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2013 Urban Life Staff Picks

By Staff · April 2nd, 2013 · Urban Life
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BEST GREENIE HOW-TOS

We once called Park + Vine a “general store of the future” back in 2009, when a store dedicated to sustainability and all things greenie was new and unusual. Today, we’re happy to say we’d just call it a general store — we’ve reached that future where it’s not weird or unusual to hit the Main Street locale every week for your kombucha fix, or pop in for a vegan goetta brunch on a Sunday morning. And, of course, they’re still offering classes almost every day on simple, actionable stuff — you needn’t be an eco-crusader to participate, just appreciative of good, smart, healthy ideas. Check out classes like Vegan Kitchen Basics or Green Cleaning 101. Park + Vine, 1202 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-7275, parkandvine.com. 

BEST FROSTBITE-FREE WAY TO RELIEVE CABIN FEVER 

Unless you moved to Cincinnati from Antarctica — or maybe Wisconsin — it’s pretty customary to be sick to your stomach of winter by sometime in February. Even if you’re not a plant guru, a stroll through the palm, tropical, desert or orchid houses at Krohn Conservatory — which combine to showcase more than 3,500 plant species — is such a sensory overload, it’s bound to get the summer serotonins flowin’ through your brain. Of course, the Butterfly Show, which takes place every spring, is the regional end-all, be-all to any blues, winter and otherwise. Krohn Conservatory, 1501 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams. cincinnatiparks.com. 

BEST CURATED URBAN FLEA MARKET 

In just three years, the City Flea has become a Cincinnati institution. Hosting a variety of unique, creative and visually interesting vendors with products ranging from clothing and jewelry to crafts and vintage goods, the market happens once a month (May through December) in a variety of recurring locations such as Washington Park in OTR and the American Can Building in Northside. With free entry and a ton of local food vendors, it’s a great place to see, be seen, eat and shop. thecityflea.com.

BEST KICK-IN-THE-HEELS TO GET YOUR BIZ GOING GREEN

Recycling things that are recyclable matters. It conserves energy, benefits the environment, reduces pollution, saves natural resources and in general makes the world a better, happier, cleaner place. It matters even more when the nature of your business means you’re constantly pumping out waste every day — that’s a mammoth-sized eco-footprint you’re leaving behind. If you work at a local bar or restaurant and would like to make your imprint closer to the rodentia variety but just aren’t sure how, Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District — the local know-alls on all things sustainable and green — offers a free bar and restaurant recycling program in which they walk you through the entire process to make the transition to recycling smooth sailing — that means technical assistance, working with your waste hauler and providing collection containers, employee education and decals. Why wouldn’t you try it? 513-946-7766, hamiltoncountyrecycles.org.

BEST IMPROMPTU NEW YEAR’S EVE PLAN

On any given day, Fountain Square has something going on and New Year’s Eve is no exception. With live music even in the blistering cold, beer flowing as much as necessary and great bars like Rock Bottom Brewery aligning the square, it’s no wonder that, even if you have no plans, Fountain Square is a safe bet. While all the bars downtown are crowded and bumping loud top 40 hits one after another, it’s nice to find a spacious area, and there’s a real, warming sense of community when you’re standing huddled up next to your Cincinnati brethren to watch the ball drop. Fifth and Vine streets, Downtown, myfountainsquare.com. 

BEST QUIET BIKE PATH 

Contrary to what one might expect, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum’s function as part-cemetery doesn’t make for gloom-and-doom day at the park; rather, it only adds to the 733-acre plot’s aura of peace, contemplation, reflection and natural beauty at its finest. Each season incarnates itself with a sort of mystical wonder at Spring Grove — especially in spring’s blooming season — when the living horticultural museum of 1,200 plant species comes to life. Pack a picnic and cruise around the winding roads until you find a just-perfect resting spot. Spring Grove Cemetery, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, springgrove.org. 

