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Guide to Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Mount Adams

A reference to the city center for MPMFers

By Staff · August 23rd, 2013 · MPMF Visitors' Guide
annman_otr_washingtonparkmusichall_jf01Washington Park and Music Hall - Photo: Jesse Fox
The redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine has headlined Cincinnati’s city center’s urban renaissance, but the downtown business district still anchors the city’s economic engine, while hilltop Mount Adams looms proudly over downtown and the river. 

View from Carew Tower

Cincinnati’s central business district boasts riverfront entertainment — including Great American Ball Park — historic skyscrapers, world-class dining and a flurry of arts activity. Grab a local beer, have dinner with a view or relax at one of the many parks on the Ohio River. downtowncincinnati.com.
  • EAT — Find restaurant clusters near the ballet-to-Broadway Aronoff Center for the Arts and the Contemporary Arts Center (44 E. Sixth St., contemporaryartscenter.org), which includes its own café, giant robot sculpture and a children’s ”UnMuseum.” Award-winning chef David Falk’s restaurant group encompasses some of the best downtown eateries: traditional Tuscan trattoria Sotto (118 E. Sixth St., sottocincinnati.com), world-class French-Italian upstairs sister Boca (114 E. Sixth St., bocacincinnati.com) and modern Mexican hotspot Nada (600 Walnut St., eatdrinknada.com). For 2 a.m. noodles, Shanghai Mama’s (216 E. Sixth St., shanghaimamas.com) is a must. Eat lunch in the L.A.-style outdoor wooden tepee at Cheapside Café (326 E. Eighth St., cheapsidecafe.com) in the Eighth Street Design District, which also offers locally foraged housemade soda. A more affordable version of French master chef Jean-Robert de Cavel’s menu at Table (713 Vine St., jrtable.com) is available via their bar-only Lunch Tray — four courses for $15. For traditional Italian, Scotti’s (919 Vine St., 513-721-9484, scottiscincinnati.com), family-owned for more than a century, features nearly 20 different varieties of veal dishes and dripping candles in old Chianti bottles. Chef Cristian Pietoso’s Via Vite on Fountain Square (520 Vine St., 513-721-8483, viaviterestaurant.com) does Northern Italian, inspired by Grandma, and offers a large piazza with a view of the action on the Square. 
  • THE CINCINNATI EXPERIENCE — Grab a 3-way at any of downtown’s multiple Skyline Chili locations (including 643 Vine St., 513-241-2020, skylinechili.com). You can get Skyline chili on top of everything from spaghetti, fries or a baked potato to inside of a burrito. Or try a coney — a hot dog on a steamed bun with chili, mustard, onions and shredded cheese. The Montgomery Inn Boathouse (925 Riverside Drive, 513-721-7427, montgomeryinn.com) is the place locals take out-of-towners for a classic Cincinnati dining experience (the original location in Montgomery has been around since the 1950s). The Boathouse is gigantic, and there’s always a wait, but it has huge river views and a ton of sports memorabilia. People mostly come for the ribs, slathered in the restaurant’s “world famous” sweet and smoky barbecue sauce. Or the barbecued spring chicken. Or the Saratoga chips. 
