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Ohio City, Cleveland’s complete urban neighborhood, rises

Cleveland is getting ready for a contentious summer, but a little political squabbling via convention pales in comparison to the city’s more combative times.

Take 1836, when the Battle of the Bridge was still raging between Ohio City and Cleveland, over trade and revenue losses following the Columbus Street Bridge’s construction. Citizens took to the streets in a violent confrontation, threatening to blow up the bridge.

But the Ohio City flag is no longer a symbol of separation; it is a banner heralding what author Alan Eherenhalt calls “demographic inversion,” a back-to-the-city movement, frequently led by millennials.

The streets of Ohio City are tree-lined and generally quiet. The LePetit Triangle Café, its patio open, meanders along into the Carnegie West Cleveland Public Library, made possible through Andrew Carnegie’s largess. Two historic anchors come into view, the Lutheran Hospital, part of the renowned Cleveland Clinic, and visit St. Ignatius High School where Jesuit priests live on campus, and students serve in the community.

Like many industrial hubs dating to the Carnegie era, Cleveland was home to numerous breweries, the last closing in the early 1980s. In 1988 a new enterprise, Great Lakes Brewing, established itself as an Ohio City anchor. The company was Ohio’s first craft beer brewer and is now a regional power in the craft beer game, operating in multiple Ohio City buildings.

Facilities include the brewhouse where Great Lakes offerings are available in the taproom, where the company operates a circa 1860 Tiger Mahogany bar, the Beer Cellar, and the Rockefeller Room, named after John D. Rockefeller, who allegedly had his first accounting office within its walls. Brewery-fresh kegs and bottles are available in the gift shop along with Great Lakes apparel, barware, and glassware. Five-dollar tours are offered on Friday and Saturday from noon until 8 p.m., with private tours available, and can be booked online. But feel free to walk in anytime to Market Avenue’s beer garden for outdoor dining and imbibing.

Additional Ohio City innovators appear to be winning one of the country’s biggest games – rebirth of a Rust Belt city. One such entrepreneur is Courtney Bonning. A local pastry celebrity, she owns and operates Bonbon Pastry & Café, and is a Food Network “Cupcake Wars” winner.

Down Lorain Avenue is Crop Bistro & Bar. Originally a bank that opened in 1925, closed in 1929, and has served since as various banks and government offices, Crop is the vision of chef Steve Schimoler. The renovated dining room retains original artwork from 1925. And in Crop’s cellar lies the largest free-standing vault outside of Federal Reserve banks between New York and Chicago. It’s now a popular private dining room.  And Room Service is a lifestyle boutique selling home goods, apparel, and gifts, from area, national, and international artists.

Bridge Avenue’s Glass Bubble Project is where custom metal and glass sculptures are made, from material that is 90 percent recycled. Owner Mike Kaplan started as a non-profit to help high school students learn glass blowing, and Mike, who calls Glass Bubble work “clevetion glass,” noted for its durability, continues the teaching tradition, with glass blowing and welding classes for ages 6 and up.

Adding variety to the scene, and the European tavern as a social hub, is Sam McNulty’s Bier Market, modeled after a Belgian beer hall. McNulty later expanded his business to Bar Centro, a Mediterranean style restaurant. Then modeling neighbor Great Lakes Brewing, he partnered with brew master Andy Tveekrem, a Great Lakes veteran to create original beers for the Market Garden Brewery restaurant.

Carved out of six acres is the Ohio City Farm, one of the country’s largest urban farms, spawning educational and market opportunities alike. Cropland overlooks downtown Cleveland. Made up of five tenants including Great Lakes Brewing, the grange is part of the Ohio City Fresh Food Collaborative, whose twofold purpose is to establish Ohio City as central to Cleveland’s regional food chain, and to educate the public about the food system, and give residents of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, a farm partner, the chance to learn farming skills, planting seeds, allowing them to one day operate farms, and grow food to sell to area outlets.

With “demographic inversion” hailing rebirth and new growth, an Ohio City tradition extends back to the 19th century. In the 1850s, Market Square provided meeting space for new immigrants and longtime residents seeking food and community.

Today, that destination food shopping experience abounds in the West Side Market. Celebrated in 2008 as a member of an exclusive club with a spot in the American Planning Association’s “10 Great Public Spaces in America” listing, now in its second century, buoyed by Ohio City resurgence, the market thrives.