May 12, 2014 Slideshows

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15 of the Best Bars and Clubs in Cleveland, As Determined By You 

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Cleveland has more single people than just about any city in America, which means a lot of us are looking for love, or simply someone to put down their phone for a second and actually talk to us. And sometimes not even that much. The Barley House, readers say, is ground zero for meeting that special companion. You really can't go wrong by sidling up to the bar and starting with some liquid courage. And the music ain't bad either. You can talk about that and bob along. The West Sixth hot spot draws gaggles of girls and guys, all basically wanting the same thing, and it's easier to do these things in crowds. Someone knows someone who can introduce you, and dinner's right there at the ready if you get paired off. If not, there's probably a DJ set or a bottle service table to keep things moving until everything becomes hazy enough where you somehow appear charming.

1261 West Sixth St., 216-623-1700, barleyhousecleveland.com.

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There always seems to be somewhere new to go these days — some new joint that has popped up in the latest, trendiest neighborhood. But readers hold a soft spot in their heart for Liquid, which has been a nightlife mecca for 19 years. Brent Lewanski, who also owns Westpark Station, McCarthy's in the Flats and Avenue Taphouse, is more than an entertainer — he's a West Sixth ambassador and has fought to keep the Warehouse District safe and fun for everyone. "West Sixth Street has had its ups and downs," he told us last summer, "but there are so many positive things happening in Cleveland that are based around that area. I think the street represents the city in many ways." We couldn't agree more. Liquid packs 'em in with the hottest DJs and best dance music around, and once the friendly staff is done taking care of you, they take care of their own on Sundays. SIN night is that chance for the city's bartenders and waiters to finally enjoy their weekend, and Liquid's Sunday evening deals give them a chance to enjoy the scenery from the other side of the bar. Stop by for one of the DJ sets, comedy on Mondays, or Taco Thursdays (yes, Taco Thursdays).

1212 West Sixth St., 216-479-7717, liquidcleveland.com.

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The epicenter of the Cleveland social scene these days can be found on West 25th Street in one of its newest additions. In less than a year, Townhall has quickly become the place to see and be seen around town, whether you're a twentysomething hipster or middle-aged professional. Thanks to the urban cafe's sophisticated drink menu and other-wordly atmosphere (it's hard not to feel like you're in Miami, not Cleveland), the massive melting pot of Cleveland drinkers has become a staple on the socialite's weekend to-do list. You simply must go there, say the readers, and they're packing the place every night. With a decadent array of cocktails (we like the Amethyst- Ciroc peach or Oyo stone fruit, plus beets, pineapple, lemongrass and honey), an expansive craft beer selection and a list of whiskeys that'll make you swoon, you may just find yourself kicking it on Townhall's lovely outdoor patio 'til tomorrow's brunch service, which, by the way, is top notch.

1909 West 25th St., 216-344-9400, townhallohiocity.com.

Photo via Cleveland Scene Archives
Cleveland is a shot and a beer town and the Harbor Inn has been slinging those for over a hundred years — it's the oldest continuously operating bar in Cleveland, don't you know. Four decades ago, Wally Pisorn bought the place and, well, didn't do much to change it. The Harbor is still a melting pot that pulls from every demographic in the city. From the few remaining dock workers who pull up a barstool when you're having breakfast to the twentysomething crowd that comes pouring in before concerts or games, Wally's World is our world. In a city known for its affordable booze, the Harbor Inn is comparatively cheap, which basically means drinking is essentially free. It's a Bar's Bar. Plus, where else will you find a pick-a-prize machine in Cleveland?

1219 Main Ave., 216-241-3232.

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Bounce has been the LGBT mainstay outlet of adventure and partying for years now, and folks keep coming back because no one does it better. From Top 40 dance hits and pulsing strobe lights to leather, mesh and any other fetish you can dream of, Bounce is welcoming and encouraging. The weekend drag shows are just one of the popular reasons people flock to the Detroit Avenue club, but the comfy sofas lining the lounge and the raised dance floor mean there's something for you here, whether you're on the market for a pal or a straight hanging out with friends for the night. Bounce attracts everyone — everyone — and that's just about the best compliment a bar of any kind can hope to receive.

