Cleveland is a beer town. Cleveland is a liquor town. Cleveland is a city that generally enjoys drinking. And why not? With our lakefront views, bustling music and arts scene, and on-the-rise sports teams (here we go, Brownies?), we have a lot to celebrate. Whether you’re into boilermakers or boulevardiers, we have all your drinking needs covered in our guide to the best bars in The Land. In the words of a shirt made famous by J.R. Smith, “Cleveland: it’s not that bad. Have a beer!”
Cedar Fairmount A neighborhood bar with atmosphere and class to spare With handsome wood interiors and a back patio that can actually be described as “lush,” The Fairmount is a classy neighborhood bar without a hint of pretension. The draft selection is solid, the cocktail menu is criminally underrated, and good God, that house-made ginger beer.
The Flats An honest-to-God dive bar with a hundred-plus year history The Flats, once again revitalized, now play host to a crop of shiny new bars. Hear us: Harbor Inn will outlast them all. Known as one of the best dive bars not just in the city, but the country, this watering hole boasts old-school vibes you can’t fake while quietly offering one of the best bottle selections in Northeast Ohio. Not bad for a bar nearly 125 years old!
Tremont An unmatched beer selection in a welcoming, red-brick space If you are even remotely a craft beer person, go to the place that treats keg tappings like rock concerts: Tremont Taphouse. Recognized as one of the best beer bars in the nation, the Taphouse rocks a huge but well-curated draft list that boasts favorites and rare finds from Ohio, national, and international breweries. And if you’re looking for something to absorb all that alcohol, don’t go anywhere: Taphouse’s kitchen is not to be trifled with.
Ohio City A comfortable and contemporary new brewery with plenty of books & beer Used books and beer: two of the most comforting smells in the world. Bookhouse Brewing, one of the most recent additions to CLE’s brewery scene, serves its customers in a cozy taproom that feels modern while paying tribute to the building’s hundred-plus years of history. And there are shelves of used books that you can take (and leave some of your own behind -- don’t get greedy) in a free exchange library.
Downtown Rotating beers and bar food that are both imaginative and fun Tucked away in a virtually untrafficked stretch near downtown, Noble Beast is an unassuming brewery that comes in like a lion. With a welcoming, open-garage vibe, Noble Beast focuses on a small number of rotating beers that manage to be grounded in tradition and daring at the same time. And the farm-to-table bar snacks are genius: guys, if you’re reading this, please bring back pizza popcorn.
Detroit Shoreway A well-made marriage of neighborhood tavern and classy cocktail bar Sometimes you just want to sit in a low-lit, quiet room and have a drink. Tributary is that room. Housed near the border of Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway, the bar borrows the best of the shot-and-beer joint and the fancy mixed-drinks lounge. We can’t say it better than owner John Burens did to Scene Magazine: It’s “[t]he kind of place where you can get both a Pabst and a French 75 without having to explain to the bartender how to make it.”
Edgewater An LGBTQ club that’s unfailingly welcoming and fun Do you want to go to Cleveland’s best Lady Gaga dance party? Head to Twist. Do you want to watch the Browns game the following day? Head to Twist. This favored LGBTQ bar has great DJs on weekends and a variety of events, from drag shows to board game nights, on weekdays. Inclusivity is the name of the game, baby.
Ohio City A neighborhood bar for the hip and the hungry Described as a “music-first” bar, Jukebox lives up to its name, hosting what is likely one of the last physical jukeboxes in town with a monthly rotating selection of music. There are vinyl nights, a red-brick interior, and the menu features a number of elevated approaches to the pierogi. If all that sounds hipper-than-thou, fear not: staff and customers are down-to-earth, and they probably won’t even throw shade at you for putting on Ace of Base! (Try at your own risk.)
Tremont Bottles, drafts, and pizza served up with '70s-style charm Your uncle -- you know, the actually cool one -- probably drank in a bar like Edison’s. There was a surprisingly lush patio out back, an early 1900s bicycle theme that didn’t overdo it, that perfect '70s-style wood paneling. And after sampling the generous craft beer selection, he ordered a slice of the most deliciously gooey pizza in The Land. And you bet he dipped the crust in honey.
