“Why has Over-the-Rhine gone to shit as soon as I move here?” I thought to myself one weeknight not so long ago while walking up a barren Main Street looking for a place, any place, to grab a beer. “It’s not fair!” I actually stomped my foot. What good is having a sweet Over-the-Rhine loft if I can’t walk to and from my favorite bar(s)?
Most of my old OTR haunts had either recently closed or had been long gone (yes, you, Alchemize, Courtyard Cafe, Rhino’s, Main City, Kaldi’s, Moose on Main and Neon’s). Cincinnati’s most historic neighborhood, a place with world-class architecture and a passionate arts scene, no longer has any good joints in which to enjoy an alcoholic beverage? The damn place was founded by hard-drinking Germans! It was the heart of a thriving brewery district where Christian Moerlein was established in 1853!
That was two years ago.
The emergence of Gateway Quarter (a couple-block area on Vine Street, for those not in the know) seemed to kickstart an OTR resurgence that now includes a bunch of unique boutiques, a shiny new School for the Creative and Performing Arts, an even stronger arts scene and, yes, multiple places to get drunk.
Grammer’s, a cool old place that was originally built in 1872, reopened in 2008 and continues to be a hang for everyone from Art Academy students to random neighborhood dwellers who can’t resist its tradition-rich German charms. Where else can you play Wiffle Ball with art-school girls while drinking super-cheap cans of Pabst? It’s also a dog-friendly place where my beloved Hairless Chinese Crested, Harry Gargano, can be a conversation starter for the inevitably smitten females in the house (“Awww, I’ve never seen one of those in person. He so cute!”) And props are in order for hosting the MidPoint Music Festival’s main tent: I could hear Best Coast from my kitchen window!
Neon’s, another vintage OTR staple, reopened last year with its sweet, tree-lined patio intact.
Better yet, it’s another canine-welcoming place where Harry can sit with me as I throw back the various seasonal Christian Moerleins that are on tap and watch the Reds game on the big-screen HD TV set up next to the patio’s long antique bar. (Just don’t poop in the bocce ball pit, Harry!)
A major hole in the OTR scene was filled when MOTR Pub opened in the long-neglected old Moose on Main space last September. The latest addition to Main Street features nightly live original music (from local favorites to emerging national acts), a small patio, a stellar jukebox and a full menu of pub grub that features a killer Sunday brunch.
Another new neighborhood addition is The Lackman, a sleek Gateway Quarter watering hole on the first floor of the Lackman building, which is where Henry Lackman brewed his lovingly crafted beer back in the early 1900s. Fitting for a place of such pedigree, it offers an impressive selection of beer, wine and spirits, including specialty drinks like The Swindle, which features the intriguing combo of rye, absinthe and anise. The jukebox holds its own, too, with options from local heroes Pomegranates to upstart indie faves Sleigh Bells. It’s a fine late-night stop for those who aren’t ready to call it an evening after dining at Lavomatic or Senate, both of which are right down the street.
All of the places I’ve mentioned here have sprung up in the last two years, a turn of events that’s been a godsend for those of us who yearn for a big advantage of urban living: being able to walk to (and stumble back from) our favorite watering hole, in some cases with our four-legged buddies by our side.
What To Do:
• Tuesday night movies at Grammer’s, 1440 Walnut St.
• Jazz on Wednesdays at Mixx Ultra Lounge, 1203 Main St.
• Rock’n’Roll Movies on Sundays and Open Mic Tuesdays at MOTR Pub, 1323 Main St.
• Live Jazz and buffet dinner for $10 on Tuesdays at Schwartz Point, 1901 Vine St.
What To Drink:
• More than 100 vodkas, some served at 6 degrees fahrenheit at Below Zero Lounge, 1122 Walnut St.
• Rotating selection of craft beers at The Lackman, 1237 Vine St.
• Jamie Gingers and Push Pops at Milton’s Prospect Hill Tavern, 301 Milton St. (Liberty Hill)
What To Eat:
• Casual New American cuisine at Lavomatic, 1211 Vine St.
• Pizza window at Lucy Blue Pizza, 1128 Walnut St.
• Burgers and bar food at MOTR Pub, 1323 Main St.
• Outdoor grill during warmer months at Neon’s Unplugged, 208 E. 12th St.
• Hip Gateway Quarter drinking and dining at Senate, 1212 Vine St.
• Late-night diner foot at Joe’s Diner, 1203 Sycamore St.
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