2814 Detroit Ave., 216-357-2997, bouncecleveland.com.

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A local poet and musician who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a few years back, Daniel Gray-Kontar wanted to start up a monthly hip-hop night after he returned to Cleveland in 2013. In the '00s, the Rhythm Room was the go-to place for rap and hip-hop acts. But it hasn't been open for years. So Gray-Kontar approached the folks at Touch Supper Club, one of the best places in town to hear cutting edge electronic dance music, and launched Sanctuary Cleveland, a showcase for local and national hip-hop acts. It takes place the first Saturday of every month and locals Gray-Kontar, Kinetik, Red-I and Eso regularly spin downstairs while veteran local DJ Mike Filly provides the "soundscape" for the first floor. Touch is also home to I Got 5 On It, the popular old school hip-hop night that is the best excuse not involving a wedding to get on the dance floor.

2710 Lorain Ave., 216-631-5200, touchohiocity.com.

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With a steady cast of gorgeous dancers and a long list of temporary attractions — they've hosted porn star Emily Austin and "world famous" Chelsea Charms (the proud owner of "the world's biggest augmented breasts") so far in April — Scene readers chose Christie's as the best place to go for naked women and alcohol. The club in the Flats boasts it's "the finest east of the Mississippi River," highlighting their "VIP Champagne Suites" with fireplaces, plasma TVs, karaoke and XBox systems (because people love playing video games at strip clubs). For the gentleman who desires a little female company, for the bachelor party sect and for the out-of-towners who can't stand one more night in an empty, lonely hotel room, Christie's is the high-class strip joint that'll make you feel at home (and other things.)

1180 Main Ave., 216-574-6222, christiescabaret.com.

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Thursday nights at Brothers Lounge are when the Bad Boys of Blues take over, throwing down a mean set as the house band and then opening up the stage to musicians of all ilk until the wee hours of the morning. Simply put, this jam melts faces. And the rest of the week features top-tier music, as well. Other mainstays include Brent Kirby's awesome 10x3 events on Wednesday nights in the wine bar, Mojo Big Band and Velvet Voyage setting up on the venue's two stages on Monday nights, and a host of local blues titans throughout the weekend. The food is excellent too. And as guitarist Michael Bay is keen to remind you, the beer is cold. Have a whole bunch and tip your server well.

11609 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2767, brotherslounge.com.

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Happy Dog won these two categories last year, so it's no surprise the Detroit Shoreway concert club and restaurant takes top honors again this year. The place has a cool vintage look and its band-friendly approach (acts play for the door money) makes it an attractive venue for up-and-coming local and national indie rock bands. The club also hosts a monthly classical music jam night and a variety of lecture series with local intellects and writers. Last year, the Cleveland Orchestra launched a residency program that included performances at the Happy Dog and at other venues in the Gordon Square Arts District. Happy Dog owner Sean Watterson was the catalyst that helped make the event happen. The guy is clued in to the local music and arts scene and has the ability to bring together artists and intellectuals from a range of disciplines. And, of course, the $5 dogs with limitless toppings are scrumptious.

5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474, happydogcleveland.com.

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In terms of comedy clubs, no one really holds a candle to Pickwick & Frolic. Their prime location on East Fourth Street in the heart of one of downtown's hottest social districts is a serious leg up, but it's the consistently stellar programming — Jon Lovitz, Kevin Pollak and Dave Attell are all headlining at Hilarities in June alone — that makes this one of the best and most unique restaurants and comedy clubs in the city. With multiple theaters and bars on its kickass comedy campus, Pickwick is perfect for a date night or even a nightcap after a Cavs or Indians game — and you'll certainly need the laughs after the tragedies you're likely to endure witnessing Cleveland sports. Go for the laughs. Stay for the laughs. Then go again for the laughs.

2035 East Fourth St., 216-241-7425, pickwickandfrolic.com.

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Take your pipes from the privacy of your car or shower into public — no one cares how bad you sound anyway. Half the fun of karaoke is knowing how badly you're going to do justice to the latest Lady Gaga track or Free Bird or some obscure cut from the '70s that will leave the room in bewildered silence and confusion. We're all in this together. Readers love the weekly Sunday karaoke night at the Flying Monkey in Tremont. It's a friendly atmosphere, the song list is deep and eclectic, and once you're properly liquored up with liquid bravery, it's the perfect stage for your amateur crooning. Stop by and you will probably catch some local luminaries belting out the hits, including Sunny Ting, chef and co-owner of Ty Fun next door. (He likes Broadway tunes, just so you know.)

