24 Hours in #CLE: DJ personality Rachel Hunt lines up her perfect day in the city

If your idea of going out in Cleveland involves vinyl spinning and throwback dance parties, it probably includes Rachel Hunt.

As a working disc jockey, college radio host, part-time Ohio City bartender, off-and-on food writer, and full-time networking whiz, Hunt, 28, is easily one of Cleveland’s top bon vivants in its musical and foodie spheres. Born in Strongsville, Hunt studied English and art history at Case Western Reserve University, where she started her decade-long career DJ-ing for WRUW. Since then, she’s picked up a marketing job at the Grog Shop, acted as a Cleveland Scene contributing dining editor and hosted a plethora of 1980s-themed bashes at Mahall’s 20 Lanes and the Beachland Tavern—a Prince birthday shebang being a recent favorite.

And Hunt talks the talk. Her sentences ring fast, and her energy is endless in its verve. She can instantly call to mind the names of Gordon Square bartenders, or the lead singer of some local pop punk five-piece. And for her hectic schedule?

“I say yes to a lot of stuff, I’m definitely a Yes Girl,” she laughs. “Oh, and I get a lot of sleep. If I’m not out working or anything, I’m sleeping.”

11 a.m. - Brunch at the Beachland Tavern

Typically starting her day on the East Side, Hunt’s top spot for breakfast is coincidentally one of her favorites to listen to vinyl. Throw in the historic music venue’s from-scratch biscuits or its Quiche of the Week, washed down with blueberry mimosas and curry-flavored Bloody Marys. “It’s one of the best brunches in the city,” she says. “And you can actually go up and talk to the DJs.”

12:30 p.m. - Vinyl thrifting at Blue Arrow Records

A five-minute walk from the Beachland, the Waterloo District’s only record store is where Hunt often finds herself hunting for 45s, from 1960s garage rock to vintage funk compilations. Also, the store’s floor is covered entirely in lacquered LP covers. “Blue Arrow’s definitely this weird musical powerhouse within Cleveland,” Hunt says. “And they’re super well-priced for what they have. Most of my funk 45s come from them.”

1:30 p.m. - A stroll through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens

One of Hunt’s favorite East Side spots to take a jog, the 2.5-mile cultural gardens along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard might be one of the city’s most serene places. The 33 ethnically assigned spots — new homages to Ethiopia and Lebanon as of 2019 — along the way are also, for Hunt, reflections on the city’s diverse makeup. “It also gets you thinking, ‘Where is that corresponding neighborhood? What is their life like there?’”

Koko Bakery2 p.m. - A quick bite at Koko Bakery

Situated on Payne Avenue, Koko is Hunt’s most frequented dining spot in Asiatown. Its speciality: sweet or savory Chinese-style buns, from pork or red-bean paste, to pineapple flavored. Visiting bands who crash at Hunt’s place in Clark-Fulton are bound to get them for dinner. “It’s basically like going in and buying a pack of a dozen donuts,” Hunt says. “You can feed a lot of people with these.”

3 p.m. - A tour of the Cleveland Public Library

Besides chilling in the Eastman Reading Garden (designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial creator Maya Lin), Hunt digs CPL for a variety of reasons. She loves perusing its local artist exhibitions, using its basement Maker Space to print 11x17s and “playing Nancy Drew” in spontaneous Microfilm investigations. “People always say, ‘Go to the Cleveland Museum of Art!’” she says. “I’d rather subvert those expectations. CPL is just as beautiful.”

4 p.m. - People watching at Public Square

As a lifelong Clevelander, Hunt finds it almost obvious to laud downtown’s recently renovated hub, whether that means skating on its winter-time rink, or ogling up at Tower City with a REBoL-made green tea. “My dad used to work at a bank in Tower City,” she says. “So it’s always so extremely Cleveland to me—a weird nostalgia trip.”

Cleveland Public Square

5 p.m. - Browsing Chelsea’s Vintage Clothing

Whether she’s shopping for a costume party, trying to stand out during Halloween, or just looking for a 1960s-style shift dress or frock, Hunt is bound to hit up the famous vintage store, in Cleveland near the Lakewood border. Don’t expect to find any Zara throwaways, though: Chelsea’s is more so, as Hunt puts it, “the epicenter of old fashion in Cleveland.” She adds, “And it’s mostly $30 or less for most pieces. The last thing I bought was my suit for a Prince birthday party.”

6 p.m. - Getting local grub at Sachsenheim Hall

What do you get when you cross an old Romanian Hall with Taco Tuesday? Probably something like the Sach’, a restaurant in Cleveland’s Stockyards neighborhood. With its early 1900s flair and its one-dish-per-night policy, the family-style eatery is Hunt’s place for cheap, good food—along with German-style steins of beer. “It’s this everybody-knows-everybody kind of vibe,” she says. “To me, it’s like my home base.”

8 p.m. - Bowling and a show at Mahall’s 20 Lanes

Although Hunt works several nights a month here spinning George Clinton on 45, the area’s oldest bowling alley (est. 1924) is often on her evening stop-by schedule. And Lakewood's Mahall’s—pronounced MAY-hall’s—is host to just about anything, from upstairs comedy shows, basement punk concerts, poetry readings and the occasional wrestling match. Just don’t try to out-bowl her. “On a really good night, I’ll do 160,” she laughs. “Maybe 170, at best.”

11 p.m. - A drink at Griffin Cider House

Having purportedly the largest selection of gin in the city, Lakewood's Griffin is probably more well known for its vast stock of alcoholic ciders. “And there’s this cool lounge in the back that reminds me of early 2000s coffee shops,” she says. “It’s just this nice, relaxed vibe.”

12:30 a.m. - Closing down the Five O’Clock Lounge

Rounding off her day, Hunt likes to take newcomers to her favorite nightcap spot on the West Side. Besides its relatively late hours (the bar stays open to around 2:30), her most admired event at the lounge is tongue-in-cheek drag show Black Mass, a Five O’Clock staple, Hunt says, “reminiscent of what you’d see in a club in New Orleans.” Overall, she says, “you could end up here any night, and you’d be satisfied with it being your last stop.”

Read more articles by Mark Oprea.

Mark Oprea is a regular contributor to FreshWater Cleveland. He’s written for the Pacific Standard, OZY, and Cleveland Magazine, and was a correspondent in Mexico in 2018. He lives in Ohio City. More of his work can be found on his personal website.