Stepping into the decorated light cast from the looming ceilings of the Taft Theatre, it’s immediately apparent the space holds memory far outreaching your own. That is, of course, unless you’re about 100 years old and happened to be around Cincinnati in your early teens.
If that were the case, you’d probably remember the other awe-inspiring theaters that entertained the Queen City in those days: the Albee, Shubert and Capitol, to name a few — all astounding architectural representations of the heyday of local theaters. Sadly, the Taft is the only of those grand structures that still remains today, likely because it stands just far enough away from the heart of downtown, just missing out on the urban redevelopment that has defined the city for the past half-century or so.
Taft Theatre was opened in January 1928, inaugurated by lines of suited men and flower-hatted women who were willing to brace the 40-degree weather of the new year for the warm spectacle of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a shining new entertainment venue.
The theater is part of the Cincinnati Masonic Center, then called a temple rather than center, and is currently owned by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. In its early days it would host Broadway shows, ballets and traveling performers and artists, among other entertainment.
The name, contrary to what some might think, is not a nod to the former United States president William Howard Taft, although many likely know of the street we have to honor him. Rather, the theater was a tip of the hat to William’s older brother, Charles Phelps Taft, a major figure in the Cincinnati newspaper business and a high-ranking Mason who lived just down the street from where the theater now stands.
While it was very popular during its early days and became popular again in the new millennium, the theatre went through a largely dormant period in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, the Scottish Rite applied for demolition rights twice in the 1960s — although they were rejected both times — because they thought the theater would be too expensive to renovate and wanted to replace it with a parking garage.
Luckily, it hung on and didn’t fall into serious disrepair long enough for Music and Event Management, a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to take over in 2010. The company headlined a $3.2 million renovation, less than a third of the value the Masons had been quoted for renovations decades earlier.
The revamp, finished in 2011, increased the size of the seats, lowering the original capacity of 2,500 to about 2,300, as well as the size of the bathrooms — fewer venue seats, but more toilet seats (does this say something about the needs of folks in the new millennium?). They also took great consideration of modern concerns, spending a heavy load on hooking the building up with eco-friendly air conditioning.
Thanks to the restoration and rejuvenation of the old theater, it now holds about 140 shows a year compared to roughly 90 before renovations, and the annual attendance has also almost doubled. The theater is again one of Cincinnati’s hot spots for entertainment, hosting all kinds of musical concerts as well as theatre, being home to the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. With the upsurge in activity at the beautiful old Masonic Amphitheatre, the tall walls can keep holding and building memories of entertainment that life would be oh-so boring without.
"After a couple months, I started to realize that I liked being in the restaurant more than reading and writing scientific articles," Pesola says. "It was fast-paced, challenging and gave me an avenue to interact with people dynamically. In addition, I really enjoy how tangible the hospitality industry is."
This past summer, Pesola branched out and started selling rotisserie chicken on pita bread at Findlay Market. The resulting Revolution Rotisserie was so popular, he's opening a brick-and-mortar location on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine in early 2015. The rotisserie and bar will do dine-in, carry-out and catering, plus vegetarian options and specialty cocktails.
We caught up with Pesola to learn more about the restaurant and his chicken technique.
CityBeat: Why chicken and how did that relationship come to pass?
Nicholas Pesola: The concept originally had nothing to do with chicken. I wanted to introduce something unique to Cincinnati and I thought that it would be cool to reinvent gyros, one of my favorite foods from my youth. I wanted to stack marinated beef/lamb and do it like they do in Europe/Middle Eastern countries. I knew that I would have to offer other meats so I chose to stick with the rotisserie meat theme. When I put on tastings, everybody liked the rotisserie chicken sandwiches with my gourmet toppings and sauces the most. When no one offered to fund my unproven restaurant concept, I decided to start small at Findlay Market and pilot the idea. I knew I had to simplify my concept in order to be successful so I gave the people what they wanted: rotisserie chicken. I wanted to become known for rotisserie chicken sandwiches on pita bread because I thought that was the most unique. I also thought I would sell more sandwiches versus whole chickens to the Findlay Market crowd.
CB: What's been the best response you've seen from a customer?
NP: We have had many great responses. I love when people walk by my stand, stop abruptly after seeing the sample, and say, "That looks good. But what is it?" When they find out there is rotisserie chicken under the toppings and sauce, it is usually game over. I also enjoy the skeptical customer who reluctantly orders our food and then comes back with friends 10 minutes later because they really liked it.
CB: Can you tell me more about your chicken? Where do you source it? What separates it from other rotisserie? Is there a special technique, seasoning, butcher? A family recipe?
