The instinct, once the sun disappears and the temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, hits hard. It tells you to hunker down, to hibernate, to hide indoors, ideally beneath blankets, probably watching the same Parks and Recreation episodes you've seen a dozen times. This weather, this godforsaken season... not fit for man nor beast, it says.
It's easy to obey, to give in, to write off the winter months and wait out the spring. But what a waste. Doing so may protect you from all manners of evil that arrive with whipping winds off Lake Erie this time of year — blizzards, traffic, sub-zero notches on the thermometer, extended family — but it also means missing out on everything good that comes with the bitter ice and snow.
We're not asking you to layer up and ride the Iditarod here. Staring down Old Man Winter, or even embracing him, doesn't mean you have to go ice fishing or defiantly fire up the grill in a pair of Tommy Bahama shorts. It just means being a little adventurous, and, yes, cozy and well fed too. With that in mind, the Scene staff, hearty veterans of Cleveland winters all, has some recommendations on how to not only make it through the winter, but how to come out the other end a little better for the effort.
You're going to want to eat. You have to anyway, of course, but this time of year calls for sturdy sustenance, the kind of dishes that warm your belly after bracing the elements or fuel your body, the fine-tuned machine that it is, in preparation for that nap you've been thinking about all day.
Char Siu, Otani Noodle
The ramen wave is starting to hit Cleveland in a big way with the arrival of Xinji in Ohio City and Otani Noodle in the former Noodlecat space near Public Square. Which is perfect timing, because nothing warms the cockles better than some broth and noodles. Otani's signature dish — the char siu — shouldn't be missed. Roasted pork is served in a delicious tonkotsu broth with ramen noodles, scallions, mushrooms, seaweed, corn and a boiled egg. It's the Japanese version of chicken noodle soup and it's taking over the city.
Bun Bo Hue, Asia Tea House
When it comes to off-the-beaten-path restaurants, you'd have a hard time topping Asia Tea House. To get here, you first need to pay a visit to the AsiaTown neighborhood. Once there, make your way to Asian Town Center, a 115,000-square-foot warehouse-turned-mall, the anchor tenant of which is Asia Foods, a sprawling Asian grocery. If you enter that store and wind your way clear to the back — past the produce coolers, live seafood tanks and butcher counter — you'll reach a point where the market ends and the warehouse begins. Congratulations: You just found Asia Tea House. Next up, order the Bun Bo Hue, the spicy Vietnamese beef noodle soup. This oil-slicked winter warmer is like the punk rock version of pho, with blistering heat, fatty brisket, bright lemongrass highs, and thick round noodles in place of pho's thin, flat and delicate ones.
Christmas Ale Donut, Brewnuts
Cleveland reached peak donut this year, and my what a mighty delicious summit. Among those responsible for that accomplishment is Brewnuts, whose home in Detroit Shoreway is a cozy combination of bar, coffeehouse and done factory perfect for a chilly weekend morning or afternoon. Get with the season and order yourself a Great Lakes Christmas Ale Donut. Made with Great Lakes Christmas Ale and holiday spice icing, it's all topped with a ginger snap crumble and sprinkles. Carbs are always good. They're just better in the form of a donut.
It may sound insane, but there are actual lifelong Clevelanders who have never eaten at Sokowoloski's University Inn. It's inexplicable, really. If you're in that bunch, fix that now. The treasure has been dishing up eastern European goodness since 1923 — it's the second oldest restaurant in Cleveland, after Little Italy's Guarinos — and it remains the quintessential Cleveland dining experience. There's no more quintessential Cleveland dish than the pierogi, a potato-filled dumpling served with sour cream and onions. They make for a perfect side dish for any of Sokolowski's hearty entrees (we humbly recommend the chicken paprikash), but, really, who needs all that other stuff anyway.
Braised Lamb Fettuccine, Black Pig
One doesn't, and shouldn't, automatically go to a place called Black Pig and order the lamb. And when it comes to Mike Nowak's gem, snuggled behind Dave's Supermarket in Ohio City, you should absolutely dig into all of the piggy dishes. But we have a hard time passing on the braised lamb fettuccine. Each swirled bite of kale and cheese and meat melts in your mouth like your grandmother's pot roast.
