Over-the-Rhine's new three-level bar and restaurant, Taft’s Ale House — named for William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, former Supreme Court Justice and native Cincinnatian — opens on Monday, Red’s Opening Day, and will feature a variety of specialty beers, as well as an emphasis on tri-tip beef (cut from the bottom sirloin). Helmed by Cincinnati local Kevin Moreland, former brewer at Listermann/Triple Digit, and partners Dave Kassling, a New York restauranteur, and Dave Williams, a UC grad, the bar, which is located at 1429 Race St., inhabits a building that formerly housed the 19th-century St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant Church.
Moreland describes his first experience in the building as walking into complete disarray. He had to use the side doors on Fifth Street to get in and, after entering, he walked into “straight dirt” and looked up to see holes the size of office spaces in the ceiling. To save the church, which was on the verge of destruction, he contacted 3CDC. Through their partnership — 3CDC helped stabilize the building, which had been abandoned for almost 50 years — they were able to restore the building, emphasizing it's historical appeal and architecture. The structure still retains it's dramatically high 40-plus-foot ceilings, large, Gothic-style arch windows and former bell tower. But now, instead of parishioners, it can hold more than 200 patrons.
“Part of what’s going on in OTR is saving something that used to be there,” says Taft’s Ale House General Manager Keith Maloy. “It would have been easier for us to start from scratch and build a new place. It would have been easier to construct and less expensive, but we would have lost a lot of the charm that’s in this building.”
The building’s three levels essentially create three different environments depending on an individual’s mood. There is the main beer hall level, with picnic tables, bar games and TVs; a mezzanine level for casual dining; and then Nellie’s Tap Room on the lower level. Nellie's, named after William Howard Taft's wife, is more of a cocktail bar than a beer hall, though the drink menu is still beer-centric; Nellie's serves Taft brews with eight guest taps from local and regional brewers, plus wine and cocktails.
The entirety of the building's décor, with Rookwood tiles and assorted antique ephemera, is inspired by the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Mount Auburn, Taft's boyhood home.
“As soon as you walk in Taft’s home, you see this kind of laid-out pattern of multiple colors," Moreland says. "I wanted that to be something as a key feature in our place, so we did it. We had some hand-cut tile made to match that pattern. … A lot of the furniture matches and the color of the wood as well.”
Moreland considers Taft’s Ale House to be a gift to the city, specifically to OTR. “I wanted to keep things here in the heart of OTR and try to work with our neighbors because they’re going to be our patrons as much as we’re going to be their patrons,” he says. And in terms of patronage, Moreland started by working with other local vendors, linking local products and businesses to his passion for creating unique and innovative craft beers.
Taft’s partnered with Maverick Chocolate in Findlay Market to create their Maverick Chocolate Porter, featuring Maverick's cacao nibs and roasted cacao husks. Moreland also incorporated Findlay vendor Dean’s Mediterranean's products into the Culebra Cut Coconut Brown, an American brown ale infused with toasted coconuts. And Taft’s Mooly Wooly Coffee Milk Stout is made with oatmeal, lactose and coffee that comes straight from Coffee Emporium.
“You can classify it however you want, but I classify beer by what it is," Moreland says. "There are these style guidelines that people like to follow, but I’m not that person. You can only brew so much IPA that tastes like everyone else’s IPA, so we have that but we wanted to spin it around.”
Other favorite brews include a Caribbean style ale — Nellie's Keylime Caribbean Ale —that focuses on key lime and coriander, and an IPA called Rookwood Mosaic, with mosaic hops.
With creative beer, comes a creative menu, so don't expect pizza or burgers at Taft’s Ale House. During his time studying breweries and pubs around the country, Moreland saw different variations of the same menu time and time again, but his discovery of tri-tip beef changed the game. And General Manager Maloy could not agree more. The restaurant trims and ages the steak for 21 days, massages it with a dry rub, chars it, smokes it over hickory chips and then bakes it.
“The tri-tip beef is great," Maloy says. "It’s a great cut of beef — we char it, smoke it. You can slice it thin and make a sandwich or cut it bigger like a traditional steak. We have interesting sides too: roasted vegetables, tater tots instead of french fries and sweet potato fries.”
