A presidential bar and more: Cleveland for conventioneers

CLEVELAND (AP) — Conventioneers, political geeks and others heading to the GOP convention in Cleveland, take note: With seven presidents born in Ohio, there’s a lot of history here.

But what might be the most intriguing presidential-themed site in Cleveland isn’t a museum or historic home. Nope. It’s a dive bar named for an obscure president who was actually born in New York. It’s called the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library, but the only political memorabilia on display is of the goofball variety — like a photo of Mount Rushmore with Fillmore’s face plastered in. The drink menu includes a Fillmore Manhattan and beers named Fireside Chat, 21st Amendment and Jackie O’s Firefly Amber.

Elsewhere, the Cleveland area has plenty of bonafide political sites — like the James A. Garfield Memorial, honoring the Ohio-born 20th president, and the First Ladies National Historic Site 60 miles away in Canton. But for GOP delegates and anybody else needing a place to kick back when the Republicans come to town to pick their presidential nominee July 18-21, the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library might just be the place.

Why Fillmore, when he’s not even born in Ohio? Bar owner Tom Bell says he “wanted to puncture the whole idea of presidential libraries. It’s such a pompous, self-aggrandizing tribute. So I did a little research and found out the most commonly bottom-ranked president in the history of our country was Millard Fillmore.”

The bar is located in an emerging hipster ‘hood called the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District, amid businesses on Waterloo Road like Blue Arrow Records, Star Pop vintage clothing, Citizen Pie pizza and the Beachland Ballroom, a live music club. On a recent visit, a man was throwing up in a sidewalk trash can a few doors down while a shouting match took place at a bus stop. “It’s kind of a gritty neighborhood but that’s part of the charm,” said bartender Jim Caldwell, adding that Cleveland’s self-deprecating identity is sometimes summed up like this: “At least we’re not Detroit.”

Not that Cleveland doesn’t have a bright and shiny side. In the Ohio City neighborhood, you’ll find beautifully restored Victorian homes, brew pubs like Bier Markt serving craft beer and artisanal pizza, and the historic, vibrant West Side Market. Vendors at the market illustrate Cleveland’s proud ethnic heritage, a melting pot that ranges from Czuchraj Meats, selling homemade beef jerky, to Reilly’s Irish Bakery, offering shepherd’s pie and Cornish pasties.

The glittering Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, housed in a glass pyramid on the banks of Lake Erie, is hosting “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics,” an exhibit about rock music’s activism in civil rights, anti-war and other protest movements. At the Cleveland History Center, you’ll find “Power & Politics,” with artifacts ranging from campaign buttons to inaugural gowns.

Political geeks will also want to hit the James Garfield trifecta: His birthplace, home and final resting place can all be visited in one day. He was the last president born in a log cabin, and a replica of that home can be visited in Moreland Hills. The beautifully preserved farmhouse where he later lived with his wife and children in Mentor is a National Park site. And his casket is on display at Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery in a massive, castle-like monument.

In Jefferson, Ohio, history buffs will find the Giddings Law Office, a National Historic Landmark named for Joshua Giddings, a prominent abolitionist and a founder of the Republican Party.

And let’s not forget first ladies, since one of them will be starring at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Memorabilia connected to Hillary Clinton and other presidents’ wives can be seen at the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton. An exhibit called “Trials of the Campaign Trail” shows that Clinton is hardly the only first lady to weather hostility. A button on display from the unsuccessful 1964 campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater hits President Lyndon Johnson’s wife Ladybird: “Ladybird start packing, the Goldwaters are coming.”

Canton is also home to a monument honoring President William McKinley, fronted by 108 stone steps.

But the Cleveland area is not just about monuments and museums. It’s also defined by working-class grit, rust-belt history and melting pot culture. It’s the kind of place where folks line up in the parking lot of Sokolowski’s University Inn on Friday nights for potato dumplings known as pierogis, served from a steam table. Bill Clinton dined on Lake Erie perch at Sokolowski’s, while George W. Bush ate at Cleveland’s Slyman’s deli, famed for corned beef sandwiches.

There are trendy dining spots too: At celeb chef Michael Symon’s upscale Lola, feast on scallop ceviche and roasted heirloom vegetables. At Happy Dog, hot dog toppings range from banh mi pickled vegetables and Brazilian chimichurri sauce to out-there choices like SpaghettiOs.

Finally, just outside Cleveland, you can visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The short walk from the parking lot to Brandywine Falls in Sagamore Hills is a great place to get away from politics — or anything else.

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