Is it the teeming gallery districts or the nightlife hotspots? The metalheads or the singer-songwriters? It's all of that and more, with new chapters written daily.
Brett M. Burlison
The frontman for seven-piece Irish punks Craic (it's pronounced crack and translates into something like "having a helluva good time" in Gaelic) has the throaty roar down that's pretty much required of all Irish punk singers. It's a perfect fit for the band's mix of spirited covers (the usual Pogues and Flogging Molly), folksy traditional songs, and originals.
Singer-songwriter Hal Walker's music comes from a long line of troubadours that stretches all the way back to James Taylor, Bob Dylan, and all those guys with battered acoustic guitars. Usually accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, Walker rarely breaks a sweat. This is coffee-sipping music — laid-back, introspective, and smooth as that little drop of foam on top of your latte.
Best Original Band
These fuzz-lovin' psych-rockers take us back to the days when we drove around in our pal's souped-up Dodge, drinking cheap beer and eating Funyuns. There's nothing at all huggable about this scruffy quintet. They're noisy, sludgy, dirty, and totally mind-blowing.
The Modern Electric
Young indie rockers the Modern Electric loaded their self-titled debut with a dozen songs soaked in huge aspirations and even huger sound. Singer Garrett Komyati's plaintive ache occasionally recalls Jeff Buckley in its scope; the band's blend of rustic roots music and twisty indie is even more epic.
Best Cover Band
Wish You Were Here
This Pink Floyd tribute uses a laser show developed by some guy who used to work for Roger Waters. They play theme concerts based on Floyd's most popular albums, including the massive Wall show. And they're more reliable than the original Floyd ever was. Bonus points: As far as we know, frontman Eroc Sosinski never goobered on an audience member.
There's a lot going on in Mifuné's Afrobeat music: cello, tuba, flute, something called a guzheng. But the force driving it all is Jake Fader's funky, soulful guitar, which often reaches Hendrixian heights — when it isn't making sweet, sweet love to our eardrums, that is.
Charlie Mosbrook has been making records for 20 years, a series of albums that spotlight his warm, tender vocals and soft acoustic guitar strums. He sings about the usual singer-songwriter stuff: love, life, death. He also sings about friends and drinking too much to forget painful memories. It's grown-up music from a guy who isn't afraid to open his heart.
"Howlin' for You"
The grooviest song on the Black Keys' best album, Brothers, is also the one that sounds most like the stuff they used to make when they were just a scrappy duo recording in their Akron basement. Brothers is big and beautiful at times; "Howlin' for You" is the low-fi dirt beneath the surface gloss.
Best Club for Concerts
Whether you catch a show in the more spacious Ballroom or the cozier Tavern, the Beachland remains the city's best place to see the planet's best indie rockers, roots rockers, singer-songwriters, and garage bands. The Black Keys played a sold-out show here; so did Arcade Fire. And no matter what room you're in, there isn't a bad seat in the house.
15711 Waterloo Rd.; 216-383-1124;
Best Radio Station
When 107.3-FM dropped its long-running smooth-jazz format at the start of 2010, it was a joyous occasion indeed. Not just because Cleveland got its first adult-alternative station in return, but because we no longer had to accidentally land on a Boney James song while playing radio roulette. V107.3's playlist includes everything from old favorites (like Tom Petty) to your mom's favorite new bands (like Kings of Leon).
Best College Radio Station
If the term "college radio" puts you in the mind of stammering co-eds kicking out Joy Division demo reels, you'll be in for a surprise over at 89.7 FM. With its blend of national programming, classical sounds, and a steady diet of — you guessed it — folk jamborees, Kent State's NPR station is about as refined as college-affiliated radio gets. It's also an invaluable training ground for the big-time talent of tomorrow.
