Best Of 2012

Best of Cleveland 2012

Best Reason to Love Cleveland

The People

When people from vainer places speak of Midwestern friendliness, it's the template molded right here that they're referring to. True enough, sometimes it takes a visitor to our shores to notice such things, but our region's greatest asset just might not be our lake or our location. It might be the strangers who treat you like friends and the passersby who greet you with a smile for no other reason than that's what we do. Call it a microcosm of the Golden Rule that's in effect here daily, or just call it a damn fine place to spend your life.

Staff Pick: Good Things Come Cheap Here

Best Reason to Come Downtown

Playhouse Square

A jewel in Cleveland's crown since its construction in the early 1920s, Playhouse Square has also spent more than its share of years fighting off vestiges of urban decay that gradually creeped closer to the city center. These days, the theaters stand as an enduring reminder of Cleveland's architectural splendor and its equally rich arts community. The Cleveland Play House's recent slide down Euclid and into the gloriously restored Allen Theatre is but the latest in a long series of improvements that make the district as inviting — and as regal — as any across the land.

1501 Euclid Ave., 216-771-4444,

Staff Pick: East Fourth Street

Best Twitterer


Like his 100.7 co-host Chad Zumock (who racked up his own load of votes in this category), afternoon funnyman Alan Cox takes his one-liner act 24/7 with his active Twitter presence. Whether putting out contest details for the show or casually riffing on current events, Cox goes at 140 characters with characteristic wit. And unlike some radio personalities who can't get enough of their own voice but ignore fans as if they were required to, Cox doesn't shy away from a little interaction.

Staff Pick: @dlayphoto

Best Reason to Visit the West Side & Best Bargain in Town

The West Side Market

As one of the city's most enduring landmarks celebrates its centennial, it's only fitting that it be honored for old-school prices that match its Old World ambiance. No place but the West Side Market so fully embraces our region's melting pot of cultures and their varied gustatory delights, from its butchers to its fruit stands, and from its breads to its brie. Beginning soon, look for news about a months-long celebration of the market's first 100 years and its dozens of wonderful vendors.

1979 West 25th St., 216-664-3387,

Staff Picks: Best Reason to Visit the West Side: Huntington Beach Best Bargain in Town: Jamie's Flea Market

Best Reason to Visit the East Side

Coventry Village

Our bohemian ground zero has seen its share of change over the years, but it's just now hitting its stride like never before. Still a haven for offbeat merchants and quirky shops, the street has cultivated a fantastic blend of homegrown and outside enterprises in recent years. The result is a district teeming with energy day and night, drawing crowds that span the circle of life.


Staff Pick: University Circle


Best Bartender

Rob Turek

Little wonder that the best bartender in town would hail from the hottest spot going: Barley House in the Warehouse District. That's where veteran mixologist Rob "Flair" Turek slings the suds and then some, and where appreciative partiers have taken notice. Why "Flair"? Because the guy knows his drinks and he knows how to dazzle — from fire shows to juggling to sleight of hand that keeps the crowds happy and — we're guessing here — the tips generous.

Staff Pick: Ryan Hardwick of Liquidsixx

p>Best Reason to Visit Akron

Akron Art Museum

In a town on the cusp of a major rebirth, Akron's art museum is an apt symbol of the changes that are well under way. Only a few years removed from a major expansion that more than tripled its size, the former two-room art school is now a Summit County showplace dedicated to the art of the past 150 years, including riveting traveling shows that recently included an acclaimed exhibition of M.C. Escher's most famous works.

1 South High St., Akron,


Staff Pick: Highland Square

Best Local Landmark

Terminal Tower

The singular icon of Cleveland's skyline was the second-tallest building in America at the time of its completion back in 1928. And while it's no longer even the tallest building in its own hometown, the Terminal Tower's architectural grandeur has yet to be matched. It's perfectly fitting that the casino of Cleveland's dreams will sit beside the skyscraper that birthed so many dreams.

