Best Of 2012

On View This Week

The Gathering Place

Recovery. Cleveland native and Boston resident Willard Traub displays the photography he took to keep his sense of agency during his ordeal with blood cancer. Silver gelatin images of caretakers, the changing seasons, and a steadfast dog are accompanied by brief reflections in prose and poetry. "I hope people go," says Traub of the exhibition, "especially those afflicted with illness, and realize they can turn around and use some of the strengths they have to help heal themselves." Through September 28 at 23300 Commerce Park, Beachwood. Call 216-595-9546 or go to

Arts Collinwood: Echo. Recent CIA grads Steve Basel and Kyle Dean Todaro use styles inspired by Courbet and Manet to represent modern life. Torado's fractured images graft together slices of dissimilar scenes, where figures undergo different lighting, mood, and tensions. They are meant to invoke the episodic, jittery character of plugged-in postmodern life. Basel's work does not always show subjects alone, but they are always lonely. An opening reception will be held July 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. Through August 5 at 15605 Waterloo Rd. Call 216-692-9500 or go to

The Bonfoey Gallery: Living City. Newly minted Cleveland Arts Prize laureate Garie Waltzer displays photos of international cities taken to investigate the state of contemporary urban life. The crystal-clear, black and white images often take an aerial perspective to give a fair cross-section of a city's topography, architecture, greenery, and people. An opening reception will be held July 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. Through August 25 at 1710 Euclid Ave. Call 216-621-0178 or go to

Clara Fritzsche Library at Notre Dame College: A Natural Point of View. Mardel Sanzotta's light, bright natural scenes aim to charm with their intensely detailed images of expressive animal subjects. An opening reception will be held July 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. Through August 31 at 4545 College Rd. in South Euclid. Call 216-373-5267.

Cleveland Museum of Art: Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties. This comprehensive exhibition examines American art from the end of the Great War to the Great Depression with a focus on the evolving concept of the human form. Adult admission is $15. The exhibit is open through September 16 at 11150 East Blvd. For more information, call 216-421-7350 or go to

Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery: Variations on the Sublime. Del Rey Loven, professor of art at the University of Akron, presents painstakingly constructed acrylic works which combine bars of pure abstraction with swaths of color resembling titanic natural events like storms, the melting of ice caps, or the jutting of mountains. An opening reception will be held July 20 from 5 to 9 p.m. Through September 8 at 1305 West 80th St. Call 216-631-6719 or go to

Kollective Gallery: Smiles Are Free. Top tattoo designer Mitch O'Connell samples and remixes a half-century's worth of trash culture. Pinups, monster movies, and underground comix are just a few of the influences evident in his works, which have been featured everywhere from album covers to the hides of his fans. The exhibit continues through July 31 at 1908 South Taylor Rd. in Cleveland Hts. Call 216-862-0799 or visit

The Morgan Conservatory: A Thousand Stairs. CSU professor Qian Li uses painting, mixed media, and her first endeavors in printmaking to explore the cyclical influence of culture on individual decisions, and vice versa. Also: In-between. Don Lisy mixes and matches paint, charcoal, and pastels with paper, canvas, and wood to create allegorical self-portraits. Their layers of expressive color express a mood rather than representing the circumstances of the emotion's origin. An opening reception will be held July 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. for both exhibits. Through August 26 at 1754 East 47th St. Call 216-361-9255 or go to

Zygote Press: In-Turn: Divided Attentions. Artists selected for their service in keeping up the day-to-day operations of cultural institutions like MOCA, Spaces, CIA, and the Cleveland Clinic's collections display pieces representing the succession of uncertainties which make up many creatives' lives. Through August 11 at 1410 East 30th St. Call 216-621-2900 or go to

Best of Cleveland 2012

Best Club DJ


E-V has been behind some of the best mixtapes to come out of our city during the past few years, including Bitch I'm From Cleveland and a collaboration that resulted in Kid Cudi's Dat Kid From Cleveland. He also backed Mike Posner on tour. But E-V is at his best spinning for weekend crowds at clubs stuffed with hot, sweaty bodies. Best of all, there's never a dead spot in his sets.

