If you come to Cleveland for more than a day, you’ll probably hit Ohio City. It is close to downtown and certainly is one of two big entertainment districts in the city. We’ve been there many times. In fact, we probably either stop there or drive through at least once a week.

This time, however, we visited a small part of Ohio City in an unusual way. For our 15th anniversary we reserved a two hour tour with Cleveland Cycle Tours. There were 15 friends and family (one for each year of marriage) who met us at their garage on Columbus Avenue.The group before Johnny Mango

Adam, our driver, greeted Dave and me.  He was waiting for the bike cart to return. Soon we heard music and laughter coming around the corner and then it turned into the driveway. Ten giggling, sweating young women, all wearing the same T Shirts, got off. It was a bachelorette party.

Once they cleared out, the cart was pushed/pulled back out onto the road and we were on our way. Three people sat across the back and the rest of us pedaled. Let’s just be clear. We were going very slowly. Walkers were keeping us with us.

We realized we were minor celebrities when we turned west onto Abbey Avenue. Cars were creeping by and taking pictures. People were waving. Drivers stuck behind us were cursing. Our 70’s themed music kept us on pace and happy. I got out the Viking chant and started yelling “Faster, Faster!”

Soon we were on Lorain Ave alongside the West Side Market. It was Saturday so the market was open and, even at 4 in the afternoon, still was busy.

West Side Market

West Side Market

The West Side Market is the center of activity in Ohio City. It is rated one of the best markets in the world and it’s a great place to shop for meat, cheese, bread, pastries, spices, and produce of all kinds. You can also get lunch there and eat in the balcony or outside in the alley.

We continued on Lorain and past St Ignatius High School then turned the corner and ended up on Bridge Street. Adam pulled over, instructed us to walk to the end of the block, and get our first drink at Johnny Mango’s. That’s right. There is lots of beer flowing during this two mile excursion.  But Johnny Mango is known for organic juice drinks and that’s what I got.

Bridge Street is one of the streets that has been heavily restored. There are many two story Victorian and Queen Anne style homes with lots of tall trees offering shade. Just painting the outside of these places requires money, patience and skill. There are porches, old wooden windows, lattice work, and eaves- often of two to three colors. It’s charming and a popular place to live.

Ohio City restoration

Ohio City restoration

After leaving Johnny Mango’s, we turned toward West 25th. This may be all many tourists see of Ohio City. There are dozens of restaurants here. They represent many ethnicities and price ranges.  Many have cropped up in the last 10 years. Just when you think there can be no more room for more, another one moves in to a restored hardware store or wig shop. Last year the big hit was Mitchell’s Ice Cream.  It moved into an old theater.

Now we were heading for Nano Brew. Adam pulled over on Jay Street and parked. After only pedaling for 15 minutes we had another 20 minute break for —– MORE BEER! This time I went for orange juice over ice.  At 85 degrees outside, I was drinking fluids like a fiend and still didn’t need to pee.  Nano Brew has its own beer and everyone was sampling except my grand niece Libby. She’s pregnant and, yippee, the designated driver for her husband and two friends.

No butts about it, big fun

No butts about it, big fun

When that intermission was over we were back on the cart and heading down Jay Street. It’s another gem of lovingly restored homes. With all this gentrification, you can imagine that house prices have skyrocketed. You would be right. All this charm comes at a price. You are near bars, restaurants, and a grocery store, but you are also near late night partying people and very little parking. Residents in both Ohio City and Tremont complain that people park in front of, on in, their driveways. They are loud and rude after drinking a lot and they even use the front lawns when they should be using a toilet.

At any rate, on this afternoon, we saw none of that. We literally rounded the corner and stopped again. This time it was at Great Lakes Brew.

Everyone in NE Ohio has heard of Great Lakes Beer. It was 5pm and the Saturday night visitors were out. Tables were filled, people were filing in. We ended up in the pub in the basement.  Now I had my first cold beer and felt it was a prelude to dinner.  I got to catch up with everyone at some point along the way but I especially wanted to catch up with Cousin Judy Sterling and her husband Mike Eisman who were coming through Ohio on their way across the country from California. Our time together wasn’t long enough.

Cousins Mike and Judy

Cousins Mike and Judy

Back out in the heat and onto the curb, we remounted our cycles for the last time.  We retraced our route on Lorain, Abbey, and Columbus and made a gallant attempt at ramming speed when we turned into the driveway at the garage.