Moreland and Maloy’s main focus is “marrying the [tri-tip] beef with the beer” while still making it affordable. They understand the importance of serving customers at a rate where it's cost-effective to come back. Sandwiches, like the Alehouse (tri-tip steak, onions, blue cheese and red ranch sauce) run between $7.50 and $10, while platters, which are served with mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted veggies and cornbread, are $17 (for grilled chicken breast) to $20 (for 12-ounces of tri-tip steak). A small kids menu features little steak and chicken sandwiches and chicken wings, served with tots. For vegetarians, there's a large selection of salads with housemade dressing.
The experience of the customer is an ongoing theme in the vision of Taft’s Ale House. Many restaurants could say the same, but Taft’s physical setup lends itself to attaining customer satisfaction. Quality, an experience, and being passionate about what you do is how Moreland describes their mentality.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself," he says. "I don’t feel like it’s real yet. I’ve learned a lot. I can tell you it’s been an awesome experience. Passion breeds success. The passion we’re putting into crafting great beers is incredible.”
Taft’s Ale House opens Monday, on Moreland’s birthday. The first 100 people to arrive receive a free Red’s-Cincy-W.H.Taft-inspired T-shirt along with a glass of First Pitch Pale Ale. As for the future, Moreland is already thinking about taking the brand national, hoping to bring “big dollars” back to the city’s hotels, bars, eateries and more. “That is my focus: putting Cincinnati on the map for great craft beers,” he says.
4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday; noon-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Sundry and Vice, 18 W. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/sundryandvice.
All photos by Aaron Conway
What happens when a guy who grew up in an inner-city neighborhood returns as a successful attorney, back because it’s now the trendy place to live? That’s Jackson’s story: He’s upwardly mobile and black, moving in with Suzy, his white schoolteacher girlfriend. But she’s not so comfortable with their arrangement. Add to the mix Don, Jackson’s privileged boyhood white friend who’s had drug issues and now needs a place to crash. The apartment’s buzzer is a reminder that their world isn’t so simple. Tracey Scott Wilson’s new play isn’t set in Over-the-Rhine, but it could be. Through April 19. $30-$85. Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mt. Adams Circle, Mount Adams, 513-421-3888, cincyplay.com.
It’s hard to stand out in the crowded Blues/Roots Rock field but Dallas-based Somebody’s Darling is a stacked deck of secret weapons. The visceral ’70s-to-today guitar pyrotechnics of David Ponder, the massive keyboard groove of Michael Talley, the velvet jackhammer rhythm section of bassist Wade Cofer and drummer Nate Wedan, and the smoke-and-whiskey-cured vocals of Amber Farris combine to create a blistering Blues sound that is reassuringly familiar and yet fascinatingly singular. Although Farris, who also plays electric and acoustic guitars, generates plenty of fair comparisons to Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom (and maybe even a little Natalie Merchant in a rare quiet moment), she and Somebody’s Darling may align closest to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals by virtue of the slinky dynamism and mesmerizing power they both effortlessly exhibit. Somebody’s Darling plays Southgate House Revival's Revival Room on Friday. Tickets/more info here.
I've seen The Lion King five times, on Broadway and on tour. I wrote about it in a feature this week, describing how a successful but not terribly
profound animated Disney feature became a stage musical that's a
worldwide phenomenon. A touring production is at the Aronoff through April 26;
it's the third time the show has landed in Cincinnati.
evaluate the performers — who are highly talented and extremely polished
in their presentation of the show — I decided to pay attention to the
visuals this time around. It was worth it. The Lion King has the
most inspiring opening of any show I've seen: A call and response
between Rafiki, a nervous mandrill and two others brings together a
clutch of African animals to Pride Rock where a regal pair of lions,
King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi are presenting their new cub. The animals
enter the theater from all directions — from the stage wings and down
the Aronoff's aisles, enabling the audience to see the actors in their
puppet gear up close as they sing "The Circle of Life." It's a great way
to begin the show's magic.
But it's only the start: There is color and pageantry to burn in this story — from a colony of loony hyenas to a fatal stampede of antelopes. The second act opens with the chorus dressed in colorful clothes with ornate puppet birds and kites sing "One on One." I was reminded of the wonderful South African choral groups that inspired Cincinnati audiences during the World Choir games in 2012 — passionate harmonizing and heart-thumping rhythms. From start to finish, The Lion King is a remarkable experience. If you've seen it once, it's worth going again to appreciate new dimensions of this gorgeous production. Tickets: 513-621-2781.
Hey all. I’m hyped for the season’s first thunderstorm, which is officially rolling in as I type this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s finally spring. On to the news.
