This inner-ring westside suburb has always had an eclectic vibe, thanks to its bevy of independent shops and eateries; locally owned small businesses; and abundance of cheap, character-laden dive bars. Although the city has certainly evolved over the years — many of the grittier drinking establishments have closed or been transformed into nicer places, thanks to Lakewood's booming restaurant scene — the community itself remains as vibrant (and diverse) as ever, thanks to an influx of twentysomethings and young families.
The James Beard Foundation recently named Salt's Jill Vedaa as a semifinalist in the category of Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region. That prestigious designation was just confirming what we in Northeast Ohio already know. The TLC that Vedaa puts into every item on Salt's menu — which is precisely divided between veggie, seafood and meat small plates — has quickly made the restaurant a must-visit dining destination. A luxurious cocktail menu and carefully curated wine list also don't hurt.
Back in the day, Lakewood's bars tended to lean toward the no-frills, shot-and-a-beer variety. Times sure have changed, as evidenced by new(er) kid on the block, LBM, which is billed as "your friendly neighborhood Viking cocktail bar." In the hands of other proprietors, this conceit could be cheesy. At LBM, however, the Viking theme works like a roguish charm, in the form of an affordable, adventurous cocktail menu with unique spirits and concoctions. Who won't feel like conquering the night after sipping on drinks dubbed the Wayward Souls and Crimson Seeds?
In the past few years, Lakewood Park has exploded in popularity. Sure, that's because of the ongoing greatness of Foster Pool (another hidden gem in the city) and the kid-friendly playground. But the 2015 addition of the Solstice Steps cemented Lakewood Park's reputation as a greenspace gem. The tiered, elevated steps offer a gorgeous view of the sunset, as well as a place to relax and soak up some rays during the all-too-rare warmer months.
Going to Mahall's is like stepping back in time. That's a good thing: Although the 1920s-era alley received some updates in the past few years, the bowling is still as old school as it comes. What's new (and welcome) is how Mahall's has become a much-needed westside entertainment destination. The complex now regularly hosts all sorts of events: DJ nights and dance parties, comedy shows, and concerts from local and touring pop, punk, indie and emo bands. Plus, the bar has a small but mighty beer list and food menu that's perfect for late-night noshing.
There's a reason why Pier W (12700 Lake Ave.) has remained one of the area's most beloved upscale dining destinations: Patrons can get first-class service, seafood and steaks — and a first-rate view of downtown Cleveland — without completely breaking the bank. Just a word of warning: Although its bar happy hour tends to be jammed — its prices and tasty menu selections make it a go-to destination — during nicer months, Pier W's relaxing deck happy hour isn't to be missed.
It's a testament to how far Cleveland has come that there's an all-vegan restaurant flourishing in Lakewood's main corridor. Cleveland Vegan's (17112 Detroit Ave.) inventive menu encompasses a diverse array of breakfast and lunch dishes, delights including mocha overnight oats, raw walnut tacos and a healthy beet burger, as well as fortified smoothies and lattes, tea and coffee, and even decadent desserts. The shop has even started offering a personal chef service that provides six meals and one dessert per week, either via door-to-door service or at the cafe.
Many places call themselves "English-style pubs." The Griffin Cider House & Gin Bar (12401 Madison Ave.) is the real deal. An offshoot of the locally brewed Griffin Cider Works, this intimate pub carries the company's tart (and powerful) ciders, as well as a selection of bottled ciders and beers, and a generous selection of gin. Their food selection is limited but dynamite — their filling Scotch eggs and Cornish pasties are the perfect things for soaking up a strong pint (or three).
Northeast Ohio has no shortage of unique or under-the-radar museums. Lakewood's Museum of Divine Statues (12905 Madison Ave.) might take the cake. Housed in the former St. Hedwig's Church, the museum has a mission to "preserve Catholic history by rescuing, restoring and displaying ecclesiastical statues and other sacred artifacts in a reflective and respectful museum setting." Accordingly, visitors can see all sorts of Catholic ephemera — including statues lovingly restored by Lou McClung, who owns the nonprofit museum — during its weekend afternoon hours.
Who needs pricey movie theaters when Lakewood Public Cinema (15425 Detroit Ave.) exists? Every Saturday at 6 p.m., the Lakewood library opens its doors to the public and plays a classic movie, for free! Smartly, their version of "classic" is wide ranging and diverse, and caters to movie buffs of all ages. In the upcoming spring and summer session, selections being lensed include Amélie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.