50 Public Square, 216-621-6060

Staff Pick: Lake Erie

Best Local Radio Station

FM 100.7 WMMS

While it seems most stops on the radio dial are content to murder your brain with Pitbull or let Dave Matthews circa '94 soft-rock you to sleep, WMMS is still the go-to frequency in town for straight-up drums-bass-guitar racket, both the classics and the fresh-baked tunes. Many things have changed in the Rock & Roll Capital, but the Buzzard keeps thundering on.

Staff Pick: 91.1 FM WRUW

Best Sports Talker

Tony Rizzo

The longtime sports guy at Fox 8 TV has settled into a steady groove as the leading man of WKNR's weekday-morning Really Big Show. Rizzo's is a rare gift: to blast viewers daily with his over-the-top enthusiasm ("It's good to be alive!") and unabashed homerism, yet not come off in the least like an obnoxious bastard. That role more often goes to his sidekick Aaron Goldhammer, the resident cynic who gives the show its welcome symmetry.

On AM 850 WKNR

Staff Pick: Chuck Booms


Best Sportscaster

Jim Donovan

More than just a fine sportscaster and play-by-play man, Jim Donovan has also proven himself to be one hell of a man — weathering rounds of chemotherapy in recent years and still cheerfully serving up sports to a hungry and appreciative audience. More than a quarter-century into his stint here, the transplanted Bostonian is pure Cleveland now, from his straight-talking nightly sportscasts to his spine-tinglingly bonkers play-by-play for a Browns team that owes him much more to cheer about.

On WKYC-TV Channel 3

Staff Pick: Jim Donovan

Best TV Personality

Dick Goddard

Now careening past the octogenarian threshold, Dick Goddard will inevitably pass on through the great nimbus cloud in the sky someday, and still he'll be a safe bet to sweep this category. Beloved by generations of Clevelanders, the unassuming Fox 8 weatherman doesn't have the hottest gams or the prettiest smile you'll see on Cleveland TV's bluescreens, but he's got expertise that others don't and an easy manner that's ingratiating as ever. Bonus points for Goddard's dogged efforts in animal-rights activism, and bonus wishes that his long-range forecast includes many more productive years.

On Fox 8 TV

Staff Pick: Carl Monday

Best TV News Team


Northeast Ohio television news has weathered a recent shakeup the likes of which it hasn't seen since Sharon Reed got nekkid on camera in the name of art a few distant-feeling years ago. But as Mark Nolan and Romona Robinson and Reed herself jump ship from their longtime homes, the station that's remained steadiest through it all is the one that won voters' hearts this year. Fox 8, with its blend of lively new faces — Elisa Amigo, Kristi Capel, and Allie LaForce, among others — and legends like Dick Goddard and Wilma Smith, adds up to a team that appeals to a wide range of generations. Toss in reliable and earthy vets like Lou Maglio and the ever-ebullient Stefani Schaefer, and you've got a lineup that's unrivaled by anyone around. And we didn't even get to Kenny Crumpton.

Staff Pick: Romona Robinson & Denise Dufala

Best Famous Clevelander

Drew Carey

If fame has changed Drew Carey at all, his bank account is the only obvious sign of it. The hometown comic whose shtick started with a suit & tie still makes his living that way: as host of the enduringly popular game show The Price Is Right. An outspoken Libertarian and a ravenous fan of soccer — and a team owner, to boot — Carey may be a Hollywood guy these days, but his heart and his house still reside in Old Brooklyn.

Staff Pick: Machine Gun Kelly

Best Sustainability Champ

Jonathon Sawyer

Acclaimed as one of America's best young chefs, Sawyer is also one of its most enviro-friendly. The man behind the twin downtown dynamos Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat is a staunch advocate of locally sourced food — and of the people who grow it. Those priorities carry over in his work in the kitchen, for which he has earned recognition for owning Ohio's first nationally certified Green Restaurant. With a name like Greenhouse Tavern, you were expecting something else?

