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ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR

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Have you ever sat around wishing there was a publication that would list all of the best things in Cincinnati, as determined by a group of your peers as well as a handful of select staffers at your local alternative paper? Well, your wish has been granted. CityBeat has been in the business of curating the Best Of Cincinnati® for more than two decades, highlighting the city’s most outstanding selections in Arts & Culture, Eats, Shops & Services, Music & Nightlife, City Life and Sports & Recreation. And the responsibility of selecting these exceptional entities is divided between our readers and staff. This year, half a million votes were tallied to determine our Reader Picks. Readers logged on to the ballot site to vote for their favorites in broad categories like Best New Restaurant, Best Bartender and Best Pizza, with more niche topics including Best Ribs, Best Realtor and Best CBD Retailer. You might not need to know who the Best Used Automotive Dealer is right now, or the Best Lawyer, but when you do, we’ve got you covered. For the Staff Picks — selected by a slightly smaller number of humans — we curated an assemblage of and wrote about our favorite Cincinnati people, places and things (and cocktails, and bands, and medical marijuana dispensaries, and art exhibits, and activists, and extremely long Furbies…). Stuff we like, appreciate and want other people to know about. Of course, not everything we want to highlight about the city could fit into this issue, but at almost 200 pages, we tried to cram as much in here as we could. So if your favorite brewery or zoo animal or chili parlor isn’t featured, there’s always next year. B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 9


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REA D ER PIC KS ART GALLERY

1. Contemporary Arts Center 2. Taft Museum of Art 3. 21c Museum Hotel

ART MUSEUM

1. Cincinnati Art Museum 2. Contemporary Arts Center 3. Taft Museum of Art

ARTWORKS MURAL

1. “Fiona and Bibi at the Cincinnati Zoo” 2. “Cincinnati Toy Heritage” 3. “Charley Harper’s Beguiled by the Wild” 4. “Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra” 5. “Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon” 6. “Faces of Homelessness” 7. “Dream Big and Fly High” 8. “Swing Around Rosie” 9. “Homecoming (Bluebirds)” 10. “Democracy!”

CHARITY FESTIVAL/EVENT

1. Cincinnati Pride 2. Flying Pig Marathon 3. Zoofari at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

CHURCH FESTIVAL 1. Panegyri Greek Festival 2. CincItalia 3. St. Cecilia Family Festival

FOUNTAIN SQUARE EVENT

1. The UC Health Ice Rink 2. Reds Rally on the Square 3. Salsa on the Square

WASHINGTON PARK EVENT

HAUNTED HOUSE

LOCAL ACTOR/ACTRESS

HOLIDAY LIGHT DISPLAY

LOCAL ARTIST

1. The Dent Schoolhouse 2. Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt 3. The USS Nightmare

1. The City Flea 2. Summer Cinema 3. Opera in the Park

1. Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Christmas Nights of Lights at Coney Island 3. WinterFest at Kings Island

FREE ATTRACTION

INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

1. BLINK 2. Smale Riverfront Park 3. Cincinnati Art Museum 4. Findlay Market 5. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County 6. Washington Park 7. Jungle Jim’s International Market 8. Tunes & Blooms at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 9. Contemporary Arts Center 10. Summit Park

GALLERY EXHIBIT

1. Dress Up, Speak Up: Regalia and Resistance (21c Museum Hotel) 2. REVIVED (VADA Gallery) 3. The Golden Ticket (Clifton Cultural Arts Center)

1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (@cincinnatizoo) 2. Friends of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (@cincylibraryfriends) 3. Cincinnati Refined (@cincyrefined)

KID-FRIENDLY ATTRACTION

1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Kings Island 3. Duke Energy Children’s Museum at the Cincinnati Museum Center 4. Smale Riverfront Park 5. Great Parks of Hamilton County 6. Cincinnati Nature Center 7. Newport Aquarium 8. Washington Park 9. Cincinnati Art Museum 10. The Friends’ Used Book Store at the Warehouse

1. Bob Herzog 2. Jeremy Dubin 3. Mark Borison

1. Charley Harper 2. Leah Suzette Noumoff 3. Pam Kravetz

LOCAL AUTHOR 1. Phil Nuxhall 2. Travis McElroy 3. Jessica Strawser

LOCAL CLASSICAL MUSIC GROUP

1. Cincinnati Pops Orchestra 2. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 3. MYCincinnati Youth Orchestra

LOCAL COMEDIAN 1. Kelly Collette 2. Josh Sneed (TIE) 2. Sweett Biscut (TIE) 3. Steve Caminiti

LOCAL DANCE GROUP 1. Cincinnati Ballet 2. DANCEFIX by HBDC 3. Cin City Burlesque

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20

Voted #1 Theater

in Cincinnati...again!

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OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL ARTISTS 1. BLINK 2. Cincy Fringe Festival 3. The City Flea

PLAY (PROFESSIONAL)

1. Puffs, or seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic (Know Theatre of Cincinnati) 2. Fun Home (Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati) 3. August: Osage County (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company)

PLAY (STUDENT/ COMMUNITY)

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music) 2. Ada and The Engine (School for Creative and Performing Arts) 3. A Little Off the Top (Marjorie Book Continuing Education)

Esquire Theatre | Best Movie Theater P H O T O : E M I LY P A L M

LOCAL FILMMAKER 1. Cincy Stories 2. Biz Graves Young 3. Mark Borison

LOCAL IMPROV/SKETCH COMEDY GROUP

LOCAL VOCAL ARTS GROUP

1. MUSE, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir 2. Cincinnati Youth Choir 3. May Festival Chorus

MOVIE THEATER

1. OTRimprov 2. Improv Cincinnati 3. Not My Boyfriend

1. Esquire Theatre 2. Cinemark Oakley Station and XD 3. Mariemont Theatre

LOCAL THEATER COMPANY

MUSEUM

1. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company 2. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park 3. Know Theatre of Cincinnati

LOCAL TOUR

1. ArtWorks Mural Tours 2. Spring Grove Cemetery Tours 3. American Legacy Tours

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1. Cincinnati Museum Center 2. Cincinnati Art Museum 3. American Sign Museum

MUSEUM EXHIBIT

1. No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (Cincinnati Art Museum ) 2. Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission (Cincinnati Museum Center) 3. Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs (Cincinnati Museum Center)

NEW THING

1. Kris, the cheetah cub, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Theo, the baby giraffe, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 3. Kroger on the Rhine 4. BlaCk Coffee Lounge 5. SkyStar Wheel 6. Comfort Station 7. Lucille, the baby bearcat, at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 8. Awaited at the Aronoff Center for the Arts 9. Hoppin’ Vines Duckpin Bowling 10. Brewing Heritage Trail

OLD THING

1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Findlay Market 3. Union Terminal

PUBLIC ARTWORK

1. ArtWorks Murals 2. BLINK Street Art Murals 3. Winold Reiss Rotunda Murals at Union Terminal

PUMPKIN PATCH/FARM 1. Burger Farm & Garden Center 2. Gorman Heritage Farm 3. Neltner’s Farm

REGIONAL ARTS THEATER

1. Dayton Contemporary Dance Company 2. Actors Theatre of Louisville 3. Human Race Theatre Company

REGIONAL MUSEUM

1. COSI (Center of Science and Industry) 2. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis 3. National Museum of the United States Air Force


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BEST PSYCHEDELIC MUSHROOM TRIP Every summer, Burning Man draws some 70,000 people to a remote playa in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where they erect and dismantle a temporary city all in the span of a week. Though founded on principles of radical inclusion, the ideas at the heart of Burning Man can seem elusive to outsiders. Enter the exhibition No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. Originating at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2018, the show arrived at the Cincinnati Art Museum a year later and brought with it the all-time attendance high for a single exhibition in the museum’s 133-year history: 187,630 visitors set their eyes on its visionary art, including the psychedelic “Shrumen Lumen” by FoldHaus Art Collective. The glowing mushrooms housed hundreds of multicolored LED lights in their translucent white shells, fluxing through a rhythmic, ever changing color palette and changing form when visitors activated a pressure pad on the floor. While surrounded by other incredible installations from Black Rock City, “Shrumen Lumen” took the cake as the most eye-widening daydream come to life. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org. 18  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0


BEST FESTIVAL GLOW-UP After more than a million people attended the BLINK light and art festival during its inaugural run in 2017, the free event returned by popular demand last year. The fest did a glow-up in 2019, spanning 30 city blocks — 10 more than in 2017 — through Over-the-Rhine, downtown and into Covington. Things kicked off with a massive participant-led, illuminated parade down Vine Street and the cityscape was transformed by way of large-scale murals, light installations, interactive sculptures, performance art, live entertainment and projection mapping. Produced by local creative agencies Brave Berlin, AGAR and ArtWorks, with support from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and a number of other sponsors, BLINK was originally conceived as a way to see Cincinnati as a “future city.” And for 2019’s event, BLINK organizers recruited local, national and international artists to create 16 new murals and 39 projection mappings. (In 2017, BLINK brought nine permanent murals and 22 projection mappings to the city.) And while some attendees complained about technical glitches or how spread out the fest was — or how the first night of the Roebling Bridge’s activation led to some concerns because of crowds — there’s no denying the fest filled the city with some pretty cool immersive experiences, especially Saya Woolfalk’s psychedelic projection-mapped “Visionary Reality Threshold” and the world premiere of Architects of Air’s (ticketed) inflatable “Dodecalis.” BLINK, blink2019.com. “Shrumen Lumen” at the Cincinnati Art Museum PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

BEST CASE FOR GETTING RID OF TEFLON SKILLETS The truth revealed in director Todd Haynes’ cinematic legal thriller Dark Waters is so harrowing you just might ditch your Teflon skillets for cast iron upon seeing it. Mark Ruffalo stars in this whistleblower film based on the true story of local lawyer Robert Bilott, who works at Cincinnati law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister. The story begins to unravel when Wilbur Tennant, a farmer from Parkersburg, West Virginia, shows up at the firm with claims that hundreds of his cows have died under strange circumstances. Bilott takes the case, and the film follows him as he chases chemical company DuPont’s trail for two decades. Bilott finds, among other things, that DuPont has released thousands of pounds of an unregulated substance called PFOA — also known as C8, which is used in the manufacturing of Teflon — into the Ohio River and “digestion ponds,” from which the toxin can leak into the ground. Through his work, Bilott discovers that not only is the drinking water of Parkersburg tainted, but the contamination also stretches to towns beyond. The film closes with a damming fact: 99.7 percent of Americans have C8 in their bloodstreams. Even more sickening? PFOAs remain federally unregulated. To this day, Bilott is still fighting for better regulations and representing those affected. Filmed partially in Cincy, Dark Waters tells an important story of environmental injustice and the evils of corporate greed. Bilott also published a book, Exposure, about his battle with DuPont.

