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Cool Cincinnati

The Big List of the Coolest People/Places/Things

By Staff · September 14th, 2010 · CityBeat Recommends
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Cool Records: Mole’s Record Exchange
When I was a junior high/high schooler, the coolest part of town was the area around UC we called Clifton but real estate agents and Mapquest call Corryville. In the mid-’80s, my friends and I would regularly bus it to the area and make the rounds of the record stores that had the cool albums you could never find at the mall stores. One of our favorite stops was Mole’s Record Exchange, where we’d dig through crates of used vinyl and inevitably leave with a stack of “new” music that cost about as much as our fast-food lunch. Mole’s eventually moved from Short Vine near Bogart’s (where it was during my early visits), but it still sits a stone’s throw from UC on Calhoun and remains stocked with vinyl albums of every genre and traded-in CDs costing less than an iTunes album download. Today, a new generation of college kids can be found thumbing through the inventory — which seems to be growing in size and quality, as more people sell of their collections and go digital — and the concert posters and other promotional items covering the walls give it an almost time-warp/museum-like quality, alone making it worth a visit. Mole’s has been around for 35 years and, despite neighborhood upheaval and renewal and the complete shift in how people buy music, it's stood strong. Now that is pretty damn cool. 111 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-861-6291. (Mike Breen)

Cool Reuse: Museum Center at Union Terminal
For a 77-year-old train station in the middle of Queensgate warehouses, Union Terminal remains amazingly vital and active. Even if the building stood empty, its iconic Art Deco half-dome and mural-covered rotunda are architectural treasures for Cincinnati. But it's far from empty. Gathering the city's history and natural history museums under one roof and adding an interactive children's museum and big-screen OMNIMAX movie theater was a stroke of genius, as are the ethnic festivals and traveling exhibitions (such as America I AM: The African American Imprint, continuing through Oct. 2) that provide reasons for locals to visit again and again. I also enjoy taking my young son to the old control room on weekends to watch trains move through the busy freight yard and imagine the terminal's passenger travel heyday. 1301 Western Ave., West End, 513-287-7000. (John Fox)

Cool Home Cooking: The Anchor Grill
A short-order kitchen with a long history — that’s Covington’s Anchor Grill, since 1946. There really is a seafaring scheme to the décor, especially in the front room where there’s an anchor in the linoleum and lighthouses on the wallpaper border. And the Anchor is like a lighthouse — a beacon that draws you to nourishment right before you crash on the rocky shores of Hangoverville. If you’re hungry for home cooking and waitresses that will call you “sweetheart,” the Anchor is the place. Their food is surprisingly good. Whether it’s a goetta omelet with a side of perfectly crispy hash browns, a chicken dinner or a slice of the best homemade peanut butter pie I’ve ever tasted, this classic diner can fill that hankerin’ — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The soundtrack is heavy on oldies, from rockabilly to Rat Pack. Prices are reasonable. The only caution? Smoking is permitted in the entire restaurant; cough, cough. But that pie might be worth it. 438 West Pike St.,Covington, 859-431-9498. (Anne Mitchell)

Cool Affair: The Rocky Horror Picture Show at The Esquire
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Give yourself over to absolute pleasure every other Saturday night at the Esquire Theatre, where the Denton Affair performs The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The show, which has been playing in Cincinnati for 30 years, is one of the longest-running live performances of Rocky Horror in the world. The Denton Affair, who has been keeping the cult classic cool at the Esquire since the late 1990s, continues to bring something new to every performance, which never fails to bring people back for more. Using call backs, shadow casts and, of course, a fair bit of harmless audience hazing, the Denton Affair provides one of the most lively and authentic renditions of musical anywhere. The antics start at midnight, and by the time it lets out, you’ll shivering with antici … pation for the next one. The next performance is Sept. 18. $9.75; $6.75 for students. 320 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-281-2803. (Eli Samuel Johnson)

