Happy Dog trivia on Monday nights happens to be one of the region's most challenging. And maybe that's why voters love it so much. With an all-business format that asks more questions than most of the other company-run trivia nights around town, these rounds focus on themes as diverse as flags of the world, Led Zeppelin lyrics and automobile logos. Like other booze-filled mental gymnastics offerings, this one features a panoply of prizes (usually well shots or gag gifts); but it's the only trivia night in town where you can eat a Happy Dog hot dog while you're flexing your brain muscle. It feels more like a classroom than a frat party, and that's a blessing.
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 but has maintained its roots and ethos. It regularly hosts a dynamic 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, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, the Agora and the Masonic Auditorium.
2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588, grogshop.gs.
This Detroit Shoreway concert club and restaurant 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. It's just one of the reasons that Happy Dog has become the best stage to catch local acts small and large, new and old. It also hosts a monthly classical music jam night and regularly books New Soft Shoe, the local Gram Parsons tribute act. Eclectic is definitely the best word to describe the bookings. In addition, the place features an array of special programs during which local experts talk about current events. Thank owner Sean Watterson for making that happen and for fostering an atmosphere that local musicians adore.
5801 Detroit Ave., 216-651-9474, happydogcleveland.com.
They attract top-notch national talent as well as the local DJs slinging head-throbbing drum-and-bass beats. If you're in the mood for EDM, get thee to Liquid immediately. It's Cleveland's oldest and longest-running genuine nightclub, and they've really taken up the mantel of EDM supremacy in the past few years. If you don't know what "EDM" stands for, then Liquid may not be the place for you. Or — or! — you just haven't yet discovered the pleasures of losing your mind in a field of strobe lights before the bass drops. And, hoo-boy, when the bass drops, anything can happen.
1212 West Sixth St., 216-479-7717, liquidcleveland.com.
With its multiple tiers and massive Jenga tower sentry, the patio at Nano Brew looks like an adult version of those massive wooden playgrounds found in suburban parks. Now that the weather has warmed up a bit, there's no finer West 25th Street day or nightlife experience than a hang session at Nano. Sidle up to the outdoor bar — go on, assert yourself amid the throng — and order a round for the crew. Upstairs, downstairs, streetside: However you like your suds, you can bet that Nano's got a pleasant setting for you with a dynamite view of downtown Cleveland to boot.
1859 West 25th St., 216-862-6631, nanobrewcleveland.com.
If you've been to Porco, the enchanting and irresistible tiki lounge in a nondescript building on a nondescript stretch of West 25th, then chances are your memory of the experience might be a little foggy. Porco-ed is a term for a reason. But what little you do recall, besides the absolutely powerful and delicious tropical drinks or transported-to-an-island atmosphere, probably includes fond memories of the crack bartending staff mixing up Mai Tais, Painkillers and Zombies. Chances are damn good if you've been once (or twice, or five times ... you really can't remember at this point) John Bernard has served you at least one drink (or was it two?). As talented as he is kind, Bernard's been behind the bar for more than three years now as Porco has grown and matured through slight renovations and the addition of Polpetta, which is dishing up meatballs out of the kitchen. Not much else has changed, or needed to, and that includes Bernard's continued employ as Cleveland's best bartender.
2527 West 25th St., 216-802-9222, porcolounge.com.
It's another Saturday night and you're struggling to find a place to go. Someone wants to go bowling, someone else wants to go to dinner, another friend wants to drink and watch the Tribe, someone else wants to shoot some pool — and you're all sick of going to the same neighborhood watering hole. There's only one place that'll satisfy everyone in the bunch: Punch Bowl. The Flats emporium of fun has it all, from a tasty menu and eclectic craft beer selection to bowling, pool, ping pong, foosball, skee-ball, pinball, shuffleboard and 16-bit arcade machines. Whether it's a random, casual night out on town or the setting for a birthday party or corporate gathering, Punch Bowl has you covered. If you can't find something to enjoy at Punch Bowl, it's your fault, not theirs.
1086 West 11th Street, 216-239-1508, punchbowlsocial.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 rest of the week is dotted with acts you shouldn't miss either. The patio is great, the beer flows like red wine at a bacchanalia, and the people are some of the best in the city. Come early for one of our favorite westside dinners. Tip your server well! You're sure to have a hell of a good time.
11609 Detroit Ave., 216-226-2767, brotherslounge.com.
Ever since the Velvet Tango Room opened up in Duck Island when basically nothing else was there, it's always been about the drinks. The live jazz too, but mostly the drinks, which are never just thrown together haphazardly. 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 (costly but worth every penny) drink. For all the imitators and craft cocktail spots around Northeast Ohio, the VTR is a classic that never goes out of style.
2095 Columbus Rd., 216-241-8869, velvettangoroom.com.