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National Convention City Face-Off: Philly vs. Cleveland

July 16, 2016
7 min read
National Convention City Face-Off: Philly vs. Cleveland
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With both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions coming up (July 18-21 and 25-28, respectively), TPG Contributor Adam Erace takes a closer look at the two host cities, Philadelphia and Cleveland, to see which one is a more worthy contender.

Unless you've been living in a doomsday bunker we'll all be trying to buy our way into soon, you may have heard the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are set to take over two major American cities this month. The presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is sweeping into Cleveland, while the presumptive Democratic nominee, fresh off a better-late-than-never endorsement from primary rival Bernie Sanders, will be turning Philadelphia into Hilladelphia. Considering a visit? Here's how these two towns stack up.

The Airport

An American Airlines hub, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is much nicer, larger, better served and closer to downtown than Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), a one-time hub of United, then Continental, then post-merger United before being formally jettisoned in 2014. That said, many employees of PHL's subcontractors — including baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, plane cleaners and security personnel — just voted to strike during the DNC, so, keep an eye on that if you're planning a trip to the City of Brotherly Love anytime soon. Advantage: Philadelphia

Obligatory Touristy Sightseeing

You can't go to Philly without seeing Independence Hall, the site at which we honor the signing of the Declaration of Independence. You can't go to Cleveland without seeing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the site at which we honor acts like the Beatles, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Chubby Checker and N.W.A. Advantage: Draw

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

What You'll Actually Want to See

One of the most popular places to visit in Philly right now is Spruce Street Harbor Park, a seasonal pop-up greenway along the Delaware River. The park draws a diverse mix of tourists and locals — it's adjacent to the Hilton Penn's Landing, a former Hyatt, offering a real cross-section of the city that flocks here to stroll the floating boardwalks, read paperbacks in hammocks and devour towering cones from an ice cream parlor housed in a converted shipping container. In Cleveland, the West Side Market in the hip Ohio City neighborhood has been a food mecca since 1912. The historic site, an architectural jaw-dropper, is where Polish immigrants once shopped for kielbasa and kraut. Now, their descendants come for the same treasures, plus artisanal jerky, pork tamales and maple syrup from Geauga County. Advantage: Cleveland

Cleveland's historic West Side Market in the trendy Ohio City neighborhood. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Award-Winning Export

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If you polled Philadelphians on their favorite sandwich, most wouldn't pick the city's best known invention, the cheesesteak. Instead, you'd hear an awful lot about roast pork, a sandwich involving slow-roasted, thinly-sliced pig dripping with jus, tucked into a crusty Italian roll with bitter broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. The formula is perfected at John's Roast Pork, a cinderblock luncheonette in South Philly that, in break from tradition, swaps the rabe for sautéed spinach. John's won the James Beard America's Classic Award in 2006. Cleveland, meanwhile, doesn't come up short in this category. Thanks to the city's deep Eastern European roots, pierogi are sacred, and there's nowhere better to enjoy them than at Sokolowski's University Inn, a pine-paneled cafeteria-style time capsule that took home its own America's Classic Award in 2014. Move down the buffet line and order a big helping of dumplings with sour cream and caramelized onions from the third-generation owners. Sokolowski's has had nearly a century to perfect its recipe. Advantage: Philadelphia

The iconic roast pork sandwich from John's. Image by Jason Varney, courtesy Visit Philly.
The iconic roast pork sandwich from John's. Image courtesy of Visit Philly.


Thinking of catching a ballgame while in town? Here's the record of the Philadelphia Phillies at press time: 42-48. Record of the Cleveland Indians at press time: 52-36. Advantage: Cleveland

Famous Chef

The convention host cities' most recognizable chefs each owe their fame to TV — specifically, Food Network's Next Iron Chef. Cleveland's Michael Symon won the cooking competition in 2007. Philly's Jose Garces won the same title two years later. Each chef owns multiple restaurants in his respective city, but only one has parlayed his 15 minutes into a brighter spotlight — Symon is one of the hosts of The Chew on ABC. Advantage: Cleveland

Chef that Locals Actually Love

Philadelphians adore Michael Solomonov, whose exotically spiced sensation Zahav kicked off the country's current craze for Israeli cooking. Solo, as he's known in Philly, also co-owns a fantastic, idiosyncratic, oft-imitated fried chicken-and-donut shop, Federal Donuts, as well as bunch of other concept restaurants in the city. His cookbook, Zahav, was named the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook of the Year. In Cleveland, the culinary golden boy is Jonathan Sawyer, whose Greenhouse Tavern changed the game for downtown's food scene. The red-bearded chef's other efforts include a group of casual NoodleCat restaurants and his own vinegar line. Advantage: Philadelphia

Animal Style Frites are a mainstay on the menu at Jonathan Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern. Image courtesy of Greenhouse Tavern.
Animal Style Frites are a mainstay on the menu at Jonathan Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern. Image courtesy of Greenhouse Tavern.


It's the dead of summer and both cities are going to be as sticky as syrup factories. At least Cleveland is situated on Lake Erie, which usually kicks up a fair amount of merciful wind. Advantage: Cleveland

Hotel Rooms

Neither city has an especially robust or noteworthy hotel scene, and what stock there is in Philly during the DNC has been snapped up long ago. In Center City, a recent search on Kayak turned up exactly two options with bookable rooms (both in the $500+ range): the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown and Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown, both located steps from City Hall. Each is a Category 7 property; and normally, redemptions would start at 35,000 Marriott Reward points per night. Cleveland's availability is even worse, with your closest bookable option to downtown being the frumpy University Hotel & Suites, which, if it was affiliated with a hotel brand, would likely be a Category Negative 6. Oh, and it's only $713 a night! Advantage: Philadelphia

Convention Location

Each city is housing a convention event in a sports arena easily reached by public transportation. In Philly, delegates will gather in the Wells Fargo Center, home to the 76ers and Flyers, and part of the sports complex about three miles south of Center City. In Cleveland, the Cavaliers' "Q" (Quicken Loans Arena) will host the Republicans right downtown. Proximity to the main business district might seem like an advantage, but Philly learned the hard way how security and road closures can murder commercial business during large-scale events when the city hosted Pope Francis last fall. Road closures in Cleveland will turn a significant part of downtown into a mess, while in Philly, traffic will be confined to a square mile surrounded by nothing but parkland and parking lots. Advantage: Philadelphia

Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, home of the 2016 Republican National Convention. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
The RNC's 2016 home at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Verdict

Philly edges out Cleveland, but just slightly. In all honesty, these are two great American cities on the upswing, and each party is lucky to have them as their respective hosts.

Which city do you think is better, Philly or Cleveland? Sound off, below.