The one question that I got the most in the weeks leading up to this trip was, “Why Cleveland?” The answer was simple – five friends going to two Indians games and a Browns practice. It wasn’t our first choice for the sports trip, but it offered the best selection of options on a weekend when everyone was available. Plus, Cleveland has that other Great Lakes brewery, which assured that there would be some excellent beers consumed along the way. Surely Cleveland would have some other attractions to offer up for a fun weekend away from our wives and girlfriends.
While the sports side of things held up fairly well – two nice nights watching baseball outdoors and one afternoon standing on the sidelines while coaches dropped f-bombs at football players – the rest of Cleveland was a little lacking. It’s no surprise that Cleveland is a bedroom community and most of the nightlife was concentrated in a couple of small areas. Luckily it is home to three brewpubs (Great Lakes is obviously the most well known, while Market Garden and Nano Brew are owned by the same folks). These three are all situated within a block of each other, making it very easy to do a pub crawl. (There was also a free shuttle from the stadium to Great Lakes, which was awesome!)
Progressive Field (aka the Jake) passed the ballpark beer test – Great Lakes was on tap at a couple of stands (Dortmunder Gold, Burning River Pale Ale and a third option I forget – maybe the Eliot Ness), one stand that had bottle options from around Ohio and one Budweiser stall that offered up Goose Island IPA. Prices were in line with a can of beer in Toronto, for those who care about that sort of thing. Great Lakes was our first stop after the game and was the best option of a classic brewpub. Not a huge selection or anything too exciting from a beer geek perspective, but Great Lakes beer really has to be fresh for maximum appreciation so that was nice. Nice pub food with a lot of locally sourced ingredients and friendly service.
Nano Brew was next, offering thirty taps that featured some of their own beers, some from Market Garden and the rest from around the States. The selection was phenomenal, but the vibe was not what I expected from a brewpub or craft beer bar. Most of the other people in the bar were dressed for a night out that involved heavy partying and/or the wooing of potential mates. There was only bar service and a DJ booth high above the bar meant that music was given a priority over conversation. On one hand I wanted to be happy that people viewed a brewpub as a fun and exciting place to go out, but it also occurred to me that there was just nothing else going on in Cleveland. Market Garden was actually worse – the skirts were higher and most of the men were wearing dress shirts and jeans. Then lights suddenly turned on at 2am and the police started kicking everyone out. (The high police presence in the Ohio City area should have been a good clue that people went out more to get drunk than enjoy a couple of nice pints.) The beers were good at both locations, but the atmosphere was not to our taste. We did not return to this area on Saturday night.
The one place I would recommend to anyone visiting Cleveland would be Save On Tobacco and Beverage. It’s not much to look at and the name is sketchy, but it was one of the most impressive bottle shops I have seen in some time. It is in Mentor (about twenty minutes outside of Cleveland), but just off the highway if you’re driving from the east. Give yourself lots of time to look around and make sure you find the Ohio section.
But let’s be honest – I wouldn’t recommend visiting Cleveland. There’s nothing wrong with Cleveland, it just isn’t that exciting. Our guess for the insane amount of police patrolling such a small area of bars was that people had nothing to do other than drink, so trouble was inevitable. The downtown is clean and felt very safe, both at night and during the day. It’s just very, very boring. Almost everything downtown was closed on Sunday, which made me wonder how bad things would be if there wasn’t a baseball game happening. You could do much better in Detroit or Pittsburgh if looking for a long weekend away. Or do a shorter beer run in Buffalo and spend the night in better bars. Unless you want to mix craft beer and clubbing, in which case I have got just the city for you!