BEST WAY TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF MERCHANTS PAST

Ghost signs” are the barely visible advertisements, hand-painted on the side of buildings, that are slowly being worn away by the sands of time — and they have their own cult following. Of the vanishing historical images still lingering in Cincinnati, everybody seems to have a favorite: the Liberty Tire sign at the corner of Spring Grove Avenue; the Little Kings advertisement on Central Parkway; the Dennison Hotel marquee on Main Street. Ghost sign sleuths can visit blogs of local enthusiasts like Bill Rinehart, the eyes and ears behind The Writing on the Walls at fadedadart.blogspot.com, and co-owner of design studio VisuaLingual, Maya Drozdz, who documents ghost signs nationwide on her blog visualingual.wordpress.com, to find their favorites and get a little dose of history.

BEST PUBLIC BATHROOM GEORGE COSTANZA WOULD PROBABLY CROSS TOWN FOR 

A good public restroom is hard to find. Especially when you assess them with a complicated ranking system a la the bald Seinfeld character. To match the boon in life, growth and fun in downtown Cincinnati, Councilmember Chris Seelbach has been lobbying for increase in public restrooms, similar to systems in other cities such as the “Portland Loos.” In the works is a free-standing, spaceship-y 24-hour public restroom that’d be piloted at Findlay Market, constructed of either stainless or galvanized steel. George is excited. 

BEST (CO)SIGNS OF THE TIMES

All these new trendy boutiques and foodie-dens need signs — cool signs. You know, signs that are interesting shapes and have impeccably designed contours and sacred frickin’ geometry. This past year, CoSign initiated a competition of sorts, calling artists and businesses in Northside to submit proposals for new signage. The revitalizing effort called on the expertise of fabricators and experts at a Rapid Prototyping Blitz, which resulted in many of the new signs you see today. Where should they go next? That’s up to you, people. Like them on Facebook or go to cosigncincy.com to get involved.

BEST WAY TO RIDE YOUR OWN MAGIC SCHOOL BUS

Wake up. Work. Sleep. Wake up. Work. Sleep. (Maybe throw in a coffee run here or there.) The same old routine can get pretty boring. Looking for some fun and excitement in your life? You can have an amazing galactic experience right here in Cincinnati. And, hey, it’s all right if you don’t exactly have the means to buy your own rocket ship. Try the Cincinnati Observatory. Stars? Planets? The Observatory’s got ’em all… for free! Let’s bring out your inner Spock. Cincinnati Observatory, 3489 Observatory Place, Hyde Park, 513-321-5186, cincinnatiobservatory.org.

BEST DORKY LIT GEEK HISTORIC LANDMARK

In the 19th century, Cincinnati was known throughout the Midwest as one of the most prestigious centers of learning, where one could come to study culture and literature. So, obviously, dork blood runs through our nerdy veins, forcing us to indulge in some geeky endeavors from time to time. Read and discuss at The Literary Club of Cincinnati. But sorry, gals — this exclusive club is created just for men.  It’s been around since 1849 and had guests Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Howard Taft and Mark Twain. 500 E. Fourth St., Downtown, cincylit.org. 

BEST CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE COVINGTON KIND

In the ’60s, the Jetsons demonstrated in the immediate future we’d all be living in spaceship-like houses.

About 96 “Futuro” homes were marketed during that era, including one that landed in Covington. Made from reinforced plastic, the prefab elliptical home hovers above Cork and Bottle and symbolizes both the past and future. It’s unclear if any actual aliens have lived there, but the home has had a few human residents over the decades. Random and bizarre, the Spaceship House seems perfectly apropos for a quirky community like Covington. 224 Wright St., Covington. 

BEST CHOO-CHOO VIEW

Located in Tower A of Union Terminal — when rail operations were controlled were Union Terminal was a functioning train station — the Cincinnati Railroad Club offers current and historical train information as well as an excellent overhead view of the Queensgate Freight Yard, where you can see trains coming and going through one of the busiest yards in the country. For the little kid/train geek in all of us. Open Wednesday-Sunday. 1301 Western Ave., Queensgate, 513-651-RAIL, cincinnatirrclub.org.

BEST DOWNTOWN LIQUOR STORE

There’s a liquor store Downtown. Yup. Who knew? Located in what some affectionately call the “haunted Walgreens,” Queen City Wine and Spirits is a wine, beer and liquor retailer you don’t have to drive over a bridge to access. There’s a nice selection, and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they’ll be happy to order it for you. 113 E. Fifth St., Downtown, 513-579-9999.