Best Arts Event

Tremont Art Walk

For more than a dozen years, more than 20 Tremont businesses open their doors on the second Friday of every month for a stroll that features some of the city's best artists showing off their work. Galleries and shops display (and sell) everything from paintings to jewelry to glasswork. Neighborhood bars and restaurants also get in on the action — and a little lubrication never hurts a neighborhood arts soirée.

Staff Pick: Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios

Best Festival


Last September, 45,000 people stepped inside the Veterans Memorial Bridge to browse video installations, artwork, and take in the music of more than 50 bands. The two-day event has grown every year since its 2004 debut, piling more art, more culture, and more music into its programming along the way. It's also become one of the city's most buzzed-about, can't-miss events, attracting everyone from twentysomething hipsters to old-school arts patrons.

Staff Pick: Hessler Street Fair

Best Cultural Institution & Best Museum

Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is like a history of the world contained in a spacious, newly renovated venue that gives the classic works all the space they need. You could devote a whole day to walking the halls and checking out everything from modern art to a golf-ball-sized gem that used to hang from the neck of an Egyptian princess. Best of all, general admission to the permanent collection is totally free.

11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350,

Staff Picks: Best Cultural Institution: Cleveland Cinematheque; Best Museum: Cleveland Museum of Art

Best Movie Theatre

Cedar Lee Theatre

The Cedar Lee is often the only place in town where you can see the year's best indie movies. It's a welcome break from the monotony and sensory overkill of the multiplex. Best of all, its twice-monthly Late Shift cult-movie series features midnight screenings of everything from The Terminator to Trainspotting.

2163 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights,


Staff Pick: Cinemark Valley View

Best Local Theater Company

Cleveland Public Theatre

In the past year alone, this troupe of hardworking pros has staged everything from a one-woman show about being a black mother, wife, and artist in America to a full-cast production of a play that ties together slave plantations, the Holocaust, and homosexuality (!). And every single one rings with deep care for the material. No one in town puts more time into making you think as they're entertaining you.

Staff Pick: Cleveland Public Theatre


Best Stage Production


As long as people like sex, drugs, and hippie music, the 1967 musical about sex, drugs, and hippies will never go out of style. This Tony-winning production was a hit at the Palace Theatre in January. The onstage nudity might have had a little something to do with that.

Staff Pick: The Life of Galileo

Best Place to See a Stage Show

Playhouse Square

This historical theater complex features nine distinct venues presenting everything from big touring stage productions and concerts to lectures and comedy shows. No wonder it's the country's largest performing arts center outside of N.Y.C. The area is always bustling with activity, and something's going on every night of the week.

1501 Euclid Ave., 216-771-4444,

Staff Pick: Playhouse Square

Best Actor

Dana Hart

Hart's virtuoso performance as a washed-up Irish theater critic in Ensemble Theatre's production of Conor McPherson's one-man play St. Nicholas had people talking late last year. It's never easy for a lone actor to carry a play all by himself — especially one that runs almost two hours. But Hart's performance had us glued to our seats every single minute.

Staff Pick: Scott Plate

Best Actress

Dorothy Silver

The 82-year-old acting legend has more energy, ambition, and spirit than a lot of people a quarter of her age. She celebrated her 56th year on the Cleveland stage last year by trying something new: a musical, as part of Fairmount Center for the Arts' production of A Little Night Music. And she nailed her role as the host of a romantic weekend getaway, hitting all the right notes.

Staff Pick: Heather Anderson Boll

Best Director

Raymond Bobgan

As executive artistic director at Cleveland Public Theatre, Bobgan decides what plays you'll see each season. And as one of the city's most prolific directors, he's brought a sharp sense of drama to some of the city's best stage productions. He just wrapped a sneak peek of his most recent work — Rusted Heart Broadcast, a multimedia piece that he also wrote — which is scheduled for the 2012-'13 season.

Staff Pick: Michael Douglas Edwards

Best Tour or Cruise

Goodtime III

The city's largest pleasure ship has been taking folks up and down the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie since 1958. The boat's four decks guarantee plenty of elbow room — even when it's filled to 1,000-passenger capacity — for gawking at Cleveland's prettiest sights, man-made and otherwise. Best of all, you'll feel all Thurston Howell-like as you drift by commoners with a drink in your hand during your three-hour tour.

