Bachelors and Bachelorettes: Cleveland’s Calling

By: Brandon Sousa

Maybe it’s an age thing but it seems my entire Instagram feed is filled with pictures of bachelor and bachelorette parties on location. Often, it’s the same few destinations that people venture to: Miami, Vegas, Phoenix and Nashville. There is one great option that Best Men and Maids of Honor are continually overlooking: Cleveland, Ohio.

Location, Location, Location

Weddings are expensive enough, not just for the bride and groom, but for all the poor souls in the wedding party. Saddling them with an expensive flight can be a little ruthless.

With Cleveland only a 5-hour drive from Toronto, I decided to simulate a bachelor party using the occasion of my birthday.

My friends at BMW Canada made sure I celebrated my birthday road trip in style with their 2018 BMW X3 M Performance model. The X3 is performance, luxury and style in one great package. The M Performance model goes from 0-100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds with 355hp under the hood.

From behind the wheel, the driver-focused and ergonomically-optimized cockpit makes navigating the interior a breeze. And speaking of breezes, the driver and front passenger also have ventilated seats for those hot days, making it very important to be the one who calls shotgun.

BMW’s Personal Co-Pilot which is a collection of driver assistance systems and semi-automated driving that enhances the way you road trip. The Active Cruise Control (ACC) will make the drive to Cleveland feel even shorter than 5 hours for the driver.

Accommodations

With group travel, like bachelor and bachelorette trips, everyone always ends up hanging out in one person’s room. So why not just embrace the slumber party and book an entire room at The Cleveland Hostel?

It’s clean. Offers free parking. Operates a hipster coffee shop. Towels and sheets are included. And, best of all, has private rooms (or depending how large your group is, book an entire shared room).

Keeping everyone in the same room means the fun never has to end – but it also makes it a lot easier to get everyone up and ready for the day’s itinerary.

Beverages and Bites

A few libations couldn’t hurt to enhance up your celebrations, right? Cleveland is notorious for their craft beers. You can plan your own brew tour or book one with a tour operator.

If you’re booking a tour, there is the Cleveland Brew Bus that arranges your transportation and stops around a few craft breweries. Or there’s The Brew Boat which lets you drink, pedal and float on the scenic Cuyahoga River in Downtown Cleveland. It’s BYOB, so stock up with local suds before boarding.

However, my group of faux-groomsmen and I decided to venture to the breweries on our own. The first, just down the street from The Cleveland Hostel, was Market Garden Brewery. Market Garden offers a behind-the-scenes guided tour for only $6 per person (and that includes 4 beer tastings). Tours are available Fridays at 4pm & 5pm, Saturday and Sundays on the hour from 11am to 5pm. Brew master Andy Tveekrem does not disappoint with his diverse slate of beers, but I couldn’t help but notice my tasting of Frost, a lime wit with tangerine, went down faster than the rest.

Collision Bend Brewing Company, headed by Brewer Luke Purcell, is another great option for beer and can be found in The Flats, a mixed-use industrial, entertainment, and residential area. Their brew pub on the water is the perfect location on a beautiful summer’s day. I recommend the Saison De Bruell, a Saison-Farmhouse Ale with their Lamb Tamales (ground lamb and masa stuffed in corn husk served with salsa verde and yogurt sauce) and French Fries 420 Style (fries smothered with cheese sauce, jerked chicken, cilantro, cabbage and crispy onions).

Bachelorette parties, pay attention, because Brewnuts is exactly the Instagram heaven you’ve been searching for. Brewnuts is a gourmet donut shop that fries up dough with a craft beer base and serves them with your favourite local draught. The vibrant décor and chic layout will have you struggling to snap pictures of your donut before devouring it faster than you can type #Extra. Owners Shelley and John Pippin did it right; they created a product that looks and tastes great.

What would a millennial event be if it didn’t include brunch? Cleveland has got you covered with Dante Next Door. Located in the historic Tremont district, this casual dining spot is perfect for brunch. If you can get a spot on the patio, it’ll be worth the wait, and don’t forget to order a French Press coffee; it goes great with the “Everything Bagel and Lox” pizza.

Finally, I wouldn’t be doing Cleveland justice if I didn’t tell you about one of the absolute best places for bites and brews in the city: Butcher and the Brewer. Located on E 4th Street, you step into a beautiful, industrial-style spaced filled with locals and laughter. Brewmaster John McGroarty took my faux-bachelor party on a private tour of the brewing facility; one that operates in harmony with the butcher shop, restaurant and event space.

John brings both major and micro brewing skills to this operation, perfecting recipes and creating new ones that are refreshing, enjoyable, complex and, with some styles, perfectly sessionable.

He walked us through several of his beers, but three truly struck us. The Repeater (German Kolsch) is what he calls a lawnmowing beer. It’s light, crisp and thirst-quenching with a prominent Noble hop nose. The Saison De Ètè was my personal favourite; a blackberry saison brewed with Pils, Spelt and Triticale malts and Spelt and Citra hops, finished with their house saison strain. And finally, what I like to think of as a dessert beer, the Albino Stout; a white oat ale featuring chocolate and coffee overtones.