BEST “IN THE MOMENT” MOMENT Renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter halted her performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra when she saw a first-row audience member at Music Hall recording her concert on a smartphone. When Mutter asked her to stop, the audience member refused and tried to argue with her. CSO president Jonathan Martin jumped up from his seat and escorted the videographer out. Mutter got rousing ovations for insisting that the filming stop — and for her radiant performance. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-theRhine, cincinnatisymphony.org.

BEST WORLD PREMIERE OPERA TO OPEN YOUR EYES No question: Cincinnati Opera’s Blind Injustice hits hard and stays with you long afterward. Based on University of Cincinnati law professor and Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) co-founder Mark Godsey’s 2017 book Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions, it weaves together the stories of six wrongly incarcerated people aided by the OIP. The actual words of the exonerees are used in the libretto crafted by David Cote, which is accompanied by Scott Davenport Richards’ brilliant score. Robin Guarino’s terrific staging of the sold-out series of shows in the Wilks Studio in Music Hall in July 2019 drew excellent performances from B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 19


BEST TROUPE OF LONGBOIS TO CALL CINCY HOME You’re likely familiar with Furbies, owl-like robotic toys that were a hit in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, meet Cincinnati-native Bobby Diddle, the mother of “Long Furbs,” creatures not entirely unlike their squat predecessor; picture a Furby with an elongated snake-like body (or, in some cases, a donut-shaped figure) and you’re in the ballpark of what these delightfully weird creatures look like. An amalgamation of ’90s nostalgia and modern fabric art, their Instagram page (@longfurbs) has amassed nearly 26,000 followers (at the time of publication). You can follow their hijinks as they hang out in popular dives throughout Greater Cincinnati: Washington Park, Tokyo Kitty, Lost & Found, Jungle Jim’s and more. In 2019, Diddle told CityBeat that the Long Furbs have given her an outlet “to constantly create something new” and that she never expected her work to become so popular. But it appears their fame is only growing. Alongside a rising social media following, Diddle hosts occasional meet-ups and fans can buy merch (or, if one goes up for sale, their own Long Furb) to show their love. Long Furbs, instagram.com/longfurbs.

a gifted cast that included members of Cincinnati’s Young Professionals Choral Collaborative. The five performances sold out months in advance, as did a free presentation at Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Bond Hill. Blind Injustice is proof positive that opera can bear powerful witness to the social issues of our time, as well as to the strength of the human spirit in the face of mindless injustice. May it be seen again and again and again, here and throughout the country. Cincinnati Opera, cincinnatiopera.org.

BEST REASON TO REVISIT THE SCORE OF TITANIC Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman, a local author and Northern Kentucky University professor, wrote her debut memoir centered on a strange premise: She played the violin for a touring orchestra that performed but never actually played. Led by a man she calls “The Composer,” they instead “played” in front of turned-off microphones as a CD recording broadcasted what the audience was actually 20  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Long Furbs at Lost & Found in Over-the-Rhine PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

hearing. As the book’s title, Sounds Like Titanic, suggests, the music had an uncanny resemblance to the score for, well, the 1997 film Titanic. That’s the hook, but the memoir itself delves deeper, touching on issues of gender, class and ambition. Often written in second person, it weaves between several points of her life, from growing up in Appalachia and attending Columbia University to 9/11 (and its aftermath) and her job as a fake violinist. A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and named a “best book of 2019” by Amazon and Vox, you’d do well to add this deeply affecting memoir to your reading list.  

BEST UNLICENSED STAGE ADAPTATION OF HARRY POTTER If you caught our review of Puffs, or seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic at Know Theatre, you’ll notice great pains were taken to avoid use of the play’s unlicensed source material’s name, but we’ve got too much to say about

the show to tiptoe through the copyright tulips here: Harry Potter fans showed up in such large numbers to see the magical adventures of Hogwarts’ archetypal sidekicks that this became the Know Theatre’s best-selling play…of all time. A standout comedic performance by lead actor Ben Dudley elevated Puffs beyond glorified fan-fic and connected the dots between those seven glorious years spent at that school of witchcraft and wizardry. Funny and heartwarming with rapid-fire jokes and callbacks, Puffs featured an impressively designed set that gave audiences a look into what happened behind the major scenes Potter-heads know like the back of their hands (where, hopefully, you don’t have “I must not tell lies” scarred thanks to Professor Umbridge). The cast and crew combined their talents (like polyjuice potion) to achieve a success we can only hope will be topped by the inevitable unlicensed play about CityBeat (you can call it Beats, playwright). Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine, knowtheatre.com.

BEST HISTORICAL DIVE INTO MEDICAL CANNABIS The Lloyd Library and Museum’s Through the RX Bottle, which delved into centuries of cannabis research, opened in March 2019 and ran through the summer. Tracing back to the 1700s — a beautiful botanical illustration of male and female marijuana leaves by famed physician Elizabeth Blackwell was displayed — all the way to the United States’ criminalization and prohibition of the drug in 1937, the exhibition was as timely as ever. Ohio is one of 33 states to have legalized medical cannabis. And while recreational use has not been given the green light in the Buckeye State, our medical dispensaries are now operational. It remains a hot topic, but the plant wasn’t always a point of controversy. In fact, it was once used and manufactured widely (and legally) both for medical and recreational purposes in America. That story — the history of cannabis — was told through the exhibition’s bottle collection and the accompanying illustrations, among other items. Some of


Thank you for voting for us. Visit soon! #1 Museum – Cincinnati Museum Center #1 Building – Union Terminal #1 Place for a Kid’s Birthday #2 Museum Exhibit – Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission #3 Museum Exhibit – EGYPT: The Time of Pharaohs #3 Kid-friendly Attraction – Duke Energy Children’s Museum #3 Public Artwork – Mosaics at Union Terminal #3 Old Thing – Union Terminal #5 Summer Camp – Museum Camps #5 Gift Shop

#CincyMuseum

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Photo: Brad Feinknopf


these objects, particularly the texts, came from the Lloyd’s archives; others came out of a partnership with the Cannabis Museum of Athens, Ohio. The exhibition deftly contextualized a subject to the public that, because of its long-attached stigma, has been pushed to the fringes of history. Lloyd Library and Museum, 917 Plum St., Downtown, lloydlibrary.org.

BEST REASON NOT TO THROW AWAY YOUR SHOT

February 8–May 3

Discover one of America’s greatest visual storytellers, N. C. Wyeth, who interpreted many classic novels of fantasy and adventure, including Treasure Island—a swashbuckling tale of buccaneers and buried gold!

Save on tickets at

taftmuseum.org N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives is co-organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Portland Museum of Art. Exhibition Sponsors Josephine Schell Russell Charitable Trust, PNC Bank, Trustee

Season Funder

Operating Support

The Sutphin Family Foundation IMAGE: N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945), Treasure Island, endpaper illustration (detail), 1911, oil on canvas, 32 3/4 × 47 1/8 in. Brandywine River Museum of Art, purchased in memory of Hope Montgomery Scott, 1997

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mega-Broadway-hit Hamilton: An American Musical follows the titular “young, scrappy and hungry” Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. Blending together Rap, R&B, Gospel and Broadway-style tunes, to say the work was a success is an understatement. According to The New York Times, Hamilton cost $12.5 million to produce originally, which was recouped quickly. In late December 2018, it grossed $4.04 million in one week, the first time a Broadway production has ever generated that much revenue. As such, Hamilton has also been known for its expensive — and hard to come across — tickets. Unsurprisingly, when the touring production came to the Aronoff Center in February and March 2019 as part of Broadway in Cincinnati, seats sold out fast. CityBeat’s theater critic Rick Pender called the touring show “no modest knock-off” of the original, writing the talent was “topnotch” and that the production values “were on-par with the show’s New York staging.” Luckily for Cincinnatians, Hamilton will return in March 2021. Don’t throw away your shot. Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Downtown,  cincinnatiarts.org. 

BEST REASON TO LET A STRANGER DRAW ON YOU The premise of Tania El Khoury’s As Far As My Fingertips Take Me — which took place at Camp Washington’s Wave Pool gallery as part of the Contemporary Arts Center’s This Time Tomorrow performing arts festival in April 2019 — is straightforward enough: you walk into a room, sit in a chair, slip on a pair of headphones and stick your arm through a hole in a gallery wall. On the other side is a Syrian refugee; though your arms touch, you don’t see one another. Relayed through spoken word, the story of artist and musician Basel Zaraa — a Palestinian refugee from Syria — plays as he uses your arm as a canvas. An interaction solely between artist and attendee, the experience is incredibly intimate. And one that stays with you, even as the ink fades from

your skin. In reaching through a hole in the wall, the performance becomes a space where empathy becomes tangible. Those who were able to hear Zaraa’s story and carry it throughout the day on their forearm should count themselves lucky.

BEST OPEN MIC FOR A FIRST-TIME PERFORMER Everybody wants to be famous, but who wants to put in the work to become a star? People doing the work is what you’ll find when you go to MOTR Pub’s Writer’s Night every Tuesday. The event has been an amazing resource for local comics, poets, musicians and other artists who want to get honest feedback. If you’ve got something you want to share with a generally respectful audience, give it a try. Maybe you’ll be crushed to learn that beat poetry isn’t your thing when no one is moved to tears by your excited poem about streetlamps, but at least you put yourself out there. If you attend, don’t be a jerk — don’t talk over everyone else’s set and then leave right after you perform. It’s all about engaging with your community and honing a craft, dude. Also, buy some drinks and tip the staff while you’re there; it’s important to show gratitude to your host. (When did this turn into an essay about manners?) MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St, Over-the-Rhine, motrpub.com.

