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
Ilene Ross: As a food writer, I get to spend a lot of time with chefs. Sometimes it’s work-related, and sometimes it’s not. Chef Jimmy Gibson and I meet for coffee regularly to catch up on world news, local gossip and of course food ideas. The surroundings aren’t fancy, our coffee shop of choice is Jimmy’s “office,” the back hallway off the kitchen at Jimmy G’s, but the coffee is good and strong, and the company is sublime. Thursday was off to a wonderful start.
Spring was in the air, so after a two-mile walk in Ault Park, I decided that lunch should be something fresh and light in order to match the mood of the weather. I’ve been meaning to give the new juice place in Hyde Park, The Weekly Juicery, a try. I ordered Two Roots and a Fruit — carrot, ginger and apple juice — and the teensiest salad comprised of jicama and kale I have ever seen in my life. I left feeling sticker shock at the $17 price tag and still starving. For the same price, I’ll stick to the lunch tray at Jean-Robert’s Table.
I love having friends in from out-of-town so I can show off our locally owned restaurants. On Saturday night I took a Chicago native to Nicola’s for dinner, and of course Chef Joel Molloy’s cuisine wowed the socks off of him. We had the Scallops with spiced fumet, celery root and scallions, the Roasted Beet salad with avocado, black quinoa and goat cheese, the Butternut Squash Tortelloni with speck and fregolotta, the Short Ribs with sunchoke, shiitake mushroom and sunflower seeds, the Duck with wild rice, lavender and sweet potato, and the most delectable pistachio sfoglia. The service was exceptional, and my friend was dually impressed. I, naturally, needed to be rolled home.
My friend Kelly is the consummate party giver. From her son’s first birthday party — an elaborate backyard shindig which turned out to be her own surprise (for us!) wedding — to opening up her home during a snowstorm for all to be wined and dined, every day for Kelly is a celebration of family, friends and love. Sunday was no exception. Afternoon Tea at The Cincinnatian is a truly elegant affair complete with pots of perfectly brewed tea, delightful little sandwiches, scones, pastries, Devonshire cream and of course cocktails. Yesterday, Kelly decided to get a group of her best girlfriends together to “take tea,” and thankfully I was included. It was the perfect way to relax and unwind after a busy weekend with a great group of ladies.
Nick Swartsell: My girlfriend and I went to Music NOW Saturday night, but we forgot to eat dinner beforehand so we just had some beers and ate a ton of that fancy chocolate they sell at Music Hall because you can do that kind of thing when you're grownups at a big grownup event and one of you is wearing a tie.
Jac Kern: I went to a friend's St. Patrick's Day party and tried a bunch of homemade Irish favorites: beef and potato stew made with Guinness, Irish soda bread, corned beef sliders, grasshopper brownies (they're green, OK?), plus plenty of Jameson. I think it's a definite sign of adulthood when you trade in kegs of green Bud Lite for a Celtic-inspired dinner (also when you're partying in West Chester), but don't worry, I still got pretty drunk. Sláinte!
Jesse Fox: I went to Chicago this weekend to see my friend’s band The Orwells play and I consumed a lot of strawberry vodka and High Life on Friday evening. On Saturday I went to The Chicago Diner for my only proper meal that weekend. I got the vegan Poutine, a chocolate and peanut butter milkshake and a Titanic BLT burger. The poutine was incredible and I kind of wish I would have just got two orders of that because the burger, although super filling, didn't have much flavor for being something made up a variety of grains and veggies.
Rebecca Sylvester: If you're 30-plus and want late night pizza but know you're going to have night terrors if you call Adriadico’s, there is a respectable solution for you: flatbread at Zula. They have a late-night “flatbread” menu (flatbreat is adult for pizza). I recommend the Bulgarian Feta. :)
Cross: A friend’s housewarming party in Pleasant
Ridge led my girlfriend and me to stop by Gaslight Café on the way, where we were met by many
people in full St. Paddy’s Day party mode. Gaslight has a super neighborhood
feel and the locals were plenty welcoming even if they were mostly shouting and
unabashedly dancing in very near proximity to our table. A girl asked us if her cell phone
was left at our table. It wasn’t but she found two quarters on the floor and a
guy with her asked me to hand him the green man suit sitting in the corner of
the booth, which I gladly passed along. Our burgers were pretty straightforward but I
tried an onion ring and it was better than I expected. Probably shouldn’t have
waited 15 or so years between eating them.