2009 Best of Cleveland: Nightlife & Restaurants

VIP Bowling
The Corner Alley

402 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
(216) 298-4070

We’re a city that likes to bowl. So much so that we want to celebrate bachelor parties, corporate events and even our birthdays while working toward that perfect game. But we don’t want to break out our rosin bags and wrist guards just anywhere. The private room at The Corner Alley allows us (and up to 99 of our closest friends) to feel like a VIP with four bowling lanes, a billiards table, comfy couches, a fully stocked bar and large LCD screens for keeping score. And if you are a local celebrity such as Daniel Gibson or Grady Sizemore (who’ve both rented out the room at $350 an hour), there’s even a back entrance to make sure everyone knows who the high roller is.

Bar Game
Around The Corner

18616 Detroit Ave., Lakewood
(216) 521-4413

An oversize salad bowl serves as a starting gate, keeping restless hermit crabs covered on a platform at Around the Corner. The bowl is lifted and off they go, dashing and maneuvering (prodded along by squirts of water coming from their handlers) until one crosses the perimeter and is declared the winner. It’s all part of the newest bar game at one of our favorite neighborhood bars (it earned a Best of Cleveland nod last year for its patio). There’s a lot riding on the crustaceans: Up to 20 gamers can participate in each race by entering a crab for $2 each, with the chance to win lottery tickets worth up to $10,000. And don’t worry about the crabs. They are returned each night to a local pet store, says owner Mickey Krivosh. “We use them just to exercise their little legs,” he says.

Throwback Bar
Rowley Inn

1104 Rowley Ave., Cleveland

It’s been a long time since we’ve made sure we had a pocket full of quarters before going out for a night of fun. Between a killer jukebox filled with classic rock, oldies and good country, drinks cheap as any bar in town, a 5:30 a.m. opening time and a vintage Asteroids machine, how can you pass up the Rowley Inn in Tremont? (Not that side of Tremont. The other side of the bridge, away from its popular restaurants.) The guy installing the machine told us it is one of two Asteroids machines in the city, and it lives in all its 1979 beauty. Tapping those directional arrows, firing away at the ragged rock shapes from your triangle ship and dodging large and small UFOs make us want to talk Brian Sipe with the retired steelworkers in the bar.

Diner Revival
Big Egg

5107 Detroit Road, Cleveland
(216) 281-1600

No, this is not the Big Egg you remember from those intoxicating late nights of your youth. This version is more early bird than night owl, more family guy than party animal. The former 24-hour diner, which shut down in 2000 before it was revived last February, now keeps 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours every day except Sunday, when it closes an hour earlier. The gimmicky egg-shaped menu has been resurrected. So have the shockingly inexpensive prices. Name another sit-down joint that offers a 99-cent breakfast (two eggs, hash browns and toast Monday through Thursday with a beverage purchase) or something called the Crazy Breakfast 2 X 4 — two eggs, two pancakes, two strips of bacon, two sausage links — for $3.99. The place makes Denny’s Grand Slam look like a foul ball. That’s before you even get to the deli fare ($5.19 or less), half-pound burgers ($5.99) and monstrous open-face sandwiches ($5.19) served with mashed potatoes and drowned in gravy. Aren’t you glad you’re going to clearly remember this visit?

Dipping Sauces
Bar Cento

1948 W. 25th St., Cleveland
(216) 274-1010

With the divorce rate as high as it is, it’s no surprise that classic food pairings would be the next thing to split. Blame the chefs at Bar Cento for the rift in the marriage of french fries and ketchup with the creation of three Belgian dipping sauces — a delightful trio of mayos in garlic, curry and chile flavors — that accompany each order of pommes frites. You’ll forget tomato purée ever existed as you dunk each crisp potato slice (covered with chunks of garlic and sprigs of rosemary) into the creamy and sweet sauces. Do what we do and mix a few together. Dip garlic with a little chile or curry with some garlic. Your taste buds will be happy you cheated. And ketchup (which also makes a small appearance on the dish) will need a good attorney.

Beach Food
Rose Café

1800 W. Erie Ave., Lorain
(440) 233-7272

If you are dining outside overlooking a wide swath of sand and the gentle waves of Lake Erie, there is only one place you could be: the Rose Café in Lorain, because it’s the only place in Northeast Ohio where you can order a real meal at the beach. And unlike Huntington in Bay Village, where stone piers and that steep hill close you in a bit, this beach feels luxuriously open — an unexpected contrast to the dense city streets surrounding it. The menu is small enough to be done well and is reasonably priced (Belgian waffles are $2.99, burgers are $5.99 and grilled salmon is $9.79). But the view is expansive and ever-changing. Packs of seagulls rule the morning, the swimmer-and-sand-castle crowd takes over during summer lunch, and the sunset is the star later on. If you’ve got little ones, reserve some time for the playground right on the beach. If you go before the first frost, take time for Lakeview’s historic Rose Garden.

Thing from Pittsburgh
Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon

24581 Lorain Road, North Olmsted
(440) 801-1001

As long-suffering Cleveland sports fans, we don’t often give props to Pittsburgh, a city currently basking in the glory of two championship teams (no, we don’t really think hockey should count either). But we’re making an exception with Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon, a Steel City original that opened a C-town-area version this year. The Headwiches (super-creative sandwiches that, yes, are about the width of your head) are big enough to share, so go with friends — just no Steelers fans, please. And since Pennsylvania grub alone just won’t work in this town, the menu has taken on a local tone, packing in favorites such as Lake Erie walleye, Polish sausage and pierogi. There’s even a sub called the Dawg Pounder. Wash all these down with craft beers brewed right on the premises — that’s something the Pittsburgh location can’t claim. Score one for Cleveland.

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