A musical based on a camp cult film about a couple who take up homicide as a money-making diversion (Eating Raoul at the Beck Center) and a wordy Shakespearean romp stripped to its barest essentials (Love's Labours Lost, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival) both turned out to be the surprise feel-good propositions of the year.
This rambling restaurant in Cleveland Heights -- one part Irish pub, one part museum, and another part music showcase -- has a little shrine to James Joyce in the dining room. It's fitting: After all, Nighttown was named after the red-light district in Joyce's Ulysses. Owner Brendan Ring's immense collection of vintage posters, oil paintings, and photographs crowd nearly every inch of available wall space. There's also a funky bar in the back room and an incongruously luxurious women's restroom, which Ring personally ripped out of the former Classics on Euclid Avenue and installed in his own establishment. And let's not forget the menu selections, ranging from common "bangers and mash" (juicy grilled English sausage piled on a bed of mashed potatoes and cabbage) to the la-di-da Dublin Lawyer (sautéed lobster with mushrooms and scallions with Irish whiskey and cream). And finally, there is the live music provided by local talent as well as national artists, ranging from jazz icon Ahmad Jamal to acoustic guitar virtuoso Adrian Legg, seven nights a week. Put them all together, and you get one of the most visually interesting and authentically evocative restaurants around.
With Latin music burning up the charts, Latin clubs are hot, too. Clevelanders are shaking their hips to a salsa and merengue beat at Belinda's, where local bands like Sammi Deleon and his Orchestra, Grupo Fuego, and the Son Alegre Orchestra play on weekends. For those whose dancing is a little rusty, Belinda's offers tango classes every Wednesday night for $5.
What guy hasn't ended up on the doorstep of a nudie bar? Well, if you're gonna go, why not do it with class? That's the attitude of Tiffany's Cabaret downtown. If the pursuit of the near-perfect female body is one of your major aspirations in life, Tiffany's is your place. Make a stop in for the class, but stay for the beautiful women.
In a little corner of the 5 O'Clock Bar, this two-brother act resurrects the spirit of '50s rock, rockabilly, and Elvis in his prime. One guitar, one crooner, a beautifully stripped-down sound, and a passion that makes 40-year-old songs sound dangerous and new.
For decades Bianchi, one of Dobama's founders, has been one of Cleveland's most cherished renaissance men. He has done it all, but then he went into a cocoon period. He emerged triumphantly last year and demonstrated his ability to spread his noble wings among the best. Ensemble Theatre's Mornings at Seven and Dobama's The Drawer Boy, both directed by Bianchi, were the monarch in flight.
Lori Scarlett has specialized for years in portraying neurotic waifs. She mesmerizes audiences with her water-lilylike fragility. Craig Rico recently burst on the Cleveland theater scene like a Roman candle. In three crackling performances, he has made audiences perspire with his natural sex appeal and musical bravado. United, they turned Violet at Cain Park into pure passion.
If the divine mixture of vermouth and gin is your poison, the Mercury Lounge is your watering hole. This downtown lounge has the style and atmosphere of a new wave speakeasy and a bigger martini selection than you can shake an olive at. Just saunter across the hardwood floors, pull up a chair to the gorgeous rosewood bar, and blurt out any type of martini you can think of; the bartender will know how to make it. Black, dirty, cosmopolitan, and a hundred other tasty 'tinis are at your fingertips.
We can hear you Cedar Lee fans arguing already. But the category is best movie theater. And there isn't any doubt in our minds that the googolplex in Valley View is the most luxurious place to kick back and enjoy the best Hollywood has to offer. The imposing yet inviting behemoth has a feeling of grandeur to it, like the movie palaces of the '20s. You never feel cramped in Cinemark Valley View's wide-open spaces, whether you're standing in the short lines for tickets and popcorn or wandering the art-deco halls full of photos of screen idols past. You can eat a full meal at the little café. And best of all are the big, soft seats. Not only do they have cup-holder-crowned armrests that retract for the benefit of oversized people and amorous couples, but they recline.
Being able to enjoy a beautiful summer night under a starry, black sky is what makes Lakewood's Friday Night Flicks so much fun. About a half-dozen times a year, people set up lawn chairs and spread old blankets in front of the big outdoor movie screen at dusk. Little kids run around in the half-darkness chasing fireflies. Everyone else opens their bags of chips and looks around to see who else is there. When it's fully dark, and the movie screen lights up, everyone gets quiet. For two hours, you can get lost in a larger-than-life story.
"Are you the girl who'll play almost anything?" a caller asks a WRUW DJ who's just played Dinosaur Jr. right after Kraftwerk. The caller asks for an old Sheila E. song, and the DJ is happy to oblige. In a city where corporate radio fills the airwaves with mindless repetition, Case Western's radio station is the best of the oases on the left of the dial. You can hear the latest progressive twang on Charlie Saber's alt-country show Tuesday mornings, the best of the '80s on shows like The Spandex Years and Pretty in Pink, and Jamaican music Friday at dinnertime on Night of the Living Dread. Sure, freeform can get obscure and inaccessible, but that doesn't happen too often on WRUW; if you listen every week, the DJs start to remind you of fun, quirky friends as they reliably indulge their peculiar tastes (two hours of the Cure, from 5 a.m. on! Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Movie closing the show every week!). West Side listeners may find the station a little hard to tune in, but that should change when it finally scrapes the money together to boost its wattage.