Netflix isn't going anywhere, pal. And do you really want to log another dozen hours rewatching The Office, especially when some low-level data analyst at Netflix is going to come across your account and know exactly how sad and completely mundane your life is? Get a jumpstart on actually fulfilling your impending New Year's resolution to read more, or make good on that same promise you made last year, and pick up a freaking book.
Ill Will, by Dan Chaon
An emotional thriller set in Cleveland featuring satanic cults and True-Detective-ish investigations? Count us in. This novel, written by local laureate Dan Chaon, was published in 2017 to widespread critical acclaim. It was called the "scariest novel of the year" by the Washington Post and celebrated as a "creepy headtrip" by the Chicago Tribune. It focuses on a psychiatrist who attempts to investigate a serial killer as his half-brother (who was wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of their parents) has just been released.
Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting
Alissa Nutting, the fiction writer who taught at John Carroll for several years, has written an audacious, hilarious follow-up to her acclaimed 2013 novel, Tampa. It's Made for Love, and it arrived this summer "with all the irrepressible, grotesque flamboyance of a flasher at a funeral," wrote NPR. Her latest follows Hazel, a woman who has abandoned her husband, a tech CEO (for a company called Gogol) who has implanted a chip in her brain. Meantime, a con artist discovers a sexual preference for dolphins. Readers can expect doses of the outrageous — sex dolls are bigger players than dolphins, truth be told — and prose that leaps off the page. It's also got one of the more inspired characters in modern literary fiction, a loner and part-time gravesitter named "Liver."
Sandwich Anarchy, by John G
This one's easy, no reading involved. Local artist John G is a friend of Scene. He has designed several of our publication's most memorable covers this year, including the infamous Frank Jackson "Thriller" illustration. This year, he also released Sandwich Anarchy, which includes prints from John G's poster designs for Melt Bar & Grilled. John G created more than 250 posters since 2008 with Melt founder Matt Fish, including for iconic sandwiches like the Parmageddon and the Wake and Bacon. Experience them all in this eye-popping volume, available at local bookstores and at Barnes & Noble online.
50 Must-Try Craft Beers of Ohio,by Rick Armon
A local newspaper reporter and beer blogger, Rick Armon traveled the state tasting beer as he researched his book, 50 Must-Try Craft Beers of Ohio. In the 200-something page book, you'll find detailed descriptions of local winter beers such as Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Brew Kettle's Jack Hammer and Thirsty Dog's Wulver Wee Heavy Ale. The book also includes chapters on the best breweries to visit, the origins of brewery names (local joints such Bad Tom Smith Brewing Co. and Butcher and the Brewer each have entries), influential people in the Ohio brewing world (profiles of local folks such as Fat Head's Brewery's Matt Cole, Winking Lizard's John Lane, Hoppin' Frog's Fred Karm and Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s Pat and Dan Conway) and Ohio foods that go well with Ohio beers (pierogies and sauerkraut balls, naturally).
Little Fires Everywhere,by Celeste Ng
This sophomore novel from Celeste Ng has received universal rave reviews for many reasons but partly because the setting — Shaker Heights — is so thoroughly and meticulously brought to life, becoming a character itself. There's good reason for that — it's where Ng grew up. "Writing about my hometown is a little bit like writing about a relative," she told NPR. "You see all of the great things about them, you love them dearly, and yet you also know all of their quirks and their foibles." Here that means a deep, complex novel about race, community and families as a single mother and her daughter upend the idyllic life of the suburb.
With the proportionate relationship between holiday caloric intake (read: too many winter and Christmas ales) and the width of your belly and love handles comes an urgency to be proactive in limiting the spreading diameter of your midsection. Your spring and summer co-ed soccer and softball leagues are still months away, but that doesn't mean you're sequestered to the treadmill until everything thaws.
