Out of Town: Cleveland & Gay Games 9

By Andrew Collins

One of the most historic and beloved public food markets in the country West Side Market is in the heart of Cleveland's LGBT-popular Ohio City neighborhood. Photo by Andrew Collins

The host this summer of the ninth installment of the Gay Games festival, which was established in 1994 (and then known as the Gay Olympics), Cleveland has been the focus of an ambitious, ongoing urban renaissance in recent years. The downtown core, with its considerable stock of stately early-20th-century buildings, has seen an influx of attractions and hotels, while outlying neighborhoods like Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City, Tremont and Cleveland Heights have become magnets for cool indie restaurants, coffeehouses, theaters, arts spaces and retail shops. This working-class metropolis that suffered through a deep urban decline during much of the second-half of the 20th century is looking better than ever these days, and locals are counting on the Gay Games as a perfect opportunity to show LGBT visitors what Cleveland has to offer.

Gay Games 9

The ninth edition of the Gay Games - which have taken place previously in Cologne, Chicago, Sydney, Amsterdam, New York City, Vancouver and San Francisco - is set to take place in Cleveland as well as nearby Akron from Aug. 9 through Aug. 16. More than 35 different sports will be represented at the games, including beach volleyball, cycling, flag football, golf, open-water swim, rock-climbing, soccer, softball, tennis and many others. There are also two "cultural" events, band and chorus, and all kinds of related gatherings, ceremonies and parties will take place throughout the week at venues around town, including downtown's Festival Village (the new Mall C park, at City Hall and overlooking FirstEnergy Stadium).

You can learn more about competing, watching events and attending the Games at the official Gay Games site (http://gg9cle.com), which lists a full calendar of events, travel planning information, a history of the games and even details on how to volunteer to help with this internationally renowned gathering.

Exploring Cleveland

Ironically, the abandonment of downtown Cleveland (positivelycleveland.com) during the 1950s through 1970s helped to preserve the commercial core's bounty of Victorian and turn-of-the-century commercial and residential architecture, from warehouse buildings that stood empty for decades to gleaming art deco towers that have undergone complete renovations in recent decades. Sports stadiums, theaters and a glitzy casino have all contributed to the current urban buzz.

Action has always and still does revolve around Public Square, a regal park of fountains and statuary over which looms the focal point of the downtown comeback, the completely restored Tower City Center. Built in 1929, this 52-story complex houses restaurants, upscale shops and a commuter rail station. Adjoining the complex, the Horseshoe Casino opened in 2012 inside an impressive Victorian-era department store building and contains more than 2,000 slot machines and about 90 table games.

Walk a several blocks east along Euclid Avenue and you'll reach the downtown theater district, Playhouse Square, a hub of highly respected performance venues. And a short walk south are two prominent sports venues, Quicken Loans Arena (home to the NBA's Cavaliers) and Progressive Field (where baseball's Indians play).

A few blocks north, along the shores of Lake Erie, the pyramidal, I.M. Pei-designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the seminal pop-cultural museums in the world, offering visitors an invigorating tour of music over the past 70 years - exhibits touch on the entire history of the rock genre, with special attention given to the nearly 300 renowned artists who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including LGBT-popular acts like Donna Summer, R.E.M., Blondie, Michael Jackson, Queen, David Bowie, and Elton John. In 2014, famed (and openly gay) Beatles manager Brian Epstein was among the inductees. Nearby cultural highlights include the Great Lakes Science Center and the home of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, FirstEnergy Stadium. Across the marina from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Voinovich Bicentennial Park is a pleasant lakeside spot for a picnic, or admiring the city skyline, and it's also where Cleveland Gay Pride takes place each year in June.

Abutting downtown is the Warehouse District, a tract of beautifully restored cast-iron buildings that now house several good restaurants, a handful of funky shops and galleries, and dozens of gorgeous loft apartments. Down a steep hill are the city's once-anemic river flats, which have also been spiffed up with a handful of notable eateries and nightspots as well as the impressive Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

Drive 10 minutes east of downtown to reach the city's primary cultural and educational center, 550-acre University Circle. Don't miss the Georgian-style Cleveland Museum of Art, which recently completed a fantastic renovation and expansion that has greatly increased the exhibit space. Within walking distance are such outstanding attractions as the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and the highly rewarding Cleveland Botanical Garden. From here you're a quick hop to Cleveland Heights, a diverse and lively community with a sizable gay and lesbian following and a wealth of inviting shops and restaurants, most of them along bustling Coventry Road.

In the other direction, just west of downtown, Ohio City is the name of a historic neighborhood (not a separate municipality) that abounds with fine Victorian homes and has become a hot spot in recent years for trendy eateries and lounges (notably along West 25th Street) as well as one of the Midwest's great culinary attractions, West Side Market, which was begun in 1840s and is home to some 100 vendors proffering everything from fresh produce to Polish pierogis to local artisan cheeses - it's really a chance for local people-watching at its best.

Venture a short drive south to another of the city's more recently gentrified neighborhoods, Tremont, where along main drags like Starkweather Avenue and Literary Road you'll find dozens of inviting lounges and hipster-favored eateries. Another up-and-coming neighborhood on the city's west side is Detroit-Shoreway, which contains a cluster of noteworthy cafes and theaters along Detroit Avenue between West 58th and West 75th streets.