BEST-KEPT SECRET IN A CLIFTON CHURCH BASEMENT In a cozy corner on the lower level of the Clifton United Methodist Church, the Ohio Lesbian Archives bursts at the seams with decades’ worth of ephemera: event fliers, newspaper articles, books, vinyl records, posters, political pins and more, which all tell the storied history of LGBTQ life in Cincinnati and beyond. To just call it a basement is a slight disservice — comfortable and well-lit by windows to the church garden outside, the OLA exudes an air of a dearly loved library nook. Founded in 1989 by Phebe Beiser and Victoria Ramstetter, who are still both running the show 30 years later, the archives began as a collection of novels, fliers, and gay and lesbian publications from across the country that they had gathered through editing Dinah, a grassroots lesbian newsletter started in 1975. Vital in connecting the Cincinnati lesbian community pre-social media, the women at Dinah wrote literary reviews, personal essays and political columns, covered events, published photography, organized fundraisers and parties and even started a softball team. First housed in the Crazy Ladies Bookstore in


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BEST ELEVATOR REVEAL The whimsical work of Pam Kravetz has taken over seven floors of the 21c Museum Hotel as part of their Elevate series, where temporary exhibitions showcasing local artists are displayed on guest floor wings. Contained in glass boxes — which greet guests as they exit the elevator at every floor — Kravetz’s art is joy incarnate. From a hot pink primate chilling on swing suspended from the ceiling to “Pamachu,” a Pokémon-esque creature rendered in her likeness, her pieces exude color and playfulness. Though the works combine different mediums — and are pulled from her past shows/projects — a narrative thread runs through each. In Kravetz’s own words: “There’s heartache behind (the art) and there’s trying to figure out who you are and self-awareness and not being comfortable with who you are — which a lot of my work has been about — and then embracing the person you become.” You still have plenty of time to arrange a staycation or arrange to see the exhibition: Having opened in January, Kravetz’s work will be on display for nine months. You can also stop by the front desk to arrange access to the vitrines on guest room floors. 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati, 609 Walnut St., Downtown, 21cmuseumhotels.com.

Northside — a haven for lesbians, gay men, feminists and forward thinkers that opened in 1979 — the OLA relocated to its current home when the bookstore closed in 2002. Now the archives are open by appointment to explore its treasure trove of ephemera and literature, including roughly 1,000 books bearing titles like Lesbian Art in America and Gone is the Shame: A Compendium of Lesbian Erotica and an original, yellowed copy of the 1982, 27-page Cincinnati Enquirer feature “Homosexuals: A Cincinnati Report.” Through vignettes of the past, the OLA is preserving and honoring history for generations to come. Ohio Lesbian Archives, Clifton United Methodist Church, 3416 Clifton Ave., Clifton, facebook.com/olarchives.

BEST ANIMAL ADOPTION CENTER IN AN ART MUSEUM As Creatures: When Species Meet enveloped the galleries of the Contemporary Arts Center in May 2019, Steven Matijcio — CAC’s 24  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Pam Kravetz’s work at the 21c Museum Hotel PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

former head curator — set out to examine the delicate balance between art-making humans and their animal counterparts. (Though he left months earlier, When Species Meet marked Matijcio’s last CAC show.) A lighthearted clip from artist William Wegman and one of his famous weimaraner dogs, Man Ray, made an appearance, as did a series of vibrant, abstract works painted by actual elephants through the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project. Staying away from pieces where animals were merely subjects, Creatures favored those where they were active participants in art making. In one case, the process was best seen in real time: Brian Jungen’s geometric “Plaza 19,” a plywood and carpet-square model of the Terrace Plaza Hotel on Sixth and Vine streets downtown, was clearly a cleverly designed ruse to bring a bunch of very cute, very adoptable cats and kittens into the museum. Although Jungen has created similar installations where cats live 24/7, these felines from the SPCA played, explored and lounged in the plaza’s comfy cubby holes on Saturday afternoons, many of them finding new homes with art- and

cat-loving CAC visitors. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.

BEST “FUN” FAMILY Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s production of the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home had that title because it’s about a family who live in a “fun”eral home. But there’s so much more: Based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s “graphic memoir” (think a graphic novel with personal insights), the onstage adaptation portrays Bechdel’s youthful sexual awakening as a lesbian and her efforts to understand her father, a deeply closeted, highly literate gay man. Those are serious issues, but as the title implies, there was plenty of “fun,” especially when Alison’s youthful incarnation (the cast used three young women to play Alison — at ages 10, 19 and 43) and her kid brothers produce a jaunty TV promo, “Come to the Fun Home,” for the family business. The show, which was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, opened ETC’s 2019-2020 season with the kind of warm, engaging production that

audiences have come to expect from Cincinnati’s “premiere theater.” Heartfelt, provocative, lovingly produced and wonderfully acted. D. Lynn Meyers’ direction ensured that this delicate, moving story was told with sensitivity and insight. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-theRhine, ensemblecincinnati.org.

BEST FREE FILM SERIES Women in Film is a nonprofit founded in 1973 that is “dedicated to helping women achieve their highest potential within the global entertainment, communications and media industries and to preserving the legacy of women within those industries.” Its local Women in Film Cincinnati chapter launched in 2016 to offer networking and professional development, promote equality in the film industry, help create access to funding for members’ projects, to screen members’ works and appreciate the art of film. Though the group’s special events and salons aren’t free, their partnership with the Cincinnati Art


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Museum entails free monthly screenings of films directed by women, followed by a discussion. They’ve screened everything from locally made films to a film made by Ida Lupino, who directed in the 1940s and ’50s and is hailed as one of the most prominent female filmmakers of her time, to 1991’s Daughters of the Dust, the first feature film by an African-American woman to be theatrically distributed across the U.S. It’s a good way to see films you normally wouldn’t while also supporting women filmmakers. Women in Film Cincinnati, wifcincinnati.org.

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Zines have long been a symbol of underground movements and niche subcultures. A form of independent self-publishing, their contents are as limitless as one’s imagination. The zine — as we know it — first came to be in the 1930s, when science fiction fans began sharing their own stories. Then there was the 1970s Punk scene. And then the 1990s Riot Grrrl era. Post-internet, the DIY ethos central to each subculture is still alive and well. That sentiment can be evidenced through the Zinecinnati festival, which held its inaugural event at The Mockbee in the summer of 2019. Bellevue, Kentucky-based duo Tom and Lauren Boeing founded the group after noticing that, while the Queen City was home to both a comic expo and an art book fair, there wasn’t an event solely dedicated to these self-published wonders. But it seems they’re not limiting themselves to just one event. In January, they co-launched “Zine club” with Covington’s Pique gallery. Long live the zine! Zinecinnati, zinecinnati.com.

BEST SURPRISING CINCINNATI SHOUT-OUT Actress and rapper Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, Paradise Hills) chatted with The New York Times Travel section in November 2019 about “traveling to Asia and Staycationing in New York.” But the conversation about her recent hotel and travel habits took an interesting turn — one could assume for all parties involved. When asked if she’d been on any exciting trips lately, Awkwafina replied not with the standard celebrity list of vacation locations like Lake Como, Italy or the Cote d’Azur. Instead she said: “Two of my favorite cities — other than New York — are Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. I enjoyed Cincinnati. I enjoyed it, OK? They do this chili with cinnamon in it.” Yes. Cincinnati is one of her favorite cities (we’re ignoring the Pittsburgh

part). And we appreciate her emphasis that she “enjoyed (Cincinnati), OK?” There is no reply from the interviewer, Tariro Mzezewa, but one can imagine her repeating “Cincinnati?” in her head with a questioning air of disbelief and/or concern that a visit to this Midwestern flyover gem could be considered an “exciting” vacation. Awkwafina also gave a shout-out to Cincinnati-style chili, which is indeed made with cinnamon and a bunch of other weird spices. So, thank you for that. It’s rare to find a non-Cincinnatian who can appreciate our elevated culinary masterpiece without calling it “horrifying diarrhea sludge.” We stan Awkwafina.

BEST LOCAL ICON TO CELEBRATE HER SWEET 16 Casey Riordan Millard’s Shark Girl — a young girl with the head of a shark, clad in a blue dress cinched with a pink bow — first came in the form a sketch in 2004 as a way for Millard, who now works as a therapist at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, to cope with her own anxiety and fears. She has more or less been making iterations of her ever since. In 2012, one such sculpture found a home in the Contemporary Arts Center’s UnMuseum. There, Shark Girl’s legs dangle over a bench as a storm cloud hovers nearby. Even if you’ve yet to see her in person — note: totally worth it — you’ve likely seen at least one pic while scrolling on social media; the sculpture has become a hot spot for museumgoers to strike a pose. Millard also created a temporary installation at Sawyer Point Park in 2013. That Shark Girl now resides in Buffalo, New York, where she has since become a town mascot after being bought by the Albright-Know Art Gallery’s curator of public art. Of hitting her sweet 16, Millard told CityBeat earlier this year that she thinks Shark Girl’s public life has been so much better than anything she could’ve made of her. “I think the fact that the selfies and the tattoos exist is way more powerful than anything I could ever make with her in it,” she said. “I almost feel like her life has become more of the work.” Contemporary Arts Center’s UnMuseum, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.

BEST AUTHOR APPEARANCE WITH A CALL TO ACTION Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of bestselling memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which was adapted into a film starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Aronoff Center in


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BEST WELCOME NEWS OF A PROJECT EXPANSION The Welcome Project, a social enterprise born out of a partnership between Camp Washington’s Wave Pool and Sheryl Rajbhandari of Heartfelt Tidbits, first came on the scene in 2017 with the mission of helping recent refugees and immigrants settle into the area by way of connecting them to resources, providing classes that teach valuable skills and hosting communitycentered dinners. In September 2018, the initiative received an Impact 100 Grant to expand the concept. Enter Welcome Market. Along with funding from the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, the grant enabled them to open the market — described as a “place to grab kitchen essentials as well as spices, breads, and specialty items from all over the world” — in late February 2020. Alongside items made by local immigrants and refugees are food and spices from Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, Horchata and Utsavastu. You can also grab produce grown by the Camp Washington Urban Farm. The Welcome Project, 2936 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, welcomecincinnati.org.