819 Jefferson Ave., 216-681-6659, flyingmonkeypub.com.

Photo via Cleveland Scene Archives
Porco Lounge & Tiki Room is on West 25th Street, but not the main strip. It's far enough south that it considers itself part of the Tremont neighborhood. But it's close enough to both Oho City's and Tremont's most popular haunts to make it a walkable destination for both, and though it still seems off the beaten path, it's a diamond in the rough. The building was the former home of Cranky's, a biker bar, and a small concert club, and the new decor is like something out of a Hawaiian beach nightclub — bamboo sticks and coconuts and beads and lots of exposed wood. The tiki cocktails are authentic and well worth it, the kind of drinks you would have found at tiki lounges during their heyday in Cleveland decades ago. They actually steam as they're made — and these drinks aren't made; they're concocted — and each have probably a couple shots worth of booze in them. Suckers are strong. Not much in the way of food selection as of yet, but enough atmosphere for miles. Bring your hula skirt and check it out!

2527 West 25th St., 216-802-9222, porcolounge.com

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What was once sort of an open secret around town has now become a full-on Cleveland landmark. The Velvet Tango Room remains the gold standard of martini joints in our city. Though, like all excellent holes in the wall, this one has started to blow up in recent years. There are some around town who even consider this place passe. It's donezo, they'll tell ya. Meh, popular trends in Cleveland are pretty boring; we'll stick with the solid fact that this place serves up dynamite drinks that are tough to beat anywhere else. And Paulius Nasvytis began all these trends back when he opened the club in 1996, so we'll stick with the original. The price points are often pretty brutal, particularly for alt-weekly writers aching for strong drink, but the ends justify the means tenfold. We'll take a round of perfect Manhattans, thank ye kindly; put it on the Plain Dealer's tab.

2095 Columbus Rd., 216-241-8869, velvettangoroom.com.

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For 10 years in a row, Downbeat magazine has voted this Cleveland Heights restaurant and club one of the best jazz clubs in the country, and it certainly lives up to the rep on a regular basis. Booked by locally based Jim Wadsworth Productions, the club regularly brings major jazz and world beat acts to town. When Motown icon Stevie Wonder was in town in 2010 to receive an honorary doctorate from Oberlin College, he stopped at Nighttown to play an impromptu set. Jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter might be better suited to play some of the rock clubs in town, but he prefers Nighttown and has even debuted new music at the place. On occasion, singer-songwriters such as Carrie Rodriguez and J.J. Cale will play the club too.

12387 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-795-0550, nighttowncleveland.com.

Photo via Cleveland Scene Archives
Prior to opening the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Collinwood some 14 years ago, co-owner Mark Leddy played organ with retro rockers Satan's Satellites and booked garage and punk bands at Pat's in the Flats. Co-owner Cindy Barber worked as a journalist (she was editor at Cleveland Free Times for six years and started there as assistant publisher in 1992). Diehard music fans, they turned their dream of running a club into a reality when they purchased the old Croatian dancehall and turned it into a music hotspot. Over the years, the club has catered to national and local acts. Bands like the White Stripes played the Tavern before graduating to bigger venues. The garage-blues duo the Black Keys played their first-ever show in the club's tavern. With its two rooms (the 500-capacity ballroom and the smaller tavern), the club has the ability to have two shows a night. And because Leddy and Barber have such eclectic taste in music, they book a great mix of music that puts the Beachland on par with some of the best clubs in the country.

15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124, beachlandballroom.com.

6/15
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A local poet and musician who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a few years back, Daniel Gray-Kontar wanted to start up a monthly hip-hop night after he returned to Cleveland in 2013. In the '00s, the Rhythm Room was the go-to place for rap and hip-hop acts. But it hasn't been open for years. So Gray-Kontar approached the folks at Touch Supper Club, one of the best places in town to hear cutting edge electronic dance music, and launched Sanctuary Cleveland, a showcase for local and national hip-hop acts. It takes place the first Saturday of every month and locals Gray-Kontar, Kinetik, Red-I and Eso regularly spin downstairs while veteran local DJ Mike Filly provides the "soundscape" for the first floor. Touch is also home to I Got 5 On It, the popular old school hip-hop night that is the best excuse not involving a wedding to get on the dance floor.

2710 Lorain Ave., 216-631-5200, touchohiocity.com.

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