Best VIP Room
House of Blues' Foundation Room
Tucked away upstairs at the downtown concert club is a little piece of VIP heaven, with comfy couches, a cozy fireplace, and one very attentive wait staff. You can watch the big-screen TVs before the show or just plop yourself in a corner and make like a big shot. Plus, you can lord over the commoners with special balcony seating during concerts.
308 Euclid Ave.; 216-523-2583; houseofblues.com
Best Neighborhood Festival
Feast of the Assumption
Italian Americans hold the best summer festivals, mainly because they offer the best festival eats this side of a funnel cake. The four-day Feast takes place in mid-August every year on the streets of Little Italy. It's based on a holy day, but that won't matter much once you start stuffing your face with penne, cannoli, and homemade wine, and soak in all the live music, played by classic rock bands and traditional Italian groups.
Best Movie Theater
Cedar Lee Theatre
The eight screens at this popular East Side movie house are usually filled with art-house faves and indie hits. It's almost old-fashioned in its dedication to showing quality films to audiences who actually care about what's happening onscreen. The Cedar Lee may not blow your senses with state-of-the-art 3D or digital sound, but what you see will blow you away all the same.
2163 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-321-5411;
Best Art Happening
Tremont Art Walk
For 18 years and counting, hipsters have been heading to Tremont's galleries, studios, boutiques, bars, and restaurants on the second Friday of each month for a firsthand look at Cleveland's art and culture. In the process, they've helped build this historic neighborhood into one of the region's top destinations for everything au courant.
It wouldn't be summer in Cleveland without a cruise on the Goodtime III, the largest quadruple-deck luxury ship on the entire Great Lakes. Plying the waters of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie, the ship offers stirring views that landlubbers can hardly imagine: everything from the industrial bones of the Flats to the shimmering skyline of our own little North Coast Casbah. Take the kids, take the out-of-towners, and take a few hours to see Cleveland through new eyes.
825 East Ninth St. Pier; 216-861-5110;
Best Cultural Institution
Cleveland Museum of Art
Founded in 1913 by a group of Cleveland industrialists, the Cleveland Museum of Art has gone on to become one of the world's most distinguished art museums and one of Cleveland's best known cultural attractions. Even now, with an ambitious expansion project still under way, more than 40 galleries remain open, featuring everything from the internationally acclaimed collection of Medieval art to works by Andy Warhol. And here's the real kicker: Other than special exhibitions, museum admission is free.
11150 East Blvd.; 216-421-7350; clevelandart.org[page]
Best Place to See a Stage Show
Boasting nine performance venues in and around a historic theater complex, downtown's Playhouse Square is the country's largest performing arts center outside New York — and the world's largest theater-restoration project. As a result, there's rarely an evening when the curtain isn't rising on some type of quality entertainment: everything from the touring Broadway company's South Pacific to the exuberant noise of Stomp! — plus opera, comedy, concerts, lectures, and kids programming. It all makes Playhouse Square the region's best bet for live entertainment.
1501 Euclid Ave.; 216-771-4444;
Best Local Theater Company
Beck Center for the Arts
After more than 75 years of presenting quality theatrical performances and arts education to Northeast Ohio, Beck Center is woven deeply into our cultural fabric. Beck's professional theater productions include a traditional yet diverse combination of musicals, dramas, and comedies on two separate stages, and their education programs extend throughout the community. As a result, more than 100,000 locals per year get a welcome dose of art from Beck Center.
17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood; 216-521-2540;
Actor-director Scott Plate is a familiar face on Cleveland stages, with a résumé that includes work at Great Lakes Theater Festival, Dobama Theatre, Cleveland Play House, and Cleveland Public Theatre. And as chair of the Music Theater Department at Baldwin-Wallace College, he's also helping shape the upcoming crop of talent. Most recently, Plate starred in A Steady Rain at Dobama, where Scene critic Christine Howey declared him "a wonder." With raves like that, it's no wonder why Clevelanders' pick Plate as the city's best actor.
