I never thought I’d be saying that I really want to plan a future trip to Cleveland, but, here we are.
I didn’t just pick Cleveland randomly. I was there this weekend for a cousin’s wedding, literally, for almost exactly 25 hours. It was a quick trip, leaving early Saturday morning, and heading out at a reasonable time Sunday, so that we could get to bed at a reasonable time Sunday night. Still, despite being in the city for such little time, and spending almost none of that actually exploring the city due to wedding commitments, I could say that I was properly impressed, and want to return and explore at my leisure.
The drive from Scranton to Cleveland really isn’t that much worse than Pittsburgh or Erie. It’s a lot of flat, rolling hills, and western-PA nothingness. It’s an easy drive , and you essentially stay on 80 most of the way. 6 hours in the car is never ideal, but for some reason I had it in my head that Cleveland was much farther. Approaching Cleveland in the manner we did is akin to approaching NYC from certain parts of New Jersey, or Philadelphia from the south; it’s very industrial, and not super nice to look at. It probably didn’t help that the neighborhood we stopped at around noon, to get a pre-wedding bite to eat (at McDonald’s, the third we’d been to that morning), wasn’t the most up and up. We stopped at an AirBnB my brother had rented after that, to get all suited up, and headed downtown where the wedding and reception were to be held.
One of the first things I noticed once we got off the highway was how clean the downtown area is. As spotlessly really, as a city could be. And while it’s not always indicative of somewhere being a great place to spend time, everything looked nice, and new, even if you could tell it wasn’t. There was also a lot of green space, and Lake Erie in the distance, added a nice backdrop.
Again, unfortunately, I didn’t really get a real grasp of Cleveland at all Saturday afternoon. We met up with a bunch of family staying downtown, and walked the few blocks from the hotel everyone was staying at, to the church. I did notice they have their own bikeshare program, and that the super wide, and not very busy streets, make it appear to be a great town to explore via bike. I’ve been googling several bike tours for this hypothetical return trip.
We went to a place called the Winking Lizard between the wedding and reception (aside for anyone who clicked on that link: that’s an alligator, and not a lizard, right?), mostly because it was just a few blocks from the church, and didn’t have an issue accommodating a party of 12 on short notice. It was serviceable, but unremarkable in a way local chains usually are. They do have a point against them for serving me a Moscow Mule in a glass. Maybe I’ll give them 2 stars on Yelp someday. I was hoping for a few more Cleveland-centric brews on their menu, but in hindsight, sticking to Miller Light was probably the best choice for a long wedding session. Cleveland does have a thriving brewery scene, and I think I want to take every tour the Cleveland Brew Bus offers. After my foray in Richmond, I’ve decided that if a city has brew bus, that is the way I’ll experience its breweries.
The wedding was in an area called The Flats, right on the Cuyahoga River, an old industrial section of town that seemed recently revitalized, and gave me heavy Pittsburgh vibes. Windows on the River was the venue, and located in the same building as the Cleveland Aquarium, which we did not visit, although we did hear whale sounds walking in, that I’m pretty sure did not come from an actual whale. The wedding was a lot of fun. I was able to catch up with family we don’t see often, and all three courses of the meal were delicious. Also, they were big. I often have issues with the way wedding food is portioned. I’m a growing boy, and need to be fed thusly. The after party was at a bar/bowling alley hybrid called The Corner Alley, located on East 4th St., a pedestrian only fairway filled with places to eat and drink. Again though, I didn’t do any exploring as hanging with cousins was the priority.
It was our time exploring Sunday morning that really cemented what a cool city Cleveland was, mostly in part due to an excellent brunch, and a very famous, very fragile lamp.
My brother had found out the the house where “A Christmas Story” was filmed, sits in a neighborhood just outside downtown. The house is preserved as a museum, and sitting in the window, casting a “soft glow of electric sex,” is the infamous leg-lamp. That was the one thing I really wanted to see (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who?). Honestly, I probably haven’t sat and watched “A Christmas Story” in years, but like so many people, it was an integral part of my childhood, and is just so often on in the background during the holiday season. It’s one of those movies that you could so easily quote and reference, without confusing people (even if Christmas Vacation is the superior film). I forgot how many great quotes, I still regularly use, come from that film. What first reminded me, was the glorious cocktail menu, seen below, from the Rowley Inn, a fantastic neighborhood corner bar, located kitty-corner from the Christmas Story House.
I’m getting ahead of myself though.
We wanted to visit the Christmas Story House, so looked for a place to brunch close by. My father said he felt like a diner, so my brother googled ones nearby, and somehow found the Southside Cleveland, which was not a diner, but again, another really great neighborhood bar, that had a really nice outdoor patio, and excellent brunch. I had an open faced grilled cheese sandwich topped with fried eggs, bacon, and beer cheese. The lack of pictures are a testament to just how good it was, and just how fast it disappeared.
We went to the Christmas Story House afterwards, and were dismayed to learn that in order to go inside, you needed to go on a 45 minute guided tour, that we just didn’t have time to do. But were able to walk around the house, take a picture with the lamp in the window, visit the aforementioned Rowley Inn, and the giftshop next door. The whole thing could’ve felt super hokey, and it really might be, but it felt familiar and nostalgic in a way that only a semi-obscure location from a film you’ve seen countless times can. Despite not doing the tour, I can’t properly describe what a kick I got out of just walking around that block, and drinking a cocktail made of a real, chocolate Ovaltine.
Some things I definitely want to check out on a return to Cleveland, in addition to the brew bus, and bike tours, would be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cuyahoga National Park, and possibly a day trip out to Put-In-Bay, an island out in Lake Erie where you travel primarily by scooter and golf cart.