BEST TOUR FOR BEER LOVERS

Rivertown Brewery brews are one of the more ubiquitous local beers you’ll find on the shelves at grocers and convenience stores alike — hard to imagine they’d be crafting gallons and gallons of beer from a quaint little brewery plopped in the middle of Lockland, but that’s exactly how they do it. Take a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon tour of their brewery — no reservations required — for a cool $5, you get a guided tour, a pint glass and a free pint of beer to drink while you walk. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, and because the brewery’s so small, you know they’re not hiding anything. Bonus: $12 growlers and $8 growler refills. Rivertown Brewery, 607 Shepherd Drive, Unit 6, Lockland, 513-827-9280, rivertownbrewery.com. 

BEST BOOZY WEEKEND ROADTRIP 

When we were kids, scavenger hunts were mostly centered around finding pieces of candy, toys and other weird things with little to no practical value. The adult version of a scavenger hunt exists just an afternoon’s drive away with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a network of Kentucky’s finest bourbon distilleries where grown-ups can explore and hone an appreciation for Kentucky bourbon, taking in the Bluegrass State’s good, old-fashioned winding country roads and expansive farmland along the way. Included on the route are Four Roses, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark and Town Branch bourbon distilleries. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, explore a bike trail and feel even more deserving of the Manhattan waiting for you at the end. kybourbontrail.com. 

BEST CYBER EVIDENCE OF PASSIONATE LOCALS BEING PASSIONATE 

If you ever find yourself starting to feel glum, uninspired or in disrepair about the state of humanity in the city of Cincinnati, you should A) Get to the nearest Graeter’s immediately and ask for two scoops of black raspberry chip in a cone, and B) Visit the Cincinnati-region page of kickstarter.com. Kickstarter, of course, is the international funding platform where people propose creative projects and ask for donations to help turn their ideas into reality. If a specific idea really speaks to you, you can donate and will often get something in return if the “launch” is successful and donation minimums are met. People all over Cincinnati are full of wacky, creative, weird and wonderful ideas  — find out what they are before they become big. kickstarter.com. 

BEST WAY TO DRIVE IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT (OR JUST BORROWED IT)

Have you seen those little cars parked around town (the University of Cincinnati, Garfield Place and Race Street, East Court and Walnut streets) prominently featuring a green circle with a white “Z” on the side? Those are zipcars. They’ve been a staple in big cities with mass public transit for years and have recently made their debut in the 513. Based on the idea of European car sharing, zipcar is a member-based car-borrowing system that allows you to reserve and rent a car that’s conveniently parked and returned to a shared public location. Rental includes access cards, driver’s insurance, a gas card and more. Learn more at zipcar.com. 

BEST WAY TO GET COMFORTABLE RIDING YOUR BIKE IN THE CITY 

Cycling on a bike trail is pretty easy. You can go as fast as you want, there are no traffic lights to hold you up and you probably won’t get a giant Mountain Dew slurpie cup thrown at your face. Cycling in the city is a totally different experience — one that takes a little bit of getting used to. If you’re looking to cut down on gas bills and try out cyclo-commuting or just want a new way to take in some of the city’s urban sights, test out a BRIGHT Ride, a slow, flat, happy, smile-making sort of ride through the city. You’ll be surrounded by both other newbies and biking fanatics, so the pressure threshold is low to nonexistent. Everyone is welcome and the rides are often themed, which keeps things interesting. Keep tabs on Art on the Streets on Facebook or upcoming BRIGHT rides. 

BEST PLACE TO SNEAK A BEER AND SEE THE CITY LIGHTS

Bellevue Hill Park, owned and operated by the Cincinnati Park Board, is a tiny little park that sits quietly at the end of Ohio Avenue in Clifton Heights. Once home to a historic Cincinnati streetcar incline, the park’s 15 acres include a baseball field, picnic area, playground and “organic architecture” shelter designed in 1955 to serve as an outdoor dancing venue. The pavilion leads to the Daniel J. Ransohoff Overlook, listed as one of Cincinnati’s 51 Scenic Overlooks according to a 2007 study conducted by The Hillside Trust, Human Nature Landscape Architects and the city of Cincinnati. With a view of downtown, Over-the-Rhine and parts of Kentucky, you can see the dots of city lights illuminated like urban lightning bugs at night. cincinnatiparks.com.