Greenhouse Tavern: 2038 East Fourth St., 216-443-0511,;

Noodlecat: 234 Euclid Ave.,


Staff Pick: Stephanie Spear of EcoWatch


Best Politician & Best Do-Gooder

Dennis Kucinich

The clock is ticking on one of Cleveland's most beloved, most polarizing lawmakers. The longtime U.S. Congressmen was recently unseated from the Democratic Party ticket as a result of redistricting that turned his home turf into a toothpick swatch of land dominated by his longtime Toledo colleague-turned-nemesis, Marcy Kaptur. Dennis! has yet to reveal what do-gooder plans he might have in store once he's bumped from his Washington roost. The smart money's on a lot of cable TV face time and other ways to keep his ever-smiling mug front and center.

Staff Picks: Best Politician: Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald; Best Do-Gooder: Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins

Best Troublemaker

Jimmy Dimora

The longtime toast of the county Democratic Party looks more like burnt toast these days. Throughout the corruption trial that shocked and awed us through the early weeks of this year, the blustery and brash Dimora of days gone by was replaced by a clean-shaven, stoic-looking man who declined to speak up for himself when his opportunity came. Already behind bars, Jimmy is left to count down the days to his sentencing, when he can look forward to more years of lockup than he has left on this earth. While we prefer our troublemakers a bit more civic-minded, we're thankful for the sideshow all the same.

Staff Pick: State Senator Nina Turner

Best Radio Show & Best Radio Personality

Alan Cox

Now two years into his afternoon drive show on WMMS, Alan Cox is flanked by his trusty sidekicks Chad Zumock and Erika Lauren, but he continues to be the main draw. From his eye on celebrity buffoonery to his celebration of women's undergarments, Cox spouts all the outrageous crap you were already thinking but were way too shy to say. Is it creepy? Oh sure, but no more so than what's on any other guy's mind. Just be glad they don't all get a microphone.

Weekday afternoons on 100.7-FM WMMS

Staff Picks: Best Radio Show: The Alan Cox Show; Best Radio Personality: Mark Nolan

Best Author

Les Roberts

If this particular category lacks an air of suspense, the winner's novels more than compensate. Long regarded as a literary all-star, Roberts made his bones in Hollywood, of all places — as producer for the original Hollywood Squares and classic comedies from Andy Griffith to The Lucy Show. But it's his series of mysteries revolving around Cleveland everyman Milan Jacovich that have endeared Roberts to the thousands of readers who hang on his every word. With novel names like The Cleveland Creep, Full Cleveland, and We'll Always Have Cleveland, there's no mystery as to where Roberts' heart lies either.

Staff Pick: Dan Chaon


Best Filmmaker

Robert Banks

Cleveland native Robert Banks has racked up a lot of street cred over the course of his career — props both for his oeuvre and the extreme lengths he'll go for his art. Since 1989, he's made 19 films, mostly short experimental movies that would never fly at the corner metroplex. But Banks refuses to sell out and take his talents to Hollywood, a bold stance that's cost him financially over the years. Nonetheless, he's still Cleveland's own stubborn genius.

Staff Pick: Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter)

Best Local Neighborhood


Perhaps the best thing one can say about Cleveland is that this category now has tons of competition. For the better part of 20 years, Tremont was the only 'hood that sprang to mind when talk turned to the top nooks in the city. Now we're thriving from Gordon Square to Waterloo, with plenty of action in between. But the happeningest hub of Cleveland's neighborhood life continues to be charming, welcoming Tremont. With its blend of modern townhomes and historic houses and apartments, its quirky businesses, thirst-quenching bars, and destination restaurants, it's little wonder that one of the first settlements in Cleveland is still the place everybody wants to settle.

Staff Pick: Ohio City

Best Area You'd Like to See Revitalized

The Flats

Years of wishing are starting to pay off: The Flats, known either as the beating heart of Cleveland's industrial heyday or the beating heart of its hedonistic 1980s and '90s, has been a flatlined organ of downtown Cleveland for going on 20 years now. But unmistakable signs of life are emerging on both sides of the Cuyahoga: The Greater Cleveland Aquarium has made the West Bank a destination again, and the Improv has made a glorious new home just up the street in the former Sugar Warehouse. Across the water, a bold new plan is under way, including a highrise that will welcome a mix of residential, commercial, and restaurant space, and parkland that will open up breathtaking views that have been off limits for far too long. There's a treasure still buried under years of grime and soot, but the plan is in place to resurrect it.