As Beck Center's artistic director since 1992, Spence has produced and directed more than 200 musicals and plays, including Sweeney Todd, Reefer Madness, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. And that impressive figure doesn't even touch on the theater work he's done outside Beck's walls, or his role at Cleveland State, where he teaches directing. In a move that highlighted his style, Spence brought the controversial Jerry Springer: The Opera to the Beck stage this winter. Critical opinion was mixed. But there's no doubt that Spence struck a mighty blow on behalf of Cleveland theatergoers for artistic integrity and freedom of expression.
Best Downtown Hotspot
The elder statesman of Warehouse District club life, Liquid is still ground zero for the weekend's liveliest action. Not sure what you're up for? The complex boasts a trio of venues that caters to virtually every taste: from the laid-back lounge vibe of Liquid, to the upscale enticement of Suite Sixx, to the dance marathon unfolding at Ultra. Come football season, Liquid comes alive on Sundays too — as a hub for pre- through post-game Browns partying.
1212 West Sixth St.; 216-479-7717; liquidcleveland.com
There is no place else in the Midwest quite like Spaces, the 32-year-old artists' resource and public forum that encourages creative types to stretch beyond their comfort zone. The gallery boasts no permanent collection and is not focused on installations. Instead, programs like the experimental SpaceLab and an innovative residency experience emphasize the process, not the product, of art. You can go to a museum and see art hanging on the walls. Or go to Spaces and hang around with people who make art.
2220 Superior Viaduct; 216-621-2314;spacesgallery.org
Best Bar for Hooking Up
The Velvet Dog
The Velvet Dog is located in the heart of the Warehouse District, the epicenter of Cleveland hookups. With three floors, Top 40 dance music, and lots of room to mingle, it's no wonder this place is so popular with twentysomethings looking for, um, love is it? It's practically dripping with horny young people. If you can't get laid here on a Friday or Saturday night, you're not trying very hard. Or you're really, ghoulishly ugly.
1280 West Sixth St.; 216-664-1116;
Best Jazz Club
Nighttown is Cleveland's best for so many reasons: It's a cozy room where you can eat dinner, sip drinks, and listen to music. It offers one of the best-sounding venues in the city (perfect for all those little details jazz tucks in the corners). But most of all, a parade of old jazz legends and rising jazz stars play the venue every week.
12383 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-795-0550; nighttowncleveland.com
Best Blues Club
Brothers has been around since the early 1960s, and it's offered a mix of local bluesmen and national legends ever since. The roomy stage is filled virtually every night of the week with musicians playing Chicago blues, Delta blues, and almost any type of blues that falls in between. Plus, the weekly Jam Night (hosted by the Bad Boys of Blues) is one of the best places in town to show off your chops.
11607 Detroit Ave.; 216-226-2767; brotherslounge.com
Best Drag Performer
Kari is a staple of Cleveland's gay club scene, where her platinum-blond hair, tattoos, and ginormous rack make her a standout among a field of so many copycats. She's also a regular at Bounce, where she hosts some of the club's hottest events, lip syncs to dance-floor favorites, and commands the stage with all the force of a guns-blazing tank.
Best Dance Club
The Velvet Dog
Three floors blast all the hits you want to hear, from Britney's latest to that new Lady Gaga song that sounds like Madonna. And the DJs keep the flow moving all night long. And since it's located in the thriving Warehouse District, you'll almost always find a willing dance partner for your big moment on the floor.
1280 West Sixth St.; 216-664-1116;
Best Hip-Hop Club
Earth is one of the best reasons to head to the Flats these days. DJs spin a mad mix of rap classics and club favorites every weekend, and the dance floor is always throbbing with a sweaty mass of bodies. Earth also throws some of the best theme parties in town, ranging from the annual Mardi Gras bash to something called I Love School Girls.