Ohio City French-influenced cuisine and a bar program committed to excellence The Black Pig is one of those establishments that routinely makes best of lists but still feels underrated. It has it all: a kitchen committed to creativity and quality; an atmosphere that feels European, but without the stuffiness; and a cocktail menu that’s like fire from the heavens. You’ll find smokey and herbal spirits in abundance, combining with a curated amaro collection for strength and balance.
Ohio City The godfather of Cleveland breweries We have to respect our elders. In a sea of young upstarts, Great Lakes has been brewing traditional beers for over 30 years -- and still independently-owned, baby! Christmas Ale gets most of the press, but seasonals like Blackout Stout and year-rounds like Edmund Fitzgerald deserve your love too. Be sure to hit the brewpub for limited-edition smoked beers, sours, and other experimental rarities.
Tremont Longtime neighborhood staple with unexpectedly great food In a neighborhood teeming with new bars and restaurants, The Rowley Inn tends to sneak by unnoticed. This should not be the case: its humble interior oozes old-school Cleveland charm, and its Buffalo pierogi -- that is, pierogi slathered in a sauce of your choosing -- continues to be our favorite appetizer in the city.
Ohio City Colorful craft cocktails and Hawaiian shirts aplenty Now in its sixth year of service, Porco remains the undisputed king of tiki in CLE. Now with an alternating menu crafted by Grafiti Kitchen alum Adam Bostwick, Ohio City’s tiki lounge has become an essential destination for dining as well as drinking. Expect loud music, loud shirts, and some sweet-but-balanced drinks that will knock you on your ass.
Detroit Shoreway The ultimate night-ending karaoke bar We’re not quite sure if Tina’s, everyone’s favorite, shady-looking drinking establishment, is an actual dive bar, but we don’t care. Order your beers and shots with the vibes and cheap prices of the '70s and belt your heart out at Cleveland’s most fun and diverse karaoke destination. Singing runs Thursday through Sunday and is now fully digitized, so let that Adele roll.
Tremont Old-world style meets new-century cool, plus pierogis Joel Lovell of Esquire wrote of this warmly hip Tremont bar: “If I lived in Cleveland, I would go here every day.” Those of us fortunate enough to inhabit the Land know Prosperity as a destination for amazing pierogis (order with cheese), a great beer selection featuring some Eastern European bottles tough to find anywhere else, and old-school decor that is quintessentially Cleveland.
Lakewood Bowling, fried chicken, and a host of cool events Mahall’s has something for everyone. Bowling? Check. Stand-up comedy and live shows? Yep. Delicious, affordable, farm-to-table fried chicken and a small but curated drink menu? You betcha. That’s why, for decades, Mahall’s has remained the embodiment of the cool Lakewood bar -- and why you need to add it to your night-out repertoire, stat.
Ohio City An inviting, cool-as-hell bar with top-notch food The aesthetic of the Plum Cafe is both ultra-modern and inviting. The same could be said for its cocktail menu, a frequently shifting seasonal list nestled comfortably in the $7-$10 range. The plates, described as “whimsical,” are bonkers creative and a perfect accompaniment to your drinks, particularly during the approachable prices of happy hour.
Birdtown (Lakewood) A Viking bar with killer decor and drinks By now, you know LBM, the viking-themed bar in Lakewood: axes on the walls, blaring metal soundtrack, tiny bat skulls in jars. The drinks are hyper-seasonal, use unpredictable ingredients -- corn-tomatillo simple, anyone? -- and don’t usually surpass $10. Drink all the way to Valhalla.
West End (Lakewood) Small plates & great drinks in a cozy, classy, brick-lined space Salt is a grown-up person’s bar and restaurant, in the best possible sense. Its cool interior and lauded, seasonally shifting small plates are accompanied by a cocktail menu with wonderfully unexpected pairings. Gin and pickle juice? Tequila and fernet? Resoundingly, yes. The curated wine list is no joke either.
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Billy Hallal is the reluctant but reigning Beverage Director of Cleveland. You can find work from him at Time Out, The Normal School, and Thrillist’s Cleveland and Ohio writing.