A Tavola has made its mark on Over-The-Rhine with its rustic wood fired pizzas and superb flavor combinations. What you might not know about the high-end pizza joint is that its craft cocktails are one-of-a-kind. CityBeat sat down with A Tavola’s head bartender Aaron Strasser to pick his brain, and it turns out he is as personable as he is creative and stirs up one hell of a cocktail.
CityBeat: How did your career in bartending start?
Aaron Strasser: I was a history major at UC, and my favorite period of time was Prohibition. I found it very interesting that you could ban one of the greatest things in the world — the cocktail. I really got into studying that when I was in college. I also started flavor profiles. I grew up in the kitchen with my mom and she always baking stuff and I loved tasting all the flavors and figuring out, ‘Oh, you can pair this with this.’ I got my start here at A Tavola almost four years ago. I didn't know much, but what I did know is flavor profiles and combinations. So the owners gave me a chance and allowed me to make the bar what it is now.
CB: What’s your favorite spirit?
AS: I usually go with my whiskeys and bourbon. Rye whiskey for sure.
CB: What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve used in a cocktail?
AS: I have a couple. I always saw that simple syrups were being made with fruits and some herbs and spices, but I wanted to make a simple syrup out of a vegetable, so I made a red beet and ginger simple syrup, which goes great with gin. It’s very unique, it’s a beautiful color and the taste was very interesting. I didn't want to just use fruit. Another strange ingredient in our new cocktail menu is the jalapeño jam instead of a simple syrup. It’s a recipe that one of my kitchen people and I have worked on. I wanted to have something that was sweet and savory. We do a lot of that as far as combinations go — even in our food — lots of sweet and savory.
CB: Do you see a change in cocktail culture around OTR?
AS: Oh, yeah, its definitely growing. There is a lot more appreciation as far as drinks go. A lot of people are not just ordering cocktails that they know, instead they are actually looking at the cocktails and asking, ‘What does this place have to offer that I haven’t tried before?'
CB: If you had to pick one cocktail to drink for the rest of your life what would it be?
AS: An Old Fashioned.
1 slice of orange
1 sugar cube
1 or 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 oz. rye or bourbon whiskey
Place the sugar cube in a glass and add one or two dashes of Angostura bitters and a splash of club soda. Muddle the the sugar cube. Add whiskey and ice. Stir until sugar is dissolved. With a lighter, singe a strip of orange peel and pinch the peel to release oils. Add the orange peel and the Amarena cherries to top it all off.
That’s the opinion of John Sanphillippo of San Francisco, in this recent article from newgeography.com about how acquaintances from there who, upon finding that city too expensive, moved to Cincinnati and discovered a similar environment, only affordable.
His point is very provocative — young people who want but can’t afford the progressive, stimulating urban life that is such a lure for cities like San Francisco, Brooklyn, N.Y., Seattle or Boston aren’t giving up on their dreams and retreating to the familiar dullness of Great American Suburbia.
Instead, they’re finding that all cities now — and especially what he calls “Rust Belt” cities — are alive with examples of progressive New Urbanism. And he singles out Cincinnati as a choice example.
The photos aren’t marked, but you can see Shake It Records, the Suspension Bridge, East Walnut Hills, Vine Street. And the author doesn’t even mention the streetcar.
This article ran Saturday on the New Geography site, a joint venture of author Joel Kotkin (The City: A Global History) and Praxis Strategy Group devoted to “analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work.”
According to his bio, Sanphillippo “lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at granolashotgun.com. He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for faircompanies.com, and is a regular contributor to strongtowns.org. He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long- term prospects.”
For the past two and a half weeks, Arnaud’s van has been home for five full-grown men. While we’ve been lucky enough to not have to spend the night in it at any time, we’ve done pretty much everything else. We’ve eaten in here, we’ve slept in here, we’ve emptied bladders (well, only one … Nick was desperate), it houses all of our possessions on this continent and we’ve had far too many inappropriate conversations in here. It has all the comforts of home … except for TV, Internet, showers, a kitchen or any sort of privacy. But then again, some of our non-moving accommodations don’t have any of those things either, so it’s fine.
