The rhythms of Great Lakes USA
With flights by Aer Lingus into Cleveland and British Airways to Cincinnati, travel to the Great Lakes region could not be easier for British tourists.
These are supplemented with existing flights to Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit.
I recently visited three staples of a mini Great Lakes tour in the shape of Columbus, Cleveland and Detroit and was delighted at the development of all three.
Columbus was once considered an optional extra in a mid-west itinerary but no longer. Miss it out at your peril. The city is very easy to walk around, enjoying lots of independent restaurants, shopping, open air markets and a friendly hip vibe. A lot of this is due to the location of Ohio State University, home of the Buckeyes College Football team, and the thousands of students that attend and live in the city.
Notwithstanding this, the historic areas such as the German Village offer tranquillity as does the Scioto Mile Riverwalk. The distinct neighbourhoods all offer something different but for me the clincher was music. Every night of the week dozens of venues, most within walking distance of downtown hotels, offer live music. On a Monday night I had the pleasure of the Cole Porter songbook in a downstairs, speakeasy-like club called the Ginger Rabbit. A drum and keyboard duo were topped off by fantastic vocals from a soundalike and lookalike Ella Fitzgerald. Now this may not rock your boat, but it is almost certain that somewhere that evening there would have been a performance that would. The live music capital of the midwest? Worth a visit to find out.
Music also plays a big part in the draw of my next port of call. Cleveland is a destination I have not visited for over 20 years and the transformation along the lakefront and the infamous ‘flats (next to the river) is truly spectacular. Since the mid 90’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has attracted more and more visitors each year with an increasingly comprehensive array of pop memorabilia spread over seven floors.
The bottom floor has special exhibitions relating to centres of popular music such as London, Memphis, San Francisco and the detail of the exhibits is quite extraordinary. On my visit the Beatles were the subject of special treatment. The other floors are filed with more analysis by way of sounds, sights and in some cases recording studios where you can attempt to recreate your idol’s music. Fat chance for me but great fun.
The city however has to more to offer the visitor than the magnificent Hall with the redevelopment of the ‘flats’. This riverbank district was once notorious for its industrial development and pollution but in 2010 with manufacturing on the wane and the quality of the Cuyahoga River water improving a grand plan was put in place that in 2016 resulted in what we see today.
Excellent restaurants, bars, illuminated bridges and walkways has completed the community feel and culture. Cleveland is now on the front foot with regard to clean living, clean waters and environment. The metro parks, some of which are lakeside also provide the opportunity to walk in land that has been allowed to rewild over the past decade. I as a visitor was also able to enjoy and view bird and flower species completely new to me.
Two and a half hours away from Cleveland lies the city of Detroit which as I am sure you are aware also has a great deal of heritage with regard to the development of modern music. Apart from Motown, it has been the birthplace and spawning ground for some all-time greats from Wilson Pickett, Bob Seger, Jack White, Aretha Franklin, Eminem through to modern day hip hop and techno artists.
Music pervades the culture throughout the city and one that is very proud of not only the past but also the present and the future. Often referred to as the comeback city due to its bounce back after the relative demise of car manufacturing it is now full of artisan businesses producing high quality clothing, art, jewellery and of course food.
Covid has, like many cities, impacted the downtown area with fewer office workers on a daily commute but there is a fabulous sense of community. On a whistle stop tour in an open-air tram in August I witnessed many areas with outdoor seating, live music and food. Many of these facilities are as a direct result of the restrictions imposed during Covid with a level of innovation that Henry Ford would be proud of.
Beer and cheese from a small window and furniture in the garden from one of the larger houses was a special highlight for me as it was developed not for visitors but for the locals. Evidence of this movement could be seen throughout the metropolis. More conventional services are of course available, and I can thoroughly recommend an evening meal at Highlands at the top of the GM motors building. Not only is the food great, the sunrise is fantastic and Detroit is the only city that looks south onto Canada.