  • DRINK — Grab a beer and famous wings at downtown dive Knockback Nat’s (10 W. Seventh St., 513-621-1000), or select a single-malt Glenfiddich 18-year at Scottish pub Nicholson’s (625 Walnut St., nicholsonspub.com), where the servers wear kilts; or a local draft at the cozy, 150-year-old Arnold’s (210 E. Eighth St., arnoldsbarandgrill.com), the oldest continuously operated tavern in town, named one of the best bars in America by Esquire magazine. Madonna’s (11 E. Seventh St., 513-621-8838) is a locals-only-type dive with a pool table, jukebox, friendly bartenders and a great BLT. For a more “hip” atmosphere, the multi-leveled Igby’s (122 E. Sixth St., igbysbar.com) has a craft cocktail menu developed by world-renowned mixologist Brian Van Flandern and their own private-label Four Roses bourbon. Nearby Scene Ultra Lounge (637 Walnut St., scenecinci.com) and next-door Righteous Room (641 Walnut St., therighteousroom.com) are intimately clubby. And Mynt Martini on Fountain Square (28 Fountain Square Plaza, myntcincinnati.com) has DJs and a dress code.
  • HOTEL BARS — Luxury boutique hotel and contemporary art gallery The 21c Museum Hotel (609 Walnut St., 21cmuseumhotels.com/cincinnati), voted best hotel in America by Condé Nast Traveler readers, has an amazing rooftop terrace. Watch the sun go down over downtown with a cocktail in hand, or grab a Gotham City (bourbon, Watershed’s nocino black walnut liqueur, benedictine and rhubarb bitters) in the hotel’s street-level Metropole restaurant and bar. Make sure to dance on the interactive light display on the floor by the bathrooms. Enjoy a Fleuri 75 (gin, grapefruit bitters and champagne) surrounded by an Art Deco interior at The Bar at Palm Court (Hilton Netherland Plaza, 35 W. Fifth St., orchidsatpalmcourt.com). The Cricket Lounge at The Cincinnatian Hotel (601 Vine St., 513-381-3000, cincinnatianhotel.com) does daily happy hour and live Jazz on weekends, while The Phelps tapas bar and Top of the Park at the Residence Inn Marriott (506 E. Fourth St., 513-651-1234, topoftheparkcincinnati.com) offer unparalleled views of Lytle Park, downtown Cincinnati, the Ohio River and Mount Adams.
  • SHOP — Batsakes (1 W. Sixth St., 513-721-9345) hat shop has been around for more than 100 years, and calls celebrities like Bruno Mars and Jack White customers. Booksellers on Fountain Square (505 Vine St., booksellersonfountainsquare.com) is an independent bookstore with an expansive selection of the latest reads, plus gifts and a yummy café. 
  • EXPLORE — Historic and hidden, the Dead Poet’s Society-esque Mercantile Library (414 Walnut St., 11th Floor, mercantilelibrary.com) is full of spiral staircases, Grecian busts and leather chairs; you have to be a member to check out books, but their prestigious public lecture series has featured authors ranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to John Updike. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (719 Race St., cincyshakes.com) — one of five U.S. theaters to complete Shakespeare’s 38-play “canon” — offers the Bard and other classics. Tour a historical Kentucky slave pen at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (50 E. Freedom Way, freedomcenter.org) or have an exhibition-inspired lunch at the Taft Museum of Art’s (316 Pike St., taftmuseum.org) garden cafe. The historic mansion is in the Lytle Park Historic District, where a rare, beardless statue of Abe Lincoln stands sentry. 
  • MUST — For $2 and a 49-story elevator ride, see everything Cincinnati has to offer from the Carew Tower Observation Deck (441 Vine St., 513-241-3888). Visit Dixie Terminal (49 E. Fourth St.) for breathtaking French Art Deco.

