Travel Treasures Close to Home: Cleveland, in advance of the RNC

by Tom Reed
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Story filed June 15, 2016

This is an exciting time to come to downtown Cleveland, and it’s bound to become even more so next month when the Republican National Convention comes to town. Unless you’ve been in a cave, you probably have an inkling of what’s going on. But to really get a feel for it, why not become a tourist in your home town for a day or two, or even a long weekend.

As a travel writer, I’ve wondered what it would be like to explore the city as a tourist. The opportunity presented itself recently when my wife and I decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary here, instead of taking a getaway trip to a nearby destination. There are several new or renovated hotels downtown, notably the 32-story Hilton. But we decided to stay in what was once the Cleveland school administration building on East 6th Street, now tastefully and elegantly renovated into the Drury Plaza Hotel. I’ve long been impressed by the chain, and have frequently stayed in Drury Inns in St. Louis, where the company is headquartered, or in Indiana. Their free hot breakfast is exceptional, but what really sets them apart is their free early evening Kickback. Between 5:30 and 7 p.m. you can enjoy a buffet with enough hot food to make a meal – chicken tenders, baked potatoes, hot dogs, and more, plus a ticket entitling you to, not one, but three alcoholic beverages of your choice – wine, beer, or cocktails.

Drury Hotel

After enjoying Happy Hour at the Drury, we walked to the Hilton for dinner at their excellent new restaurant, the Burnham. It was not crowded on that weeknight, but I tried to imagine what it would be like during the RNC, when political and media notables would be dining there. The Burnham, a Zach Bruell restaurant, deserves credit for using local products. Our waitress told us the bread was specially made for them by a bakery in Cleveland Heights, and the ice cream and sorbet flavors were from Mitchell’s. The bar on the 32nd floor was not open yet, but I can’t wait to return when it opens. It’s got to offer one of the best views in town. In the meantime, if you want a drink with a view, you can visit the open air Azure Rooftop Lounge on the 12th floor of the Metropolitan at the 9, at East 9th and Euclid.

Hilton Hotel

View from Azure Rooftop Lounge

Earlier in the day we walked to Public Square, where the finishing touches are being put on the renovation. The historic Soldiers and Sailors Monument was accessible in a fenced-off section, and the attendant told us they’re getting hundreds of visitors, despite the construction. The monument was dedicated in 1894 to the Civil War dead.

Another historic downtown structure, the Old Arcade, was a bit disappointing, even though it’s part of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. There are a lot of empty storefronts. The arcade, connecting Euclid Avenue with Superior, is the city’s oldest indoor shopping mall. The newest, Tower City, also has seen better days. Most of the original upscale retailers are gone, though Brooks Brothers remains. Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services bought the mall in March. The Plain Dealer quoted a company executive as saying “We are early in the planning stages of a unique new design for this centrally located landmark piece of real estate.” Tower City is still a bustling place, thanks to the RTA rapid station on the ground floor and Gilbert’s Jack Casino in the former Higbee department store.

The theaters of Playhouse Square and the restaurants on East 4th Street are obvious symbols of Cleveland’s revitalized downtown. And the estimated 14,000 people who live downtown keep it from having a deserted look even on weeknights when there are no baseball games at Progressive Field or basketball games or concerts at the “Q”.

A story about the renaissance of downtown Cleveland wouldn’t be complete without an update on the Flats. The popular entertainment district of the late l980s and 1990s is making a comeback, with a new hotel, new restaurants, and now a water taxi to take you from one side of the river to the other. For Jimmy Buffett fans, the only thing missing is the Margaritaville—and that’s coming later in the year.

But don’t wait for that to begin your own exploration of Cleveland, as a tourist in your own hometown.

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