Indoor Golfing at Lost Nation Sports Park
When the snow and sleet and wind have you jonesin' for the sight of green, and your golf bag sits frozen and idling in your trunk, you need not spring for flights to South Carolina or Hawaii to hit the links. You can drive to Lost Nation Sports Park in Willoughby for a state-of-the-art indoor golfing experience. You can use your own clubs or rent a complimentary set as you cruise through 18 holes at some of the world's most famous courses in about an hour. The digital system is incredibly precise, meaning your shots will still hook and slice and bounce off trees, just like they would outdoors. Playing inside means you don't have to walk or drive to your next shot, the digital simulator takes you right there. (Cost: $32/hour, $17/half-hour.)
Shuffleboard at Forest City Shuffleboard
No, you're not on a luxury cruise ship with your grandma's Florida retirement community pals; you're right here in Cleveland. This Ohio City establishment boasts five indoor and two outdoor full-sized shuffleboard courts perfect for when you want to be sort of active, but not too much, and with a beer in hand. Play is reserved by the hour or in group league sessions, and is a breeze to learn. With 20 beers on tap and more TVs than you can shake a cue at, Forest City's a snowbird paradise on the north shore.
Sledding, Thornton Park, Shaker Heights
Sledding ain't just for the kids, folks. Plunk down a ten-spot at your local sporting good store for a saucer and hit the hills, because channeling your inner child is one way to remember that there are, in fact, good things to experience in this world, despite what the news and your Twitter feed are telling you. Sure, you should call your congressional representatives to voice your concern over tax bills and net neutrality, but you can do that on the way to or from your favorite local plunge. Thornton Park hill in Shaker Heights is one of our favorites.
Learn to Ski, Finally
Strapping on the skis for the first time only to stand next to a bunch of kindergartners can be a bit humiliating. Kids are much closer to the ground; they bounce back easily after a fall. But don't let them intimidate you. Skiing is not just something rich people's children should learn. Adults, yes even mid-income ones in their 20s or 30s, should try, too. The secret to hitting the slopes your first time is to take lessons. And at Boston Mills, and its sister nextdoor at Brandywine, group lessons begin at $25 (or $75 for lesson, rental and day ski pass). Remember to not compare yourself to the 5-year-olds on the slopes. With skiing, you don't have to be athletic, just determined. The best part of weathering the cold and the inevitable soreness to come is that ice-cold beer waiting for you at the end of the day in the lodge, something none of those kids get to enjoy.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
You're going to want some New Year's Eve plans. Yes, we know, it's amateur hour, but if any year is worth burying in the rearview with nothing but good thoughts for the future, it's this miserable 2017. In that spirit, this Dec. 31 is one worth getting off the couch for, if just momentarily.
Pickwick & Frolic/Hilarities
Want to post up downtown but no one in your group can really agree on what to do? Head to the East Fourth Street comedy club. There's a dinner buffet with salmon, rosemary and garlic pork and herb-roasted chicken. Meanwhile, Chicago-based comedian Pat McGann will be performing stand-up and local musicians Tony Quarles and the Discovery Band will be rocking the house with live tunes all night. Is there more? Of course! Viva Las Vegas is putting on a cabaret show and a champagne toast awaits at midnight, along with party favors and a balloon drop that will give this eclectic night the perfect New Year's Eve touch. Packages are available for all the different acts.
Cle Urban Winery
This Cleveland Heights, located in the historic Cedar-Lee neighborhood, is an industrial-chic winery and relative newcomer to the neighborhood, opening last summer. It's already a bustling favorite, and New Year's Eve will be no exception. Their customer appreciation party will feature local singer-songwriter Diana Chittester performing from 7 to 10 p.m., a DJ who'll continue the good grooves the rest of the night. Complimentary wine will be handed out at midnight and appetizers will be passed around throughout the evening.
Good tunes are the prescription for a healthy start to 2018 at the Grog Shop where ska/punk reggae band Bumpin' Uglies from Annapolis, Maryland, along with Dutty, a Haitian reggae musician, will keep spirits high to start the evening. Following them: Tropidelic, a funky jam band from Kent and local psychedelic rock band Vibe and Direct. A champagne toast will go down at midnight, at which point you might want something other than a PBR tall boy or Black Label... maybe.
