BEST DRINKS, DRAG AND DANCING
The Diamond Palace holds the art of drinking, drag and dancing to a diamond standard. As a multi-level LGBT nightclub, the team at Diamond Palace has planned special, tantalizing programming six nights a week. They start off easy with Talk Show Tuesday and Ladies Night on Wednesdays, then kick it into high gear on Thursday with Throbbing Thursday, an evening of male go-go dancers and strippers. On Fridays and Saturdays they have two DJs on two levels, three bars and nonstop dance music until 4 a.m. Yes, they’re a 4 a.m. bar, so you can dance, dance, dance the night (and early morning) away. And Sundays they hold a talent show to win booking on their mainstage during Friday and Saturday festivities. 435 Elm St., Downtown, 513-721-HOTT, dpnightclub.com.
BEST PERMANENT HAPPY HOUR
If you really want a cheap drink in a nice setting with a great view, head to the bar at Palomino, overlooking Fountain Square. Cheap drinks at dive bars are great, but they come with some trade-offs (there’s a reason they’re called “dives”). But at Palomino you can enjoy all-day happy hour in a business casual environment with tasty bites (calamari; roma and mozzarella pizza; mushroom and cheese risotto croquettes) if you get hungry. For just $4, you can have a glass (or two or three) of wine, and for $5 grab a specialty cocktail such as the Basil Gimlet or Cranberry Mojito. There are no standard happy hour time limits, so cheap drinks are available whenever you want. Hooray! 505 Vine St., Downtown, 513-381-1300, palomino.com.
BEST NIGHTCLUB EMPIRE
Building off a desire for more nightclubs in the area, since 2007 4EG has developed into the top local club/restaurant conglomerate in the region. The company now boasts 10 popular and distinctive clubs and/or restaurants around the Cincinnati area, including Mount Adams Pavilion, aliveOne Cincinnati, The Stand, The Sandbar, The Lackman and The Righteous Room. But 4EG’s most recent addition, Igby’s, might be its most impressive accomplishment yet. Located at the former Barleycorn’s space downtown (122 E. Sixth St., 513-246-4396), the gorgeously remodeled venue features three floors’ worth of bars, plus balconies to people-watch in the main floor area. foureg.com.
BEST WAY TO SCORE FREE ALCOHOL THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE UNWANTED SEXUAL ADVANCES
Every third Thursday, Mayday becomes a haven for drinking word-nerds with the iconic Slurring Bee, the not-so-formal spelling contest where spelling a word correctly earns you a shot.
Every time. The entry fee is $5, and it seems like their idea is that you’ll be such a bad speller within a few shots that they’ll end up actually making money off of you when you sulk over your losses with more shots (which you buy yourself). It usually works, but it’s fun anyway. The king/queen bee receives a Mayday gift card, some sweet bee-themed accessories and automatic placement in the Slurring Bee champion tournament, which happens every spring. 10 p.m. third Thursdays. Mayday, 4231 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-541-0999, maydaynorthside.com.
BEST WAY TO PRETEND YOU’RE IN A BAND WITHOUT HAVING TO LEARN AN INSTRUMENT
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, Sexy Time Live Band Karaoke is some of the best karaoke this side of Japan. Backed by a live band made up of local music veterans (Dwight Dyer, Paul Brumm, Scotty Wood and Dave Cahill), karaokers have the unique opportunity to get up on stage and perform as if they were the lead singer. The band can play more than 100 top hits from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and more. The question is, can you sing them? Every Wednesday at the Northside Tavern. 4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-542-3603, northsidetavern.com.
BEST ROSE-COLORED NIGHTLIFE
Welcome to the rainbow connection. Rosie’s Tavern, located just off MainStrasse, is the incredibly inviting LGBT dive bar for people of all persuasions — gay, straight or in between. Opened as a tavern in 1896, Rosie’s has been serving patrons for more than two decades. A true neighborhood bar, Rosie’s pairs a comfortable atmosphere and cost-effective drinks with a daily happy hour, darts, pool, pinball and a great jukebox, making for an excellent night — or afternoon — out. Ample seating and a friendly staff round out the Rosie’s experience. 643 Bakewell St., Covington, Ky., 859-291-9707.
BEST WAY TO ENTER THE GATES OF HELL
A mechanical bull, live Country music and the gateway to hell — not bad for a local bar. Bobby Mackey’s decades-old honky-tonk is well known for its line dancing, karaoke and drink specials but also for its rather large malevolent ghost population. The dancehall started out life as a slaughterhouse in the 1850s, with a deep well in the basement to collect animal blood and fluid runoff. When the slaughterhouse closed, Satanists moved in, using the “Well of Blood” for cult activity and ceremonies. There’s a rumor that in 1896, two of the devil worshippers beheaded a local woman (Pearl Bryan) and used her head for their wicked rituals, choosing to hang before they would tell authorities where her missing head was, lest they reap the wrath of the Devil himself. The building later became a speakeasy in the 1920s and gained a couple more ghost tenants due to mob violence. Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures has filmed there numerous times, with host Zak Bagan claiming it’s one of the most haunted places he’s ever been. There was even a lawsuit launched against the club for a man who claimed a ghost broke his arm in the bathroom. So enter at your own risk. 44 Licking Pike, Wilder, Ky., 859-431-5588, bobbymackey.com.