BEST WAY TO PUT A BIRD ON IT, YOUR BRAIN THAT IS

The Bird Haus is a community-driven education collaboration built to connect those who are passionate with those who are curious in non-traditional learning environments. Anyone with a skill set or passion for something can become a teacher and anyone with an open mind or curiosity can become a student. Past classes have included “The Bird & The Beer,” taught by beer enthusiast and co-founder of Over-the-Rhine’s future Rhinegeist Brewery Bryant Goulding at Neons; and “The Real Housewives of Tudor England” by the Starfire Council. Sign up for future classes or learn how to become a teacher at thebirdhauscincinnati.com.

BEST WAY TO PULL A RODNEY DANGERFIELD AND GO BACK TO SCHOOL

The University of Cincinnati’s Communiversity is a fun and easy way to satisfy the urge to go back to college without the pressure of test, grades, papers or tuition. Course topics are timely, engaging and enriching and held in convenient on- and off-campus locations. Course offerings range from arts and handicrafts to astronomy and food to language. There are even courses on test prep and business matters. 513-556-6932, uc.edu.

BEST BIKE PROMOTION NONPROFIT 

Without the leadership of Executive Director Nern Ostendorf and her cycle-groupies, we’re not saying the Cincinnati bike scene wouldn’t be thriving like it is today, but, well, yea, we kind of are. Queen City Bike is the lifeblood of bicycle advocacy in Cincinnati, and its presence just seems to keep getting stronger. QCB hosts bike workshops, bike safety programs like Queen City Blinkies and is just a generally awesome indicator that Cincinnati’s bike community is alive, well and constantly growing. queencitybike.com. 

BEST ARTS WALKS ON NON-FINAL FRIDAYS

Northside’s Second Saturday and East Walnut Hills’ Walk on Woodburn are giving Over-the-Rhine’s Final Friday a run for its money in the alternative-neighborhood-art-and-independent-business-stroll arena. The second Saturday of every month, from 6-10 p.m., you’re invited to “come see art, shop, imbibe and eat in one of Cincinnati’s most creative and diverse neighborhoods,” when Northside shops are open late, art galleries debut new exhibits and bars and restaurants serve up great food and stiff drinks. And the Walk on Woodburn, although currently not on a regular schedule, does the same. Highlighting all the great new businesses to pop up in East Walnut Hills in the past couple years, WoW invites everyone to come explore the eclectic community’s boutiques, galleries, eateries and vendors during an evening stroll. facebook.com/pages/Northside-Second-Saturdays and eastwalnuthills.com.

BEST UNDERGROUND BREWERY TOUR

The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District started giving guided informational tours of OTR’s pre-Prohibition breweries, lagering cellars and tunnels in 2006. Since then, tens of thousands of people have descended 30-40 feet below ground into the historic, abandoned lagering tunnels of the city. And, starting in May, people have the chance to do it again. The Lager Tour, which begins and ends at the Biergarten in Findlay Market, will return on May 4, 2013 and continue Saturdays and Sundays through the end of September. cincinnatibrewerytours.com.

BEST KEPT SECRET WINE ROOM

The Plum Court Wine Room is downtown’s best-kept secret. Behind a nondescript red door that looks more like a doctor’s office than nightlife hotspot sits a lovely urban wood and brick tasting room. Full wine tastings are offered 5:30-8:30 p.m. every Friday with varying prices for four or six glasses; appetizers and live music included. Check their calendar for special tasting events. 241 W. Court St., Downtown, 513-319-5607, plum-court.com.

BEST GONNA-BE PUBLIC ART PROJECT 

The opening of the Horseshoe Casino was a helpful extra push, but even without the gambling behemoth, the once-overlooked neighborhood of Pendleton is on the rise. Best known for its artsy swagger fueled by the Pendleton Arts Center and healthy population of artisans and entrepreneurs, the next couple of months will bring even more visibility to the area with the installation of the Pendleton Public Art Project. Masterminded by Artworks, the project is commissioning one artist (selected by a committee) to design and install permanent, site-specific public artwork to complement the already-existing historic grace and increasing vim around Pendleton; the winner is required to work with local talent to ensure the craftsmanship is representative of and loyal to the interests and style of the community. Keep your eye out — fabrication and installation is expected to start in June and end sometime in the fall. artworkscincinnati.org/pendleton.