Cleveland Pops Orchestra
The 22nd annual Legends of Rock-and-Roll New Year's Eve Celebration from the Cleveland Pops Orchestra will make Severance Hall ground zero for two hours of hits from the 1950s through the '90s on NYE. Featuring Ashtabula-native Connor Bogart O'Brien, the orchestra will role through songs from Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles and many more. The party doesn't stop there, of course. Following the Pops, the No Name Band and the Pops Jazz Ensemble keep the shindig rolling to the wee early hours.
Cloud Nothings at Beachland Ballroom
We put a lot of pressure on New Year's Eve in this country. Dec. 31 needs to be the most fun, we say, and the kiss at the end of the night must impress. But here's a secret: treat it like a regular celebration of life on a normal weekend and expectations are always met. That's why the Cloud Nothings show at the Beachland Ballroom is one of your best bets this NYE. The Cleveland-based band had a huge 2017 — releasing Life Without Sound in January, playing Lollapalooza, and opening for Japandroids on tour — but the indie rock band's retro '90s-themed show at Beachland is a homecoming of sorts, and that feels right and decidedly normal. Openers include Half an Animal, Christmas Pets, The Village Bicycle and Forager.
COFFEE & TEA
Caffeine. Pronto. And something warm. Preferably together. And a quiet, cozy space to get some work done without your eager but annoying nieces around, same with those co-workers who want to regale you with every unnecessary detail about what side dishes did what to their delicate gastro-intestinal systems last weekend. Thankfully, we've got some helpful suggestions.
If you know, you know. Gypsy is the titan of westside indie coffee shops, and you can bet that you'll encounter at least three major business or political stakeholders during your visit. It's warm and inviting, while also feeling like a Gordon Square-size Grand Central. Chef-owner Nicole Gillota presides over a global menu of hot beverages ("passport lattes"), and the daily coffee brews are a true delight. (Don't sleep on that pizza, either. Or the vegan baked goods.) Gordon Square recently caught a nice little profile in the New York Times, and we all know from firsthand experience that it's a wonderful neighborhood — morning, night or weekend. Now get thee to Gypsy and feel the true romance of wintertime in Cleveland.
We often think of breweries and choice dining when we think of the West 25th/Market corridor. And, sure, this neighborhood remains the place to be for nightlife and subsequent weekend brunching. But Koffie Cafe has quietly held steady as one of the nicer refuges for a caffeinated rendezvous on the near west side. Between the nice little bar and the cafe tables tucked together along the window, there's always a spot to post up and chat with local movers and shakers here. It doesn't get the headlines that its westside competition gets, but that makes it all the more enticing for the casual coffee bean fan.
Cleveland Tea Revival
There's nothing quite like a hot cup of tea in the winter. Tea aficionados will tell you as much, but we know that there are plenty of tea-curious folks out there, too. You can dip your toes into the world of black teas, green teas, jasmine-infused pearls, matcha and so on. Cleveland Tea Revival, located right on West 29th Street, is the perfect place for both tea audiences, old and new alike. Its calming interior makes the menu easy to navigate, and there are a few seats along the window for writers in need of shelter. Please don't miss the "living" wall of plants on the building's southern side; it's an Ohio City icon at this point.
Algebra Tea House
Featuring a robust menu of ethnic teas and global coffees, this quiet haunt is a warm and cozy wintertime retreat. We love the hot beverages and the homemade middle-eastern cuisine, but we're also big fans of the handcrafted wooden furniture and the earthenware plates and mugs. It's the most unique coffeeshop in Cleveland, with one of the friendliest owners and hosts. And because it caters to Case Western students (who can be spotted with textbooks day and night), it's open later than most as well. You can't miss the oddly shaped door and green frontage on Murray Hill.
On Shaker Square, with the Rapid Transit whirring in the background and the Christmas decorations on every visible sill, the Dewey's Coffee experience is optimized for wintertime. You can enjoy the warmth of an organic, local, fair-trade brew while people-watching through the big windows. While we recommend Dewey's for a meetup with an old friend — maybe rekindle a romance over Christmas break? — it's also well-suited for studying or reading a good book that you just bought at Loganberry on Larchmere.