We even have our own “rooms.” Arnaud usually drives with Ryan copiloting. If you move one bench back, Nick sits in the farthest seat from the door so he can lean against the window to nap. The next seat is empty and holds our various jackets, water bottles, candy and other items a touring band needs. Next to that is me; my seat offers no real advantage other than the ability to get out fast at rest stops when the call of the wild can be heard. Aaron has claimed dominion over the back bench, but two of the seats hold two overnight bags and random stuff (mostly scarves that Aaron has bought along the trip).
The ride is rough; it seems like the shocks were an afterthought and you can feel every bump in the road. Turns make the van shift and roll and the seats don’t adjust from their full upright and locked position. This all adds up for a ride that isn’t very comfortable or relaxing. If you’re wondering how we can sleep in here under such conditions, all I can say is that touring Europe is a very tiring experience, no matter how fun it is.
Of course, the real reason we needed the van is to not just transport ourselves, but all of the band’s gear from show to show without the need for a trailer. And that, my friends, is an experience all it’s own. Arnaud and Nick have set up a system to load and unload the back of the van efficiently at each stop. While I play Tetris at shows, those two play Tetris in real life. Just take a look at this setup and tell me that isn’t almost artistic to see how much crap can be fit into such a small space.
This van has been a constant in our lives for almost a month now; while I can only speak for myself, I have to say that I will almost miss it when I get back home. While the ride might be rough, there was an element of comfort and familiarity in crawling into this thing as we headed towards our next show. And it’s the place where we all really bonded as a group — being stuck in a tin can with four other dudes for six hours will do that to you. It’s been a special spot for all of us.
But, man, I really wish the seats reclined.
CityBeat contributor Nick Grever is currently traveling Europe on tour with Cincinnati Rock band Valley of the Sun. He will be blogging for citybeat.com regularly about the experience.
Brian Powers, the Cincinnati librarian who has done exhaustive work researching King Records history, thought he had found a “Holy Grail” photo — of the West End record store that Syd Nathan owned before starting King.
He knew it had been on Central Avenue, but didn’t know what it looked like.
It was in the Hebrew Union College/Skirball Museum FotoFocus-connected exhibit Documenting Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods, which features George Rosenthal’s photographs, taken in the late 1950s, of the West End before I-75 construction would dramatically alter it. Rosenthal’s photographs, owned by Cincinnati Museum Center, hadn’t been shown at least in 50 years, if ever.
Visiting on the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 22, Powers saw one Rosenthal photo of a Central Avenue record store at 1567 Central Ave. Just a small storefront with a homey screen-door, it had what looked like neon signs that announced “Records All Speeds” and then listed the choices: Spirituals, Classics, Pops, Rhythm-Blues, Bop, Hillbilly & Western.
You can also partially see some letters and the initials “CO” at the top of the signs. Some additional written information was on a window, and another sign offered television sets for $29. Nathan wouldn’t have still owned such a store in this time period — he started King in 1943 — but might it have carried on the same location, more or less unchanged, with someone else in charge?
Powers told Henry Rosenthal, the late George’s son, about his hunch. And in his opening remarks, Henry mentioned it. Henry was particularly proud because he owns the desk that James Brown kept at King Records’ headquarters in Evanston. “It’s my prize possession,” he said.
Among the Rosenthal family members at the opening, besides Henry, were Jean Rosenthal Bloch, George’s wife; daughter Julie Baker; George S. Rosenthal and Roger Baker, George’s grandsons; great-grandson Clay Baker, and cousin Ed Rosenthal. With several hundred in attendance, it was an important moment in recognizing Rosenthal’s work.
Alas, when Powers (who didn’t attend the reception) later started researching, he saw the record store in this photo wasn’t where Nathan’s was located.
“Syd’s shop was at 1351 Central Ave.,” he said via E-mail. “The shop in the photo is at 1567 Central. It was called Mo-F-A Co. It’s listed as a TV repair shop. It was owned by a guy named Ted Savage, who seemed to have lived there with his wife.