Cool Foodie Haven: Myra’s Dionysus
Myra’s must be the longest-running restaurant in Clifton Heights. CityBeat’s devoted dining editor waited tables there during her UC days, when owner Myra Griffin’s daughter, Claire, ran the tiny restaurant, which featured mostly gyros and salads. Now, after many major menu expansions, the soup’s the star. It’s fresh, homemade, creative, seasonal and superb. I love the Thai Pumpkin and the Dal, both vegetarian, with exotic hints of coconut milk. Myra’s soups are served at Coffee Emporium, and its coffee is served at Myra’s — have a cup, and choose from a selection of homemade desserts. On a date, you can’t go wrong with the sampler platter, where you pick your favorites from hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli, imam bialdi, falafel, beets with tzatziki, baked tofu and spanakopita. Restaurants just don’t last for decades, but Myra’s has been around for almost 34 years now, and deservedly so. The original dining rooms have been expanded, and they’ve added a deck and a large patio out back. The Calhoun Deli and Mass at St. George’s are gone, but Myra’s is a haven for new students, old hippies and anyone with a craving for good, wholesome food. 121 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-961-1578. (Anne Mitchell)

Cool Time Capsule: Ohio Renaissance Festival
Are the Middle Ages Olde School enough for you? The Ohio Renaissance Festival goes medieval on your ass for the 21st year, bringing with it now-famous giant turkey legs, jousting competitions and tons of crafty, unique merchants. More than 2 million people have entered through the castle gates of the permanent 30-acre village (historically re-created to mirror 16th-century England) in Harveysburg. If you've never been, this might sound like an event catered to the 10-and-under crowd. But unlike other family-friendly festivals (I'm looking at you, Ohio State Fair), there is hella booze here. Swing by one of the authentic Irish pubs for a frosty beer (more than 352 gallons are served each day) or a nice goblet of wine. New attractions this year include a Pirate Comedy Stunt Show, Dragon Scales and Faerie Tales and The New World Bass Trio. The Ren Fest is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 17, with special themes each weekend.10542 E State Route 73, Waynesville, Ohio, 1-888-695-0888. (Jac Kern)

Cool Damage: Art Damage
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Before the Internet made it possible to hear nearly every style of music in an hour’s worth of Web surfing, college and community radio stations were the place to go to discover new music of every stripe. Locally, the array of musical programming on WAIF (88.3 FM) probably inspired and influenced myriad musicians in the area, exposing them to, say, Dub Reggae one hour and Hardcore Punk the next. The Art Damage radio show came on the air in 1985 — with original hosts Dan Williams and Uncle Dave Lewis — and showcased boundary-pushing/exploding, experimental music that didn’t have a home anywhere else. Undoubtedly, the program expanded the musical horizons of countless artists, audio and otherwise, in its 25-year history (the show was booted off WAIF in 2003 but is now back at midnight Mondays). And the show's concept and ideology lives on in the Art Damage Lodge, a performance space in Northside that provides both local and touring artists a place to present their unconventional music in a welcoming atmosphere. Art Damage Lodge, 4120 Hamilton Ave., Northside. www.myspace.com/artdamagelodge and www.artdamage.org. (Mike Breen)

Cool Hang: Arnold's Bar & Grill
Is it possible to be cool at the age of almost 150? If you’re Arnold’s Bar & Grill, it’s a snap. Cincinnati’s oldest tavern proves that it is. Simon Arnold opened it in 1861, using two buildings on East Eighth Street from the 1830s. It survived Prohibition (as a café) with second-generation owner Hugo Arnold’s family living on the third floor. An antique bathtub might have been used for bootleg gin — there’s a motorized, claw-foot version today you’ll see in funky parades promoting the hangout for politicians, artists and hipsters.

Jim Tarbell owned Arnold’s for several decades (before his political career) and made its magical courtyard a friendly al fresco venue for live music. When he sold the joint to Ronda Androski more than a decade ago, she perpetuated the bohemian atmosphere and made the menu an added attraction. In the front bar you can debate Cincinnati’s virtues and vices, and even if you don’t know anyone, you’ll feel like a regular in about 30 seconds. 210 E. Eighth St., Downtown, 513-421-6234. (Rick Pender)