Residents displaced by the King Towers fire in Madisonville last Thursday will be able to stay in their extended stay hotel in Blue Ash for another two weeks, but after that their fate is uncertain. The 20-plus residents can’t move back into the building until it is investigated and cleaned, a process that could take months. Many have lived in the building for a long time and don’t have access to cars to get around. The fire injured several and killed firefighter Daryl Gordon, whose funeral drew thousands from across the country yesterday to downtown Cincinnati.
• A proposal by Cincinnati developer North Pointe Group in Over-the-Rhine would build 21 single-family homes on some city-owned vacant lots on Main Street north of Liberty Street. It would also redevelop a vacant building there into eight so-called “workforce apartments.” North Pointe says the houses will sell for around $400,000 to $600,000 each. The apartments will all be approximately 630 square feet and cost about $800-$950. The plan has drawn some controversy, which we explore in our news feature this week. North Pointe says it will need to tear down popular basketball courts on the land. After some residents complained, the developer agreed to keep two of the six hoops standing. But some are still skeptical of the proposal, saying it could change the character of the neighborhood.
• Cincinnati-based news giant E.W. Scripps Co. is officially out of the newspaper business for the first time in its 135 year history as of Wednesday. In a merger with Journal Communications, based in Milwaukee, Scripps has traded off its remaining newspapers for 12 TV stations and 34 radio stations across the country. The company has said it’s looking to expand its presence in TV and to own radio stations in the markets where it also broadcasts TV news. That could mean Scripps could eventually acquire radio stations here in Cincinnati.
• Suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter would like the Ohio Supreme Court to remove her ongoing felony trial from the county’s court system. Hunter is being retried on a felony count of misusing a court credit card after a technicality kept a jury from considering evidence for that charge when Hunter was tried late last year. A jury hung on eight of nine felony counts in that trial, convicting her of one count related to information she allegedly gave her brother, a county court employee, about an inmate.
Hunter and her attorney, Clyde Bennett II, say Hunter can’t get a fair trial in the county thanks to acrimony between her and many of the judges here. Bennett says prior decisions by Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker, who is currently presiding over the case, were used as evidence in Hunter’s earlier trial, causing a conflict of interest. Judge Norbert Nadel presided over Hunter’s original trial, but he retired earlier this year and Dinkelacker was elected to replace him. Dinkelacker previously presided over an appeals court where he made the rulings in question about Hunter’s case.
• Another local connection to the weed-legalization efforts led by ResponsibleOhio: Cincinnati-based developer David Bastos is an investor in the ballot initiative, which aims to legalize the sale of marijuana and restrict commercial growth to 10 marijuana farms around the state. Bastos is a partner in Bridge Property LLC, which would establish one of those farms in Lucas County. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect 300,000 signatures by this summer in order to get their amendment to Ohio’s constitution on the November ballot. Should it pass, Ohioans over the age of 21 would be allowed to buy marijuana, apply for a marijuana vendor’s license (similar to a liquor license) and grow small amounts of the drug for personal use, a late concession to opponents of the measure’s limit on commercial growth.
• The Cincinnati Reds are on track to break their season ticket sales records, thanks in part to the MLB All-Star Game coming to the city July 14. The Reds’ previous record at Great American Ballpark is 15,648. Last year they sold about 14,500 and they’re on pace to reach more than 16,000 sales this year. There’s a clear incentive for baseball nuts to make the big commitment: Season ticket holders are automatically offered the opportunity to purchase All-Star Game tickets, which are a hot item. Both half-season (40 games) and full-season (80 games) ticket holders get a crack at the All-Star Game tickets.
• The 2016 Senate race in Ohio is heating up. Republican Senator Rob Portman, nearing the end of his first term in the Senate, will have to fight off either Gov. Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, both Democrats, in that contest. But he’ll have a lot of ammunition. Portman reported he’s raised $2.75 million in the last 90 days for his campaign. Portman has steeled himself for a primary challenge from the right — he angered some conservatives with his pro-marriage equality stance after his son came out as gay — but so far, no challenger has materialized and Portman has netted big cash and big endorsements. Portman could face a big challenge from Strickland, who is Ohio’s former governor and who has been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton. All this alignment of cash and big-name endorsements shows how crucial Ohio will be to the 2016 election, when the presidency and control of the Senate will both be on the line.
That’s it for me. Tweet at me, comment or email me with your news tips.