NP: We use Amish chicken from Miller Farms and will be switching to FreeBird chicken which has even more strict standards when it comes to how the chickens have been raised: no hormones, no preservatives, all vegetable diet, more room to roam, etc. Our chickens are never frozen, always fresh. We brine our birds, season them with a custom blend of the best spices, cook them on a gas-fired 40-bird rotisserie to perfection. And I assure you our whole chickens will not sit around for hours and dry out like they do at the grocery store. For our sandwiches, we hand-pull the meat, white and dark, and make sure it maintains its juiciness before serving. We have arrived at our current technique after talking with chefs and experimenting with other methods, but the reality is I'm always looking for ways to make the product even better.
CB: So you're opening a brick-and-mortar spot in OTR? What inspired you to take the jump?
NP: Even before I started at Findlay Market, I wanted to open up a brick-and-mortar shop. I just didn't have enough money and that was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to start small. I knew the time was right to circle back with potential investors when my customers kept asking where Revolution Rotisserie was located after eating our food.
CB: Why OTR? And why Race versus Main or Vine?
NP: I live in OTR and it's a very exciting place to hang out and start a business. The real question should be why not OTR? I believe my concept contributes something very unique to the scene. I chose the spot at 1106 Race Street because it was the size I wanted, featured an open kitchen, and fit my budget. In my opinion, Race Street is the next logical restaurant street in OTR because of Washington Park, Zula, Anchor, and Taft Ale House all down the street. Plus I live on Race Street, you can't beat that commute.
CB: What will be on the menu at Revolution?
NP: Chicken! We will showcase the versatility of chicken with eight rotisserie chicken sandwiches served on grilled pita bread — all of which can be made vegetarian by substituting hummus, black beans or extra veggies. This is a bold statement, considering we are primarily a chicken restaurant, but I think our pita sandwiches and salads set us up to offer one of the best vegetarian menus in the city. Of course, we will do whole/half chickens, side salads, mashed potatoes, cinnamon applesauce and a few other sides. At the bar, we will specialize in specialty cocktail infusions and of course, craft beer.
CB: People love chicken during the holidays. With restaurant prep ahead of you, will you still be at Findlay Market or taking any orders for whole or half chickens?
NP: Unfortunately, the cold weather prevents us from operating at Findlay Market under the tent. However, if people would like to place catering or large carryout orders, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The best way to do this is to visit our website revolutionrotisserie.com.
Follow along with Revolution's progress on Facebook and Twitter @RevolutionOTR.
Morning all. Let’s get right to the news, shall we?
It’s hardly a secret that arrest rates in communities across the country are often much higher for minorities. That’s certainly true for suburbs in the Cincinnati area, where authorities often arrest a much higher proportion of blacks than whites. In Sharonville, for instance, blacks are 12 times more likely to be arrested, and in Norwood, they’re seven times more likely. Law enforcement authorities in those communities say that the data controls for the lower population of blacks in those communities but doesn’t take into account the fact that not everyone committing crimes in those places lives there, which they say skews the numbers. Civil rights activists, however, say the data shows a clear racial disparity caused by a number of factors that need to be addressed. Many studies have made it clear that drug use, for instance, is just as high among whites as it is blacks, but law enforcement in many communities makes many more arrests in the latter.
• Are City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley trying to pre-empt a rail project right out of existence? It seems a little premature to say, but that’s the concern expressed by the city’s planning commission chair Caleb Faux and some advocates for a rail component of the proposed Wasson Way trail. The project looks to extend bike paths and eventually, possible commuter rail lanes through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. But on Thursday, Black removed from the city’s planning commission agenda legislation seeking to preserve the possibility of rail in the area by creating a transportation overlay district. The move has sparked worries that Black was acting on orders from Cranley, no friend of rail, in a bid to pre-emptively block a future rail project through the Wasson Way corridor. Cranley said he only wanted to give time for more public input before a vote on the overlay district was taken.
• In other City Hall news, Black announced his pick for the city’s director of trade and development today in a news release. Oscar Bedolla will be the city’s head of economic development. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on infrastructure projects in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Denver.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece, who represents Cincinnati, is pushing for a law that would require greater aesthetic differences between fake guns and real ones in the wake of another police shooting Saturday night in Cleveland. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by police officers, who thought the toy gun he was carrying was a semi-automatic pistol. The incident has tragic echoes of the August shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford was carrying a pellet gun sold in the store when police shot him.
• As lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly wrangle over how to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system, a new report on the fund reviews how slashes to taxes on employers put the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $1.3 billion. It’s interesting reading, to say the least, and a primer in the problems that can arise from some lawmakers' "cut every possible tax to the bone” mentality.
• Finally, if you’re really serious about video games, I have a Kickstarter for you to check out. It’s for a company that wants to make a controller that extracts real blood from you every time you’re injured in a video game. “It’s stupidly simple,” the pitch starts. Well, that’s at least partially right. Yow. The device keeps track of how much blood it hass removed, however, so you don’t like, pass out or bleed to death because you’re terrible at "Call of Duty."
