped make the Ohio City neighborhood one of Cleveland's must-visit nightlife spots.


Lauren Pappas knows her cocktails. The bartender developed the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland Lobby Lounge’s “Rocktails,” a line of liquid tributes to songs and artists popular during each of the posh hotel’s 23 years in business.

The menu of musical drinks runs the gamut, from the “Everybody Hurts” Black & Blue Mojito — a concoction of 10 Cane rum, agave nectar, lime juice, blueberries, blackberries and soda inspired by the 1993 REM single — to the “Bad Romance” Martini, a colorful layering of Grey Goose Orange,

Cointreau, lime juice and elixir of rose named after Lady Gaga’s 2010 hit.

The biggest spenders order the “If I Had a Million Dollars” Martini, a $160 mix of Hennessey Paradis, Grand Marnier 150 and lemon juice inspired by a 1992 Barenaked Ladies track.“ The two liquors in it are pricey,” Pappas explains. “They sell for about $105 and $50 respectively — a shot.”

It’s a unique way to toast an evening in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame city, and that’s before you’ve even left the hotel. There’s no shortage of places to go after the sun sets in Cleveland — a fact that downtown dwellers such as Pappas and Ryan Irvine, an independent software consultant who writes a cocktail-and-spirits column for the local entertainment weekly, Scene, are more than happy to share with visitors.

It’s a unique way to toast an evening in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame city, and that’s before you’ve even left the hotel. There’s no shortage of places to go after the sun sets in Cleveland — a fact that downtown dwellers such as Pappas and Ryan Irvine, an independent software consultant who writes a cocktail-and-spirits column for the local entertainment weekly, Scene, are more than happy to share with visitors.

“It’s certainly no secret to people who live here,” Irvine says. “But people from out of town know Cleveland as a down-on-its-luck Rust Belt town with a bunch of sports disappointments. What they don’t know is that, for a city our size, we just have so many things going on.” 

One of the city’s liveliest after-5 destinations is East Fourth Street, a charming brick-lined, pedestrian-only street brimming with some of the city’s most talked about dining, drinking and entertainment establishments.

“It’s got everything you can ask for on one block, and it’s in close proximity to all the hotels,” notes Danielle DeBoe Harper, a resident of the city’s trendy Tremont area who owns Weddings & Parties by Danielle, located in the nearby Ohio City neighborhood.

Local trucking-company executive Joe Gramc names The Greenhouse Tavern as his favorite East Fourth Street restaurant. The founder of the Cleveland Dinner Club — an organization that arranges monthly prix fixe group dinners for its 130 members — loves the open-air rooftop bar and chef-owner Jonathon Sawyer’s menu, which expands the average Midwestern diner’s horizons with selections such as roasted pig head.

“They push the envelope on doing things that are typically found in larger cities,” Gramc says.

Many of Pappas’ guests ask to check out Lola, owned by Iron Chef and “The Chew” co-host Michael Symon. She recommends diners try the beef-cheek pierogies, a version of the eastern-European ethnic dish beloved by many Clevelanders.

“They braise the beef cheeks for about six hours, they shred them, and then they braise them again,” Pappas says. “Put a little horseradish crème fraiche on top, and they’re very delicious.”

A number of other notable spots are within steps of Symon’s destination restaurant. Irvine singles out the Society Lounge, an upscale bar with a contemporary speakeasy feel, which he attributes to its downstairs location.

“The drinks are executed to perfection,” he raves.

Pappas says many people bowl and shoot pool at the decidedly upscale Corner Alley. Gramc relies on the House of Blues’ schedule of concerts to entertain music fans, while Harper often purchases tickets for guests to see nationally known comedians at Pickwick & Frolic, a complex that consists of a comedy club, cabaret and restaurant.

But Harper and her husband Wes also introduce their visitors to West 25th Street in Ohio City. Like East Fourth Street, “it’s one of the best examples of a real strip of thriving, great restaurants and nightlife,” she says. She likes Market Garden Brewery for its beer and appetizers — particularly boards of cheeses, cured meats and mustards — and nearby Bar Cento for its pizza.

“I’m a huge fan of Le Petit Triangle in Ohio City as well,” she says. “That is a really charming French bistro. It looks like a French bistro, and they have an amazing, authentic French bistro menu, including crepes.”

Irvine takes visiting locavores to Spice Kitchen & Bar. The eatery, located at the gateway to the city’s Gordon Square Arts District, is just a short drive from his city-center apartment. The lineup of creative-yet-approachable food is small, but that’s because of chef-owner Ben Bebenroth’s steadfast commitment to sourcing 80 percent of all ingredients from small family farms practicing sustainable agriculture within a hundred miles of Cleveland.

“Right in the back of the restaurant is a hoop house where they grow a lot of herbs and some other stuff,” Irvine says. “[Bebenroth has] plots of land all over town. So when we’re talking seasonal, we really mean seasonal here. They have a huge chalkboard where the specials are. Depending on what’s ready to be used right now, that’s what the menu is that night.”

But foodies and adult-beverage connoisseurs alike concur that the must-visit nightlife spot in Cleveland is the Velvet Tango Room. Irvine calls it “one of the best cocktail bars in the country.” Gramc ends up there with guests from larger cities because they ask to experience the place they’ve heard so much about.

The lounge, located in a nondescript home in Ohio City, makes classic cocktails using the highest-quality liquors and freshest ingredients. (Pappas notes that the ginger beer in the Moscow Mule is homemade.) “They’re weighing all of the ingredients to the gram, basically,” Irvine says. “So you’re going to get a perfect cocktail every time.” Well-dressed patrons savor their drinks in a sumptuous living-room environment where music is provided by a trio of jazz musicians.

“It’s more of a place for classy people to drink …,” Irvine says. He concedes that, at $18 a cocktail, the Velvet Tango Room isn’t cheap. “You really have to pull it off in order to be able to charge that much. And they really do.”

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