Best Of 2003

Most local jocks are doing what Howard Stern did 10 years ago, only without the funny parts. Rachel Steele is the exception. The host of Xtreme Most Wanted has an effortless delivery that puts to shame those other idiots, who all try way too hard to be cool and edgy. And Steele's "Guess What I'm Sucking On" game is . . . yes, juvenile, but also strangely erotic. Now, if only the station would move her to the morning show and spare us all that inane patter during our commute.

Rarely does a night club succeed at being both cool and cozy. Zibibbo does. Maybe it's the decor, which could aptly be described as "bright colors colliding," yet comes off as neither garish nor contrived. There's that glass sculpture, that curved black-granite bar, those inviting rouge-red couches. The cocktails are stiff, the cigars are quality. Neither is cheap, but that's OK. You don't go to Zibibbo to chug. You go there to marinate.

Bo Loong

Okay, so it's not the textbook karaoke experience. There may be feedback. The lyrics under the bouncing ball are only approximately correct. And the tempo seems just a bit off at times. But that's what makes Chinatown's Bo Loong a karaoke night out like no other. From their traditional dishes to their karaoke, the proprietors feel no need to indulge Western tastes. There's a wide selection of Chinese songs, and the popular American numbers have mostly been translated. Don't expect to step up onto the stage (and there is one) and come back down a celebrity. But as long as you know how to laugh at yourself, this is karaoke as it ought to be.

Layers of mystery lie just beneath the surface of this rustic, aggressively unpretentious corner bar on Cleveland's near West Side. Start with the decorative motif: How can the Rat Pack poster mingle with the framed Three Stooges photo? If this is the Parkview, where is the park -- or the view? How can a bar tout its live blues bands, even as it advertises the birthday of a regular patron named "Disco Dicky"? Most of all, how has a bar with wood paneling on walls, floor, and ceiling managed to keep from burning down this long? These are matters that require intense study from the barstool and a thorough interrogation of the help. Maybe that's the reason the Parkview has attracted a fiercely devoted following.

This is not the place for '57 Chevys and tacky political banners. The annual parade on University Circle is powered solely by people and their imaginations. It's a vibrant Mardi Gras without booze and boobs, full of local and international artists, street performers, and area residents celebrating the arts with enormous dancing puppets, human-powered floats, and amazing street performances. Afterward, ethnic foods are served up by area restaurants, and free kids' activities are held throughout the day. What, you were hoping for corn dogs and dunking booths?

Heavy-breathing Cobra Verde is enjoying the best year of its career, having won love everywhere from Playboy to The New York Times. The band also released a standout third LP called Easy Listening. All rhythmic hip-shake and guitar bombast, with lusty, literate lyrics, it's one of the finest rock records ever to come from Cleveland.
Let's be real: The best part of world travel is sampling each nation's brew. So leave your passport at home, and slither over to the Winking Lizard. The tour begins in Europe: Visit Belgium for Krullekop Tripel, England for a pint of Boddingtons, and Ireland for some Molings Red Ale. Swing up to Norway for a swig of Aass Bock -- which tastes much better than it sounds -- and cruise to Germany for Celebrator Doppelbock. Hop a continent to land in Japan's own Kirin Ichiban, then dip down under for that Australian staple, Foster's, in the fat 25.4-ounce can. Finally, celebrate your arrival back home with a big bottle of Stone Arrogant Bastard or with the familiar taste of Cleveland's own Great Lakes. You're in for a wicked hangover, but it still beats the hell out of jet lag.

The patrons may not have walrus faces or tentacles, but with theme rooms spanning three decades, Culture Club attracts one hell of a diverse crowd. Hip-hoppers hang in the '90s room, where Eminem mixes with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Over in the jam-packed '80s room, trendy girls wear short lace skirts, and guys dance as if they took notes during Footloose. Of course, the '70s were, like, so five years ago, which makes it sort of the chill room. But each is a holding pen for fashion victims, all of them begging for more.

The patrons may not have walrus faces or tentacles, but with theme rooms spanning three decades, Culture Club attracts one hell of a diverse crowd. Hip-hoppers hang in the '90s room, where Eminem mixes with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Over in the jam-packed '80s room, trendy girls wear short lace skirts, and guys dance as if they took notes during Footloose. Of course, the '70s were, like, so five years ago, which makes it sort of the chill room. But each is a holding pen for fashion victims, all of them begging for more.

When the barmaid tells you they serve most every kind of beer, what she means is "regular," "lite," and that Dutch one. Such are the simple pleasures of the River's Edge, the Flats bastion of classic rock and big honking draft beers, which has refused to change with the times. While the rest of the East Bank reverted from a vibrant party place to the post-industrial wasteland whence it sprang, the River's Edge weathered the changes with unflagging dignity -- and the same decor and crowd. Which, along with those wonderful big damn beers, makes it worthy of anyone's respect.

For a crash course in what makes a great college bar, belly up to Glory Days. The bartenders are beautiful, and they're a big reason why the place was honored by both Playboy and Stuff magazine. Glory Days knows that college kids are by definition poor, so it offers drink specials that keep beers below $2 every night of the week. When the bar moved down the street to a bigger location last spring, it brought in couches -- lending a lounge vibe that's hard to find on the Kent club circuit. And after every KSU basketball and football game, the place is pandemonium. Just as a college bar should be.