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Soul of the City – Shaker Square and Larchmere

CLEVELAND, OH – – Cleveland’s colorful neighborhoods reflect a rich ethnic heritage and offer outstanding arts, culture and cuisine.

Historically, Cleveland’s immigrant populations have assimilated and dispersed, yet left significant traces of their traditions in the city’s distinctive neighborhoods. Visitors can sample world culture in districts from Little Italy to Tremont, and enjoy the burgeoning new and restored cityscapes that are attracting shops, restaurants,  entertainment spots — and new residents. The following is a small sampling of what Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods have to offer.

Shaker Square/Larchmere

Over the last century, the Shaker Square and Larchmere neighborhoods on Cleveland’s East Side have attracted not only the carriage trade of adjoining Shaker Heights but also, in the 1950s, a wave of immigrants from Hungary who settled nearby on Buckeye Road. Today, Shaker Square and Larchmere are magnets for those who enjoy eclectic dining and shopping.

Shaker Square’s circa 1927 brick buildings, arranged in quadrants around Shaker Boulevard, house restaurants offering cuisine from Hungary (Balaton) as well as Brazil (Sergio’s Sarava), Italy (Grotto Wine Bar), Morocco (Darna Moroccan Cuisine) and Japan (SaSa). The popular fire food & drink prepares its seasonal menu with locally sourced ingredients in a kitchen that opens to an elegant, brick-walled dining room. Several of the restaurants have patio seating in fair weather, offering views of the vibrant street scene and the trolleys that run through the Square from downtown Cleveland to the eastern suburbs.

Neighborhood residents, many of whom live in the stately apartment and condominium buildings along Shaker Boulevard, gather at Dewey’s coffeehouse, which also serves pastries, ice cream and popcorn. On Saturday mornings from April to mid-December, Shaker Boulevard is blocked off and the North Union Farmers Market moves in, attracting throngs of foodies and families on the prowl for local produce, dairy products, meats and baked goods.

A block north of the Square is the Larchmere neighborhood, long a destination for lovers of fine art and antiques. The half-dozen antiques shops along Larchmere Boulevard, which runs from North Moreland Boulevard in Shaker Heights to East 121st Street in Cleveland, sell fine American, European and Oriental furniture, as well as jewelry and decorative art.

Sprinkled among the antiques emporiums are fine-dining restaurants and casual eateries, and unique shops such as Dancing Sheep, a collection of contemporary crafts, apparel and gifts, and two stores offering supplies for needle arts: Wind and Willow Needlepoint, and Fine Points yarn shop and clothing boutique. A Larchmere favorite is Loganberry Books, an independent bookstore with some 70,000 new, used and rare volumes stacked floor to ceiling in a labyrinth of rooms. (Don’t miss the literature room, tucked behind the shop’s airy Annex Gallery.) — VP
shakersquare.net, visitshakersquare.com, larchmere.com

Little Italy
In the summer, the streets of Little Italy come alive with shoppers and diners. Restaurants expand beyond their walls with sidewalk and garden patios, men converge outside the Mayfield Smoke Shop to talk, and people come from all over for gallery walks and bocce ball tournaments. The annual Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 12–15) is a much-anticipated tradition in the community that was settled in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants, many of whom were stone cutters and worked on the monuments in nearby Lake View Cemetery.

The streets surrounding the intersection of Mayfield and Murray Hill roads are filled with the enticing aromas of restaurants that serve Old World favorites like fresh pasta and homemade marinara. It would be easy to stay for the day and eat your way up the Mayfield Road hill, but there are also great galleries and shops — both on and off the main strip — to explore.

On the first Friday of every month, the galleries along Mayfield Road and in The Schoolhouse on Murray Hill host an art walk from 6 to 9 p.m. Boutiques and art studios offer extended hours, a great opportunity to explore unique shops like Sobella for custom greeting cards and stationery; Anne van H. Boutique, which has unique clothing, jewelry and shoes; and the small but beautiful Mezzanine Gallery, which offers jewelry, paintings and photographs.

Afterward, wander along the quaint brick side streets and then head back to Mayfield for additional shopping options. Visit Little Italy Wines to sample reds and whites along with Bellavitano artisan cheese.

After you’ve worked up an appetite, head for one of the outdoor patios, like the prime corner location of La Dolce Vita to enjoy pizzas, pastas and fresh entrees or, for a little more privacy, visit Trattoria on the Hill or Guarino’s, which both have fenced-in patios.

You can’t make a trip to Little Italy  without sampling a dessert from Presti’s or Corbo’s, the bakery that Iron Chef Mario Batali claims has the country’s best cassata cake. If that’s too much for you, take home a cannoli or a pint of light and fruity lemon ice. — JE
littleitalycleveland.com

The Warehouse District and East 4th Street
The Warehouse District and East 4th Street neighborhoods are two of Cleveland’s hottest downtown nightlife spots. The Warehouse District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, is located between West Third and West 10th streets, north of Superior Avenue. It’s an area known for trendy get-together spots like D’Vine Wine Bar, Nauti Mermaid and Gillespie’s Map Room, as well as restaurants such as John Q’s Steakhouse — a haven for Cleveland’s carnivores since 1979. Other must-try menu options include the delicate lobster bisque at Blue Point Grille, Mallorca’s signature paella Valenciana, and the seasonal menu offered by Chef Steve Schimoler at Crop Bistro & Bar.

