For both Cleveland natives and touring acts, I hope this list helps you find the locale for your next big gig. These are my favorite spots in town to watch a show.
The Beachland is tops on this list because it actually contains two of the best venues in town. The Ballroom is a large room that has hosted such bands as They Might Be Giants, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys. As a local music fan, I prefer the Tavern. It’s the perfect spot for an album release party, with an interesting stage setup that lets you walk around the back and right sides, so you can get unique orientations to watch shows.
Located on Professor Avenue in Tremont, CODA is just a few minutes from downtown, in a dark basement with low ceilings. It has one of the most memorable personalities of any local venue, with a huge mural onstage paying tribute to tons of classic rock and metal bands. Gary the bartender is a riot. And you can order food from upstairs at Dante’s right from the bar.
A Cleveland classic. Order a weird hot dog with whatever toppings you want, while local bands play on the stage. Make sure you’re early, because you’re gonna want the booth with the Elvis Costello photo- it’s the best seat in the house. RIP Euclid Tavern, formerly a Happy Dog property, and worthy of this list before it closed last year.
One of the more prestigious venues on the East side. The list of bands that has graced this stage is ridiculous: Elliot Smith, Oasis, The Flaming Lips, Built To Spill, Dinosaur Jr., Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Animal Collective, Mastodon, Bright Eyes, Mike Watt, Cloud Nothings- and on it goes. Say hi to Jeff the bartender and John the doorman, who looks oddly like J Mascis.
Recent reupholstering has made the Winchester’s stage one of the biggest and best in town. There’s a cozy cove in the back corner where you and your pals can lounge on couches without missing any of the music. There is also a front bar which hosts smaller shows and open mic nights.
Five O’Clock Lounge
An eclectic hole in the wall on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. If you have good friends in the area, its small size makes it easy to pack. There’s a nice patio in the back, but mostly I spend time feeling the mad reverberations off the tight walls during huge rock shows.
What an enigma. How is it pronounced? Depends which side of town you’re from! Mahall’s is an old-school 20-lane bowling alley on Madison Avenue. One of Lakewood’s most fun venues, it has a big stage upstairs in an oddly-leveled room, plus another stage in the basement that often hosts local rock acts. The bar, situated separately from both, is crowded but great, and features a counter where you can order burgers and fried chicken and french fries. Mahall’s always has something going on, and has been hosting higher and higher profile bands lately; in the past year, they’ve had both Best Coast and Deerhunter.
Honorable Mentions, also worth playing at:
Now That’s Class