Staff Pick: Waterloo Road

Best Company to Work For

Progressive Insurance

It says a lot about the way you run your business that one of the world's most historically mundane careers — what child doesn't dream of life as an insurance salesman? — also gets the nod for best place to work. No small amount of credit goes to the lavish Mayfield Village campus CEO Peter Lewis has created for his empire — the kind of city-within-an-office confines more commonly associated with West Coast internet geeks. But while tech bubbles have a way of bursting such playgrounds, the world will always need insurance.

300 North Commons Blvd., Mayfield Village, 800-776-4737,

Staff Pick: Scene!

Best New Attraction

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium

Open since January, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium has taken the improbable — a state-of-the-art marinescape embedded in an historic powerhouse?! — and made it a sparkling reality. With exhibits devoted to everything from Ohio's own aquatic life to the most exotic of ocean-dwellers, the aquarium has stoked the region's passion for aquatic study and sent the Flats on a clear course for rebirth. Now that's a fish story of the highest order.

2000 Sycamore St., 216-862-8803,

Staff Pick: Horseshoe Casino

Best New Place to Live

Ohio City

Credit a handful of brave entrepreneurs for making Ohio City's Market District the hotspot it has become. For decades, a stretch of glorious architecture mostly sitting in ruin was accompanied by a bustling West Side Market. Now those barren storefronts are filling back up with a welcome mix of local shops and restaurants — with more on the way this spring. Naturally, a hub of day- and nightlife needs to accommodate a hub for residential living. As plans for new and reclaimed housing come into view, Ohio City's boom should only continue.

Staff Pick: Battery Park

Best Suburb


Nowhere in Northeast Ohio do so many cultures mesh so harmoniously as they do in Lakewood, Cleveland's suburban sister to the west. It's the perfect gathering place thanks in no small part to its wonderful restaurants, its rollicking bars and clubs, and its quirky small businesses that line every major street. And it's the perfect place to call home thanks to its bountiful and hardy old homes, for its overachieving schools, its bucolic parks, and its pervasive sense of neighborhood pride and unity. It's why citizens young and old settle into Lakewood like a comfy chair.

Staff Pick: Cleveland Heights


Best College or University

Cleveland State

For years, Cleveland State's sparse amenities and commuting collegians lumped it somewhere behind various other, more conventional bastions of higher learning when it came down to the ol' popularity meter. But with Cleveland State taking a lead role in the rebirth that's enveloping downtown, its status is rising accordingly. Thanks to millions of dollars invested in new buildings and upgrades, and a sharpened focus on developing a true campus atmosphere for its students, the land of the Vikings is a proud one indeed.

2121 Euclid Ave., 216-687-2000,

Staff Pick: Oberlin College

Best Place to Take Out-of-Town Visitors

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

There's no denying it: Visitors from Chico to China invariably come to our fertile shores to see the Rock Hall more than any other treasure we've got. And they're never disappointed. From its breathtaking perch on North Coast Harbor to its still-stately/spacey I.M. Pei design to its engrossing, interactive exhibits on rock & roll both old and new, Cleveland's Rock Hall could be the single coolest attraction anywhere in America, let alone on the North Coast.

1100 Rock and Roll Blvd.,


Staff Pick: The West Side Market

Best Comedian

Mike Polk

Cleveland's best comedian doesn't much care for the world of stand-up. Mike Polk makes his beer money as an internet humor writer, and he dabbles in some of the oddest, most hilarious videos you're likely to YouTube (try his feline farce "I'm a Stupid Cat" or his paean to Browns fandom "Factory of Sadness"). A former leader of the Last Call Cleveland comedy troupe that rose out of Kent State more than a decade ago, Polk still performs with the lads on occasion — and still reprises his turn as the Cuyahoga Messiah in the not-quite-seasonal-classic musical Michael Stanley Superstar! As for stand-up? He'll step under the lights every now and again, never giving himself the credit he deserves.

