The Business Traveler: After Hours in Cleveland

Last Updated Aug 25, 2011 8:03 PM EDT

This feature is part of our ongoing series of second-city itineraries for business travelers.

Downtown Cleveland, Ohio

Downtown Cleveland, Ohio

OK, it's not (I heart) NY. But Cleveland's surprise to visitors is its vitality, dignity and entrepreneurial energy. Whether you're here to sell your biotech miracle to the Cleveland Clinic (the face transplant pioneer), to learn something about financial services marketing from Progressive Insurance (whose "Flo" has 3 million Facebook fans), or to speculate on the massive collateral damage of the mortgage wars, you'll find all you need for a great evening: a panoply of martini bars, the vibrant alternative art district, restaurants with national cred and multiple spots to hear good music.

Cleveland's compact downtown area is your best bet as home base, but good hotel and restaurant options are also further east, near the Clinic. If your destination is outside the city, or you simply want the flexibility, rent a car after you fly in. Distances are modest and parking is generally easy. But the city's improved and new public transportation system will get you from the airport to downtown or the Clinic, and around the area, faster and cheaper. And taxis are plentiful. 

As you set out for your evening, you can choose to visit any one of several lively downtown or nearby neighborhoods; it's easy to pick one and happily spend your whole evening. But you can also move easily among them.

After the minutiae of the day, drop off your iPad in your room at either the Ritz Carlton in Terminal Tower, or the Hyatt in the Arcade, a late-19th-century urban mall. A 10-minute stroll will bring you to the Cuyahoga River (no longer flammable, although it may never live down its rep from the 1970s, when it was so chock full of pollution it caught fire), where you can jog, following the river on its curvy track to Lake Erie. You'll pass under some of the 17 iron bridges and dramatic overpasses that span the river and watch teams of rowers stroking their collective way past the hulking ore carriers.

For a quieter interlude, drive (or cab it for about $23) 10 minutes east to University Circle, a 550-acre park (lagoon, gardens and public art) that frames Severance Hall (home to The Cleveland Orchestra), Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Step inside the hush for an hour, or just take a 15-minute refresher—it's free at all times and open till 9 pm on Wednesday and Fridays.

Cleveland's Warehouse District

Cleveland's Warehouse District

Martini fever rages. Business crowds favor the 2020 Martini Cafe and Lounge, in the Flats district downtown, a 1980s rejuvenation area that's now slightly seedy. The Chocolate Bar in the Hyatt gets props from staff at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, whose online listings and guides provide the latest information on local food and entertainment.

You'll find networking hot spots at several bars in the Warehouse District, where you can segue straight into dinner: Johnny's Downtown (beef), Blue Pointe Grille (fish), Mallorca (Portuguese and Spanish) and Brasa Grill (steak and sushi, less formal).

In this town built by the working class, beer gets its due: Dortmunder Gold, brewed at the Great Lakes Brewing Co. in the Ohio City District, is a local favorite. Another of Cleveland's newer go-to neighborhoods for food and drink is Tremont, across the Hope Memorial Bridge--as in the father of Bob Hope, who emigrated to Cleveland from England at age 4. Funky, but more leafy and quiet than downtown, it's a good place to walk, talk and concentrate on the business at hand. First stop for happy hour with tapas: the 806 Wine and Martini Bar (Risotto quail, $12).

It used to be that you couldn't finish the sentence, "When in Cleveland you must eat at _____." You can now. In the heart of downtown, restaurant ground zero is along the once-shuttered, now-bustling East 4th Street. Try Lola's, one of four eateries owned by Iron Chef winner Michael Symon, or Chinatos, one of Zack Bruell's restaurants and a business-crowd favorite.

Solo visitors will feel comfortable at The Greenhouse Tavern—a Bon Appetit Top 10, locovore favorite and the first state-certified green restaurant—and at Sans Souci, in the Renaissance Hotel (also in Terminal Tower), which is one of the city's pricier spots but considered well worth it. Helmed by Chef Kim, young and female, it is quietly, perennially one of the city's best—and it lives up to its name. And in nearby Little Italy the options range from high-end and worth it (Michelangelo's) to neighborhood joints frequented by students and faculty (Mama Santas).

In Tremont, demonstrate your good taste, business cool and long-term perspective: you can gaze at the downtown skyline while dining at Parallax or Fahrenheit. The former gets excellent reviews not just for its upscale food and mood, but also for its neighborhood vibe. Fahrenheit, whose chef, Rocco Whalen, has gotten kudos from Gourmet, Esquire and all local food arbiters, is a white-table-cloth spot (inside or al fresco) that attracts a downtown business crowd, but is still casual. Solo diners will be happy sitting at the bar. (Menu tip: try the potato nachos.)

Progressive Field

Progressive Field

Two of Cleveland's big-ticket attractions are impossible to miss. Progressive Field, the retro-modern home for the Cleveland Indians, built just before the Orioles' Camden Yard, looms over downtown. The other big profile downtown is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the only evening you can commune with Michael's glove or Bruce's handwritten lyrics is Wednesday, when it closes at 9; other weekdays closing is 5:30, so you'll have to resort to lunch hour. 

If you want to take your team out for the evening, there's something for everyone at Playhouse Square, minutes from downtown or the Clinic area. The venerable Cleveland Play House presides, but there are seven additional theaters, smaller performance spaces and plenty of plein-aire entertainment. You'll find everything from Broadway and Ibsen to hip-hop and the YouTube a cappella sensation Straight No Chaser.

Head back to East 4th St., which has a little of everything late at night. At The Corner Alley, you can relax over another martini while bowling; at Hilarities, you can catch a comedy show, or karaoke at the House of Blues, one of a national chain. (Recent guest: B.B. King.)

But Nighttown is the real deal. Named for Joyce's "Ulysses and a local favorite since 1965, it gets high marks for its food (served til late), music and star sightings. If you've got a pack of would-be customers or investors with you, call for the club's Cadillac Sedan Deville Fleetwood. They'll pick you up.

The Basics

Places to Stay

Places to Eat

Things to Do