“It looks like Syd handed over his store to Ike Klayman around 1945 to 1946. I don’t see 1351 Central listed after 1949. It may have been torn down by then. It’s where Taft football field is now.”
Powers added that he has seen a photo of a record store owned by Klayman, but believes it is at a different location
So the search for a photo of Nathan’s record store goes on, but meanwhile this very evocative one is now — finally — available to be seen.
The exhibit, which looks at what life in Cincinnati was like in the West End and Downtown before much was torn down for controversial “urban renewal” from the 1960s to 1980s, both in terms of their architecture and the conditions of the poor, also features powerful photos by Daniel Ransohoff and Ben Rosen.
It is up through Dec. 21 at the Skirball and Jacob Rader Marcus Center on the HUC campus, 3010 Clifton Ave. Go here for details.
All right! So I’ve got some great Halloween parties lined up and it’s really hard to sit still and focus on important things. But since that’s pretty much what being a grownup is about, and since they pay me to (kind of) be a grownup around here, let’s talk about news for a few.
• Though most of the action happened in committee meetings, City Council made final a bunch of things it has been working on, including funding the mayor’s Hand Up initiative. The jobs program has been controversial since the funding will come in part from other programs. Get the back story on that here.
Council also gave the thumbs up for City Manager Harry Black’s proposals for the city’s $18 million budget surplus. The city will stash most of it away in savings or emergency accounts for weather and such, give some to a new data analysis office, use some to fight infant mortality and to repay neighborhood programs.
Council also gave final approval to an ordinance that would make getting expungements easier for those convicted under Cincinnati’s old marijuana law. Lingering criminal records for a number of city residents mean difficulty finding jobs and getting school loans, something the new law looks to address.
Finally, council passed new regulations on Uber and Lyft. You can read more about that here. Busy day.
• A while back I told you about outspoken Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones taping an interview for The Daily Show. Well, this probably goes without saying, but… it didn’t go so well. It’s gotta be hard when you’re diametrically opposed to the viewpoints of the show you’re going on, and they have all the editing power, but still. It was rough. Jones, who made his way down to the belly of the liberal beast, Austin, Texas, for the taping, continually insisted that illegal immigrants get all sorts of free stuff the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’ll let you watch the results yourself if you haven’t already.
• Also a while back, and also something you should watch — the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial meeting at which Gov. John Kasich more or less ignored beleaguered challenger Ed FitzGerald. I also, because I’m thoughtful like that, linked you to a page with a video of the exchange, or, well, lack thereof. Only the Plain Dealer later took that video down, which is weird, right? So here it is again. Warning: strong language in the article accompanying the vid, including the terms "douchecanoe" and "asshat."
• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from the Clintons in her nail-biter of a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Hillary Clinton will appear with Grimes today in Louisville and Saturday in Covington at 11th-hour campaign rallies. No word what their Friday plans are, but I’m going to some great Halloween parties if y’all are reading and interested.
The show by Trigger Hippy (featuring Joan Osborne and members of The Black Crowes) scheduled for tonight at Newport’s Southgate House Revival has been postponed due to a death in Osborne’s family. The band is hoping to reschedule the show soon. But there are plenty of other solid live music options in Greater Cincinnati tonight.
Reflection Eternal, renowned Cincinnati-based producer/artist Hi-Tek’s collaboration with legendary MC Talib Kweli, headlines the 8 p.m. concert, marking a rare appearance by the duo. The lineup also features Cincinnati heroes Mood, who took Cincy Hip Hop nationwide in the ’90s, Buggs Tha Rocka (who’s prepping a new album release for early December), Trademark Aaron (whose new video for “The Best,” featuring Easy Lantana, recently premiered on Vevo’s home page), Clockworkdj (Mac Miller’s official DJ), Valley High, Eddie Vaughn, Aida Chakra and many others.
Tickets are $30 at the door while they last.
• Dynamic, groovy and fun rockers Automagik are putting out a limited edition, Halloween-themed EP, Monster Party, for the holiday. The five-track collection features appropriate tracks taken from the group’s two albums. as well as the new title track.
