#thisiscle — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost
For decades, Cleveland bore the brunt of jokes from people who lived in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. It saw its name dragged through the mud by former residents. It watched news anchors in rival cities poke fun at it on national TV. And who can forget that it witnessed more sports losses than seems humane for a metropolis of its size?
Throughout the years of abuse and torment, Cleveland took the hits squarely on the chin, dusted itself off and quietly went back to work. That hard work is starting to pay off as the city seems to be landing on "best of" lists more and more in recent months.
Clevelanders will tell you that they knew their city was special from day one, but below, we explore how this formerly downtrodden city rose from the ashes to become America’s most unlikely little darling.
The Cleveland Cavaliers — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost
1. The CAVS
When Lebron James announced in 2014 that he was returning to Northeast Ohio to play basketball, the energy buzzing through Cleveland’s streets could be cut like cake and served up as a celebratory offering to the gods. James’ heartfelt love letter to Northeast Ohio, aptly titled “I’m Coming Home,” served a purpose three-fold as an announcement, an apology and a promise, all in one. It also likely brought more than a few tears to the eyes of defeated sports fans everywhere.
In the letter, James wrote, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic.”
Here we are at the end of May and the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves as one of the last four standing in the finals, with the King carrying the team and the city on his back. In a way, it almost doesn’t matter if they win the whole thing–though, of course, the victory would be widely welcomed.
Instead, the Cavs' rise through the playoffs has added another exclamation mark to Cleveland’s crescendo of momentum. After years of hanging their heads in defeat, the city’s fans are emanating shockwaves of pride that can be felt for miles.
The Cleveland Flats — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost
2. The Flats Renovation
Cleveland is home to one of the largest undeveloped waterfronts in the country. While past generations may have viewed this as a disgrace, today it’s viewed as one of the city’s biggest boons. Along with a number of other high-profile construction projects, the renovation of The Flats–Cleveland’s oldest neighborhood–is set to breathe new life into the banks of the Cuyahoga River.
Cleveland's East 4th Street — Photo courtesy of Edsel Little
3. The Battle of the Chefs
Regularly featured on The Travel Channel and The Food Network, Cleveland’s culinary scene is no stranger to the spotlight. In fact, even when other parts of town seemed to be down and out, the food coming out of Cleveland’s kitchens was amassing a steady following of admirers. Today, veterans like Greenhouse Tavern’s Jonathon Sawyer and newcomers like Adega’s Eddie Tancredi continue to elevate Cleveland’s cuisine.
Cleveland's Playhouse Square — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost
4. The Theater
Did you know that Cleveland's Playhouse Square has the second-largest performing arts center in the country, outdone only by Lincoln Center in New York City? Most people don’t think of Cleveland as a hub for the arts, but with over one million guests attending more than 1,000 events here every year, Playhouse Square proves that big things can come out of small spaces. Another big thing in a small space? The world's largest chandelier, which hangs outside of Playhouse Square and marks your passage into the theater district.
The West Side Market in Cleveland's Ohio City — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost
5. The West Side Market
An oldie but a goodie, no one can deny the charm, convenience and appeal of Cleveland’s oldest public market, The West Side Market. Opened in 1912, this old-school market houses 100+ family-operated stalls that sell everything from German sausages to Polish pierogies to local flowers and produce. The balcony area is also a favorite spot for snapping a top-notch Instagram picture.
Cleveland Brite Winter Festival — Photo courtesy of KPaul
6. The Events
Where there’s a weekend, there’s a festival in Cleveland, often with overlapping festivals happening all around the city. Many of the festivals revolve around food, as is the case with the Great American Rib Cook-Off or the Taste of Tremont, but music is also on heavy rotation every year with events like the Edgewater LIVE concert series. Oh, and did I mention that most of these activities are free?
A performance at Cleveland's Gay Games — Photo courtesy of The Zender Agenda
7. The Guests
From The Gay Games to the Republican National Convention, numerous national and international organizations piled on the Cleveland love when they announced they’d host their annual events in this fair city. Along with helping to turn the spotlight on Cleveland tourism, these guests are expected to bring an influx of revenue and excitement to the city that’s slated to last for years to come.
The Cleveland Flea — Photo courtesy of Michael C. Butz for J Style Magazine
8. The Flea
Modeled after the widely popular Brooklyn Flea in NYC, The Cleveland Flea is more than just a street fair, food festival or shopping destination. Instead, it’s a commitment to the community from artists and businesses that have chosen to reinvest in Cleveland instead of fleeing (get it?) to the coasts.
The Cleveland Metroparks — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost
9. The Metroparks
When you talk to people who’ve never visited Cleveland, they often describe the city as an industrial town with smokestacks and warehouses scattered about. While there’s certainly some validity in that visual, the nature-centric side of Cleveland deserves attention, too. Outdoor nature and recreation trails, education programs and conservation efforts make the Metroparks an experience that’s tough to find in a city.
"Cleveland Rocks!" — Photo courtesy of The Zender Agenda
10. The People
These days, walking through the streets of Cleveland feels different than it did even a decade ago. Locals will tell you that they’ve worked their butts off to get their city recognized as one of the greats, and now that the shift is taking place, it shows in their strides. As one Clevelander told me, “so many people have worked so hard to knock the rust off this city.”
This younger generation isn’t afraid to invest in their city and their enthusiasm is what will keep Cleveland moving forward, even after the media has moved on to the next big thing.
And a bonus reason: this is a grocery store in Cleveland.
Cleveland Heinen's — Photo courtesy of Erik Drost