Cool Place to Feel Connected: Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park
Along the Ohio River just east of downtown, this art and nature pilgrimage features work so monumental as to be architectonic. Open since 2003 and dedicated to the memory of Cincinnati’s first African-American mayor, the park is old enough to be a Cincinnati tradition yet still new enough to need discovery. Our region has many public artworks to be proud of, and some of the most spectacular are integrated into Friendship Park’s carefully cultivated flora and walking paths. The German architect Peter Haimerl’s “Castle of Air” is a mirrored pavilion that takes on the colorations and qualities of its surroundings, giving it a mercurial, nearly invisible quality from certain angles. Welsh sculptor David Nash’s “Plaza of the Sun” is a larger than life sized sundial hewn from English Oak. The park culminates at a clearing surrounding the 83-foot-tall “Crystalline Tower” by Susan Ewing and Vratislav Novák. These lasting outdoor sculptures contribute to the special atmosphere at Friendship Park, an aptly-named, globally connecting, feel-good space to be visited again and again. 1101 Riverside Drive, formerly Eastern Avenue, just east of Montgomery Inn Boathouse. (Matt Morris)

Cool Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
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They don’t come much cooler — or stay cooler for much longer — than the toweringly individualistic American Modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who dominated his profession for much of the 20th century right up to his death at age 91 in 1959, and never really has receded from the public discussion since. He designed three residences in Cincinnati — in Amberley, Clifton and Indian Hill — and a fourth, newer one has been built in Clifton from his plans. Partly because of that, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy — charged with preserving his legacy — will hold its national convention at the Netherland Plaza Hotel here (itself an Art Deco gem where Wright once gave a speech) from Sept. 22-26. The conference will include tours of Cincinnati Wright homes, as well as the landmark Wright-designed Westcott House in Springfield. Non-members can attend the full conference for $775 or can sign up for individual days (space permitting) at $200 — cost includes a panel discussion in the morning, boxed lunch, bus transportation and afternoon tour. People may also attend the morning panel discussions for $25 a day. Students and faculty, however, can attend those for free with a valid ID. Anyone interested in attending should contact Jeffrey Levine, Conservancy communications and events manager at 312-663-5500 or preservation@savewright.org. For more info, visit www.savewright.org. (Steven Rosen)

Cool Atmosphere: Murphy's Pub
My dad got a good laugh when I told him I frequent Murphy’s. He used to stop in to the same neighborhood pub more than 20 years ago and described it almost exactly the same as it is today: cheap drinks and a low-key atmosphere with plenty to do. Dartboards, pool tables and two digital jukeboxes (one of few changes this bar has made) provide something for everyone. The daily specials, such as $1 beer Wednesdays, $2 beer of the month and $3 spirit of the month, draw crowds every night and they all keep coming back. The weeknights provide a perfect place to grab a free hotdog and enjoy a conversation or a game pool with friends. The weekends are busier and rowdier, but still the same great atmosphere. You won’t wait long for a drink (Leo can serve a mob of thirsty college kids in what seems like a matter of seconds) and you definitely won’t leave broke. No wonder this place is still popular after 40 years in business. 2329 W. Clifton Ave., Clifton, 513-721-6148. (Evan Wallis)

Cool House: Southgate House
It’s hard to put into words the splendor of Newport’s multi-dimensional music club for those who’ve never experienced it. “It’s, like, an old mansion with a ballroom” doesn’t really cut it. Built in the early 1800s, the house has enough history to make it worthy of a two-week-long school field trip — the inventor of the Tommy gun was born there, and it was built by British prisoners of the War of 1812, for example — but today it stands as one of the best music venues in the country, often cited by touring acts as their favorite place to play while on tour. For music fans in the area, the Southgate has been the place to see on-the-rise artists, always offering a home to independent touring artists who might otherwise have skipped Greater Cincinnati entirely. It’s the only club in the region where you could blindly walk in any day of the week and have a pretty good chance of seeing and hearing something interesting, if not mind-blowing. And its eccentric character is unrivaled. 24 E. Third St., Newport, 859-431-2201. (Mike Breen)

Cool Cakes: St. Lawrence Bakery
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Cookies, crumb cakes and cream puffs, oh my! St. Lawrence bakery, a third-generation locally owned establishment offers all of the old time classics with a personal twist. Its recipes feature more than 100 years of Cincinnati-German tradition that keep their patrons coming back to East Price Hill. "The only thing that has changed about this place are their prices," says Jay Stockman, Price Hill resident. "I love their old-fashioned peanut rolls — they bring me back to my grade school days." Cupcakes might be the hot bakery trend now, but stop in St. Lawrence for their epic Goo Cake and you'll never look back. 3715 Saint Lawrence Avenue, East Price Hill, 513-921-3331. (Stef Fuhr)