It's not a stretch to say that Root Cafe (15118 Detroit Ave.) is the heart and soul of downtown Lakewood. Good overhead tunes, a vegan-friendly (and gluten-free-friendly) menu with homemade dishes and baked goods, and tasty coffees and teas make it a vibrant community hub. Sure, it's sometimes impossible to find a table or chair during busy hours, but there's nothing quite like the creative energy coursing through the Root to provide a jolt of inspiration.
Home of one of the best used LP bins and some of the most loyal customers in town, My Mind's Eye (16010 Detroit Ave.) is the area's go-to record store for punk, metal, blues, rock and soul — and most things in between. Plus, owner Charles will special order (almost) anything he doesn't have in stock — after he turns you on to something else that's cool, obscure and in your sonic wheelhouse, of course.
This isn't the Nintendo binge of your childhood. At the popular 16-Bit Bar + Arcade (15012 Detroit Ave.), patrons sip on boozy cocktails named after retro crushes — Molly Ringwald, Carrie Fisher, Patrick Swayze and Marky Mark, say — to earn free plays on a rotating list of old-school arcade games and pinball machines. Whether you're an '80s kid (Galaga, Asteroids) or a product of the '90s (NBA Jam, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), 16-Bit is sure to have a game for you.
Cleveland's already-robust record store scene became even stronger in 2017 with the opening of Wax Bodega (13339 Madison Ave.), which, as its name implies, stocks plenty of new vinyl by up-and-coming indie, punk and emo bands. The minimalist store has also booked in-store performances and signings with touring acts, such as Roam, the Flatliners, and members of Modern Baseball, playing at nearby clubs, creating a mini musical corridor that's made Lakewood even more vibrant.
Proof positive that Lakewood's bar scene continues to become more diverse: The Side Quest (17900 Detroit Ave.), a self-proclaimed mecca for "geeks and nerds," especially those who prefer to pair beer with board games. These games are available to rent at the bar for a nominal fee (or you can bring your own), although that's not all the bar has on tap, entertainment-wise. The Side Quest's weekly theme nights have a little something for everyone: There's an anime fan happy hour, a beginner's Dungeons & Dragons night and even Mario Mondays.
In 2016, the westside's barbecue scene immediately received a bump after the Proper Pig Smokehouse food truck decided to open a brick-and-mortar establishment in Lakewood (17100 Detroit Ave.). The restaurant, which sticks to a central Texas barbecue approach, offers hearty offerings such as bacon on a stick (!), meats by the half pound and gargantuan sandwiches such as the Proper Slopper, which piles on chopped beef brisket, pulled pork, Texas hot link sausage and coleslaw. Bring your appetite.
Lakewood has no shortage of sweet spots: Fear's Confections, Lala Custom Cake, Elmwood Bakery and, of course, a Malley's ice cream parlor. However, the emporium actually named the Sweet Spot (17806 Detroit Ave.) is an under-the-radar gem, scooping up nothing but delicious gelato. The store offers a generous, rotating selection of fruity, sweet and even savory flavors. Narrowing down which flavor to try is difficult, but if you must choose only one, go with Cookies N' Milk, which contains crumbly chunks of actual cookies.
Anyone frustrated they can't get a seat at Momocho, Eric Williams' wildly successful Ohio City modern-Mexican restaurant, can find solace at its spacious sister, El Carnicero (16918 Detroit Ave.). The Lakewood locale of course has the beloved guacamole — loaded or regular — as well as the famed build-your-own taquitos. However, El Carnicero's huge wraparound bar is also a great place to kick back and watch a game with friends, preferably while sipping on one of the bar's many tequilas or tasty cervezas.
It's easy to see why people are often lined up outside Peppers Italian Restaurant (12401 Detroit Ave.) waiting for it to open. (Hint: It's not just because the old-school Italian joint is relatively small.) The restaurant has a small but mighty menu with nothing but classics (pastas, pizzas and select entrees), all whipped up with plenty of TLC. Be sure to leave room for one of Peppers' decadent desserts, including a gigantic slice of tiramisu to the fall favorite grape pie.
The westside iteration of Bottlehouse Brewery (13368 Madison Ave.) opened in 2016 in the former Sullivan's Irish Pub and Restaurant. As with the Cleveland Heights location, patrons can bring in their own food, and hunker down in the tasting room to sample the Bottlehouse's own unique sour beers, meads, cider and other assorted IPAs and ales. For those who might need a caffeinated pick-me-up, Rising Star Coffee Roasters recently made their adjacent pop-up shop permanent.