Cincinnati is host to a great number of music festivals and it feels like every season adds another one. Midpoint is becoming nationally recognized for its ability to draw in heavy hitters, Bunbury has exploded in popularity in just a few years and Buckle Up had a great inaugural year this past summer, just to name a few obvious examples. It’s a great time to be a music lover and music journalist in this city.
But for this music journalist, there’s only one festival that gets my money, year in and year out: Ironfest.
Whereas most of Cincinnati’s festivals focus on the city’s vast assortment of Folk and Pop influenced artists, Ironfest is awash in the loud, angry and just plain aggressive side of local music. John “Black Arm” Gerhardt, the organizer of Ironfest, puts in a massive amount of time and effort to assemble a legion of acts that are all a little left of center, but still eclectic enough to bring in all types of fans. There’s only one place in town that you can see the darkened Electronic soundscapes of Black Signal alongside 500 Miles to Memphis’ Country Punk and Moonbow’s raucous brand of Heavy Metal, all under one roof, and that’s at Ironfest.
Nov. 14 and 15 marked Ironfest’s fifth year. It was founded as a celebration of the life of “Iron” Mike Davidson, a mainstay in Cincinnati’s music scene before his untimely passing. While this is still the case, Ironfest has grown beyond a simple memorial. In fact, many of the attendees nowadays didn’t even know “Iron” Mike — myself included. But if Davidson had so many talented friends in so many awesome bands, I’m sad that I didn’t.
Gerhardt has a knack for getting a great mix of bands together to take over Southgate House Revival’s three stages and this year’s iteration was no different. At any time, you could check out the bands listed above, along with the likes of Valley of the Sun, Smoke Signals, Martin Luther and the Kings, The Dopamines, Honeyspiders or out-of-towners like OC45 and Punching Moses (featuring ex-Banderas guitarist Jesse Ramsey), among many more.
While each year’s lineup is undeniably star-studded, Gerhardt also always seems to have one band on the bill that stands out above the rest and this year’s edition was no different. Closing out Saturday night was the reunion of Oxboard Drain, Iron Mike’s old band, with Valley of the Sun’s Ryan Ferrier filling in for the late bassist. I had never heard Oxboard Drain before that night but I got the distinct feeling that I missed something special. When a band still draws fans out that sing along to every word years after their dissolution, you know they made an impact during their tenure. Seeing Ferrier, Gerhardt and the rest of the band honor their friend by ripping through a powerhouse set was something to behold.
While the music at Ironfest is amazing and honoring Iron Mike’s memory is important, neither is the real reason I have attended the past three years. I go for the community that Ironfest celebrates and all of the people it brings together. My roommate attended this year’s festival for the first time this year; at the end of the show he commented that I seemed to know half of the attendees that night. While estimate may have been a bit of an exaggeration, the point is valid. For fans of the scene such as myself, Ironfest is almost like a high school reunion that you’d actually want to attend. New bands mingle with established acts, old bandmates and friends reconnect with each other, and the past and present of Cincinnati’s alternative music scene is celebrated over a weekend.
That’s what makes Ironfest so special. All of the other festivals that Cincinnati hosts every year celebrate the music and musicians contained within them. Ironfest celebrates the community itself that spawns around the music and musicians. It’s a two-day period where we can fondly recall the good memories of days gone by while still creating new memories for the next time we all converge at that old church.
It’s only been just over a week since Ironfest V wrapped up and I already feel like I’m in withdrawal. That much music, that many friends, that much fun in the photo booth (and, yes, that much booze) all adds up to a weekend that’s talked about until the next one rolls around. For many, “Iron” Mike’s passing was a horrible loss but his passing spawned an event that has kept people coming back for five years straight. And for that, I have to say, “Thanks ‘Iron’ Mike, and I’ll see you all next year.”
Things to leave the house for all weekend. Shopping. Holiday stuff. Music. Plays. Food.
Afternoon, readers! Thanksgiving is almost here, which means an absurd amount of delicious, fattening food and stampedes of greedy consumerists who will overtake the Walmarts and Macys and the Best Buys in the days and weeks following the holiday where you're supposed to be thankful for everything you've already got.
It also means three days of work next week and an early issue. Look for it on stands Tuesday!
(As a side note, if you're like me and will do anything to avoid the hollowed-eyed throngs of shoppers in the days before and after Thanksgiving but still need to get a head start on holiday shopping, check out our gift guide. You're welcome.)
Let's get to the Words Nobody Uses or Knows in this weeks issue. Best word of the issue is loquacious, which I think sounds like salacious? Not sure. It's in Kathy Y. Wilson's editorial on Bill Cosby and his recent string of no good very bad sexual assault accusations by various women.
loquacious: very talkative; fond of talking (adj.)