Oh, you want something stronger? Of course you do. And while we're all for grabbing that sixer on the way home and propping our feet up firmly on the recliner, it lacks a certain sentiment of the season. Winter drinking, much like any other drinking, is all about finding that magic elixir that perfectly matches setting and suds/spirit. Our humble, and totally correct, recommendations:
The Spotted Owl
Tremont's The Spotted Owl is the dark, subterranean lair that's perfect for the winter season. Blue-collar shot-and-a-beer bars are a dime a dozen in Cleveland, and while we love and cherish most of them, sometimes the situation calls for a well-crafted cocktail. (And if not, you can order the "Granddad and the Grenade" — a Coors and an Old Forester Bourbon — at the Owl). This moody bar is already perfect for low, late-night conversations and/or literary musings, but with a full Christmas cocktail menu, the ambience is enhanced further still. Might we recommend the "Run Run Rudolph," featuring tequila, coffee liqueur, and Mexican spices? Or perhaps the "Snowball Old Fashioned" with gingerbread bourbon and wormwood bitters. You really can't go wrong.
Forest City Brewery
We can think of no finer place to hunker down this winter than Forest City Brewery. It may be the perfect location for wintertime drinking (and their beer garden is no snoozer when it comes to summertime drinking). Once inside, sidle up to the bar and order yourself a Bavarian Kaffee. It's Forest City's charming and fulfilling chocolate coffee stout, and it will rush all your winter blues away. Grab a game from the shelves or kick back and watch some playoff football on the projection screen. It's all of a piece here.
For those who like the way sour things roll on the tongue, the New York Sour ($13) at Society Lounge is incredibly satisfying. This isn't anything like those whiskey sours you used to pound back in college, the ones made with plastic bottle whiskey and chemical-tasting sour mix. This is a beverage lovingly handmade with rye whisky, real lemon juice, simple syrup and a very special ingredient, Argentine red wine, which adds a rich depth to the puckering effect. Best of all the drink, which dates back to the 1880s, fits in smashingly with Society Lounge's high-end basement oasis vibe. Here, you're fancy. Even if for one drink.
You know who didn't mind the cold? Vikings. So what more perfect setting for a winter nightcap or happy hour than a Viking-themed bar? Yes, it exists. LBM, which recently opened in Birdtown, is a Viking bar with heavy metal vibes, detailed all the way down to the cocktail names (the Spoils of Asgard, Blood Eagle, Seaside Terror). They're all delicious but we find ourselves coming back to the Fate of It All (gin, lemon, apple rosemary cordial, Cynar). LBM sports one of the cheapest happy hours around and a bona-fide menu of small plates to counteract the boozy concoctions.
In terms of setting, you can't get more Christmas and holiday season than a bar directly across from the Christmas Story house. There are many reasons to love the Rowley (its early morning hours, its breakfast, its cheap, cheap booze), and they're all heightened due to the proximity to one of the city's most famous landmarks, especially in the weeks before and after marathon viewings of the Christmas classic. Keep it simple with a shot of well whiskey. Full-length pink rabbit onesie optional but encouraged.
TAKE A HIKE
Literally. Sure, you're basically the poster child for Outdoor Magazine in the summer when the sun is shining and the views totally IG-worthy, but limiting your enjoyment of Northeast Ohio's varied and wondrous trails to the nicer months means missing out on the quiet solitude and snowy grandeur of a short hike in the less traveled months of the calendar. Layering is key here. And avoid cotton. Secure a nice pair of boots. That's all you need to take in the splendor of a reinvigorating winter walk on one of these five trails.
You can't go wrong with just about any trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but we're very fond of Salt Run, which winds for about four miles around a few ponds and enough hills to keep even the most experienced hiker engaged with the terrain. Salt Run is part of a network of trails that runs east off Akron Peninsula Road, one of the main traffic arteries of the park. Upon arriving at the trailhead, a terrific wall of pines will beckon you inside. Bring proper footwear; the hills aren't insane, but the snow and ice will make this trail a bit more challenging this time of year.