All that drinking worked up our appetite for dinner around the corner at the University Inn. But that was in Tremont- the rival next door neighbor to Ohio City.

 

 

Not long ago, Collinwood was considered a down and out neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side.  Even four years ago, when we went there to visit Beachland Ballroom, the place had little to offer in the way of restaurants, shopping or other diversions.

Spaces gallery Waterloo

But even then there was a sense of community where neighbors came to set up booths and were selling soul food and hand-made items. The city was starting to resurface Waterloo, the main retail street, and sidewalks were being updated.

 

Artists began to discover the area and found it affordable and a welcoming place for their talents. When we visited this time storefronts were fixed up and changed to galleries, art studios, vinyl record shops, vintage clothing stores and “Made in 216” Cleveland merchandise outlets. A few coffee houses and cafes had opened. People with a definite savior faire and artistic bent were seen.  It seemed you needed a tattoo, facial piercing, or multicolored hair to be a denizen of Waterloo.lovely women Waterloo

 

We went there for the Waterloo Art Fest after another rainy Saturday morning and, even at 4pm, the street was busy with booths and the stores were open to lingering shoppers.  There were tables for young student artists and a great diversity of ages, ethnicities, and races mingling. Pride in place had replaced littered and un-mowed yards. But, unique to Collinwood, were the many murals on large brick walls. Without knowing where you might be, you knew you weren’t in Lakewood or even funky Coventry.

 

This neighborhood felt real, lived in, both old and new at the same time. Music Saves

 

Driving a block north or south off Waterloo revealed houses that still needed some TLC.  But somehow I got the feeling that, without a ton of money, people living in this neighborhood would be boosting “I live in Collinwood.  Come for a visit.”

Cultural Gardens

Liberty Boulevard. Remember that? Now it is named Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and you’ve ridden on it if you make your way from I 90 to University Circle or one of hospitals near there.

In your haste, you may not have noticed the one mile stretch of Rockefeller Park that includes the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. There are a few signs that say “Syrian,” “African American,” or “Italian” along the Blvd., but most of the signs and gardens are entered on East Blvd.

The Cultural Gardens wind through lovely, mature, shade trees and aren’t really a neighborhood by themselves. They are part of University Circle. But the gardens are so distinctive that they deserve their own description.

This property is owned by Cleveland and the city pays for the lights, mowing, and water in the fountains but the upkeep is up to each cultural organization that it represents. Therefore, some gardens are lovingly cared for and others need a lot of attention.

All the gardens have some statuary representing notable people from their culture. Let’s stop here and distinguish between nationality and culture. These are not national gardens. Instead, they represent the culture that may be contained in national boundaries, or may not. Italian food, religious customs, language, dress, and more MAY be contained inside Italy, but Clevelanders know that there is a lot of Italian culture right here in our town.

India

India

So those statues that are in the 25 gardens may be of people born in the country, raised in country or maybe just died there. One thing for sure, they are not athletes of the culture. They are poets, statesman, religious leaders, artists, industrialists, philosophers and other intellectual types. Apparently, athletes weren’t erudite enough to make the cut.

Why have the gardens at all? Back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s city leaders wanted to bring all the ethnic communities together to lessen tensions among “foreigners.”They created this “unique memorial to peace and to the richness of our pluralistic society.” Our smart leaders back then realized that this diversity helped the whole city and the gardens helped us respect one another.

That seems, especially today, to be a rather lofty goal. But one thing is for sure. The gardens are a peaceful, inspiring place to walk and rest. Most gardens have flagstone walks that step down to terraces and mason railings with views over the Doan Creek valley running along MLK Blvd. Some have operating fountains, some have benches, some have life sized (make that larger than life) statues, some have only stylish memorials. They all have landscaping that invites rest and contemplation.

The gardens are a beautiful retreat in the city.

The gardens are a beautiful retreat in the city.

The newest garden hasn’t been started yet. It was just dedicated this spring. When finished, the African American Garden will cost $2,000,000 and have an impressive cascading fountain with steps leading from the top (past), down a hill to the present, and finally pointing to the future.
It seems that the Cultural Gardens are a well kept secret to many Clevelanders. But if you are an outdoor enthusiast and also like history then you want to spend part of a day walking your way through these gardens.

(PS. Bring along a trash bay and pick up some litter. The Gardens will thank you.)