1295 Old River Rd.; 216-816-4418;
Best Comedy Club
Located inside Pickwick & Frolic, this popular comedy club features a mix of funny legends and hilarious up-and-comers. Because Hilarities is part of the bustling East Fourth Street district, shows are always packed with laughing crowds. And the place is roomy enough so you don't have to be in the line of fire of any comedians who use their audience for target practice.
2035 East Fourth St.; 216-736-4242;
Best Gay-Lesbian Bar
There's an unmistakable sense of community at Twist, which gets people together for weekly game nights, dance lessons, karaoke, and happy hours. But Twist is also one of the city's most energetic dance clubs, with some of the best DJs spinning nonstop party mixes that will leave you all hot and sweaty on the floor.
11633 Clifton Blvd.; 216-221-2333;
Best Outdoor Concert Venue
Blossom Music Center
There's no better place to kick back on the lawn and soak in summer's warm rays while listening to live music than at this venerable amphitheater, which has hosted everyone from local favorites Michael Stanley Band to global stars Radiohead. Blossom is also home to the Cleveland Orchestra every summer, just in case al fresco classical music is your thing. But it's the steady stream of classic rockers, jam bands, and country stars who've made Blossom a summertime favorite since the '70s.
1145 West Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls; 330-920-8040; livenation.com
Best Club for Underground Sounds
The Grog Shop supported indie rock long before people started calling it indie rock. Whether it's an upcoming local band playing its first-ever CD-release show or underground legends like J Mascis gracing the stage with his old classics, the Grog proves that you don't have to sell a ton of records to fill a room. Plus, no other club in town ensures your future bragging rights if a band eventually hits it big.
2785 Euclid Hts. Blvd., Cleveland Heights; 216-321-5588; grogshop.gs
Best Karaoke Bar
Tina's Nite Club
You know how some bars host karaoke once, maybe twice a week? Not at Tina's. You can sing "Don't Stop Believin'" every freakin' night of the week here! From the outside, Tina's looks like the kind of place where fights break out a few nights a week. But step inside this glorious dive bar, and you'll quickly make friends over your off-key renditions of Jimmy Buffett and Toby Keith favorites.
5400 Herman Ave.; 216-651-8057
Best Gentlemen's Club
Diamond Men's Club
Diamond (which also has clubs in Canton and Rootstown) offers the usual titillating action onstage seven days a week. But they also serve food, host porn stars, and beam UFC events on big-ass screens. Of course, you're not going to a strip club to eat steak and watch a bunch of douchebags pummel each other, are you? Nope. You're there to see hot ladies take off their clothes. And there's plenty of that going on.
1628 Fall St.; 216-621-1840; dmclubs.com
Not so surprisingly, one of Cleveland's best punk-rock bars features a jukebox loaded with punk-rock classics. We're talking Black Flag. We're talking the Clash. We're talking just about any band that ever hoisted a middle finger and yelled "Oi!" into the microphone.
1539 West 117th St.; 216-226-7748; myspace.com/hardtimescleveland
Best Record Label
Cellar Door Records
The indie-minded Cellar Door (which started as a coffee shop) has shut down and restarted a couple times over the past decade. But they recently released their third Cleveland compilation, featuring some of the city's best artists, including the Modern Electric, Humble Home, and Tom Evanchuck. Good news: Cellar Door is supposedly amping up for a more steady release schedule in the future.
Best Visual Artist
Cleveland native Mallorie Freeman is known for finely wrought, dramatic drawings and monoprints that — in the words of Scene art critic Douglas Max Utter — often go "straight for the mannered gusto of noir," displaying "a wakeful, sensitive, and sometimes profound take on the realities and fantasies of a tired world." She has shown her work extensively throughout the region, including 2010 shows at Asterisk and Proximity galleries. Her newest works are on display now through April 6 at Lava Lounge in Tremont, in an exhibition titled Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
Best Gay/Lesbian Sports Bar
Leather Stallion Saloon
The Leather Stallion has been a favorite of Cleveland's gay scene for more than 40 years. It hosts potluck dinners, throws weekly happy hours, and holds big bashes during the holidays. In fact, it looks an awful lot like your average working-class bar, except for all the leather-clad gay dudes inside.