825 East Ninth St., 216-861-5110,

Staff Pick: The Nautica Queen


Best Original Band


This pop-rock-alt-hip-hop quintet caught its big break last year when it scored a spot on the Cleveland mix of former Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump's hit single "This City." The party-all-the-time vibe propels the band's Rock N Roll Vol. 1, a mixtape that's available as a free download on their website. There's also plenty of fist-in-the-air guitar anthems featuring '80s synths and cowbell.

Staff Pick: Mr. Gnome

Best Art Gallery


Spaces has been supporting Cleveland's young and experimental artists for almost 35 years now, featuring everything from room-hogging sculptures to field recordings assembled into sound collages. Its support for up-and-coming artists over the years has inspired hundreds of art students to dismiss their notions of what "art" should look like and to follow their hearts instead.

2220 Superior Viaduct,


Staff Pick: 1point618 Gallery

Best VIP Room

House of Blues' Foundation Room

Far above the huddled-mass confines of the club below, there's a place custom-made for the special people, where there are comfy couches, TVs, a fireplace, and never a line at the private bar. Best of all, once a concert starts, you have your very own balcony view of the action — all the better to rock to your favorite band without those constant elbows to the ribs. Or maybe that's just us.

308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583,

Staff Pick: The Velvet Tango Room


Best Singer

Leah Lou

Like Taylor Swift, willowy singer-songwriter Leah Lou writes and sings about what dicks guys can be. But instead of wallowing in grief, Lou chooses to move on, singing about her clean apartment and recalling all the shitty things her ex did (like puking on her shoes). The music she makes with her band the 2 Left Shoes is spare and folksy, with her cheery voice guiding the way.

Staff Pick: Kira Leyden

Best Musician

Brent Kirby

Kirby's a busy guy. When he isn't doing the singer-songwriter thing with his rootsy original songs or leading his band the Lost Fortunes, he plays Stonesy-style alt-country with the Jack Fords, Gram Parsons covers with the New Soft Shoe, and Christmas songs with the Ohio City Singers. All that playing out has made him one of Cleveland's most versatile and prolific musicians.

Staff Pick: Neil Zaza

Best Cover Band

Tricky Dick and the Cover-Ups

When you're out drinking with your friends and checking out that hot boy/girl across the club, you don't want the cover band onstage throwing too many surprises at you. These four guys stick with the hits you want to hear, playing everything from Neil Diamond's drunken sing-along "Sweet Caroline" to LMFAO's horndog anthem "Sexy and I Know It." And they do it all with chops and winks.

Staff Pick: Motorhead USA

Best Song

"Cliff Diver"

Cleveland alt-rockers Via the Sun's massive anthem packs a solid rock crunch that's all about the head nod and fist pump. The quintet's debut album, Theatrics, is filled with songs that reach for the cheap seats. "Cliff Diver" is the highlight, a scorching mid-tempo rocker that buzzes around furiously inside your head.

Staff Pick: "Wild Boy" (Machine Gun Kelly)

Best Album

City of Curses

On their debut album, the Missing channel a couple decades' worth of music that Clevelanders like best: clobbering punk, face-slapping hardcore, blustery metal, and straight-up rock & roll. Most of the songs on City of Curses fire from the start, recklessly spraying piercing guitars, rolling drums, and throat-shredding vocals. It's all so positively Cleveland.

Staff Pick: Attack on Memory (Cloud Nothings)

Best Jukebox

Now That's Class

No surprise that a club that prides itself on fast, loud, and noise-strewn music would have a jukebox loaded with old-school punk songs by the Dead Kennedys, Flipper, and MDK. What is surprising is how great all those songs sound when you're sitting at the bar sipping a cool one and talking to the person sitting next to you about how much mainstream music blows.

11213 Detroit Ave., 216-221-8576,

Staff Pick: Prosperity Social Club

Best Record Label

Ghost Laboratories

This Cleveland-based label, studio, and production company headed by the Missing's Christopher Marinin was formed six years ago. Since then, it's released a handful of records by alternative trio Cantankerous Dingos, noisy punks the Snotrockets, and Marinin's own various projects. Last year's Ghost Laboratories Records Arcade Volume 3 compilation featured more than two dozen songs by some of Cleveland's most abrasive bands.