The band will have Monster Party available at its show Thursday night at Newport’s Thompson House (purchasers can “name their price”). The 8 p.m. event (with just a $5 cover) also features area acts Dark Colour, Motherfolk, Celestials and Young Colt, plus a live art performance by Kara Mitchell. Costumes are encouraged — those wearing the best ones will be rewarded with a piece of Mitchell’s artwork.
Here’s one of the previously released Automagik tracks included on the Monster Party EP:
• Also playing Thompson House tonight (in one of the other rooms) is Jamaican Reggae fave Cocoa Tea. Tea’s fellow countryman Louie Culture also appears, along with soulful Folk/Soul/Jazz/Reggae singer Etana, Cincinnati’s The Cliftones and others. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $25.
Cocoa Tea began making waves in the mid-’80s before busting out internationally in the ’90s. Tea scored some major U.S. press in 2008 when he released a song in support of the man who would become our country’s first African American President (in case you’re unclear to whom I’m referring, the song was called “Barack Obama”) and this year he released his 30th LP, Sunset in Negril, on his own Roaring Lion label.
• After adding to their already huge press kit at the recent CMJ festival in New York City, Cincy Trash Pop trio Tweens has been added to the bill at Over-the-Rhine’s The Drinkery tonight, making an already great show even better. The band is joining Brooklyn trio Nude Beach and excellent Cincinnati-based newcomers Leggy. Making infectious, classics-influenced Pop Rock, Nude Beach is touring behind its just released album 77. Here’s the album’s single “For You”:
The free show kicks off at 9 p.m.
• British rockers You Me at Six play Corryville’s Bogart’s tonight. Doors open at (of course) 6 p.m. The U.K.’s Young Guns and L.A.’s Stars in Stereo open.
You Me at Six is beginning to make waves in the States after building a large and loyal fan base in the U.K. The band is currently touring behind its critically acclaimed latest, Cavalier Youth, a big hit in their homeland (it became the group’s first No. 1 album when released early this year).
Here’s the video for You Me at Six’s “Room to Breathe”:
Click here for even more live music events tonight in the Cincinnati area and feel free to plug any other shows going on tonight in the comments.
With Halloween coming up Friday, we’ve got lots of costumes to look forward to/dread: over-the-top celebrity ensembles, clever pop culture costumes, folks who didn’t get the memo that Halloween is not an excuse to be racist. But we get an awesome early costume from Paralympian Josh Sundquist. The athlete lost his left leg as a child and couldn’t be any better of a sport about it, as evidenced by his creative costumes year after year. This time around, he’s a foosball player.
Holy shit, Harry Potter can rap.
LeVar Burton has read countless books to children during his time on Reading Rainbow. But now, Burton just wants kids to Go the Fuck to Sleep.
Let’s talk about last week’s SNL. Jim Carrey hosted for the third time, this one in advance of
the upcoming Dumb and Dumber sequel (so help us, god). If you’re wondering why
the comedian never starred on the sketch comedy show, instead getting his big
break on In Living Color, he tried
— read more about his failed auditions here.
While the episode had its low points — more on musical guest Iggy Azalea later — Jim Carrey served up classic Jim Carrey insanity with plenty of physical humor, face-morphing impressions and even a walk down memory lane with his characters from the past 25 years. Best of all was his take on the weird Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ads.
Then there was Iggy Azalea. The musical guests so far this season have all catered toward a mostly younger audience, but that’s typically the case. And whether you’re sick of her faux Atlanta rap-cent or you still have “Fancy” as your ringtone, Iggy has churned out hit after hit over the past year and she should have been able to produce at least a mildly entertaining performance. But she did not. Both performances flat-lined, plagued with bad lip synching to less-than-stellar pre-recorded tracks, awkward quasi-dancing (you don’t have to have choreography just because you’re a girl, you know) and featured artists with whom she had zero chemistry. And I know following every episode of SNL someone writes a “Was this the worst performance in SNL history?” commentary, but you really have to watch the uncomfortable, dead-eyed performances for yourself.