Cool Diner: Tucker’s Restaurant
Quick, which Cincinnati restaurant was featured in a 2009 Gourmet magazine article on American restaurants worth your money? Nope, nothing that swanky. It was Tucker’s in Over-the-Rhine; Joe and Carla Tucker’s legendary family diner that dates back to 1949. Gourmet praised the vegetarian huevos rancheros, but there are loads more delicious lunches and breakfasts on the menu, like chicken and dumplings with a corn griddle cake, or a big bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, raisins, butter and brown sugar. The Sunday brunch menu changes sometimes, but dishes like shrimp and grits bring out all the neighbors. Joe’s usually at the griddle, and Carla makes all the desserts herself. Carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, apple pie, chess pie — the perfect ending to a big old plateful of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Beneath the linoleum and Formica at Tucker’s lies a lot of heart and soul, and plates full of food that make weekend crowds of Findlay Market shoppers go wild. While the décor is definitely no-frills, there are photos of Joe and Carla’s family, and a “we’re all in this together” atmosphere that make Tucker’s a classic. 1637 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-7123. (Anne Mitchell)

Cool Group: League of Women Voters
Exactly one month and 13 days after the U.S. Constitution was amended in 1920 to give women the right to vote, the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area held its first meeting. Almost 90 years later, having long since opened its membership to men, the League is non-partisan but remains a citizens advocacy group dedicated to the idea that democracy depends on informed and engaged voters. Besides offering factual, unbiased information about candidates during each election cycle, the group currently is working to modernize Hamilton County's form of government through adoption of a county charter or one of the alternative forms of county government permitted by state law. In an age of increasingly belligerent rhetoric and polarizing political tactics, the League's work is as relevant as ever. www.lwvcincinnati.org. (Kevin Osborne)

Cool Stage Stories: Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati
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As Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) came together in 1985, several donors purchased a dilapidated building at 1127 Vine St. ETC’s theater space was been a mecca for theater lovers even when Over-the-Rhine was a scary place (12th and Vine streets was a crime magnet back then). As ETC marks its 25th anniversary, it’s now sitting pretty at the same location, today in the heart of OTR’s trendy Gateway Quarter. The season recently opened with Donald Margulies’ Broadway hit, Collected Stories, a title that resonates with ETC's mission, serving as “Your Premiere Theatre,” a proponent of new works. The company gives local theatergoers memorable stories about lives and situations we never imagined but can certainly relate to. New, unknown plays can pose a marketing challenge, but ETC’s subscribers trust Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers: Most renew annually before the season is announced, simply knowing they’ll see compelling work onstage. It’s the little theater that could, now the creative heart of a neighborhood renaissance. That’s cool. 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-3555. (Rick Pender)

Cool Illustrator: Carol Tyler
Carol Tyler’s latest graphic memoir, You’ll Never Know, Book 2: Collateral Damage, is set for publication in late September. We’ve yet to procure a copy, but don’t be surprised if it’s another evocative, moving portrait of the home-front “collateral damage” caused by her father’s World War II experiences. Tyler, who teaches at the University of Cincinnati, published Book I: A Good and Decent Man in 2009 to much acclaim (The New York Times raved in a lengthy review), and for good reason: It’s an unforgettable search for truth about what happened to her father during the war, simply yet expressively drawn. In many ways the You’ll Never Know series is the project Tyler has been building to her whole career, which has included autobiographically informed cartoons for a number of publications (Zero Zero, L.A. Weekly, Pulse! and Drawn and Quarterly) and a well-received 2005 book, Late Bloomer. Let’s hope she keeps blooming, keeps giving us unique, heartfelt stories that are rare in any form, let alone the graphic kind. (Jason Gargano)

Cool Coaster: The Beast
The Beast isn't just the coolest roller coaster in the universe; it’s probably the coolest thing that’s ever existed. I was scared of The Beast when I was a kid. Those signs that warned riders to secure their belongs or risk “losing them to The Beast!” made it seem as if it was a real living creature that could attack and destroy you at any moment. Much of The Beast’s mystery lies with the fact that majority of the coaster is tucked into a wooded corner of Kings Island, with only brief glimpses of it peaking out from the tree line. When you speed down that first massive hill and into that dark tunnel — which looks as though it’s going to tear your head off — it’s as if your descending into some creepy jungle, not sure of the horrors that await. The Beast, now in its 31st year of existence, is (supposedly) the longest roller coaster in the U.S. and (undeniably) the longest wooden coaster in the world, both of which add to its enduring mystique. (Jason Gargano)