Staff Pick: Heads Up International


Best Artist or Craftsman

Bob Peck

Graffiti-inspired artist Bob Peck has been showing off his colorful pieces in local galleries for a decade. His loopy lines and rainbow-bright artwork can be found everywhere from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Melt Bar & Grilled. Peck makes street art that would look great on your living-room wall.

Staff Pick: Judith Brandon

Best Bar or Club

The Beachland

Between the bigger, roomier Ballroom and the more intimate Tavern, the Beachland is Cleveland's best venue for all sorts of music that's played on guitars — from indie rock to Americana to garage bands to singer-songwriter stuff. It's a great place to catch artists on the rise too. Best of all, there isn't a bad seat in the house.

15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124,

Staff Pick: B Side Liquor Lounge

Best Dance Club

Velvet Dog

Three massive floors of dance-music action means you'll be busting a move all night long, whether it's to a Katy Perry remix or that new Flo Rida jam. And because it's right in the heart of the bustling Warehouse District, there's no reason for you to be dancing by yourself ... unless that's your thing, of course.

1280 West Sixth St., 216-664-1116,

Staff Pick: >Bounce

Best Bar for Hooking Up

Barley House

All the local celebs and sports giants know where the action is: at this popular hotspot, where the servers' skirts are as short as the beer list is long. Even with many of the famous people shuffling off to the back room, there's still plenty of pretty people out front waiting to catch your eye ... maybe even your number.

1265 West Sixth St., 216-623-1700,

Staff Pick: Barley House

Best Rock Club

Grog Shop

Indie rock and all of its various shades get major respect at the Grog. And it doesn't matter what size band you are: Buzzing music-blog faves get as much love as a local band showcasing songs from their new album. It can get a little packed in there at popular shows, but bumping elbows and spilling beers is what being an indie-rock fan is all about.

2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588,

Staff Pick: The Beachland

Best Jazz Club


Besides boasting the best-sounding live music room in all of Cleveland, Nighttown is also one of the few places in the entire nation that still treats aging jazz legends like the icons they are. But it's not just about the old-school here; plenty of young jazz stars stop in on their way up the ladder.

12387 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights,


Staff Pick: Nighttown

Best Blues Club

Brothers Lounge

Although it recently altered its music menu, Brothers — which has been on the scene for some 53 years — still serves up the blues on a weekly basis. You'll hear local and national guys playing all variations, from Chicago to Delta to that type of blues you hear weekend warriors play in working-class bars. Only problem: It's hard to actually get the blues when you're hanging out at Brothers.

11609 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2767,

Staff Pick: House of Swing

Best Hip-Hop Club


Like any hip-hop club worth its ass-rattling sound system, Fortress is open only on Friday and Saturday nights. The DJs — K NYCE on Fridays, Kosher Kuts on Saturdays ­— spin all the latest rap hits, as well as your favorite club jams and some old-school R&B. Everyone from Ne-Yo to Josh Cribbs to Keyshia Cole has dropped by for star-studded parties straight out of a Diddy video.

1360 West Ninth St., 216-298-4448,

Staff Pick: Fortress


Best Club for Underground Sounds

Grog Shop

Indie bands come in all shapes and colors at this popular Coventry club. There's something going on every night of the week, whether it's a CD-release show by local indie-pop group Bears, a performance by indie-rock heroes Cursive, or something in between, like a concert featuring buzzworthy Clevelanders Cloud Nothings.

2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588,

Staff Pick: Now That's Class

Best Comedy Club


Found inside the Pickwick & Frolic complex, this roomy club shines a spotlight on comedy legends (like Saturday Night Live vets) as well as hilarious up-and-comers (those guys you see on Comedy Central at 4 a.m.). The mood is always festive at Hilarities, even when one of the smart-ass funny guys decides he's going to pick on you all night. You had it coming anyway.

2035 East Fourth St., 216-736-4242,

Staff Pick: The Improv

Best Gentlemen's Club

Christie's Cabaret

We get it: You love your girlfriend, she's the best in the world, blah blah blah. But sometimes you just need to see another woman naked. And if that's the case, you might as well cozy up to the place where the hottest ladies in town ply their trade. Besides, Cleveland's best and classiest gentlemen's club is really no different than one of those luxurious steakhouses you'd spend a night at with your buddies. That's the line we're sticking with anyway.