October 2019. Sponsored by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, it was the first of what will be an annual Mary S. Stern Lecture. CityBeat’s Steven Rosen, who attended the lecture, wrote that the author, public-interest lawyer and MacArthur Foundation fellow was “impassioned, eloquent and charismatic,” as he urged listeners to be active in reforming the U.S. justice and incarceration system, end the death penalty and work to “erase the pernicious effects of racism toward African Americans on America’s past and present.” He received a standing ovation following his lecture, and his powerful words — and statistics — are likely to resonate long after for audience members. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, various branches, cincinnatilibrary.org.

BEST REGIONAL DOCUMENTARY What a crowning achievement to the career of Dayton-based filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert it was when their American 28  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

The Welcome Project PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

Factory won this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary. A perceptively observed, lively account of how a Chinese glass manufacturer reopened a closed Dayton auto plant and hired American workers struggling to earn a living in a post-industrial economy, it at first seems like it will be an upbeat film about second chances for blue-collar workers and international economic cooperation. But not so fast. The American workers, used to their old union-negotiated protections and a right to a separation between life and work, aren’t natural fits for the new boss and his demanding production schedule, and tensions build. The result was profound enough that the film received support from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground. At her Oscar acceptance speech, Reichert politely but insistently expressed the most radically idealistic sentiment of the ceremony when she told a worldwide audience, “Working people have it harder and harder these days, and we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”

BEST ANNIVERSARYFILLED SEASON FOR CLASSICAL MUSIC Cincinnati breaks the mold as a mid-sized city with a world-class orchestra, opera company and chamber music organization. All three of which celebrated anniversaries during their respective 2019-2020 season: the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra hit 125 years, the Cincinnati Opera turned 100 and Chamber Music Cincinnati ushered in 90 years. And, in their own ways, each organization championed lineups that not only referenced their past, but also looked toward the future. Of particular note, the CSO kicked off their observance with “Look Around,” a multimedia production created by composer Shara Nova and poet/rapper Siri Imani — who recited her poem “Lost Generation” — that took over Washington Park to great success with over 600 performers. Renowned pianist and composer Stewart Goodyear made his CMC debut by playing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in the course of one day. And though the Cincinnati Opera technically hits 100 this

June, the party started early last fall with a sold-out concert at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the company’s home from 1920-1971. It makes sense, then, that they would bring back The Barber of Seville and Aida for their 2020 summer lineup, both of which were performed in the company’s first two seasons at the zoo. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, cincinnatisymphony.org; Cincinnati Opera, cincinnatiopera.org; Chamber Music Cincinnati, cincychamber.org.

BEST PLAY HELD IN AN UNCONVENTIONAL SETTING The Flick won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for its playwright, Annie Baker, but it’s been a logistically challenging production to mount. Set in a somewhat retro Massachusetts indie movie theater, it demands that its cast — playing young workers who love movies enough to tolerate their mundane duties, but not to suffer them in silence — move around the set with great physical stamina for some three hours. And they also perform Baker’s


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wonderful dialogue, revealing their characters’ hopes and dreams as they do their janitorial tasks. But Ella Eggold, a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music acting graduate, thought Clifton’s Esquire movie theater would be perfect for a staging. And so she produced and acted in a site-specific presentation for two nights in July, having the audience sit on the stage of the cinema’s biggest auditorium while the cast had the run of the rest of the place (including the production booth). The actors — her, Graham Rogers, Leonard Peterson and Kristina Steinmetz — were spectacular, and the direction by Gabriella DiVincenzo and stage-managing by Jennelle John-Lewis were also outstanding. Eggold is now a manager for Theatrical Management Corp., the Esquire’s owner, and has also started — with DiVincenzo and Landon Hawkins — a collective called Cincinnati Artists’ Theatre to present edgier, innovative work. Cincinnati Artists’ Theatre, Liberty Exhibition Hall, 3938 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, cincinnatiartiststheatre.org.

BEST NON-FICTION BOOK OF REGIONAL INTEREST If you enjoy getting lost in a good book, it’s easier than ever thanks to the boom in “lost” books — those that seek to rediscover forgotten cultural gems of our past. One such book published in 2019 especially stands out for tackling an unusual and obscure subject of fascination in a way that’s very informative and surprisingly compelling: Conrade C. Hinds’ Lost Circuses of Ohio from The History Press. At first glance, it almost sounds like a put-on. But as you learn about, for example, the Cincinnati-based John Robinson Circus, whose owner had a Terrace Park mansion with barns and a practice ring for his animals, or the Columbus-based Sells Brothers Circus, one of the top traveling live attractions of the late 19th century, you realize this is really legitimate cultural history. The Sells Circus featured Annie Oakley before she moved on to greater fame with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Hinds also uses color reproductions of Strobridge Lithographing Co. circus posters from the Cincinnati Art Museum’s collection. The History Press, arcadiapublishing.com.

BEST CINCY-CENTRIC POSTER ART SHOW Last summer’s L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters at the Taft Museum of Art was an excellent traveling show — work came from Chicago’s Richard H. Driehaus Museum. But to roughly coincide with it, the Taft’s curatorial assistant Angela Fuller, with help from 30  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

assistant curator Ann Glasscock, put together a local poster exhibit that, even with just seven objects, matched the larger show in impact and memorability. Borrowing from The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s collection, their Magic & Melodrama: Cincinnati Posters from the Gilded Age used theatrical posters produced around the turn of the 20th century by Cincinnati’s fabled Strobridge Lithographic Co. At a time when multi-color non-photographic posters were the principal way to lure customers to see spectacularly fanciful live entertainment, Strobridge had an international reputation for its work. The exhibit, which ran from May 3 to Aug. 18, featured such work as the gorgeous poster promoting a 1904 live production of The Wizard of Oz. A woozy Dorothy, under the hallucinogenic spell of a forest of poppies, is pulled to her feet by the Tin Man and the Scarecrow while others doze. Another poster, from the 1880s, depicts renderings of lovable dogs in a pyramid formation to promote a presentation of Professor Morris’ 30-dog stage attraction. In 2011, the Cincinnati Art Museum featured Strobridge’s circus posters; this showed that we just can’t get enough of the company. How about a whole Strobridge Museum? Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St., Downtown, taftmuseum.org.

BEST INTERVIEWS WITH LOCALS

Some of the most popular podcast titles today are the ones centered around interviews, like Marc Maron’s WTF or Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert. If you want deep-dive chats with a Cincinnati focus, though, you can’t do much better than the Cincy Shirts Podcast, an extension of the popular local business that makes and sells a variety of unique Cincinnati-centric T-shirts. Hosted by Cincy Shirts co-founder Josh Sneed (who’s also a successful comedian) and Director of Content P.F. Wilson (a CityBeat contributor), the podcast has featured an impressive range of Cincinnatians since debuting in 2018. Sitting down for in-depth conversations on the podcast have been everyone from sports heroes like Johnny Bench and Tony Pike to broadcasters Bob Herzog and Jim Scott, as well as entrepreneurs like Josh Heuser and Molly Wellmann and the founders of local businesses like Gorilla Glue, Taste of Belgium and Tom & Chee. But anyone with a local connection is fair game — the show has also featured cool chats with less expected guests like WWE announcer Greg Hamilton and comedian Alex Leeds, whose “Dumb Celebrity Drawings” project finds him sending his drawings of various (often weird) subjects to completely unrelated celebrities who autograph them and send them back. Cincy Shirts Podcast, cincyshirts.podbean.com.


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BEST PLACE TO FIND A MUMMIFIED CAT If you live in Cincinnati and were on the hunt for a mummified cat last year, you didn’t have to go digging around any Hoarders-style homes. Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs made its U.S. debut at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February, bringing more than 350 original artifacts from Ancient Egypt to a modern audience. Including a mummified cat. The exhibit offered a sweeping look at Egyptian life five millennia ago, from the gods they worshipped to the flourishing arts scene to the everyday lives of both commoners and the ruling class. Notable items on display included the sphinx head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut; a papyrus fragment with a scene from the Book of the Dead; impressive miniature replicas of various temples and housing; the world’s first three-dimensional mummy hologram; and numerous statues depicting gods and goddesses, as well as animals. The theme of zoomorphism ran throughout The Time of Pharaohs: Animals were seen as sacred to ancient Egyptians, as it was thought that gods could be reincarnated into animal forms. Takes the term “cat lady” to a whole new level. Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Ave., Queensgate, cincymuseum.org.

BEST STORY TO COME FROM GANDER, NEWFOUNDLAND Americans often smile and sometimes joke about how impossibly nice Canadians are. Truth to tell, it’s behavior that our nation stands to learn from our northern neighbors. Case in point: When air passengers were grounded at the Canadian airport in Gander, Newfoundland following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American cities, the 10,000 residents of the remote town came together in astonishing acts of kindness and generosity, providing hospitality for 6,500 stranded travelers, unexpected guests who came from around the world, speaking more than 100 distinct languages. Their week-long stay became the stuff of storytelling that was translated into a surprise hit: the Broadway musical Come From Away. A touring production stopped at downtown’s Aronoff Center, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati, in September. Many audience members returned for a second performance by a cast that condensed the experience of thousands 32  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs at the Cincinnati Museum Center PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

of people into a 100-minute production demonstrating the innate goodness of humankind. There were no heroes or villains, just stories of everyday people being nice. Given the divisive world of 2019, examples of human kindness were not only welcomed but necessary. Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Downtown, cincinnati.broadway.com.