In this issue: "NPR is the nexus of Cosby’s identity in America as the loquacious raconteur (reality) and the benign All-American Dad (television)."
Loquacious raconteur. I have no idea what a raconteur is either; but it sounds French, so I keep thinking loquacious raconteur with a French accent in my head.
raconteur: a person who tells stories or anecdotes in an amusing and clever way (n.)
Next word is vagaries in this week's Sound Advice.
vagaries: odd or unexpected changes in behavior or actions (n.)
In this issue: "Written and recorded in the winter months after solidifying Spencer and Pressley’s partnership (which came to include the vital input of percussionist/philosopher Ryan Clancy), Wormfood was a song cycle on the vagaries of love and the songs that detail those particular woes."
Last is hamlet, also in Sound Advice.
hamlet: a small village, or a dramatic play written by Shakespeare in the 1600s (n.)
I had no idea hamlet ever meant anything other than Shakespeare's play. CityBeat's pretentious writers have been teaching me so much!
In this issue: "Delavan is a farm country hamlet of less than 2,000 people located about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis."
Enjoy the holidays, readers.
Before news, let’s talk chili. Yesterday, true to my word, I checked out Cretan’s Grill in Carthage as part of my quest to discover the city’s smaller independent chili parlors. Excellent start. I paid five bucks for two coneys and a ton of fries. The chili was great — a little sweeter and meatier than say, Skyline. Where should I go next week?
Anyway, a lot of stuff happened yesterday. News stuff. So let’s get to it.
Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have agreed to pay $281,000 to keep open the possibility the county could acquire a former hospital in Mount Airy. The commissioners made the move in anticipation of possibly renovating the building to house several county offices, though they have made it clear those renovations will not happen in the coming year. County Administrator Christian Sigman originally proposed a 2015 budget with a .25 percent sales tax increase to pay for renovations so that the county coroner, crime lab and board of elections along with other offices could occupy the building. Monzel and Hartmann have signaled they will not support a sales tax increase, however, and want a long-term plan for how the former Mercy hospital might be used.
• As we reported last night, the Ohio Department of Health has renewed the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center’s license, meaning Cincinnati’s last clinic providing abortions will stay open. Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit against the state after the clinic in Mount Auburn was cited for lacking a transfer agreement with an area hospital. The clinic had an agreement with UC Hospital, but lost it when a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers was passed last year. The clinic applied 14 months ago for an exception to that rule because it has doctors on staff with individual admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.
• Cincinnati Red Bike may be expanding soon. The nonprofit bike sharing company that Cincinnati City Council boosted last year with $1 million in startup funds has been a big success, beating ridership projections in its opening weeks this summer. Currently, Red Bike has 30 stations in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown near UC. The company has been talking with Northern Kentucky officials about possibly putting additional stations in places like Covington and Newport. Red Bike is also considering putting new stations in places like Longworth Hall downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton.
• More bad local media news. Scripps Networks Interactive, a Nashville-based entertainment company that produces HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel, is closing its Cincinnati office and shedding the 150 positions based here. The company spun off from Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps in 2008 and employs about 2,000 people total.
• A bill that would ban abortions in Ohio once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat passed committee yesterday and will now make its way to a vote in the full Ohio House. The legislation, which could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, would be one of the most restrictive in the country if passed. Bill cosponsors Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance and Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon have said they see the legislation as a means for challenging Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. If they want a legal battle over the bill, they’ll probably get it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened a lawsuit if the measure makes it into law, which has some conservatives, including Gov. John Kasich, wary of passing the bill. Federal courts have found similar bans in other states unconstitutional, and a lawsuit challenging the ban could also jeopardize other anti-abortion laws in the state, conservative lawmakers feel.
The measure barely made it through the House’s Health and Aging Committee. Several last-minute swaps of committee members were performed so that there would be enough committee members present and so that those supporting the bill would outnumber those opposed. The proposal passed 11-6 after three Republicans and one Democrat were swapped out of the committee. That’s… kinda sketchy.
• Finally, President Barack Obama announced yesterday evening he would take sweeping executive action to grant relief to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Up to five million immigrants could be shielded from deportation by the action, which directs immigration officials and law enforcement to focus on criminals instead of families. It’s a huge move, and one that has drawn a lot of attention. Conservatives have gone nuts over the announcement. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn predicted instances of “anarchy” and “violence” as a result of the move, and many other GOP officials have called Obama’s power play an illegal use of presidential power. Obama has countered that every president has used executive actions and that Congress should focus on passing legislation to fix America’s broken immigration system.
Send me news tips, chili tips, hate mail, suggestions for what I should buy myself for my birthday, fan mail, weird tweets, whatever: @nswartsell or email@example.com Remember, even your hateful tweets boost my Klout score, so fire away.