Staff Pick: Mike Polk

Best Park

Edgewater Park

An expansive stretch of soft-sand beach skirted by acres of grassy fields — how many urban centers boast such amenities virtually within walking distance of downtown? For being an utter escape from the rat race that's so ridiculously easy to escape to, Edgewater — now known in government parlance as Cleveland Lakefront State Park — more than earns its nod. As nearby Battery Park and Gordon Square grow up, Edgewater's value should continue to rise.

Staff Pick: Mentor Headlands

Best Place to Hold a Wedding

Windows on the river

Since 1990, this full-service events company has been a mainstay of the Powerhouse on the Flats' West Bank. Each of its banquet rooms offer gorgeous views of downtown and together can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. The arrival of Cleveland's aquarium on the ground floor has only raised the profile of this prime spot for swapping nuptials. Together, they're breathing life back into the Cuyahoga's West Bank.

2000 Sycamore St. in the Powerhouse, 216-861-1445,

Staff Pick: The Arcade

Best Place for Peace & Quiet

Cleveland Metroparks

Whether your version of peace and quiet is fly fishing in the Rocky River, horseback riding through a densely wooded bridle trail, cycling the day away, or just getting lost in your thoughts in the bosom of Mother Nature, Cleveland's Emerald Necklace is the answer every time. With reservations throughout Northeast Ohio, your great escape is never far away.

Staff Pick: Lake View Cemetery

Best Hangout

Happy Dog

A hipster heaven for the near West Side, the Happy Dog specializes in vintage 1950s ambiance — that's real vintage, not reconstituted, mind you — and outrageous gourmet hot dogs served up with any number of 50 (fifty!) gourmet toppings. That, and a beer list that extends to Lakewood, are reason enough to call the Dog your favorite hang. Add in regular live music from up-and-coming bands, book events, cheesy movie nights, classical music excursions, and pinball tournaments, and you'll wish you could take this dog home.

5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474,

Staff Pick: Coventry Village

Best Place to Get Wild & Best Place to Be Seen

Barley House

Consider this West Sixth locale — that of the mini-kilted ladies, flame-spitting bartenders, and occasional Kardashian sighting — the booze-quickened heartbeat of the Warehouse District. Where other clubs wax and wane on the seasons of fad, the Barley House is always a destination — for everyone from your 9-to-5 office drones looking to pour out a paycheck, right on up the social ladder to Cavaliers rookie Kyrie Irving. It's shoulder to shoulder every weekend, meaning it's the perfect place to practice your vodka-enriched dance moves — and be sure the whole room is watching.

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

Staff Picks: Best Place to Get Wild: Whiskey Island; Best Place to Be Seen:; East Fourth Street


Best Place for a First Date

Cleveland Museum of Art

Where else can you fake your way through being a citizen of culture without paying through the nose for it? Always free and always an endless kaleidoscope of mankind's most beautiful output through the ages, the art museum offers something for every taste — and provides an ideal window into the soul of your potential soulmate. You say your date is taken by the metaphors of Georgia O'Keeffe? Better brace yourself for a lifetime of deep discourse. More in tune with the action painting of Jackson Pollock? Looks like you've got a livewire on your hands. Bonus points await you if you've memorized a poem you can bust out by Wade Lagoon.

11150 East Blvd., 216-421-7350,

Staff Pick: Little Italy

Best Place to Take the Kids

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

You ever schlepped your family to the zoo in some other cut-rate metropolis around the country? Try it once, and you'll fall in love with Cleveland's zoo all over again. What sets ours apart? Its sprawling grounds and countless exhibits that truly feel one with their surroundings. There's the sheer mind-boggling breadth of different creatures awaiting your visit, the countless kiddie attractions that keep the fun rolling long after the bears and giraffes lose their charm. There's the all-weather appeal, from bucolic summer days spent strolling the park to cozy winters defrosting in the RainForest. And there's a zillion other reasons to love Cleveland's zoo, but maybe none so potent as this: A year-long family membership will set you back no more than what you'd blow on one forgettable day at the movies.

