Maybe it's the neon sign outside, but the Velvet Tango Room exudes the confidence of a place that won't disappoint when it comes to being the best cocktail bar in town. Cleveland's known that for years, ever since the joint quietly opened up in Duck Island when basically nothing else was there. Here, cocktails aren't just another drink. Here, there's a history and a story, not to mention handmade ingredients and the kind of expertise that translates to a few-minute wait for your drink and indelible, endless memories once you take a sip. Raise another one to this Cleveland landmark, because for all the imitators and craft cocktail spots around Northeast Ohio, there's only one VTR.
2095 Columbus Rd., 216-241-8869, velvettangoroom.com.
Arcade games? Hell yes. Who doesn't want more of those? Well, listen, it's 2016, and no generation of gamers has ever been as hard-pressed to find a working Ms. Pac-Man as our current crop of millennial drink-slingers. Good news, though: 16-Bit in Lakewood will make your dreams come true. Their fine roster of classic arcade games is free to play (except for the four pinball machines in the back), and to sweeten the deal, they're serving ace cocktails. Take our word for it: Order a round of Bill Nyes and sidle up to your favorite old-school game. (Mario Kart 64 on the patio, yeah?) It's a can't-lose proposition.
15012 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-563-1115, 16-bitbar.com.
In terms of acoustics, the Bop Stop, the tiny jazz club just west of downtown Cleveland, can't be beat. Unfortunately, it sat vacant for many years; but since the Music Settlement, a leading music education institution in the region, took control of the building and handed the reins to promoter Gabriel Pollack, the place has thrived. Now, it features music several nights of the week as Pollack strives to present "creative, original music." It's also home to Outlab, the monthly jam session that attracts musicians from diverse backgrounds. Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen manages the kitchen and Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present, Future curates the walls by providing music-themed photographs.
2920 Detroit Ave., 216-771-6551, themusicsettlement.org.
Before they opened the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Collinwood over a decade ago, co-owner Mark Leddy booked garage and punk bands at Pat's in the Flats while co-owner Cindy Barber worked as a journalist. Diehard music fans, they turned their dream of running a club into a reality when they purchased this old Croatian dance hall and turned it into a music hotspot that features both an intimate tavern and a spacious ballroom; the club will often host two shows a night. Bands like the White Stripes played the Tavern before graduating to bigger venues, and the Nashville-via-Akron garage-blues duo the Black Keys played their first-ever show in the Tavern.
15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124, beachlandballroom.com.
This Detroit Shoreway concert club and restaurant that boasts a cool vintage look and takes a band-friendly approach that both national and local acts admire. Unlike other clubs that ask bands to play for little or no money, the club requires that bands simply play for the door money. The club also hosts a monthly classical music jam night and regularly books New Soft Shoe, the local Gram Parsons tribute act. Two years ago, 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 played a key role in making the event happen.
5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474, happydogcleveland.com.
This Coventry Road concert venue opened in 1992 when owner Kathy Blackman and two business partners took over a Cleveland Heights bar on the corner of Coventry and Mayfield roads. Since that time, the club has moved to a bigger space at the corner of Coventry and Euclid Heights Boulevard. It regularly hosts an eclectic mix of bands that includes everything from punk and reggae to hip-hop and indie rock. Bands are so loyal to Blackman that they'll often stick with her, even when they move up to bigger venues such as House of Blues and the Masonic Auditorium.
2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588, grogshop.gs.
There's a reason a ton of Cleveland's highest-profile athletes populate Rumor's VIP room, and it ain't because the bottle service is cheap. Rumor sports the best lineup of hip hop on either side of the Cuyahoga. DJs keep the weekend grinding from Good Thursdays to Social Fridays to Saturday Night Vibes to Sold Out Sundays. In a city blessed with a ton of rock clubs, you could argue the hip hop scene doesn't get the love it deserves. Rumor's making sure that even if the quantity isn't there compared to its rock brethren, the quality is.
1266 West Sixth St., rumorcleveland.com.
Cleveland is a great blues town, but if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Brothers Lounge, the westside mainstay, should be your first stop. Thursday nights are the natural outlet; you'll find the Bad Boys of Blues holding court as the house band with a guest singer each week. They go on at 9 p.m. or so, but the music continues after their set with a rotating cast of local musicians and ad-hoc "bands" formed by maestro Michael Bay. The patio is great, the beer flows like red wine, and the people are some of the best in the city. Tip your server well! You're sure to have a hell of a good time.
11609 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2767, brotherslounge.com.
It went away briefly, and then it returned. Thank heavens. Bounce reopened its doors in Hingetown with all the fabulous offerings you've come to know and love from the club: drag shows, DJs, and a dynamite happy hour. But it also rolled out a brunch and a weekly comedy night. It's the most inclusive, friendly joint in town, whatever your orientation, and let us all breath a sigh of relief that it's back.
2814 Detroit Ave., 216-696-0831.
The Barley House has been many things in its lifetime. It was, and still is, a nightlife destination on West Sixth. Its menu offerings are better than the average bar food. It's the home of rowdy Sunday Browns tailgates and live radio shows. Cleveland's athletes still drop by every weekend, making it a place to see and be seen. But somewhere along the way, it also became the best spot for EDM music in town. There was always music, of course, and plenty of DJs. But Barley started bringing in notable national acts to hold down the weekends. While the names might not be all that familiar to folks not into the scene, those who are in the know give Barley their enthusiastic stamp of approval. Hell, chances are they left at 2 a.m. Saturday morning only to come straight back on Sunday morning to catch the 92.3 The Fan tailgate and scope out the latest Browns loss with some pals.
1261 West Sixth St., 216-623-1700, barleyhousecleveland.com.