Farther west, in the Edgewater Park neighborhood as well as the neighboring suburb of Lakewood, you'll find a handful of gay-oriented businesses, including bars and restaurants - this area is more popular with locals than visitors, but it is worth checking out if you're interested in LGBT nightlife.

Dining and Nightlife

Cleveland's dining scene has long been influenced by its sizable immigrant populations, with restaurants serving Eastern European, Polish, Greek and Italian food especially popular. In recent years, however, sophisticated downtown restaurants and inviting neighborhood eateries have been making their mark, serving regionally sourced farm-to-table fare and ethnic foods from more far-flung cultures.

In the downtown core, don't miss Cowell & Hubbard (http://cowellhubbard.com) for a romantic, pre-theater feast, or the convivial Greenhouse Tavern (http://thegreenhousetavern.com) for exceptionally well-crafted "gastro-pub" dining and drinking. When venturing east, look to locally beloved Tommy's Restaurant (tommyscoventry.com) for delish vegan and vegetarian cuisine and swell-elegant L'Albatros (albatrosbrasserie.com) - near the Cleveland Museum of Art - for deftly executed contemporary French food. And be sure to stop by artisan-roaster Phoenix Coffee for an expresso drink (there are other Phoenix locations in downtown's Playhouse Square and on Lee Road). Ohio City food highlights include Bar Cento (barcento.com) for mod Italian fare and neighboring Bier Markt (http://bier-markt.com) for craft brews, as well as the SOHO Kitchen & Bar (sohocleveland.com), which turns out superb New South cuisine, like New Orleans-barbecue scallops and crisp fried chicken with baked mac 'n' cheese.

Not far away in Tremont, critically acclaimed Lolita (http://lolitarestaurant.com) - which is helmed by celeb chef Michael Symon - and Bac Asian American Bistro (http://bactremont.com) wow visitors with creative cuisine, while trendy but laid-back Fat Cats (http://coolplacestoeat.com/fatcats.html) is one of the coolest neighborhood restaurants in the city (try to make it here for the wildly popular brunch on Saturdays). Gypsy Beans & Bakery (http://gypsybeans.com) in Detroit-Shoreway's Gordon Square Arts District is a groovy coffeehouse, while nearby Luxe Kitchen & Lounge (http://luxecleveland.com) can be counted on for tasty pizzas, tapas and eclectic small plates. Out in the Cudell/Edgewater area, the Diner on Clifton (http://dineronclifton.com) is worth stopping by for breakfast, lunch or late-night dining - it's a favorite among patrons of the area's nearby gay bars.

The top gay nightspots in Cleveland are include Ohio City's fun video bar and club Bounce (http://bouncecleveland.com), which also has a quite good restaurant serving tapas, flatbreads, sandwiches, and the like; the popular Hawk Bar (http://thehawkbar.com), Cocktails Cleveland, and Twist dance clubs, which are all out west in the Cudell/Edgewater neighborhood (near Lakewood); and eastern downtown's rough-and-tumble men's cruise bar, the Leather Stallion Saloon (http://leatherstallion.com). Not far from the latter, you'll also find one of the largest gay bathhouse compounds in the country, Flex Cleveland (http://flexspas.com), which also has a men's hotel, gym, and bar.

Where to Stay in Cleveland

The city's leading hotels are mostly clustered downtown around the Tower City, Gateway and Playhouse Square districts, within walking distance of top attractions. Keep in mind that several new hotels are currently in the planning stages, including a boutique property under development by the gay-popular Kimpton brand. Steps from the city's top theaters, the Wyndham Cleveland at Playhouse Square (http://wyndham.com) earns high marks for its central location, friendly service, and spacious rooms - book a King Corner unit for stunning views of the downtown skyline. Arguably the poshest accommodation in town, the stately Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland (http://ritzcarlton.com) rises high above Tower City and Public Market, its 205 rooms outfitted with such cushy creature comforts as marble bathrooms, iPod docks and ultra-plush linens. The hotel's restaurant, Muse, is one of the top spots in town for a special-occasion feast.

Out by the museums in University Circle, the InterContinental Suites Hotel Cleveland and InterContinental Cleveland (http://ihg.com/intercontinental) are excellent, high-end choices. While the Hilton Garden Inn Cleveland Downtown (http://hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com), hip and contemporary Aloft Cleveland Downtown (http://starwoodhotels.com/alofthotels) and Hampton Inn Cleveland Downtown (http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com) are all excellent, well-located, mid-priced options.

Additionally, Cleveland has some wonderfully charming, gay-friendly B&Bs situated in historic Ohio City. Consider the grand Stone Gables B&B (http://stonegables.net), a period-furnished, gay-owned 1883 stunner with high ceilings, numerous fireplaces and five richly appointed guest rooms; and the Wallace Manor B&B (http://wallacemanor.com), a regal stone mansion with three spacious rooms (two of them with claw-foot soaking tubs). Two other great choices in the neighborhood are the warmly appointed Clifford House B&B (http://cliffordhouse.com), a three-room, gay-owned inn with reasonable rates that include a delicious full breakfast; and the handsome J. Palen House (http://jpalenhouse.com), which occupies an old brewmaster's home, and has nine stylishly romantic, light-filled rooms and suites (including a cottage and a separate guest house).

Andrew Collins produces the site http://GayTravel.About.com and contributes to many other travel magazines and websites. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.

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