I’m gonna be honest. When I first moved to Akron from the suburbs in the early 90s, I was more depressed than impressed by my new surroundings. My girlfriend at the time and I moved here for the cheap rent at an apartment at 665 Brown St. It was only $250.00 a month. It was supposed to be temporary.
My sister was here, but left for upstate New York around the time I showed up. I can remember her saying later, “Why the hell are you still living there?” I believe she used the term “s***hole”, much like our President uses this classy term, but I couldn’t disagree with her at that time. I explained that I was broke and was going to be stuck here for a while, but assured her that I wanted to get to greener pastures sooner than later. I’ll never forget seeing written on a bathroom wall at some bar, “There’s no gravity in Akron. It just sucks.” This was the state of mind here back then. It wasn’t pretty.
If you had told me back in 1992 that I would still be living here now in 2018 and loving it, I would have responded with,”Rigghhht…” If you had told me that I would be working for an Akron magazine that promotes the city I love, that I’d be helping small businesses and writing about what fascinates me about this place, that it would be published in print and that I’d have zero desire to move away — well, I just would have laughed and said, “Shaddup!”
The transformation I’ve witnessed in the 25 plus years since then makes me beam with civic pride. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing.
If I were to point to one catalyst, it would be the construction of our beautiful baseball stadium downtown. You can thank the juggernaut Cleveland Indians of the mid 90s for making baseball relevant and fun for Northeast Ohio again. You can also thank former-Mayor Don Plusquellic and other civil leaders for luring the Tribe’s Double-A team here up from Canton. Canal Park replaced an adult movie theater, adult store, seedy bar and some boarded up wasteland. Before it was built, there was the Daily Double concert club, The Civic Theatre, Quaker Square and a few other gems, but downtown wasn’t much of a destination.
In no time, stylish restaurants and modern clubs were popping up left and right. A state-of-the-art library, Lock 3 and the like helped transform the vibe. Downtown had become legit again. Slowly but surely, downtown’s transformation has trickled throughout the city. That ongoing renaissance has spread to the Northside District, Highland Square, with other neighborhoods like the Goodyear/Eastside complex and Kenmore to follow. Couple that with a good job market, low cost of living and Mayor Dan Horrigan’s vision of increasing our population for the first time since the 60s, and we could be in the national conversation even more than we already are.
Home of LeBron James, The Black Keys, Devo and others. Awesome restaurants with cuisine from around the globe. A killer music scene. The blimp and one of the best park systems in the country. Akron is a truly unique city that is both cutting edge and stuck in time. Its people are professional, multi-cultural, kind, blue collar, down to Earth, rough around the edges and even bizarre at times, but certainly passionate and hard working. The history is rich and it’s safe from almost all of mother nature’s evils. Even the topography and crazy layout make it cool. Seriously, what’s not to love about Akron? Okay, fine, it’s not by the ocean or the mountains. But who really enjoys terrible traffic and a high cost of living anyway? Not me, that’s for sure.
With that, as I write this on the Devil Strip’s three year anniversary, I salute you, Akron! Thank you for supporting this magazine of ours and for reading my babble every month. I hope to be here and doing this for many years to come, for my sister now insists that I stay.
Leslie Shirley Nielsen
Area of Akron: Highland Square
Address: 816 W. Market St. • 330-253-9336
Happy Hour: Always Happy Hour
Biggest sellers beer/liquor: PBR/Jameson
Entertainment: Video Games/Pinball (Tournaments every Sunday at 7 pm)
Food: No Food
Previously: Ray’s Pub/The Bucket Shop
Celebrity personality: Gene Simmons meets Jon Cryer
Comments: As a kid in the 80s, going to your local arcade was sanctuary from your parents. Add beer and booze to the mix as an adult and it is sanctuary from a hard day’s work or maybe a naggy girlfriend. A wonderful bar option for those of us who are still a kid at heart.
Name: Woody’s Bar
Area of Akron: Downtown
Address: 376 S. Main St. • 330-940-9043
Happy Hour: 4-8 pm
Biggest sellers beer/liquor: Craft Beer/Jameson
Entertainment: Good Conversation
Food: Full Menu
Previously: Jimmy’s Martini Bar
Celebrity personality: Woody Hayes meets James Franco
Comments: Cozy neighborhood style bars are hard to come by downtown. It’s neither too loud nor too young. Whether it’s to watch the big game or B.S. about daily events and blow off some steam, you will feel right at home. This place nails that vibe.
Name: Top Shelf Lounge
Area of Akron: Firestone Park
Address: 1307 Grant St.
Comments: There’s some definite irony in the name of this place. Perhaps the previous owners were looking at this place with rose-colored glasses, in hope that it would bring in some high-brow clientele. Since they are no longer in business, I’m assuming their clever ploy wasn’t a total success. My suggestion for this place, rather than false advertising with a name like Bar of The Gods, is to call it what it is. Bubba’s Pub, The Blue Collar Saloon or First-o-The Month Lounge might be less deceiving choices. Lynyrd Skynyrd on the jukebox, pickled eggs and a Slim Jim rack behind the bar for ambiance. A fifty-something barmaid with big hair and blue eyeshadow serving up Busch Ice in a can for good measure. When a bar makes sense, the customers will be happy, resulting in pay dirt for the new owner. You’re welcome.