BEST UNDERGROUND HISTORY PROJECT Like other underground papers across America in the 1960s and ’70s, of which there were hundreds, The Independent Eye’s pages captured the counterculture movement that proliferated the decade by way of psychedelic art and articles that called for revolution, often with a sarcastic bite. The staff rallied against the Vietnam War, wrote about issues surrounding the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, proclaimed their love for Rock & Roll and championed myriad forms of socio-political justice. Like a raised clenched fist, their mere existence was a symbol of

solidarity against “the establishment.” After starting in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1968, the publication shortly moved to Cincinnati, where it regularly published through 1975. Spearheaded by local artist and educator Mark Neeley, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County hosted a retrospective of the paper that came in multiple pieces: digitizing their collection of The Eye in its entirety, allowing anyone to scroll through its artful pages online; a panel discussion in November that featured Neeley, original Eye editors and Jim Tarbell, who opened famed music venue The Ludlow Garage in 1969 and was a key advertiser of the publication; an exhibition at the library’s main and Clifton branches; and a visual tribute paper, Optic, featuring the work of local artists. Though niche, this dive into local history resonated not only with members from the generation that experienced the era of change, but also with today’s young people. As Neeley said, much of what The Eye stood and called for can be traced to today’s political climate. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, various branches, cincinnatilibrary.org

BEST DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY ONSTAGE If you dread family gatherings that devolve into sparring, arguing and recriminations, the three generations of the Weston family in Oklahoma might give you some comfort that things could be worse — much worse. They’re the focus of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County from 2008, which kicked off (and “kicked” is an appropriate verb to use to describe this feisty clan) Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2019-2020 season. First, we meet the father, Beverly Weston, an alcoholic poet, long removed from fame, who rambles through the prologue and then mysteriously disappears, a likely suicide. His pill-popping wife Violet struggles with the repercussions as well as her three daughters’ efforts to get her to acknowledge her addiction. Barbara, Ivy and Karen have issues of their own that spill out as the tension rises. Subterranean jealousies, loves, pain and neglect erupt over a tempestuous Thanksgiving dinner. A sad


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equilibrium prevails at the end, but this three-act play had enough bad behavior to make many in the audience pause before complaining about their own quirky relatives who might come together for the holidays. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 1195 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincyshakes.com.

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The Esquire’s decision last year to regularly book special-event movies, including revived classics and cult films, has been a boon for film buffs who not only want to see something more than new first-run titles on the big screen but also desire chances to discuss what they’ve seen. They want to take film seriously as an art form. And nobody is doing a better job of offering them that opportunity than Joe Horine, a consultant for the Esquire as well as an adjunct film professor at the University of Cincinnati. Among his scintillating programming at the theater are his “Deep Dive” excursions into such classics as Rear Window, Chinatown and Alien. By frequently stopping the film to discuss an important scene or dialogue exchange and to take questions and comments from his audience about the significance of what they just witnessed, he lets his screenings go for three hours or more. And everyone who comes stays riveted the whole time. Because a Deep Dive event takes so much planning and preparation, Horine can’t offer them that often. Check the Esquire’s website frequently for advance notice — if you’re a film buff, these are not to be missed. (The next event is Dr. Strangelove on April 19.) Esquire Theatre, 320 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, esquiretheatre.com.

classic sci-fi audio dramas, the sound design is crucial as it etches out a setting that pricks at one’s imagination. As a bonus, fans of Cincinnati theater will likely recognize some familiar voices. Directed by Walterhoope’s William Vaughan and David Mavricos — and co-written by Vaughan, Mavricos and Teresa Spencer — Wellspring stars Audrey Bertaux, Billy Chace, Kimberly Gilbert, Darnell Pierre Benjamin, Allyson West, Jeremy Dubin, Jennifer Joplin and Candice Handy. Wellspring, walterhoope.com/wellspring.

BEST INNOVATION OF PAINTS Curtis Davis’ sculptures are staggering heaps of color — monochrome stacks of logs, rocks and found scrap material caked in layers of paint until they become a single object. Though he’s also known for his cartoon-like sketches and candelabras made from rocks, it’s Davis’ painted assemblages that have garnered him the most recognition. Last summer, New York City’s White Columns gallery exhibited six of these works, from a pea-green pile of foliage to a powder-blue tower of cinder blocks and wooden planks. Johanna Fateman even wrote a short review of the show in The New Yorker’s “Goings On About Town,” saying the “breadbox-size constructions coated in thick layers of acrylic paint, as if dipped in cookie icing, have a curiously magnetic presence.” Davis produces much of his work at Northside’s Visionaries + Voices studio — a nonprofit that gives artists with disabilities the platform to pursue and distribute their artistic endeavors. Visionaries + Voices, 3841 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, visionariesandvoices.com.

BEST LOCAL PODCAST IN THE VEIN OF STRANGER THINGS

BEST CAREERSPANNING RETROSPECTIVE

Take the gritty paranoia of Battlestar Galactica and cross it with a synth-laced soundtrack (by Dylan Oseas) in the vein of Stranger Things and you get something close to Wellspring, a sci-fi drama podcast that rolled out last year. Produced by Cincinnati-based performing arts nonprofit Walterhoope, the six-episode narrative podcast follows Ve, an investigative journalist trying to understand a mysterious incident that unfolded two decades prior at government-run facility Wellspring. Set on a different planet, the inhabitants that live there are often, and rightfully, secretive. Marking their first foray into the podcasting ’verse, the series immerses the listener into a sonic swirl of sound. Rain patters. Thunder strikes. There’s a knock at the door. Floors creak. Rumblings of commotion and far away shouts ring out. Like

Robert Colescott: Art and Race Matters at the Contemporary Arts Center was the first retrospective to span the artist’s career from 1949 to 2009, displaying 85 paintings pulled from over five decades of work. Colescott, the first African-American artist to receive a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale (in 1997), explored popular culture as it relates to the black experience, exposing underlying prejudice through a transgressive lens. But the CAC exhibition, which was curated by Colescott’s longtime associate Lowery Stokes Sims and Matthew Weseley, was as relevant as ever. Beyond Cincy, the show received a shout-out from the The New York Times, among other national publications. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.


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https://groupmatics.events/event/Pridenight28 B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 35


BEST PROCLAMATION OF CINCINNATI BEING THE “SAN DIEGO OF THE MIDWEST” A mural on the corner of West McMillan and Vine streets in Mount Auburn popped up last fall on a building owned by apartment rental agency ES Properties. Depending on your stance, you may believe its bold statement — “Cincinnati: San Diego of the Midwest” — to be a stretch… or right on target. Backdropped by sandy tan hues and a hazy sun, it depicts the Queen City skyline and… a palm tree? Let’s make the case: Both cities are along a waterfront, one’s just the Pacific Ocean and the other is the Ohio River. Each is home to excellent, award-winning zoos and pro sport teams with a strong fan base. We both take pride in our rich history and booming craft beer brewery scenes. And, finally, both are home to an altweekly named CityBeat. At the corner of West McMillan and Vine streets, Mount Auburn.

“Cincinnati: San Diego of the Midwest” Mural PHOTO | Mitchell Parton

BEST PUNCTUATION ON A CINCINNATI MURAL To celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2019, the nonprofit Keep Cincinnati Beautiful created a simple yet visually bold mural along a neglected 3,000-square-foot wall in Camp Washington, just off Martin Luther King Drive near its overpass with Central Parkway. Along the length of the once-dismal-looking, graffiti-prone wall, the organization’s volunteers painted “Cincinnati Is Beautiful” in brilliantly colorful block letters that have a 3D effect. And then they ended it with a touch of finality by adding a dreamy sky-blue period, thus turning an isolated phrase into a fiercely proud sentence. Subject, verb, object . . . it’s proper English. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful uses public murals and other art as a “catalyst for reducing blight, crime and illegal graffiti. Eyesores in a community — things like vacant buildings, tagged retaining walls and rusty chain link fences — are turned into community assets by using the neglected space to create simple, low cost works of art,” says Claire Bryson, arts program co-director, via email. In 36  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

this instance, the art program also teaches good English. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, keepcincinnatibeautiful.org.

BEST DECADE OF CHAMPIONING UNCONVENTIONAL ART AND ARTISTS In October CityBeat’s Steve Kemple wrote an article looking back on a decade of the gallery Thunder-Sky, Inc., Northside’s beloved home for weird and wonderful visual art. Though he had always been a fan, it wasn’t until he began working on the article that he realized how important Thunder-Sky was to him personally. Even if he didn’t make it out to every event, it was always a comfort to know such a welcoming place exists, where the idiosyncratic is privileged over the trendy; where wacky aesthetic sensibilities emerge from a sense of community, and everything is done with the spirit of rebellious generosity. Just a few days after the article was published, the gallery announced it will close at the end of 2020, stating they have

accomplished their mission. While we’re sad to see them go, we’re grateful for all they’ve done, and for this final year we have to cherish their existence. To co-founders Bill Ross and Keith Banner, and all the others in the Thunder-Sky crew: Thank you. You’ve made this city weirder, better and more human. You’ve shown us what it means to champion the unconventional, and you’ve challenged us to do the same. Thunder-Sky, Inc., 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside, raymondthundersky.org.

BEST NEW FEST TO SPOTLIGHT PERFORMING ARTS The Contemporary Arts Center’s inaugural performing arts festival promised a diverse lineup both stylistically, thematically and otherwise. And that is what it delivered. This Time Tomorrow featured nine main performances hosted at venues across Cincinnati, from the CAC to 21c Museum Hotel to Wave Pool and a performance — NIC Kay’s Pushit! {exercise in getting well soon]

— that snaked from Clifton to downtown. The four-day fest featured several regional premieres, like Rashaad Newsome’s Running, and work from local artists, too, like Intermedio’s interactive On Touching. Though there was no central work, each was driven, in large part, to explore current social, political and cultural concerns. The fest, above all, provides a platform for performance art to be seen. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.

BEST POP-UP BOOKSTORE The brainchild of Andrew McKinley, who founded San Fransico’s beloved Adobe Books 30 years ago, FRINGE bookstore was an absolute gem stocked full of unique finds straight from McKinley’s own collection of books and texts. He made the cross-country move from the West Coast to Cincinnati last year after falling in love with the area while being an artist-in-residence at Wave Pool in 2017. He later bought a house across the street from Wave Pool, which — along with an


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ArtsWave grant — helped him transform the shed into the quirky bookstand. Covered in literal strands of colorful fringe, the pop-up’s visual element was brought to life via artist Karay Martin. With books priced at about $3 each, FRINGE customers could sift through a diverse array of works related to “inclusion, equality and equity.” McKinley told us that the pop-up shop’s concept was in its “infancy” — fingers crossed for more to come. FRINGE, 2931 Jessamine St., Camp Washington. 

BEST ART HOUSE Local artist Mark de Jong, well-known for his wildly popular and interactive art exhibit Swing House, transformed another Cincinnati home into a work of art, which he put up for rent in fall 2019. Known as The Paint House, the namesake of this particular project was derived from exploring the paint layer history throughout the home through a similar process seen in de Jong’s previous work at the Contemporary Arts Center. Located at 1555 Spring Lawn Ave. in Northside,  the two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home features art installations throughout, such as countertops with “painterly compositions” made from reclaimed gym flooring, a circle/ square sculpture made with materials from the replaced basement support beam, cored circles from the dining room and bathroom mounted as a grid in the living room, a “hand” box sculpture, flooring pieces made from materials found during demolition and a dried paint can installation.

