2011: The Year We Did Not Suck

Two dozen reasons to be proud you were a Clevelander this year

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Ladies Got Their Due

Women have long had to fight to get their voices heard in rock & roll, with increasing success as the musical form has matured. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acknowledged their contributions this year with Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, which remains on display through February 26. In two floors of video, recordings, photos, and costumes, the exhibit shines a spotlight on women from Bessie Smith to Rihanna. It focuses on achievements too often overlooked because of women's sheer lack of numbers among the army of male rockers. Like rock & roll itself, some of it's substance (vintage video of pre-rock gospel and blues pioneers), and some of it's flash — say, the meat dress Lady Gaga wore at the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards.

French People Love Our Movies

With all the talk of The Avengers turning downtown Cleveland into New York City rubble this year, you may have missed Take Shelter, a smaller but no less exciting take on the apocalypse that opened in October. The movie was filmed in Lorain County during three weeks of summer 2010. Not only that, the story actually takes place in Northeast Ohio. It's about a working-class husband and father (Oscar-buzzing Michael Shannon) with a family history of mental illness who begins preparing for the end of the world, which may or may not be coming. It's a terrific film that's picked up a ton of huzzahs — including great word-of-mouth at Sundance and Cannes — and ended up on many critics' Top 10 lists. Here's hoping it continues its winning streak when Academy Award nominations are announced next month.

The Apocalypse Was Canceled

The warnings to repent by May 21 could be seen and heard from a caravan of doomsday RVs that toured Cleveland's springtime streets, as if God himself had launched an arena tour. But, uh, nothing happened. The national Christian doomsday sect behind it all then rescheduled the end of the world for sometime in October. And we are all still here: the believers and nonbelievers, the saintly and the debauched. There's something to be said for the status quo.

We Got an Ice Cream Empire

We've always loved Mitchell's — it's practically our second home, but one with unbelievable ice cream and no laundry to do. But ever since Mitchell's started rolling out more sophisticated flavors this year, we're finding it really hard to stick with just single scoops. The traditional cookies & cream and cake batter are the best in town, but our taste buds break out the top hats and monocles whenever the new chevre strawberry rhubarb, caramel sea salt, crème fraiche apricot, and Christmas Ale ginger snap hit our tongues. Best of all, there are ever more places to get our fix these days, with a recent Huntington Beach location and an Ohio City shop on West 25th Street opening in the spring. After that: Avon and Strongsville. And then ... global dairy domination.

Downtown Got Delicious

Maybe it's a reflection of downtown's rebounding health. Maybe it was just our good luck. But 2011 was the biggest single year in memory for restaurant openings in and around the heart of the city. Among the big names: Brandt Evans' new-American Pura Vida, Jonathon Sawyer's sassy Japanese Noodlecat, Steve Schimoler's bigger-and-better Crop Bistro, Dante Boccuzzi's sushi-centric Ginko, Fady Chamoun's Middle Eastern Taza, and Viaduct Lounge — a true "room with a view" overlooking the Flats, developed by the team of Alan Glazen, Linda Syrek, and Randy Kelly (of ABC & XYZ Tavern fame). These days, our problem isn't where to eat: It's where to eat next.

We Got Us Some Elephants

Lions, tigers, and bears had a rough go of it in Ohio this year. But we did all right by pachyderms, settling them in at a brand-new, five-acre, state-of-the-art facility at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. When the $25 million Elephant Crossing opened in May, it marked the first time elephants had been on display at the zoo since 2008. It was also the first time since 1962 that Cleveland was home to a bull elephant. And with the November arrival of Kallie, 2011 also became the first year ever that the zoo has boasted a herd of six elephants. Record-breaking crowds have turned out to see them. Sure, that's been great for tourism. But if it boosts support for wildlife conservation, it could be great for elephants too.

Jim Thome Came Back

Whack your way through baseball's thicket of stats, and you'll find that Jim Thome's 2011 season included a .256 batting average with only 15 homers — a far cry from the Thomenator's prime. But the numbers game misses the point. The return of the Indians' prodigal son drove needed energy into the Tribe, even as they dragged ass to an also-ran conclusion. The August evening when the favored slugger slapped a towering shot over the right field wall — Jim Thome's first home run back in Indians flannel — may be the defining highlight in a season that for a while offered many of them. And like everything else Thome has done, he handled his homecoming with quiet class.

The Heart of the City Is Beating

Remember when being downtown after 5 p.m. meant you were lost, homeless, or looking to score? Not anymore. Continuing a trend that emerged some 21 months ago, 2011 was the year when joggers and dog-walkers finally outnumbered panhandlers and pervs on the sidewalks during those golden after-work hours. It's spin-off, of course, from apartments and condos that are beginning to burst at the seams. According to folks who know about these things, the occupancy rates in some downtown buildings recently soared to 98 percent or higher, sending developers chasing after potential new projects. Some of that might reflect the lousy housing market; much of it, though, is driven by proud citizens —young professionals and empty nesters — who simply dig the downtown vibe. That there exists a downtown vibe to dig and people happy to do so is something that truly does not suck.

Our Theater District Raised Another Curtain

Playhouse Square — the reinvented downtown hub that has accomplished the most and been lauded the least over the last ten years — notched another series of successes in 2011 that will surely bolster its standing for years to come. The new home of Cleveland Play House, the square completed a thorough renovation of the historic Allen Theatre to accommodate it — a transition that will rightly earn most of the Play House's acclaim this season, regardless of what happens onstage. Recognizing its lack of dining options to pair with its world-class theaters, the neighborhood also lured restaurant magician Zack Bruell (of Parallax, Chinato, Table 45, and L'Albatros fame) to the square, where a grand new eatery is set to open in 2012. It's just another step in Playhouse Square's methodical march to otherworldly greatness.

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