BEST BEER AND A MOVIE

Movie theaters in the area are finally beginning to offer alcoholic beverages in addition to science-butter laden popcorn and Jujubes. (Though it’s nothing new for us; we’ve been smuggling booze into theaters across town in backpacks for years.) But our favorite place to knock one back while taking in a flick is at Washington Park during Date Night Movies. They offer a free movie every Saturday night on a huge screen on the civic lawn from June 1 through Sept. 7 this year. Beer and wine are reasonably priced, so there’s no need to smuggle in your own. washingtonpark.org.

BEST NONPROFIT PROJECT FOR THE WHOLE OFFICE

The Adopt A Class Foundation is a mentoring program designed to facilitate personal, sustained connections between members of the business community and students in schools that have significantly high levels of poverty. With an aim of providing positive role models and developing the student’s practical and social skills, community groups and businesses “adopt classes” and visit with them, taking an interest in their school and activities. 2153 W. Eighth St., Ste. 200, Downtown, 513-244-8027, aacfoundation.com.

BEST ARTFUL BIKE RACKS

ArtWorks’ Queen City Art Racks initiative aims to bring artist-designed, functional bike racks to public spaces throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. By engaging professional artists, designers and sculptors, the program raises awareness about biking and bike parking. Some favorite sculptures include the red, segmented Ohio outline sculpture at 1411 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, “Sago Palms” at Hoffner Park in Northside and “Currents,” which resemble colorful metal currents, at Fifth Third Bank at Fountain Square Plaza. Artists and bicycle enthusiasts are encouraged to submit their qualifications and design ideas for considerations for new 2013 Art Rack locations. artworkscincinnati.org.

BEST SECRET URBAN HOTEL

The 21c Museum Hotel has been getting a lot of press for being coolest hotel on the block, but The Symphony Hotel bed and breakfast on West 14th Street offers a similarly unique experience. Located close to Music Hall, the Ensemble Theatre and Findlay Market, this converted old mansion offers elegant accommodations with antique furnishings and an in-house gourmet restaurant. The hotel restaurant specializes in New American cuisine with a strong emphasis on local and seasonal with great wine and service, all enjoyed in an 1870s dining room. And rooms are all named after famous composers: Bach, Schubert, Brahms, Mozert, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven. 210 W. 14th St., 513-721-3353, symphonyhotel.com.

BEST CREATIVE CHILDREN’S LITERACY PROGRAM

Modeled after creative writing/literacy centers like novelist Dave Eggers’ 826 National, WordPlay Cincy is dedicated to helping children find their voice through literacy and creative expression while developing the skills, knowledge and character necessary for them to succeed. With one-on-one tutoring programs, creative workshops, field trips, in-school help and more, the “third place” program offers all children a creative and engaging place to grow and receive help. 4041 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-260-9632, wordplaycincy.org.

BEST COLLECTION OF ICE-CREAM FLAVORED HOMES 

Cotton candy pinks. Lavenders, magentas and violets. Turquoise and boysenberry and crimson and cyan and dandelion yellows. This color scheme instantly conjures up either images of a really fantastic case of ice cream flavors or the closet of a high-class Barbie, but it also fits somewhere else: the adornment of the “Painted Ladies” in Columbia-Tusculum, a collection of stunning Victorian and Queen Anne homes built by settlers in the 1800s to avoid Ohio River flooding in Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood. Today, they’re just one relic of the area’s pride and vibrancy. Tusculum Ave., Columbia Tusculum. 

BEST FUSION OF ART/FOOD/FANCINESS

It’s hard to describe downtown’s 21c Museum Hotel with just a couple of words — even its name doesn’t do it justice. This sui generis urban beacon is part boutique hotel, part fine dining restaurant, part art museum and part architectural wonder. With constantly rotating art exhibitions, locally derived dishes cooked in a custom wood-built fireplace at Metropole, exquisite hotel rooms and a slew of pampering perks (like engagement and romantic packages and a state-of-the-art spa), it’s an ideal staycation destination when you’re looking for a little peace of mind, but don’t feel like packing up the car. Or just pop in for a drink at the bar and see what all the fuss is about. 609 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-578-6600, 21cmuseumhotels.com. 

 


 
 
 
 

 

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