BEST BAR TO HOPEFULLY FIND A PAPPY VAN WINKLE
Pappy Van Winkle (aka Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve) is a big deal to bourbon drinkers. A very, very rare spirit, it’s often considered one of the finest bourbons in the world. Distilled and bottled under the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Ky., the bourbon is aged for 15, 20 or 23 years in a charred oak barrel — much longer than most bourbons, which accounts for Pappy’s short supply (only 7,000 cases are produced each year) and high demand. That means there are only 40,000-some-odd bottles to go around the country — and the world — which means a pour, much less a bottle, is extremely hard to find and very expensive ($250 per bottle or more). Good thing we have the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. While Pappy is only released once or twice a year, the OKBB has worked incredibly hard to be one of the first bars allocated a supply in state of Kentucky. So if you’re going to find Pappy anywhere, your best shot (figuratively and literally) is with them. As of mid-March, they still had some supply left. 629 Main St., Covington, 859-581-1777.
The Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has come back strong as an entertainment district and it’s becoming one of Cincinnati’s best up-and-coming music hubs, with clubs such as The Drinkery, Mr. Pitiful’s, Neons and more offering live music on regular basis (not to mention the OTR-centric MidPoint Music Festival every September). Upping the ante for original music in OTR has been MOTR Pub, booked by veteran local agents Dan McCabe and Chris Schadler and showcasing free concerts by local and touring bands seven days a week. While attracting nice crowds for MOTR shows, the space is fairly small, so the local music scene had reason to get excited when it was announced in early March that McCabe and Schadler would be booking bigger artists at the 600-capacity Woodward Theater, a 100-year-old building just feet away from MOTR at 1404 Main St. While the Woodward still needs to be rehabbed (no word on an opening date just yet), it’s not too soon to start daydreaming about the influx of national acts that will be adding Cincinnati to their touring schedules in the future thanks to the new venue. facebook.com/thewoodwardtheater.
BEST MOTORCYCLE CLUB TURNED ARTSY DRINKERY
Once home to a notorious motorcycle gang, the Rake’s End in Brighton is now probably the coolest bar you’ve never heard of. Renovated from a tobacco-stained, worn-out dive, it has transformed into an arts space and nightclub where Cincinnati’s musicians, artists, writers, dancers and other creatives come to drink, chat, dance and people-watch. Run by members of the neighborhood, Rake’s End currently hosts a Goth night, a shoegaze DJ set and FOGGER (a laser show with late ’80s/early ’90s R&B music and fog) along with other concerts and shows. 2141 Central Ave., Brighton, email@example.com, facebook.com/rakesend.
BEST TRANSPORTIVE JAZZ JOINT
Schwartz’s Point Jazz Club has the look, feel and sound of an authentic underground Jazz club. Located at the five-way intersection of Vine Street and West McMicken, this unassuming, ramshackle (and triangular) building — demarcated only by a fading “Schwartz’s Point” sign and couple of green lights by the entrance — is a longtime labor of love of Cincinnati veteran Jazz pianist Ed Moss. With an air of romance and mystery not found at any other club in Cincinnati (and maybe only in Jazz Age Paris), it’s the perfect spot for an evening of lush, bohemian Jazz. Every Tuesday, catch The Society Jazz Orchestra and the Ed Moss Trio performs Fridays and Saturdays with special guests (maybe singer Pam Ross or Kathy Wade?). It really is one of the coolest spots in the city. Added bonus? The $10-$15 cover charge also includes food by Chef Eduardo. 1901 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-651-2236, schwartzspoint.com.
BEST WAY TO AVOID DRINKING AND DRIVING
Drinking and pedaling. Cincinnati’s own Pedal Wagon, founded by Jack Heekin and Tom O’Brian, brings the concept of a rolling, pedal-powered party to the States from Germany and Belgium. Perfect for bachelor/bachelorette parties, birthday parties, reunions or just a night out, 15 people can hop on the wagon and pedal around the city. Choose the Tavern Cruise, which takes you on a two-hour tour of Over-the-Rhine, starting at Neons Unplugged and stopping at Arnold’s, The Lackman and Japp’s. At each stop, you get a discounted drink. Or take the Redlegs Rally tour, which is a two-hour pub crawl before a Reds game that starts at The Holy Grail at The Banks and winds around bars and restaurants there and on Fountain Square. While you can’t literally drink on the wagon (only off the wagon), you can still get drunk at the bars, and to ensure your pedaling safety, the team provides a designated driver for each wagon. 407 Vine St., Suite 183, Over-the-Rhine, 513-201-7655, pedalwagon.com.
BEST LOCAL TO BRUSH SHOULDERS WITH RUPAUL
Cincinnati-based drag queen Penny Tration (government name: Tony Cody) was selected to be on the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race via a Facebook fan vote. The Logo reality show pits professional drag entertainers against one another in challenges that require modeling, dancing, singing, costume and makeup design and usually a few crazy surprise elements. Unfortunately, our girl was the first to “sashay away,” but you can check out her weekly shows at The Cabaret (above Below Zero Lounge, 1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) and at countless other gigs. Condragulations, Penny! dqpenny.com.