Rubber City Revival
From boutiques to studio galleries to restaurants — artists, artisans and chefs are reinventing downtown Akron.
Take Lock 3 for instance. The outdoor venue located in the heart of downtown serves as a spot for concerts, food festivals and social gatherings during warm weather. But every winter for the past 10 years, it’s also been transformed into Ohio’s largest seasonal ice-skating rink. (The site also has a 150-foot long sledding hill.) “It attracts people to come downtown and see that it’s not the way they remember it,” says Tish Jernigan, the city’s downtown operations manager. Over the past several years, there’s also been a rise in new art galleries, studio spaces and dining options that make the city a destination for artistic and culinary inspiration. Here are 10 spots to get you started.
Akron Art Museum
Visitors first encounter a three-story lobby built with 163 tons of steel and glass. It not only connects the museum’s spaces but also serves as a sort of indoor piazza for the city. “People look at a museum in respects of not only being able to experience great art and events, but it’s also a place to come and have an overall cultural experience,” says executive director and CEO Mark Masuoka. In addition to Diana Al-Hadid’s 13-foot-high installation depicting the relationship between construction and architectural ruin, 80 contemporary prints from the Smithsonian American Art Museum will be on display until March 16, 2014, showcasing the work of artists such as Chuck Close, Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha. 1 S. High St., 330/376-9186, akronartmuseum.org. Call for hours and ticket prices.
Danny Basone will tell you that turning his former indie music venue into the home of Akron’s largest selection of craft beer and gourmet grilled cheese was one of the best things that ever happened to downtown dining. “We’re not a cookie-cutter chain restaurant,” he says. “We’re fresh, we’re hip, we’re a small restaurant giving you a big-city vibe.” The menu is stacked with 13 grilled cheese sandwiches, ranging from the Number 3 ($7.50), a combination of pepper jack cheese and sautéed jalapenos on a three cheese miche, to the Number 12 ($7), a hearty helping of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and American cheese squeezed between two pieces of Texas Toast and served with a side of bourbon gravy. 207 S. Main St., 330/252-5128, thelockview.com. Call for hours.
Akron Glass Works
This studio has been blurring the line between guest and artist for the past eight years by inviting visitors to learn the art of glass blowing alongside owner and operator Jack Baker. In addition to free demonstrations every Saturday from 6–9 p.m., guests can register for a two-hour weekend workshop during which they work one on one with Baker to create glass ornaments, bowls and other home decor items using the studio’s 2,200-degree furnace. “I get joy out of the joy that they get,” says Baker. “Because when they’re done making something, they’re just crazed.” 106 N. Main St., 330/253-5888, akronglassworks.com. Call for workshop information and pricing.
Allie M. Designs Studio & Gallery
Allie Jackson’s boutique will inspire you to embrace your inner optimist and live a charmed life. After getting her start crafting and selling jewelry and accessories on Etsy, Jackson opened her boutique in June to create a place where her customers could come in and custom create their own charm bracelets and bangles and also browse a selection of screen-printed t-shirts and women’s apparel. “People really like inspirational pieces,” says Jackson. Representing faith and change, the mustard seed is one of 12 different herb charms Jackson offers and is among her most popular. She says she sells at least one every day online, and each is created in the studio behind her boutique. 30 N. High St., 330/760-1240, alliem.com
Zeber-Martell Clay Studio & Art Gallery
Twenty-five years ago, Michael Martell and Claudia Zeber-Martell sought out a warehouse on the north side of downtown to collaborate and create functional art pieces out of clay. He was a potter, a laid back mud–and-earth kind of guy. She was a painter, reliant on the wild nature of color. The result was a vibrant gallery that showcases their work and that of eight other nationally known guest artists that make dinnerware, table settings, decorative pieces and home furnishings. “We incorporate a lot of color because we feel that color is an important element in people’s lives,” says Michael. “There’s an ongoing reaction to the work, and I think that’s what makes it comfortable to live around.” 43 Furnace St., 330/253-3808, zeber-martell.com
This spot has been serving up authentic homemade Italian cuisine for more than 60 years. Everything is made fresh — from the sausage that’s cased on-site to the semi-sweet sauce and the crisp and airy dough that goes into every pizza.
Luigi’s approach and longevity has given it celebrity status, and the red brick walls near the entrance are covered with signed photos of celebrities who’ve dined in the restaurant, ranging from Elizabeth Taylor to Bob Costas. “I’ve had people come in here and say they haven’t been here for 25 years, and the place looks the same, smells the same when they walk in the door,” says owner Tony Ciriello. “Nothing’s changed.” 105 N. Main St., 330/253-2999, luigisrestaurant.com
This boutique, located in the Shoppes at Akron Center, pulls from several designers across the country to offer an eclectic collection of contemporary women’s clothing. Vintage-inspired dresses, cardigans, handbags, scarves, hats, and bath and body lines share space with locally made accessories. “We’re focused on providing pieces of clothing that really fit women well and complement all body types easily,” says 27-year-old store owner Lauren Ward. The store also hosts social gatherings such as seasonal fashion shows, wine-and-shop events and book signings. This winter, the boutique will carry a new line of screen-printed women’s tees from Geneologie Originals, an Americana-inspired startup company based in South Carolina. 76 South Main St., 330/451-6686, zelionoto.com
Hazel Tree Interiors
Local artists and home-decor artisans make nearly everything carried in this store out of reclaimed and recycled materials. “I hope people realize just how much of the things that surround us on a daily basis can be locally made, are locally made, and how talented these local artists are,” says co-owner Karen Starr. Every December, Hazel Tree has a large line of Unconventional Christmas Trees for sale in addition to its collection of coffee tables, wall hangings and art pieces. Each tree is smaller than 36 inches, and last year’s display saw trees made out of recycled glass, Scrabble tiles and bike chains. 143 W. Market St., 330/761-3100, hazeltreeinteriors.com
If you’re looking to dine like a rock star for an evening, you’ll want to check out chef Dante Boccuzzi’s spot. Forty percent of the offerings are vegetarian, the menus are presented on the back of album sleeves and the modern American cuisine is sinfully indulgent. “The cuisine is modern in the sense that we’re always changing the techniques and flavor combinations,” says Boccuzzi, a Michelin-star rated chef. For instance, the Hong Kong Style Mussels ($12 for half, $22 for full) are braised with soy, crab and chili spices but will also be available in Creole and French styles in the near future. There’s one dish that never changes: Green Spaghetti ($6 for half, $18 for full), served with braised spinach, fire-poached garlic shrimp, and topped with a toasted and breaded cheese crumble. 21 Furnace St., 330-375-5050, restaurantdante.us
Don Drumm Studios & Gallery
More than 500 North American artisans are represented at Don Drumm Studios & Gallery. The 5,000-square-foot space is filled from floor to ceiling with mirrors, sculptures, curios and collector’s items. “Today, the fine arts and the craft movement is so interwoven, people like myself do functional things and aesthetic things,” says Drumm, the 78-year-old artist known for pioneering the use of aluminum and pewter in his works. Since its opening in 1971, his gallery has expanded into two buildings, strategically connected by a courtyard of wind chimes, where visitors can find something for every budget and get lost in a vast collection of metalwork, ceramics and vintage toys. 437 Crouse St., 330/253-6268, dondrummstudios.com