Most people around here have at the very least heard of Squire's Castle, that sturdy North Chagrin Reservation relic to a lost time in Northeast Ohio history. Built in the 1890s by one Feargus B. Squire as a home for his gatekeeper, the castle was meant to be just a small part of a future estate that never materialized. These days, it's a picturesque getaway for picnics and a little bit of hiking. After you've Instagrammed your visit, you should wander behind the castle and into the woods. There, a sprawling network of neatly trimmed trails awaits. For the most part, this is moderate terrain; it's a bit hilly back there, but this is family-friendly hiking for all ages. Bring binoculars, and keep an eye out for birds.
Whether you look like a lumberjack already and want to up your cred or consider yourself an extreme sports up-and-comer, get thee to Cleveland Axe Throwing in Valley View where you can competitively throw an axe at a target. Yes, this is real, a bit of ESPN7 come to life. Two-hour sessions for $32 a person will give you every opportunity to take out your aggression ... er, display your deft skill, we mean. Experts will guide you through the ins and outs and rotations of accurately chucking a 1.5-pound axe, and doing so safely.
Cleveland Metroparks Blue Moon Hike
The Blue Moon Hike only comes along once in a blue moon, so you'll not want to miss this one. Each month, the Metroparks leads visitors in a full moon hike across one of the many Northeast Ohio trails. Because January 2018 gets two full moons, the second full moon — the "Blue Moon" on Jan. 31 — almost feels like a bonus event for nighttime hikers. These are fun and mostly easy-going hikes; as long as there's little to no cloud cover, you won't need a flashlight or anything. Bring good boots — and maybe even some boot chains or a similar product — because you can reasonably expect ice and snow along the route. Check clevelandmetroparks.com for future full moon hikes; for this one, meet at the Hinckley Lake Boathouse. The hike will be 3.4 miles, and it's free to join.
Maybe you've climbed the semi-endless flights of stairs in the North Olmsted reservation to bask in the fall foliage dotting the Rocky River valley. You probably haven't climbed those same stairs, ascending 90 feet above the riverbed, for an altogether different but equally mesmerizing view at a snow-covered landscape. Continue on along the valley, winding along the edge before dipping to a marshy landscape and back to the sanctity of the warm car.
Yes, comforts. For all our bellyaching about getting the hell out of the house we know there will be hours, and likely days and maybe weeks, when that's not possible or practical or advised. (Samesies.) Get cozy AF with the following:
Ol' Christmas Tree Candle, Cleveland Candle Co.
With two locations (Coventry and Diamond Centre roads in Mentor) the Cleveland Candle Company is here to deliver you the sweetest scented accompaniments to the season. They offer more than 150 varieties, and if you somehow can't find anything you like in the bunch, you can also design your own. This time of year, nothing makes us feel homier and happier than the 'Ol' Christmas Tree' version, the perfect substitute if you can't get the real thing into your residence or if you've long chucked the tree and miss the piney wafts. Over 90 percent of the oils used in their candles are locally sourced and all of their labels are printed on recycled paper made right here in Cleveland, which makes this a win-win for you and local businesses.
Believeland Beanie, Homage
Homage, the Columbus-based apparel company, has been slinging some of the best vintage sports gear around since 2007. In the ensuing decade, they've branched out to include apparel for just about any team you love. Their heart is still in Ohio, though, as is yours. For our money and cold noggin, there's nothing finer or more appropriate than the Believeland beanie, available in both Cavs and Indians color combinations. (Not the Browns, though, because why would anyone want that?)
Naming Wrongs Hoodie
The Browns suck and the Cavs really doesn't matter until the spring, which has us and probably many of you thinking and talking about the Indians instead. As we count down the days until pitchers and catchers report, we like to do so in an "I Still Call It the Jake" hoodie from the Naming Wrongs collection. Yes, the building at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario will always be Jacobs Field to us (sorry, Progressive). Grab one for yourself or another corporate-naming opponent in your life at teespring.com/stores/naming-wrongs.
If you ever wanted to wear your emotions on your sleeve in a literal sense, drop by Dittohouse's online store and pick up an emote throw. The blanket, made from recycled cotton and sustainable fibers, is basically an entire emoji keyboard beneath which you can bury yourself for the duration of your latest binge-watching session. Toasty warm, of course, and it sure beats talking to people.