2205 St. Clair Ave.; 216-589-8588;
Best Sports Bar
Look around inside any one of the popular Winking Lizards in the area and you'll notice there are ginormous TVs everywhere. In the corner. Near the bathrooms. There might even be one on your table. The Lizard also boasts one of the finest beer selections anywhere, which comes in handy when you want to celebrate your team's big win or, perhaps more likely, drown your sorrows after another crushing loss.
Various locations; winkinglizard.com
Best Gay/Lesbian Dance Club
Bounce Night Club
The dance floor isn't superhuge at this perennial favorite, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in energy. DJs always spin the hottest club tracks, and the floor is always packed. Bounce also hosts some of the city's best drag shows, just in case you want to sit back and let someone else move onstage.
2814 Detroit Ave.; 216-357-2997
Best Beer Selection
Buckeye Beer Engine
Don't plan on just taking a spot at the bar and pounding at the Beer Engine. The selection process here is a lot more detailed and time-consuming than at any other brewpub. That's because there are dozens of terrific beers, on tap and in bottles, to choose from. And there's a beer to suit every mood — from berry-flavored happy to thick-and-foamy grumpy.
15315 Madison Ave., Lakewood;
Best Wine Bar
La Cave du Vin
Whether you're looking for an Italian rose or an Australian moscato, there's a good chance you'll find it among the globetrotting varieties at this helpful wine bar and shop. Best of all, La Cave du Vin offers a smorgasbord of fancy cheese, antipasto, and olive apps to pair with your vino.
2785 Euclid Heights Blvd.,
Cleveland Heights; 216-932-6411; lacaveduvin.com
Best Martini Bar
Kevin's Martini Bar
Located in the lower level of Pickwick & Frolic, Kevin's Martini Bar packs an old-school vibe — perfect for date night or hanging with your very own rat pack. Whether you like your drink shaken or stirred, the dozens of different 'tinis on the menu here are like little works of tasty art in long-stemmed glasses.
2035 East Fourth St.; 216-241-7425;
Best Club DJ
DJ Brad Petty books and spins at some of the city's best club nights, including regular gigs at the B Side Liquor Lounge. He leans toward hipster-approved indie rock (he recently released a cool Radiohead remix album), but he's also a master of downtempo and funk. No matter what genre he's working with, Misterbradleyp fuels it all with steady bpms that shake the floor.
Best Neighborhood Bar & Best Hipster Bar
The Happy Dog didn't start out as a hipster bar. Back in the day, it was just a scrappy hot-dog joint that dared you to eat that jelly-bean-and-peanut-butter wiener you just ordered. But then came the PBRs. And then the indie-rock bands. And finally the hipsters. So now you can nosh on that fried-egg-garnished hot dog, down your PBR, and brag about that time you saw Pavement at the Euclid Tavern. Make just a few visits, and they'll remember you like family.
5801 Detroit Ave.; 216-651-9474;
Best Dive Bar
Parkview Nite Club
The Parkview has long been one of Cleveland's best bars — the kind of place you head to after work to down a few beers with your pals. There's nothing fancy here: The place smells like 80 years of history. The menu has been upgraded to include items you'd find at fancy eateries, but the unpretentious vibe seeps through from every nook and cranny.
1261 West 58th St.; 216-961-1341; parkviewniteclub.com
Best Biker Bar
One of Cleveland's most popular bars actually has quite a few things going on. It's a neighborhood bar, it's a live-music bar popular with local musicians, and yes, it's a biker bar. In summer especially, you'll see dozens of motorcycles parked out front. And like most biker bars, it can get a little rowdy at times. But no other place in town combines the smell of leather, exhaust fumes, and cold beer quite like the Garage.
1859 West 25th St.; 216-696-7772;