Cleveland or Pittsburgh? Good times found an hour east or west

Usually when people are weighing about the merits of Cleveland versus those of Pittsburgh, it involves some sort of team sport, a debate that has been inciting battery-throwing rage for decades. Though the time-honored rivalry of Squealers vs. Clowns is a rich part of our Valley’s history, being smack-dab between the two, there are also many other things to compare and contrast about the cities. I’m not even going to touch the football issue (Go Vikings).

Since I grew up in Warren, when I was able to drive past the county line, I would go to Cleveland. It was closer, a little less than an hour away. Gas was cheaper back then. It was nothing to scoot off an hour northeast-ish for a day of getting your picture taken in front of stuff.

I went to tons of concerts in Cleveland. When I worked at Hot Topic (collective groan heard whenever I start a sentence with those words), we got to go to concerts for free, and I abused this privilege shamelessly. Shows at the Odeon, Peabody’s (when it was in the Flats), the Phantasy and the Agora were routine. The Flats still actually had stuff. Lakewood was for freaks, with its weird clothing stores and goth danceclub. They used to have a cool videostore called B-Ware that rented only terrible B-movies. Me and my friend Rob made a few trips there, paid many a late fee. Now, Lakewood’s filled with cool, trendy people who are decidedly lacking in black lipstick.

Day trips to the Cleveland Zoo or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are always welcome. West Side Market and the shops of Coventry are also in the rotation. The city has become a foodie capital, helmed by both Food Network faces and a newfound respect for decades-old institutions. Unique eateries like Melt draw plenty from the Valley on regular trips to abuse the melted cheese capacity of sliced bread. Going there just for dinner isn’t unusual, though the ride home is usually a high-speed rush to deliver your food baby.

Cleveland has transformed plenty since I began visiting. More recently, neighborhoods like Ohio City and Tremont have begun to blow up. The city is tinged with a bit of – dare I say – sophistication. Corned beef and Joe Walsh are now joined by duck confit and opera, but it’s still a working-man’s town.

It wasn’t until I moved a half hour away that I began to explore the wilds of Pittsburgh. Since Mahoning County is closer to the ‘Burgh, it’s preferable to abscond there since Cleveland trips now include getting on the turnpike. College kids are drawn to art havens like the Mattress Factory and the Warhol Museum, but for me the towering beacon of Pittsburgh is Ikea. There’s just something about the brain-melting assembly of weird Swedish furniture and ice cube trays shaped like question marks that pulls me in.

Like Cleveland, Pittsburgh is also undergoing a renaissance of sorts, growing in culture and business and baffling roads and 90-degree hills. Some parts of the city feel more like Chicago than Steel City. I love the city’s free summer concert series; I once saw Violent Femmes one weekend and Steve Earle on another, and later saw Mr. Earle at the Pittsburgh sandwich mecca Primanti Bros. Arts and music festivals fill almost every summer weekend. Just watch out for all those pesky action movies being filmed tying up traffic.

So, who’s better? I can’t say. I’m closer to Pittsburgh, but I know Cleveland better. Both have culture, excitement, ridiculously oversized sandwiches. I guess we are lucky enough to have both options. Some see it as being a boil on the behind of the Midwest, but the bright side is access to all the arts and music and culture and sports and rivers and lakes that one tank of gas can get you. Just leave your football rivalries and sack of batteries at home.

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