Maybe it hit you this past Super Bowl when you saw Clint Eastwood's rousing, Chrysler-sponsored paean to the resilience of the Motor City: the Rust Belt is back in a big way. With spring in the air, now’s an ideal time to get to know the hot spots (and the people behind them) throughout this resurgent region. We’ve mapped out some of the best places in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, and Cleveland to eat, drink, shop, and soak up the culture.
Once, Cleveland stood alongside New York City and Paris as a preeminent garment center. While the city is unlikely to reclaim that stature, the Dredgers Union is bringing back made-in-the-Midwest style. Located in a 10,000-square-foot former department store on happening East 4th Street, the 10-month-old boutique does a brisk business in its in-house sportswear lines, which are produced entirely in the heartland: "Our region minus manufacturing equals broken," explains menswear designer Sean Bilovecky, 36, who founded the company with Danielle DeBoe. The store also stocks more than 100 other apparel-and housewares-makers, ranging from the emerging (Lifetime Collective) to the established (Ben Sherman). “In the past, record companies thought, ‘If new acts make it in the Midwest, they can make it anywhere,’” Bilovecky adds. “I think this logic goes for brands and retailers today.”
2043 E 4th St, Cleveland OH, 44115; 216-357-2911; http://dredgersunion.wordpress.com/
Culinary wunderkinder often leave cities like Cleveland; they rarely come home. But after stints in New York City at the now-defunct Kitchen 22 and Parea, native son Jonathon Sawyer returned with dreams of owning his own place. In 2009, he opened the Greenhouse Tavern, a three-story eatery built with reclaimed materials that serves French-inspired dishes with ingredients—heirloom beans, foraged ramps, freshwater prawns—sourced from within state lines, often accented with Sawyer's acclaimed made-from-scratch beer and wine vinegars. After the restaurant became a hit, the 31-year-old chef opened Noodlecat, a ramen shop inspired by spots in Tokyo and New York, around the corner; its space doubles as the venue for Brick & Mortar Pop-ups, a dining series featuring visiting chefs. “We’re tired of being behind the rest of the country,” Sawyer says. “We’ll open every kind of niche concept to keep our city viable.”
2038 E. 4th St, Cleveland OH; 216-443-0511; thegreenhousetavern.com
Noodlecat and Brick & Mortar Pop-ups
234 Euclid Ave, Cleveland OH: 216-589-0007; noodlecat.com
McNulty's Bier Markt, Bar Cento, and Market Garden Brewery & Distillery
When he was growing up, Sam McNulty and his family would go grocery shopping at the century-old West Side Market, then the only reason to come to Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. "The area was sketchy, but it was so cool—all these empty old brick buildings across the river from modern Cleveland," the 37-year-old brewer and local booster says. "I knew I'd end up back here." In 2005 he did return, opening the Belgian-focused McNulty's Bier Markt in a storefront across the street from the venerable food bazaar. Two years later he partnered with chef Jonathon Sawyer on Bar Cento, an Italian joint next door that pairs a deep beer and wine list with gourmet pizzas, and in 2009 unveiled Speakeasy, a retro cocktail bardownstairs in (natch) a onetime speakeasy. His latest contribution to the now-thriving hood is Market Garden Brewery & Distillery, a bar-restaurant in a former slaughterhouse that lets you store perishables from the West Side Market while sipping one of 32 craft brews made on site (and soon small-batch whiskey, rum, and vodka, too). As McNulty's favorite saying goes: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
Bier Markt & Bar Cento
1948 West 25th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, 44113 (Across from the West Side Market); 216-274-1010; http://bier-markt.com/
Market Garden Brewery & Distillery
1947 West 25th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113; 216-621-4000; http://marketgardenbrewery.com/
When artist Jon Rubin moved to Pittsburgh in 2006 to teach at Carnegie Mellon University, he decided to experiment with some of the local materials: cheap real estate and good people. "Midwestern culture values openness and community engagement," he observes. Three years ago, he rented a storefront in the city's emerging East Liberty district for $500 a month and opened Waffle Shop, a place where hip locals can enjoy breakfast fare at all hours while participating in Web-streamed talk shows covering topics from "Michael Jackson and Teabaggers" to "Dolphin Breeding in Appalachia."
The following year Rubin and artist Dawn Weleski turned the space next door into Conflict Kitchen, whose rotating menu draws from countries that the U.S. government has a political beef with—like Iran or Venezuela—helping expand the community's culinary and cultural consciousness. As Rubin says: "We're creating the place where we want to live now."
124 S. Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA; 724-681-3886; waffleshop.org, conflictkitchen.org
Assemble Gallery and Workshops
Yes, it's the cornerstone of the soon-to-boom Penn Ave Arts District, but Assemble is more than a gallery. The year-old space feels more like an informal classroom where visitors come for the interactive, tech-focused art, then stay for the hacker workshops, PechaKucha presentations, and dance parties. Built by Nina Marie Barbuto, a native Pittsburgher who returned after a stint in L.A., as a hub for aspiring creatives, Assemble is a place for first drafts, manifestos, artistic experimentation—paint the walls, break out the solder guns. In Pittsburgh, Barbuto observes, "You don't need much to make things happen."
5125 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224-1636; http://assemblepgh.org/