BEST NEW MUSEUM DIGS The Over-the-Rhine Museum — inspired by New York City’s popular Lower East Side Tenement Museum — has been in the works since 2015. When the nonprofit announced in early 2020 that they had officially purchased a permanent home at 3 W. McMicken/12 Findlay St. for $165,000, that vision came closer to reality. In aiming to bring to life the stories of OTR and its residents, the museum’s mission is to ultimately explore the larger history of urban America. With about 4,600-feet of total space, Anne Delano Steinert, the museum’s board chairman, estimates it will take $2.4 million to do structural repairs; create usable bathrooms, office and event space; build a gift shop; and assemble period-accurate recreations of living quarters to open the museum. The next step? Steinert says they are going to work to open the building’s storefront enough within a year to 18 months so that they can have a public presence. Over-the-Rhine Museum, 3 W. McMicken/12 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine, otrmuseum.org.  38  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

BEST DEATH OF A COASTER Kings Island’s Vortex coaster was put to rest after its 33rd year in operation. After 46 million rides, it reached the end of its service life on Halloween Haunt’s closing night, Oct. 27, 2019. Saying goodbye is hard to do, but the blow was made easier with the promise of a new thrill ride, Orion. With a 300-foot drop, it will be only one of seven “Giga” coasters in the world. With a 5.321-foot track, Orion will reach speeds of 91 miles per hour — making it the theme park’s fastest, tallest and longest steel coaster. That makes its similar to its predecessor; upon its 1987 unveiling, the Vortex opened as the tallest full-circuit roller coaster with the highest drop in the world and the first with six inversions. Running with their new “Area 72” theme, thrill-seekers can soon get their chance to test Orion when it opens in spring 2020. Kings Island, 6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason, visitkingsisland.com. 

BEST MUSICAL ACTORS Jefferson McDonald and Matthew McGloin performed 2 Pianos, 4 Hands at the Cincinnati Playhouse in November/December 2019. Were they pianists? Were they actors? Well, they were actually both. As pianists, they performed everything from Classical pieces to Pop selections — sometimes with intentional flaws and sometimes with dazzling skill. As actors, they portrayed Ted and Richard, a pair of aspiring young musicians hoping to become concertizing stars. But they also convincingly became one another’s colorful, quirky teachers, demanding and overbearing parents and arrogant, insensitive coaches. Even if audiences were full of people who knew nothing about the finer points of music, they were able to empathize with two guys pursuing but not quite reaching their dreams. McDonald and McGloin had the chops as actors and musicians to pull this off in a surprisingly entertaining way, using their music almost as elbows, jostling for position and clowning physically against one another. The show (the Playhouse’s holiday alternate choice to A Christmas Carol) did so well that its run was extended by a week into January. Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mt. Adams Circle, Mount Adams, cincyplay.com.


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REA D ER PIC KS NEW RESTAURANT 1. Kiki College Hill 2. Libby’s Southern Comfort 3. Chicken Salad Chick 4. Goose & Elder 5. Dead Low Brewing 6. Ripple Wine Bar 7. Forty Thieves 8. Losanti 9. Tuba Baking Co. 10. Delwood

OVERALL RESTAURANT 1. Sotto 2. The Eagle 3. Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct 4. Incline Public House 5. Primavista 6. Dewey’s Pizza 7. Mazunte 8. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse 9. Boca 10. Taste of Belgium

OVERALL RESTAURANT (NORTHERN KENTUCKY) 1. Otto’s 2. Greyhound Tavern 3. Bouquet Restaurant 4. Walt’s Hitching Post 5. Agave & Rye 6. Pompilio’s

7. KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia 8. Rich’s Proper Food & Drink 9. York Street Café 10. Frida 602

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT (DOWNTOWN/OTR) 1. Nation Kitchen & Bar 2. The Eagle 3. Sotto

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT (NORTHERN KENTUCKY) 1. Greyhound Tavern 2. Otto’s 3. Pompilio’s

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT (CENTRAL) 1. Ruth’s Parkside Cafe 2. Adriatico’s 3. Quatman Cafe

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT (EAST SIDE) 1. El Coyote (TIE) 1. Joe’s Pizza Napoli (TIE) 2. Mazunte 3. Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT (WEST SIDE) 1. Incline Public House 2. Price Hill Chili 3. Primavista

NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT (BURBS) 1. Phoenician Taverna 2. Blue Ash Chili 3. Mellow Mushroom

BEER SELECTION (RESTAURANT)

1. Yard House 2. Taft’s Ale House 3. KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia

WINE SELECTION (RESTAURANT)

1. Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant 2. Marty’s Hops & Vines 3. Somm Wine Bar

APPETIZERS

BOURBON SELECTION (RESTAURANT)

BAGELS

BREAKFAST

1. Sotto 2. The Eagle 3. Incline Public House

1. Marx Hot Bagels 2. Bruegger’s Bagels 3. The Bagelry

BARBECUE

1. Eli’s BBQ 2. City Barbeque 3. Lucius Q 4. Montgomery Inn 5. Pickles & Bones Barbecue 6. Sweets & Meats BBQ 7. Pontiac 8. Just Q’in BBQ 9. Bee’s Barbecue 10. Midwest Best BBQ and Creamery

1. Goodfellas Pizzeria/Wiseguy Lounge 2. The Littlefield 3. Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey

1. Sleepy Bee Cafe 2. First Watch 3. The Echo Restaurant 4. Taste of Belgium 5. Sugar n’ Spice Diner 6. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar 7. The Original Pancake House 8. HangOverEasy 9. Half Day Cafe 10. Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey

BRUNCH

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4. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar 5. First Watch 6. Grand Finale 7. Orchids at Palm Court 8. Lucius Q 9. Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey 10. The National Exemplar

NEIGHBORHOOD BURGER SPOT (BURBS)

OVERALL BURGERS (CHAIN)

1. Gomez Salsa 2. Chipotle Mexican Grill 3. The Comet

1. Five Guys 2. Frisch’s Big Boy 3. Red Robin

OVERALL BURGERS (NON-CHAIN)

1. Nation Kitchen & Bar 2. Roney’s 3. Zip’s Cafe 4. Flipdaddy’s 5. Quatman Cafe 6. Tickle Pickle 7. The Turf Club 8. Street Chef Brigade 9. Arthur’s (TIE) 9. Krueger’s Tavern (TIE) 10. Sammy’s Craft Burgers & Beer

NEIGHBORHOOD BURGER SPOT (DOWNTOWN/OTR) 1. Nation Kitchen & Bar 2. Krueger’s Tavern 3. Arnold’s Bar & Grill

NEIGHBORHOOD BURGER SPOT (NORTHERN KENTUCKY) 1. Herb & Thelma’s Tavern 2. Bru Burger Bar 3. Flipdaddy’s

NEIGHBORHOOD BURGER SPOT (CENTRAL) 1. Quatman Cafe 2. Tickle Pickle 3. Gordo’s Pub & Grill

NEIGHBORHOOD BURGER SPOT (EAST SIDE) 1. Zip’s Cafe 2. Arthur’s 3. Five Guys

NEIGHBORHOOD BURGER SPOT (WEST SIDE) 1. Incline Public House 2. Chandler’s Burger Bistro 3. Maury’s Tiny Cove

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1. Quatman Cafe (Mason) 2. Sammy’s Craft Burgers and Beer 3. Flipdaddy’s

BURRITOS

BUSINESS LUNCH

1. Skyline Chili 2. Sotto 3. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar (TIE) 3. Lucius Q (TIE)

BUTCHER SHOP

1. Avril-Bleh Family-Owned Meat Market & Deli 2. Jungle Jim’s International Market 3. Lehr’s Prime Market

CAJUN/CREOLE

1. J. Gumbo’s 2. Knotty Pine on the Bayou 3. Allyn’s Cafe

CAKE SHOP

1. The BonBonerie 2. Nothing Bundt Cakes 3. 3 Sweet Girls Cakery

CHEAP EATS

1. Skyline Chili 2. Goodfellas Pizzeria 3. Blue Ash Chili

CHEESE SHOP

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Share: Cheesebar 3. The Rhined

CHEESESTEAK 1. Penn Station 2. 13th Street Alley 3. Melt Revival

CHEF (W/RESTAURANT AFFILIATION)

1. Jean-Robert de Cavel (Jean-Robert’s Table, French Crust Café & Bistro, Le Bar a Boeuf, Frenchie Fresh, Restaurant L) 2. Jose Salazar (Salazar, Mita’s, Goose & Elder) 3. Christian Gill (Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey) 4. Danny Combs (Sotto) 5. Scotty Berens (Dead Low Brewing) 6. Daniel Wright (Senate, Abigail Street,

Pontiac, Holiday Spirits/Forty Thieves) 7. Alfio Gulisano (Ché, Alfio’s Buon Cibo, The Butcher and Barrel) 8. Frances Kroner (Sleepy Bee Café, Aster) 9. Kayla Robison (Arnold’s Bar & Grill) 10. Yasel López (ESSEN)

NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE SHOP (NORTHERN KENTUCKY)

CHICKEN

NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE SHOP (CENTRAL)

1. The Eagle 2. Silver Spring House 3. Revolution Rotisserie 4. Chick-fil-A 5. Ron’s Roost 6. Greyhound Tavern 7. Joella’s Hot Chicken 8. CityBird 9. Fiery Hen 10. Raising Cane’s

CHICKEN SANDWICH 1. Chick-fil-A 2. The Eagle 3. Revolution Rotisserie

CHILI (CHAIN) 1. Skyline Chili 2. Gold Star 3. Dixie Chili

CHILI (NON-CHAIN) 1. Camp Washington Chili 2. Blue Ash Chili 3. Pleasant Ridge Chili

CHINESE

1. Oriental Wok 2. First Wok 3. KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia

CHOCOLATES

1. Aglamesis Bros. 2. Maverick Chocolate Co. 3. Esther Price

COFFEEHOUSE (LOCAL)