1180 Main Ave., 216-574-6222,

Staff Pick: Christie's Cabaret

Best Gay-Lesbian Bar

Bounce Night Club

Get ready to bust a move — and maybe hook up — at this wildly popular club, where DJs spin the freshest dance tracks for the throbbing masses. And if you have two left feet and would rather not let everyone else in the club know it, you can take in one of Bounce's famous drag shows, among the best in town.

2814 Detroit Ave., 216-357-2997

Staff Pick: Bounce Night Club

Best Sports Bar

The Winking Lizard

No matter where you turn inside any of the many Winking Lizards around town, you'll find giant televisions on the wall beaming everything from March Madness festivities to weekly football grudge matches to leisurely Tribe games. (There's even soccer for fans of socialist pastimes.) The Lizard also boasts one of the largest beer selections in all of Cleveland, so you can choose the perfect brew to suit your mood.

Various locations,

Staff Pick: Harpo's Sports Café


Best Hipster Bar

Happy Dog

It's easy to forget — with all the cooler-than-you'll-ever-be dudes sipping PBRs and listening to the indie rockers plugged in upfront — that this popular Gordon Square bar used to be the only place in town where you could get a hot dog with jelly beans on it (take that, Mom). You can still dress your dog dozens of different ways here, but now you won't look like the only bearded dork in the room when you order it.

5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474,

Staff Pick: ABC Tavern

Best Karaoke Bar

Tina's Nite Club

The best thing about Tina's is that you don't have to wait till the weekend to break out your best Eddie Vedder. There's karaoke here every single night, and the playlist ranges from oldies to classic rock to country to Top 40. Best of all, nobody judges your voice at Tina's, not even if you sound like that one girl on YouTube who massacred Christina Aguilera.

5400 Herman Ave., 216-651-8057

Staff Pick: Edison's Pub

Best Martini Bar

Velvet Tango Room

Stepping into the Velvet Tango Room is like stepping into a private swingin' club from the early '60s — you know, the kind where Frank and Dino used to chase leggy dames. The Tango Room is a classy joint, and the drinks here are of the classic-cocktail variety — especially the martinis, which come shaken, stirred, and in a dozen different tasty varieties. Ring-a-ding-ding, baby!

2095 Columbus Rd., 216-241-8869,

Staff Pick: Chocolate Bar

Best Neighborhood Bar

Prosperity Social Club

Nestled in the Tremont neighborhood and graced with a pool table, an old-school bowling machine, and one of the coziest patios in Cleveland, Prosperity is the sort of place where the food is tasty, the drinks are cold, and the company is friendly. Bonus points for the live music and friendly bartenders.

1109 Starkweather Ave.,


Staff Pick: Eddy & Iggy's

Best Dive Bar

Dive Bar

Like anyone else had a chance of winning. This popular Warehouse District hangout doesn't offer much in the way of amenities, but there's plenty of reasons to stop in for a few. The crowd skews young — especially on weekends, when DJs spin pretty much whatever the hell you want to hear. And there's skee-ball, one of the all-time greatest drunken pastimes. Plus, you can't beat their cheap prices at happy hour.

1214 West Sixth St., 216-621-7827,

Staff Pick: Corky's Place

Best Drag Performer

Veranda L'Ni

Veranda has got the perfect body for her gig: long legs, angular face, and a lanky frame that says she's all about having fun. Whether she's dressing up like Elvira, a socialite, or a prom queen, her performances always let you know she's in on the joke. Now that's entertainment.

Staff Pick: Mandy Merlot

Best New Bar or Club

Drop Bar

The Mercury Lounge always stood out among the long stretch of bars that line the Warehouse District, and Drop Bar continues to offer a breather from the usual crowds that congregate in the area on weekends. The music is a little more chill, and the vibe is a little more upscale. Plus, despite competition from all corners, it's still one of the best-looking clubs in town.

1392 West Sixth St., 216-862-3314,

Staff Pick: Drop Bar

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