Once home to a streetcar terminal, the 1920s building now houses offices, but you can still view the exterior Rookwood Pottery entry arch and ornate ceiling for free. Rent a bike (wheelfunrentals.com) and ride along riverfront park Sawyer Point (705 E. Pete Rose Way, cincinnatiparks.com), or neighboring Smale Riverfront Park (W. Mehring Way, mysmaleriverfrontpark.org), which has an adorable carousel and riverfront swings. Try your luck on penny slot Kitty Glitter at the Horseshoe Casino (1000 Broadway St., horseshoecincinnati.com), a 24/7 stop with several restaurants (including Bobby Flay’s Burger Place, with booze milkshakes) and a bar. 

Krohn Conservatory

The neighborhood’s steep hills, winding streets and city views make it unique among the Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, and its eclectic collection of local businesses, restaurants and bars have become a prime area for YPs and many longtime urban dwellers. mtadamstoday.com
  • EAT — Plenty of restaurants with Ohio River views. The Rookwood (1077 Celestial St., therookwood.com), housed in historic Rookwood Pottery’s building (you can even eat in a kiln) has a tattooed staff, rustic meals, high-craft cocktails and “Funday” brunch with favorites like a Double Bypass — sunny-side-up egg sausage, bacon, biscuits, grits, hollandaise and smashed hash browns. The giant outdoor deck also has wooden swings. The Celestial (1071 Celestial St., thecelestial.com) is a four-star and four-diamond steakhouse with a full-window view of the river (and an attached Jazz bar). Mount Adams Bar & Grill (938 Hatch St., mtadamsbarandgrill.com), once a speakeasy, is now a great place for burgers. And for local and organic meals and grocery items, Sprout (941 Pavilion St., sproutmtadams.com) is a tasty recent addition offering lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Calle Cantina (950 Pavilion St., callemtadams.com) does Mexican street bites and artisan margaritas.
  • DRINK — Grab your laddys and head to Cincinnati’s oldest Irish pub Crowley’s (958 Pavilion St., 513-721-7709) for a Guinness. City View Tavern (403 Oregon St., cityviewtavern.com) offers possibly the best bloody mary anywhere, with a Cajun-seasoned rim and slice of lime; have one on the deck for the bar’s namesake view. And Tavern on the Hill (1111 St. Gregory St., mtadamstavernonthehill.com) has every sports station and package on 15 HD TVs, plus late-night pizza-by-the-slice after 11 p.m. 
  • DANCE – DJs, bottle service and dancing abound. Find your inner party animal at Mount Adams Pavillion (949 Pavilion St., mountadamspavilion.com), located in a historic, multi-story house with four separate decks featuring live bands, national DJs and enough drink specials to get you hammered. For Jell-O shots from a giant, plastic syringe, test the water at Monks Cove (1104 St. Gregory St., monkscove.com). Or walk next door to Longworths (1108 St. Gregory St., mtadamslongworths.com), located in a circa-1869 fire station. 
  • PRETTY THINGS — Explore the Celestial Street Overlook (Celestial and Hill streets, hillsidetrust.org), one of the city’s most famous views. Walk across the historic Ida Street Viaduct (once a wooden trestle that carried the 1880s streetcar) to Eden Park (950 Eden Park Drive, cincinnatiparks.com) for another overlook and a running/walking path around Mirror Lake.Two of the city’s best attractions reside here: the Cincinnati Art Museum (953 Eden Park Drive, cincinnatiartmuseum.org) and Krohn Conservatory (1501 Eden Park Drive, cincinnatiparks.com). The art museum offers free public tours of their collection — which includes the likes of Andy Warhol and Van Gogh — Tuesday-Sunday; the 1930s Art Deco conservatory is famous for its annual spring butterfly show (and plants). 
Photo: Jesse Fox

The heart of the city’s booming 19th-century German immigrant population (the area is named after Germany’s Rhine River), OTR, as we like to call it, went through many transformations before finding its niche about five years ago as a hip hub for the Queen City’s foodies and creatives. It’s Cincinnati’s Brooklyn — minus, you know, all the East Coast pretension. otrchamber.com.