3900 Wildlife Way, 216-661-6500,

Staff Pick: Cedar Point

Best Place for People Watching

Public Square

Though it goes quiet after quitting time, midday at Public Square is a Whitman's Sampler of humanity — from professionals to panhandlers to protesters to tourists, and every flavor in between. The nightlife that's spilling out of nearby East Fourth Street and up to Euclid Avenue only increases the likelihood you'll find outrageous eye candy anywhere you look. Whether you dig into that candy is up to you.

230 West Huron Rd., 216-623-4750,

Staff Pick: Tower City

Best Day Trip

Cedar Point

Perhaps no place on earth does time fly more quickly than it does at Cedar Point. A summertime fun magnet for the Midwest and beyond, the park is tireless in its quest to be the best at everything it does — and it's got the credentials to support the claim. More — and better — roller coasters than anybody else, gorgeously maintained grounds, friendly workers, and no shortage of indoor attractions make the Point a lock for every summer itinerary.

One Cedar Point Dr., Sandusky,


Staff Pick: The Erie Islands

Best School District

Solon City Schools

Way over yonder to the East, there's a mythic place where students routinely test well above state requirements, the sports teams constantly challenge for big-school state championships, and the cafeterias serve only the most succulent dishes. We're talking about the Solon City Schools. Every year, the suburb either makes the short list for all types of awards or walks away with the top titles. But the district's overall excellence was sealed when Newsweek listed it among the best in the nation. We're not actually sure about the food, but considering how everything else is trending there, we're figuring it kills too.

Staff Pick: Solon

Best Website

We here at Scene FunTyme Enterprises would like to thank the many voters who vaulted us to the top of the heap in this category, perhaps not least because they were forced to stare at our humble site as they cast their votes. No matter — we'll choose to take it as validation that Clevelanders love keeping tabs on what's going on in their world each day, and that it sure beats focusing on the crap they're supposed to be doing instead.

Visit us at and follow the foolishness via Facebook (/clevelandscene) and Twitter (@cleveland_scene)

Staff Pick:

Best Entrepreneur & Best Northeast Ohio Success Story

Michael Symon

As ascensions to superstardom go, Michael Symon is closing in on Oprah status. A native of North Olmsted who first cooked in a Lakewood Geppetto's, Symon went on to become a savior of Cleveland dining when he opened Lola back in 1997. That was followed, in no particular order, by Lolita, and by his B Spot burger joints, and by Iron Chef fame, and by countless instances of cheerfully tolerating Rachael Ray for prolonged periods of time — plus books and magazines and accolades and now his own TV show, ABC's The Chew. That a hardworking, easy-smiling, heartily laughing local lad could make it so big is good news for him and great news for the town he so adores.

Staff Picks: Best Entrepreneur: Danielle DeBoe (of Made in the 216, Dredgers Union); Best Northeast Ohio Success Story: Machine Gun Kelly

Best Kept Secret

Cleveland's Parks

We'll consider this one a worthy shout-out to everything from the sprawling Metroparks to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, from our state park at Mentor Headlands to our state park at Edgewater, and to all the many greenspaces in between and beyond. We are blessed to live within minutes of the heart of the action — and just as blessed to be so very near to nature's blissful serenity.

Staff Pick: Rocky River Park

Best Blog

Waiting for Next Year

Dozens of local sports blogs have come and gone since having a blog became the thing to do. One of the first — and best — remains. Waiting For Next Year's built a stable of reliable writers over the past five years, posting analysis and news every day on Cleveland's favorite forlorn teams. Having long outgrown their armchair-quarterbacking roots, they now hold credentials to cover the Cavs just like any other mainstream media outlet.

Staff Pick:

Best Facebook Page

Unmiserable Cleveland

It's not that we all need reminders or slogans to realize that we're living in the city Paris wishes it could be; it's just that there's too much awesomeness happening at any given moment to keep track of it all. Enter the Unmiserable Cleveland page, a clearinghouse of news, events, and links to keep you abreast of the greatest in the Forest City from its biggest fans — you.

Staff Pick: Scene

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