To complement the magic of John’s brewing, we ordered a few highly recommended dishes from the kitchen. First were the Aged Beef Sliders, a blend of aged ribeye, brisket, and chuck topped with beer cheese sauce, spicy mayo, house pickles on a salted brioche bun. If you’re not salivating right now, please go back and re-read that. Next up was the Bacon-Wrapped Dates (house ground chorizo, butcher’s bacon, manchego cheese with a piquillo pepper sauce) and the Smoked Bone Marrow, my guilty pleasure. We rounded off the meal by ordering the Butcher Mac & Cheese, which featured a creamy smoked beer cheese sauce, and perfectly hit the spot.

Activities

The one, must-do, ultimate bucket list activity in Cleveland is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With a wide breadth of exhibits about music spanning decades and genres, there is bound to be a flood of nostalgic memories for all ages. Even those who say, “I’m not into music” will be fascinated with the focus on music in television, with everything from American Bandstand to Saturday Night Live to High School Musical. Can a group activity get any better when you have exhibits on Elvis, Tupac, The Beatles, The Ramones, Britney Spears and Bruno Mars all under one roof?                                                

Looking for a fun afternoon activity? Superelectric Pinball Parlor is exactly where you want to be. Right across the street from Brewnuts, it’s a fun little space with old school pinball and arcade games. Best of all, it’s incredibly affordable with most games being a quarter or fifty-cents to play.

Cleveland’s West Side Market is both an architectural marvel, a palace of fresh ingredients and a culinary adventure. It’s the ideal place for a breakfast bite, lunch or an afternoon snack with a variety of cultural foods reflective of Cleveland’s history of immigration. Although this is technically a food destination and should be placed above, the building and experience itself is an activity you won’t want to miss. The market is open Monday and Wednesday from 7am-4pm, Friday and Saturday 7am-6pm and on Sunday 10am-4pm.

For a bit of history and culture, the Cleveland History Center has you covered. For the groups that love the roar of an engine, we have the Crawford Auto-Aviation exhibit containing over 140 vintage automobiles, 10 aircraft and 21 other pieces of transportation history. On the other side of the spectrum, the Mad for Plaid exhibit highlights fashion and style through history, classic chic, prepster, grunge, and the hipster known as the urban woodsman. There’s nothing saying the same group can’t get a kick out of both.

I think I might have missed the meeting of millennials when it was decided that baseball is now trendy, but with that in mind Cleveland is home to an MLB team. Watching a game at Progressive Field is always a good way to spend some time, and the in-stadium activations add a fun sense of competition (hello pitching challenge). While an important discussion on the team’s current name is underway, the spirit of this ballpark is electric, with many games throughout the season cap off with a spectacular fireworks show.

Nightlife

There are just as many nighttime activities are there are daytime. Ohio City is filled with restaurants, brew pubs and hipster bars that will keep you busy until last call. McNulty’s Bier Markt is the perfect place to grab a drink and dance in their underground bar. With great music and a circular bar in the middle of the dance floor, it’s easy to enjoy your night. If you’re danced out, you can walk upstairs away from the beats to chat with friends, or, and just for the groomsmen and bridesmaids, perhaps a newly made friend.

The other area I highly recommend is the Flats. We started our evening at Punch Bowl Social, a perfect blend between dining and entertainment. This multi-level space includes bowling, ping pong, karaoke, marbles, darts, an 80’s arcade, foosball, shuffle board, casual lounge space, private rooms, three bars and two patios (including a rooftop patio). The space lends itself well to groups, making you feel like you’re in someone’s rec room or living room, while the big open spaces allows for patrons to mix and mingle.

For our next stop, we wanted to be right on the water’s edge. That took us to Coastal Taco Bar + Chill, which has an incredible waterfront patio including faux grass, fire pits, outdoor DJ and Muskoka chairs. The crowd and atmosphere was the perfect vibe, complemented by the perfect summer weather.

But being my birthday/faux-bachelor party, my buddy Jon challenged me to figure out what would make me feel like a hero. That was an easy one: to get on stage and fire up a crowd!

To make this happen, we walked over to the Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar, which boasts live music. Turns out, with a generous tip and a lot of convincing, they’ll let you get up on stage and perform. Otherwise, it’s best to leave it to the pros and offer your song requests with your cash tips. Thankfully, they fulfilled this travel writer’s birthday wish, letting myself and my friend Jon (who once performed for a sitting Canadian Governor General on Glenn Gloud’s piano) get up and show the crowd our version of Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight”. I’d like to think we were pretty darn good, because Eagle Eye Cherry himself liked the Instagram video of the performance.

What Are You Waiting For?

Cleveland is exactly the kind of destination that will surprise you. And no, it’s not just for bachelor and bachelorette trips. This city has a lot to offer all kinds of travellers.

Truth be told, the first time I visited Cleveland, I was 15 and there was no shortage of family-friendly activities like the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Cleveland Orchestra (where I met the late Pierre Boulez in Severance Hall),  and A Christmas Story House, on top of many of the attractions I visited this time around.

For your source of tourism information about Cleveland, visit www.thisiscleveland.com.