  • EPICUREAN EATS — Over-the-Rhine is the heart of Cincinnati’s dining scene — specifically on Vine Street — so be prepared to wait a while for a table. Also be prepared for the au courant in culinary: foraged, local, seasonal, poached eggs on top of things, organ meats, etc. Food & Wine magazine’s 2012 “People’s Best New Chef – Great Lakes Division,” chef Daniel Wright owns multiple restaurants on Vine: His Mediterranean tapas-style stop Abigail Street (1214 Vine St., abigailstreet.com), with wine on tap; Senate (1212 Vine St., senatepub.com), featuring gourmet pop culture-themed hot dogs; and Pontiac Bourbon & BBQ (1403 Vine St., pontiacbbq.com), with Tiki drinks, smoked meats and Red Neck Frito Pie. Also on the upscale down-home street-food beat is The Eagle OTR (1342 Vine St., facebook.com/theeagleotr), which serves up fried-chicken in an old post office; Taste of Belgium (1135 Vine St., authenticwaffle.com), with high-end chicken and waffles; Krueger’s Tavern (1211 Vine St., kruegerstavern.com), featuring housemade sausage, like an herbed Lincolnshire banger with colcannon; and Quan Hapa (1331 Vine St., quanhapa.com), with Asian fried pork rinds, sake and ramen. Nicola’s (1420 Sycamore St., nicolasrestaurant.com), a top Zagat-rated Italian restaurant, offers an eight-course Chef’s Grand Tasting on a wisteria-covered patio. And chef Jose Salazar’s Salazar (1401 Republic St., salazarcincinnati.com) does a creative, seasonal farm-inspired menu.
  • DESSERT — Get one if you can: Holtman’s Donuts (1332 Vine St., holtmansdonutshop.com) sells out stock daily, especially their sensational maple bacon donuts. Authentic Italian-style Dojo Gelato in Findlay Market (137 Elder St., dojogelato.com) offers unexpected flavor profiles and an affogato, gelato drowned in crafted espresso. Streetpops (1437 Main St.,streetpops.com) makes grown-up ice pops with flavors like papaya rosemary, peach sriracha and Thai basil lime. And the lovely Macaron Bar (1206 Main St., macaron-bar.com) is a bakery dedicated exclusively to the art of the colorful French macaron.
  • DRINK — OTR bars are places to see and be seen. Enjoy a wine flight at 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab (1215 Vine St., facebook.com/1215winecoffee) or a barrel-aged Manhattan at The Lackman (1237 Vine St., lackmanbar.com), a convenient detour on the way to any of the Vine Street restaurants. Sit on the dog-friendly, massive patio at The Famous Neons Unplugged (208 E. 12th St., facebook.com/neonsunplugged), one of Travel + Leisure magazine’s “America’s Best Outdoor Bars,” with specialty infused spirits; get down to some free live music at MOTR Pub (1345 Main St., motrpub.com) or take in a gay cabaret at Below Zero Lounge (1122 Walnut St., belowzerolounge.com). If you’re serious about cocktails and history, visit Japp’s Since 1879 (1134 Main St., japps1879.com) for pre-Prohibition style spirits, or the apothecary-themed Sundry & Vice (18 W. 13th St., sundryandvice.com). Rhinehaus (119 E. 12th St., rhinehausbar.com) and Lachey’s (56 E. 12th St., lacheys.com) — from 98 Degrees boy banders and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey — are the only real sports bars in OTR. Lachey’s has a running sports ticker, 90-inch television and a menu designed by celebrity chef Brian Duffy, complete with a tater tot bowl. 16 Bit Bar + Arcade (1331 Walnut St., 16-bitbar.com) is on the opposite spectrum — free vintage video game/cabinet game play if you’re drinking; drinks include the Winnie Cooper, Darryl Hannah and Patrick Swayze. Liberty’s Bar & Bottle (1427 Main St., 513-429-2461) specializes in European wine and beers, with half-pours and bottles to go.