Cool Conductor: Dalai Lama
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Tenzin Gyatso has been leading the nation of Tibet in exile since 1959, working for its independence from China by traveling internationally, promoting freedom and religious tolerance and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Known better as His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, he'll be honored by the National Underground Freedom Center Oct. 20 with its International Freedom Center Conductor Award. The award luncheon takes place at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown and is open to the public; it will be emceed by PBS television host Gwen Ifill, and the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak and answer questions from the audience. Tickets are $125-$250. Info: 513-333-7500. (John Fox)

Cool Activist: Marian Spencer
She was born the granddaughter of a freed slave in Gallipolis, Ohio, not far from West Virginia. But it was her decision to attend college at the University of Cincinnati that would affect the Queen City forever. Marian Spencer is charming, erudite and likes to shake up the apple cart. It was that combination of traits that helped her as she pushed Cincinnati to become a better, more inclusive city through her decades of work both as a private citizen and as a politician. In 1983, Spencer became the first African-American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council, later being appointed vice mayor. At age 90, she remains active in public affairs despite the death of her husband in May. She's a member of the Charter Committee, Woman's City Club and the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. Not too shabby for a farm girl from the hills. (Kevin Osborne)

Cool Color Guy: Chris Welsh
Anybody who can rock a mustache and not look like a ’70s porn dude has got to be cool. Chris Welsh has been calling Cincinnati Reds games on TV for 18 years now, a tenure that's seen the team make the playoffs exactly one time (1995). The team's lack of success has done little to impact Welsh’s upbeat attitude, a demeanor all the more surprising given his crappy major league career (21-31 with a 4.45 ERA) as left-handed pitcher for four different teams, including a brief stint with the Reds. More importantly, the guy knows his stuff, delivering unique insights into the game, some of which were no doubt learned from his days at the University of South Florida, where Hall of Famer Robin Roberts was his coach. Welsh also has the coolest nickname in broadcast TV, “The Creeper,” which more than offsets the fact that he graduated from St. Xavier High School. (Jason Gargano)

Cool Visages: Taft Museum of Art
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It’s a given that the Taft Museum of Art is enduring cool. It carries off change with ease (renovation brought it back the same but better) and tickles our interest with surprises (inventive local contemporary artists in the Keyhole Gallery). One of its coolest elements, for me, is John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson. A very cool dude, indeed, Stevenson (underrated as a writer; see The Amateur Emigrant about traversing the U.S. by immigrant train) sits comfortably in a wicker chair, long legs crossed, cigarette between long fingers, slightly smiling. Presumably, somebody has just said something funny. Probably him. I like it that the Tafts, who collected splendid English portraits, wonderful Dutch genre paintings, a real Rembrandt and one that, actually, wasn’t real, were drawn to this work by an artist who put bravura aside for a gentle portrait of his friend. Cool is in being understated, a concept the Taft does well and so, in this painting, did Sargent. The museum's current exhibitions are Kathy Donnelly: Paperwork, which runs through Oct. 24, and American Elegance: Chintz Appliqué Quilts, 1780–1850, which runs through Nov. 7. 316 Pike St., Downtown, 513-241-0343. (Jane Durrell)%u2028

Cool Wheels: Western Rollerama
Did Drew Barrymore’s recent film Whip It pique your interest in roller skating? Drop by Western Rollerama for a less intense dosage of pure roller-rink fun. Don’t let the exterior fool you, Western Rollerama is one of Cincinnati’s hidden treasures. Perfect for birthdays or group events, this roller rink is a throwback to skating in its prime. Little to no renovations have been done, so you're really stepping into 1984 with this gem. Wagon wheels and cut-out pictures of John Wayne decorate the interior and you can still order standard roller grub. Slide into your American Apparel spandex, rock the side pony or your favorite western garb and get your skate on! They can’t promise you’ll see your favorite rollergirl (live to skate, skate to live), but they do promise a good time. Call ahead for times, the rink is usually open Friday and Saturday evenings with admission ranging from $6-$8. 5166 Crookshank Road, Covedale, 513-922-4004. (Garen Torchia)

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