Of course, if you’re in search of an affordable guys’ or gals’ night out, you can always pop into Panini’s for a beer, a slice or a sandwich piled high with French fries.

Just a few years ago, East 4th Street between Euclid and Prospect avenues was a forlorn stretch of mostly empty storefronts. But today the tiny area, which also includes a few blocks of Euclid Avenue to the west, hums with nightspots and top-notch restaurants such as Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Lola. You can bowl at trendy The Corner Alley and hear plenty of live music at the world-famous House of Blues.

While Lola is a major draw, East 4th also features Chef Jonathon Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern, the first certified “green” restaurant in the state, and Chef Zack Bruell’s new Italian restaurant, Chinato. Also along the strip are Zocalo Mexican Grill & Tequileria; Saigon, serving exciting Vietnamese dishes; and La Strada, offering a menu of Mediterranean specialties. Pickwick & Frolic, one of the neighborhood’s original tenants, is home to Hilarities 4th Street Theater, a champagne bar, Kevin’s Martini Bar and a restaurant serving what it bills as “American rustic” cuisine. Comedians from all over the country appear at
Hilarities for eight shows each week.

The neighborhood’s newest addiction — er, addition — is Chocolate Bar, offering thirsty patrons cookie- and candy-themed martinis like the “Swedish Fish” and “Raspberry Truffle.” Martinis here come in two sizes, regular and “Megatini” — a $70, 35-ounce cocktail to share with friends. Either way, it’s a sweet experience. — MC
warehousedistrict.org, east4thstreet.com

Tremont
From the site of a Civil War camp and a short-lived university to a blue-collar enclave, the neighborhood of Tremont has had many incarnations. Today, the area, perched atop a bluff just south of downtown is one of the city’s hippest ’hoods and home to an array of independent shops, galleries and dining hot spots.

One of the best times to visit and wander past its historic churches and Victorian-era homes is during the Tremont Art Walk, on the second Friday of each month. The many galleries that line Professor Avenue and surrounding streets hold extended hours and debut new shows where art lovers can pick up a unique piece by a local artist.

Not in the market for new art? Find a souvenir in Banyan Tree, a boutique with home décor, gifts and fashion-
forward clothing. Just a few blocks away is Visible Voice Books, where you can find a summer read from a small but well-chosen selection. Be sure to stop in the bright pink confines of Lilly Handmade Chocolates, where confections that look just as good as they taste are sold by the box or individually.

Tremont’s dining bolsters Cleveland’s reputation as a destination for foodies with a variety of restaurants — several of which have appeared on national television. From longtime area staples such Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Lolita and the traditional Polish fare of Sokolowski’s University Inn, there’s something to please every palate.

Stop for brunch at local favorite Lucky’s Café, which garnered a spot on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” for its fresh baked bread and use of local produce. Looking for dinner? Several new additions beckon visitors for a fresh taste of the neighborhood’s culinary offerings. Try the Bistro on Lincoln Park, where you can dine on Mediterranean food while overlooking Lincoln Park’s quaint gazebo and tree-lined paths. Or head to Dante for modern American cuisine served in an old bank with the vault incorporated into the decor.

Cap off your visit with one of the more than 100 microbrews at the Tre-mont Tap House or indulge in a swanky cocktail at 806 Martini and Wine Bar on the cozy patio, where the extensive martini list is as much a work of art as the paintings on Tremont’s gallery walls.— IW
restoretremont.com

Detroit Shoreway
Detroit Shoreway is the neighborhood that art (re)built. A true area of urban renewal, the community near Lake Erie has evolved from a product of hard times into a cultural hot spot in just a few years, thanks primarily to the development of what has become a mini art mecca.

The Gordon Square Arts District, which runs along the main thoroughfare of Detroit Avenue from West 58th to West 73rd streets, is the core of the dynamic West Side art scene. And anchoring the district is 78th Street Studios, a renovated office building that now houses more galleries than you can shake a paintbrush at. The arts collective hosts the Third Friday gallery hop each month, offering art enthusiasts an opportunity to see the inner workings of studios while viewing the galleries’ newest exhibits.

For fans of the performing arts, Cleveland Public Theatre presents innovative and original work on three stages. Near West Theatre, a community-based company, will move to the neighborhood from nearby Ohio City in 2011.

Those who prefer the magic of the silver screen will appreciate the Capitol Theatre — opened in 1921 as a vaudeville house, shuttered in 1985 and reopened in the fall of 2009 to cinephiles and architecture lovers alike. Though the theater has been renovated and screens independent, foreign and first-run blockbusters, it retains the vintage charm of its vaudeville days.

It’s impossible to ignore the culinary arts when discussing the Shoreway, where an outstanding group of restaurants offers hungry visitors a tasty journey through the neighborhood’s past. The area has been ethnically diverse from the beginning, with settlers from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Romania and other southern European countries. Visitors find even more diversity today, with dining options ranging from Vietnamese at Minh Anh and Latin American at La Boca Barrio to Irish at Stone Mad Irish Pub and Italian at Luxe Restaurant & Lounge (also a great spot for a pre-movie cocktail). The outdoor patio at Reddstone is one of Cleveland’s best, and for those who need a pick-me-up, Gypsy Beans & Baking Co. is a charming espresso and sweets spot.

After dinner, catch a sunset over Lake Erie at Edgewater Park, located just minutes to the north.

— JR