  • BREWERIES — OTR is home to an entire Brewery District. Launched in the 1800s by German brewers, Cincinnati was once one of the largest beer producers in America. After Prohibition decimated the trade, it took us decades to regain our malty footing, starting with the relaunch of classic Cincinnati brewery Christian Moerlein in the 1980s. Now, the Brewery District is thriving — exploding really — with new microbrewers inhabiting the once-abandoned skeletons of former beer giants. Rhinegeist (1910 Elm St., rhinegeist.com) translates as “ghost of the Rhine” and is built within the remains of an old Moerlein bottling plant from 1895. Down the street, Taft’s Ale House (1429 Race St., taftsalehouse.com), named after President (and Cincinnatian) William Howard Taft, took over an old German church. The Christian Moerlein Malt House Taproom (1621 Moore St., 513-827-6025, christianmoerlein.com) offers free tours into the 19th-century underground caverns used by the building’s former inhabitants — plus $5 fresh-tapped pints and frankfurters. Book an American Legacy Tour (1332 Vine St., americanlegacytours.com) for more history or an Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Tour (otrbrewerydistrict.org) to go below the streets into more hidden pre-Prohibition brewery tunnels. HalfCut (1126 Walnut St., halfcut.com) is not a brewery, but it is still a great place to grab a local or rare craft growler to go.
  • GO GREEN — Park + Vine (1202 Main St., parkandvine.com) is the city’s green general store with an all-vegan lunch counter and kombucha on tap. Happy Belly on Vine (1344 Vine St., facebook.com/happybellyonvine) is a clean-eating restaurant — try the spirulina energy bites. Picnic and Pantry (1400 Republic St., picnicandpantry.com) offers an abundance of locally grown whole foods and gourmet take-home salads and sandwiches; perfect for crafting your own picnic. And Off the Vine (1218 Vine St., otvcincinnati.com) is a cold-press juice bar.
  • LATE-NIGHT — Goodfellas Pizzeria (1211 Main St., goodfellaspizzeria.com) is the place to be when you stumble out of the bar at 2 a.m. (Thursday-Saturday). Gomez Salsa’s (107 E. 12th St., gomezsalsa.com) walk-up taco window has $3 tacos, housemade salsa and Mexican coke. And Bakersfield OTR (1213 Vine St., bakersfieldtacos.com), a California-inspired taco joint — tostadas, tortas, tacos, rosé sangria — is basically impossible to get into during normal dinner hours; luckily they serve until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • SHOP —  You could spend a day alone at the bevy of boutiques on Vine. Sloane Boutique (1216 Vine St., sloaneboutique.com) meets clothing needs for the style-blogger set. Article (1150 Vine St., articlemenswear.com) features durable menswear and has its own sister store, Idlewild Woman (1230 Vine St., facebook.com/idlewildwoman), with all the indigo, chambray, ceramics and tunics you need. For unique home, art and design goodies, including locally made gifts, try MiCA 12/v (1201 Vine St., shopmica.com). Mannequin (1311 Main St., mannequinboutique.org) sells high-end vintage and donates proceeds to local charities. Rock Paper Scissors (1301 Main St., rpscincinnati.com) is a local art supply store that focuses on local crafts, goods and music (and is a great place to buy a Cincinnati chili 3-way patch). Homage (1232 Vine St., homage.com), founded in Columbus by an Ohio State grad, sells vintage-inspired T-shirts and apparel that focus on hometown and sports-team pride. 
  • EXPLORE — Stroll Findlay Market (1801 Race St., findlaymarket.org), Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market, on Saturday morning for farm-fresh food and weekend $7 wine flights at Market Wines (128 W. Elder St., market-wines.com). Go online for an ArtWorks (artworkscincinnati.org) mural map and take your own walking tour; the arts nonprofit paints murals on the sides of local buildings every summer. The six-acre Washington Park (1230 Elm St., washingtonpark.org) is a renovated 150-year-old public space that today offers a dog park, children’s playground and sprayground and almost daily free events, live music, movies and more — including local beer from the concession stand. Tour historic performance landmark Music Hall (1241 Elm St., cincinnatiarts.org). Reputedly it’s one of the most haunted places in America — it was built over a pauper’s cemetery — and haunted tours run all year. Segway tours from The Garage OTR (1150 Vine St. #17, thegarageotr.com) are a unique way to experience the city — choose between Eden Park, downtown and the riverfront.


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