It seemed more like a skit making fun of white girl
rappers than anything. But it stands as a reminder that ass alone does not a rapper make.
Blog You Should Follow: Drunk J. Crew
Pardon my Seinfeldism, but what is the deal with kids on competition shows? First there was MasterChef Junior, where kids who have been cooking since they were in diapers compete to impress Gordon Ramsay and other chefs. Now there’s Project Runway: Threads with little Tim Gunns that know their way around a sewing machine better I can ever dream (hot glue is my savior). Do you want me to feel inferior to 9-year-olds?
Apparently you can permanently alter the color of your eyes if you hate yourself just enough!
Marcel the Shell is back! Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp’s lovable personified shell returns for the first time since 2011 with a new video and a book, Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I've Ever Been. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On went viral in 2010 but the short film actually has critical accolades, too: It was awarded Best Animated Short at AFI FEST 2010, was an official selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the New York International Children's Film Festival. (You know, just in case you needed any further proof that Jenny Slate is the best.)
And speaking of new installments of viral videos, there’s a new Between Two Ferns with — as Zach Galifianikis calls him — Bradley Pitts.
New movie trailers to hit the Interwebz: Paddington Bear, a character made popular through children’s books since 1958, gets the live-action treatment in Paddington; A troubled young man finds the will to live when his young but more mature niece is put in his care in Before I Disappear; and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti has a stand-up special coming to Netflix next month, One of the Greats.
Two relatively new Ohio parks, Cincinnati’s Washington Park and Columbus’ Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, were among the four finalists for the non-profit Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Urban Open Space Award.
According to the Institute, the award “celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community.”
The 2014 winner was Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, described by the Institute as a “5.2-acre deck park built over a recessed freeway in Texas” (similar to what Cincinnati planners want to do with downtown’s Fort Washington Way). It bridges “the downtown Dallas cultural district with burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods, reshaping the city and catalyzing economic development.”
The award was made at the Institute’s October meeting.
The two other finalists were Tulsa’s Guthrie Green and Santa Fe’s Railyard Park and Plaza.
To be eligible, parks had to meet these criteria:
▪ Be located in an urbanized area in North America;
▪ Have been open to the public at least one year and no more than 15 years;
▪ Be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public;
▪ Be a lively gathering space, providing abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, and trees and plantings, with attractions and features that offer many different ways for visitors to enjoy the space;
▪ Be used intensively on a daily basis, and act as a destination for a broad spectrum of users throughout the year;
▪ Have a positive economic impact on its surroundings;
▪ Promote physical, social, and economic health of the larger community; and provide lessons, strategies, and techniques that can be used or adapted in other communities.
Restaurateur Jon Zippersteain — the man behind Japanese gastropub Kaze in OTR and sushi/steakhouse Embers in Kenwood — is slated to open the new Mercer OTR on Nov. 4.
The Mercer, at corner of Vine and Mercer streets (on the ground floor of the Mercer Commons apartment complex), will be a casual, European-influenced bistro with seating for up to 60.
"This restaurant was inspired by the sophistication and Mod sensibilities of '60s cinema, which idealized and often parodied 'The Sweet Life' a la 'La Dolce Vita'," says Zipperstein in a recent press release. "There is a vibrant lifestyle here in OTR that we want to echo. I want people to think of The Mercer as a living room for the neighborhood."
Chef Dan Stoltz will interpret rustic Italian-European dishes — like duck-leg cassoulet, porterhouse for two, short ribs, risotto and chicken saltimbocca — in a modern, contemporary way. All pasta, including garganelli, will be made in-house.
On the bar end, the full-service bar — overseen by head mixologist Greg Wefer — will seat 40 and include Prohibition-era favorites like the Americano (Campari, Aperol, sweet vermouth and lime) and a Blood Orange Sazerac (rye, Solerno and blood orange bitters), plus a diverse wine list and local and craft beers.
The restaurant is slated to open on Nov. 4 and will be — get this! — accepting reservations. Make them at opentable.com or call 513-381-0791.
The Mercer OTR, 1324 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-0791, facebook.com/TheMercerOTR.