1. Coffee Emporium 2. Unataza Coffee 3. The Coffee Exchange of Pleasant Ridge

COFFEEHOUSE (NATIONAL) 1. Starbucks 2. Dunkin’ 3. Caribou Coffee

NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE SHOP (DOWNTOWN/OTR) 1. Coffee Emporium 2. Urbana Cafe 3. Deeper Roots Findlay Coffee Bar

1. Carabello Coffee 2. Roebling Point Books & Coffee 3. Left Bank Coffeehouse

1. College Hill Coffee Company 2. Collective Espresso 3. Sidewinder Coffee

NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE SHOP (EAST SIDE) 1. Coffee Emporium 2. Deeper Roots Oakley Coffee Bar 3. Luckman Coffee

NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE SHOP (WEST SIDE) 1. BLOC Coffee Company 2. Muse Café 3. White Oak Coffee House

NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE SHOP (BURBS) 1. Wyoming Community Coffee 2. Kidd Coffee & Wine Bar 3. Kitty Brew Cafe

COOKING CLASSES

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. The Learning Kitchen 3. Findlay Kitchen

CREAMY WHIP/SOFT SERVE 1. Putz’s Creamy Whip 2. Dairy Queen 3. The Cone

CUPCAKES

1. The BonBonerie 2. Abby Girl Sweets 3. Gigi’s Cupcakes

DELICATESSEN 1. Izzy’s 2. Jason’s Deli 3. Silverglades

DESSERTS (RESTAURANT) 1. Grand Finale 2. O Pie O 3. Sotto


ATI

Enjoying premium steaks and top-notch service doesn’t have to involve a trip to the major cities on either coast. Rather, a steakhouse located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati is bringing patrons the dry-aged, well-marbled steaks they crave.

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Thank you, Cincinnati

Prime Cincinnati and its executive chef Shawn Heine have built a well-earned reputation for excellence—much like that of the Certified Angus Beef ® brand Prime steaks found on the menu. With high standards that ensure each bite is as good as the last, the original brand of Angus beef’s steakhouse cuts go hand-in-hand with the restaurant’s hard-to-find seafood options, flown from the coasts daily. From service to menu, Heine shares Prime Cincinnati’s mission is to exceed each customer’s expectation.

for voting us Best Bourbon Selection and Neighborhood “With prime seafood and Certified Angus Beef brand Prime, combined with our in-house Pizza dry-aging program, we believe that we are really bringing everything that Joint. we can to the table,” Heine says. “Our restaurant is all about hospitality, all about bringing the guests in and really We appreciate your catering to every need that they have.” continued support, always! One of those key offerings is in-house dry-aged steaks. Heine and managing partner Nelson ®

Castillo enjoy getting people to try the properly aged, premium steaks for the first time. He shares that the serving staff go through intense training to expertly describe each cut of beef on their tableside display. They point out the coloration, marbling, and explain the differences while making recommendations. This impressive presentation is as much an education to their guests as an enticement. Those are the key interactions Nelson sees that make up the overall experience. “The Prime Cincinnati experience is all about creating memories,” Nelson Castillo says. “It’s all about how we can impact and be part of everybody’s day.” In addition to the classic evening service, Prime Cincinnati also offers lunch, highlighted by its burger selection. Topping the list is Heine’s Prime Dry-Aged Burger, consisting of Certified Angus Beef ® brand ground chuck, topped with bacon, blue cheese and garlic aioli. The restaurant also provides delicious soups and salads for lighter options. With its focus on providing patrons with premium steaks and an exceptional dining experience, Prime Cincinnati received the Steakhouse of the Year honor from the Certified Angus Beef ® brand.

Long Bone Tomahawk

For information or to make a reservation, visit PrimeCincinnati.com.

B O O K YO U R P R I VAT E E V E N T TO DAY W h e t h e r i t ’s a b i r t h d a y, a n n i v e r s a r y o r t h e s t a r s h a v e a l i g n e d a n d y o u r g ro u p o f f r i e n d s c a n fi n a l l y g a t h e r i n t h e s a m e ro o m , m a r k t h e m o m e n t i n P r i m e C i n c i n n a t i . CA L L TO B O O K YO U R P R I VAT E E V E N T TO DAY 5 1 3 - 5 7 9 - 0 7 2 0 e l i s e . l e m e n @ p r i m e c i n c y. c o m B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 43


FOOD TRUCK

1. Stellar Street Eats 2. Tacos Locos 3. Red Sesame Korean BBQ 4. Hungry Bros. 5. Fork & Greens 6. Rollin’ Bowls 7. The Poutine Machine 8. Empanadas Aquí 9. Marty’s Waffles 10. Krimmer’s Italianette Food Truck

FRENCH FRIES 1. Five Guys 2. Nation Kitchen & Bar 3. Senate

FROZEN YOGURT 1. Yagööt 2. Orange Leaf 3. Putz’s Creamy Whip

GELATO/SORBETTO/ FROZEN ICE 1. Aglamesis Bros. 2. Dojo Gelato 3. Graeter’s Ice Cream

GERMAN

1. Hofbräuhaus 2. Mecklenburg Gardens 3. Wunderbar!

Brown Bear Bakery | Best Neighborhood Bakery (Downtown/OTR) PH OTO: H AILEY BO LLIN GER

DESSERTS (RETAIL) 1. The BonBonerie 2. Graeter’s Ice Cream 3. Brown Bear Bakery

OVERALL BAKERY (BREADS) 1. Blue Oven Bakery 2. Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli 3. Sixteen Bricks

OVERALL BAKERY (SWEETS) 1. The BonBonerie 2. Brown Bear Bakery 3. Holtman’s Donuts

NEIGHBORHOOD BAKERY (DOWNTOWN/OTR) 1. Brown Bear Bakery 2. Holtman’s Donuts 3. Blue Oven Bakery

NEIGHBORHOOD BAKERY (NORTHERN KENTUCKY) 1. North South Baking Co. 2. Butler’s Pantry at RiverCenter 3. Emerson’s Bakery

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NEIGHBORHOOD BAKERY (CENTRAL) 1. The BonBonerie 2. Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli 3. North College Hill Bakery

NEIGHBORHOOD BAKERY (EAST SIDE) 1. Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli 2. Busken Bakery 3. Marcella’s Doughnuts & Bakery

NEIGHBORHOOD BAKERY (WEST SIDE) 1. Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli 2. St. Lawrence Bakery 3. Busken Bakery

NEIGHBORHOOD BAKERY (BURBS) 1. Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli 2. Holtman’s Donuts 3. Bluebird Bakery

DONUTS

1. Holtman’s Donuts 2. Moonrise Doughnuts 3. Dunkin’

FARMERS MARKET 1. Findlay Market 2. Hyde Park Farmers’ Market 3. Northside Farmers Market

GLUTEN-FREE SELECTIONS 1. Sleepy Bee Cafe 2. Melt Revival 3. Pho Lang Thang

FARMERS MARKET FOOD STALL

GOETTA

FISH & CHIPS

GUACAMOLE

1. Blue Oven Bakery 2. WoodBottom Quail Farms 3. Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices

1. Alabama Fish Bar 2. The Pub 3. Nicholson’s Pub

FOOD DELIVERY SERVICE 1. DoorDash 2. Uber Eats 3. Grubhub

FOOD FESTIVAL OR EVENT

1. Taste of Cincinnati 2. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 3. Cincinnati Food Truck Association Food Fest

1. Glier’s Goetta 2. Eckerlin Meats 3. Avril-Bleh Family-Owned Meat Market & Deli

1. Bakersfield 2. Mazunte 3. Nada

HIDDEN GEM

1. Joe’s Pizza Napoli 2. Mazunte 3. Incline Public House

HOT DOG/SAUSAGE

1. Senate 2. Avril-Bleh Family-Owned Meat Market & Deli 3. The Root Beer Stand


ICE CREAM

1. Graeter’s Ice Cream 2. Aglamesis Bros. 3. United Dairy Farmers

INDIAN

1. Baba India Restaurant 2. Ambar India Restaurant 3. Dusmesh Indian Restaurant

ITALIAN

1. Sotto 2. Pompilio’s 3. Nicola’s Ristorante

JAPANESE

1. Kiki College Hill 2. Quan Hapa 3. Ichiban Japanese Cuisine

KOREAN

1. BIBIBOP Asian Grill 2. Riverside Korean Restaurant 3. Red Sesame Korean BBQ

LATE-NIGHT EATERY 1. Goodfellas Pizzeria 2. Gomez Salsa 3. Skyline Chili

LIVE MUSIC WHILE YOU EAT 1. Arnold’s Bar & Grill 2. Lucius Q 3. The Comet

LOCAL FARM

1. WoodBottom Quail Farms 2. Gorman Heritage Farm 3. Carriage House Farm

MACARON

1. Macaron Bar 2. The BonBonerie 3. Taste of Belgium

MACARONI & CHEESE 1. The Eagle 2. Keystone Bar & Grill 3. MamaBear’s Mac 4. Eli’s BBQ 5. Lucius Q 6. Court Street Lobster Bar 7. Keystone’s Mac Shack 8. Street Chef Brigade 9. Joella’s Hot Chicken 10. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse

MEDITERRANEAN/GREEK 1. Aladdin’s Eatery 2. Phoenician Taverna

3. Sebastian’s Gyros

MENU (MOST INNOVATIVE)

1. Please 2. Boomtowm Biscuits & Whiskey 3. Sotto

MEXICAN

1. Mazunte 2. La Mexicana Restaurante Cantina & Tienda 3. Taqueria Mercado

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NOODLES

1. Pho Lang Thang 2. Fortune Noodle House 3. Zundo Ramen & Donburi

OUTDOOR/PATIO DINING 1. Incline Public House 2. Arnold’s Bar & Grill 3. Cabana on the River

OVERALL PIZZA (CHAIN) 1. Dewey’s Pizza 2. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria 3. Goodfellas Pizzeria

OVERALL PIZZA (NON-CHAIN)

1. Trotta’s Pizza & Drive Thru 2. Joe’s Pizza Napoli 3. Adriatico’s 4. Taglio 5. Strong’s Brick Oven Pizza 6. A Tavola 7. Two Cities Pizza Company 8. Krimmer’s Italianette Pizza 9. Fireside Pizza 10. Harvest Pizzeria

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NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA JOINT (DOWNTOWN/OTR) 1. Goodfellas Pizzeria 2. A Tavola 3. Harvest Pizzeria

NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA JOINT (NORTHERN KENTUCKY) 1. Dewey’s Pizza 2. Strong’s Brick Oven Pizza 3. Goodfellas Pizzeria

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NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA JOINT (CENTRAL) 1. Adriatico’s 2. Dewey’s Pizza 3. Fireside Pizza

BEST BUTCHER SHOP

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NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA JOINT (EAST SIDE) 1. Dewey’s Pizza 2. Joe’s Pizza Napoli 3. Taglio

NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA JOINT (WEST SIDE) 1. Trotta’s Pizza & Drive Thru 2. Dewey’s Pizza 3. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria

NEIGHBORHOOD PIZZA JOINT (BURBS) 1. Mellow Mushroom 2. LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria 3. Mio’s Pizza

OYSTERS

1. Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant 2. Rich’s Proper Food & Drink 3. Court Street Lobster Bar

PUB FOOD

1. Knockback Nats 2. Arnold’s Bar & Grill 3. Incline Public House

RAW BAR

1. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse 2. Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny 3. Jag’s Steak & Seafood

RESTAURANT DESIGN 1. Orchids at Palm Court 2. Sotto 3. Lucius Q

RESTAURANT FOR A FIRST DATE

1. Incline Public House 2. Sotto 3. Dewey’s Pizza 4. Nada 5. Primavista 6. S.W. Clyborne Co. Provision & Spirits 7. York Street Café 8. Taft’s Ale House 9. Rich’s Proper Food & Drink 10. Abigail Street

RESTAURANT FOR FINE DINING 1. Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct 2. Sotto 3. Orchids at Palm Court 4. Boca 5. Primavista 6. Nicola’s Ristorante 7. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse

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8. Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny 9. Restaurant L 10. S.W. Clyborne Co. Provision & Spirits

RESTAURANT FOR LARGE PARTIES 1. Montgomery Inn 2. Moerlein Lager House 3. Lucius Q

RESTAURANT TO TAKE A FOODIE

1. Sotto 2. Please 3. Jean-Robert’s Table 4. Abigail Street (TIE) 4. Lucius Q (TIE) 5. Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey 6. Salazar 7. The Eagle 8. Boca 9. S.W. Clyborne Co. Provision & Spirits 10. Bouquet Restaurant

RESTAURANT TO TAKE THE KIDS 1. Skyline Chili 2. Dewey’s Pizza 3. Chick-fil-A

RESTAURANT TO TAKE VISITORS

1. Montgomery Inn Boathouse 2. Incline Public House 3. Skyline Chili

RIBS

1. Montgomery Inn 2. Eli’s BBQ 3. Lucius Q

ROMANTIC RESTAURANT 1. Sotto 2. Primavista 3. Orchids at Palm Court

SALADS

1. Dewey’s Pizza 2. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar 3. Olive Garden Italian Restaurant

SEAFOOD

1. Pelican’s Reef 2. Court Street Lobster Bar 3. Bonefish Grill

SMALL PLATES 1. Abigail Street 2. Mita’s 3. Ché

SMOOTHIE/JUICE BAR

TEA SELECTION

SOUL FOOD

THAI

SOUP

VEGETARIAN

SPECIALTY FOOD MARKET

VEGGIE BURGER

1. Rooted Juicery + Kitchen 2. Smoothie King 3. BanaSun Smoothie Bar

1. Alabama Fish Bar 2. Lucius Q 3. Island Frydays

1. La Soupe 2. Pho Lang Thang 3. Zoup!

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Findlay Market 3. Kremer’s Market

STEAKHOUSE

1. Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct 2. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse 3. Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny

SUBS/SANDWICHES 1. Melt Revival 2. Jersey Mike’s 3. Penn Station

SUSHI

1. Churchill’s Fine Teas 2. Coffee Emporium 3. Jungle Jim’s International Market

1. Bangkok Bistro 2. Thai Express 3. Green Papaya

1. Fork & Greens 2. ESSEN 3. Melt Revival

1. Fork & Greens 2. Nation Kitchen & Bar 3. ESSEN 4. Krueger’s Tavern 5. Rollin’ Bowls 6. Tickle Pickle 7. S.W. Clyborne Co. Provision & Spirits 8. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar (TIE) 8. The Pony (TIE) 9. Arthur’s 10. Taste of Belgium

VIETNAMESE 1. Pho Lang Thang 2. Wild Ginger 3. Quan Hapa

1. Ichiban Japanese Cuisine 2. Cloud 9 Sushi 3. Wabi Sabi 4. Izen’s Drunken Bento 5. Asian Paradise (TIE) 5. Mr. Sushi (TIE) 6. Wild Ginger 7. Fusian 8. Mei Japanese Restaurant 9. Green Papaya 10. E+O Kitchen

VIEW FROM YOUR TABLE

TACOS

1. Montgomery Inn Boathouse 2. Moerlein Lager House 3. Buckhead Mountain Grill

1. Mazunte 2. Condado Tacos 3. Taco Casa 4. Agave & Rye 5. Bakersfield 6. Tortilleria Garcia 7. Gomez Salsa 8. La Mexicana Restaurante Cantina & Tienda 9. Street Chef Brigade 10. Django Western Taco

TAKEOUT

1. City Barbeque 2. Dewey’s Pizza 3. Gomez Salsa

1. Incline Public House 2. Primavista 3. Montgomery Inn Boathouse

WAITSTAFF/SERVICE 1. Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct 2. Sotto 3. Dewey’s Pizza

WATERFRONT DINING

WINGS

1. Knockback Nats 2. Buffalo Wings & Rings 3. Buffalo Wild Wings 4. Wild Mike’s 5. Northside Yacht Club 6. Lucius Q 7. The Oak Tavern 8. Fiery Hen 9. Shooters Sports Grill 10. Smokin Butts Barbeque


Braxton Brewing Company was born out of a garage on Braxton Drive in Union, Kentucky. It’s there where a passion was born, sparked and ignited. The creativity and craft of brewing became a entrepreneurial obsession and now we thrive to create the ultimate experience by celebrating the life, family and communities that build our history. Dreams are born and fermented at Braxton Brewing Company.

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Brewed at 27 W. 7th St., Covington, KY 41011


BEST RIFF ON A DINNER BREAD BASKET Instead of a complimentary bit of bread to start dinner, quite a few upscale restaurants have made bread service a menu item, which of course means you have to pay for it. Perhaps the most unusual entry into this trend is something called The Dunk at the new pasta-centric Pepp & Dolores. Named after their grandparents Giuseppe and Addolorata, the restaurant is both the most upscale and the most personally meaningful of those owned by brothers Joe and John Lanni under their corporate umbrella, the Thunderdome Restaurant Group (which also oversees Bakersfield, The Eagle, Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, et al). Instead of butter or olive oil, the rolls (from nearby Allez Bakery) come with a bowl of what essentially is salad dressing, or an herb-heavy vinaigrette topped with a generous portion of grated cheese. You tear off pieces of the bread and dip — or dunk — it into the dressing. If you’re opposed to vinegar, you might want to consider a different bread option, such as grilled sourdough with olive oil, sea salt and housemade ricotta. There’s also a couple of crostini appetizers to satisfy your carb cravings if one of the nine pasta dishes isn’t enough. Pepp & Dolores, 1501 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, peppanddolores.com. 48  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0


BEST PORK CHOP IMAGINABLE The smoked pork katsu at The Littlefield shines brightly as the star of chef Joe Stalf’s reimagined menu for this bourbon bar. He starts with premium pork from a small provider, Black Willow Farms, crusts a whole loin with a Japanese spice blend and smokes the meat for an hour or two. Next, he slices the loin into chops and, to order, breads each chop in panko breadcrumbs for frying. The chop is sliced and plated, sauced with tonkatsu (another Japanese touch) and a drizzle of kewpie mayo, and served with a sesame ginger coleslaw. Obviously, this isn’t something you can try at home, so you’d better head to one of Northside’s friendliest hangouts and hope the weather is warm enough to eat — and drink — on the patio. The Littlefield, 3934 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, littlefieldns.com.

BEST SEAFOOD COMFORT FOOD Mita’s is Jose Salazar’s Spanish restaurant with a menu of a hundred delights, from jicama and green mango salad to tapas of all descriptions — made with meat, seafood or veggies — to a loaded paella valenciana and so much more. But once you try the pozole verde con mariscos — a peerless take on Spanish stew, made with seafood instead of the traditional pork — you might become blind to all else. It’s that good: a savory, lightly spicy, silky green sauce holds corn hominy, shrimp, snapper and a few other sea creatures. In fact, there are about 20 Pepp & Dolores PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

ingredients in this pozole, topped off with chunks of avocado and sliced radishes, and served with a little dish of crisped corn tortillas. This unusual take on a Mexican or Spanish dish even caught the attention of Melissa Clark, a New York Times food writer, who ran a home-cooking version of Salazar’s recipe in the Times. But Jose’s is the real deal. Mita’s, 501 Race St., Downtown, mitas.co.

BEST “MOST ANTICIPATED” RESTAURANT OPENING Vogue magazine and Food & Wine both released a list of their “most anticipated” American restaurant openings of 2020 and, surprisingly, a forthcoming Queen City eatery popped up on each: Khora. Khora is slated to open in spring 2020 in downtown’s new Kinley Hotel (the one going in the building where the old Payless shoe store was) and will be helmed by chef Edward Lee and executive chef Kevin Ashworth. The Vogue round-up — which includes restaurants in cities like Boston, L.A., New York and Chicago — highlights Khora in its list of 27 eateries from some of “the country’s most iconic cooks” and other international big-name chefs. Food & Wine has it called out in its gang of 16. And both mention Ashworth’s plan for his inspired menu. “Ashworth, who worked alongside Lee for over a decade in Louisville at 610 Magnolia, MilkWood, and Whiskey Dry, is from the Cincinnati area, and is plotting fun twists on regional classics — including a pasta

inspired by Cincinnati chili,” says Food & Wine. The pasta-driven operation will be a play on the restaurant name, which apparently comes from the word “khorasan,” an ancient grain. Khora, 37 W. Seventh St., Downtown, vhghotels.com.

BEST G.L.T. YOU’LL EAT THIS DECADE The New Yorker’s food correspondent, Helen Rosner, gave a nod to Covington’s very own Anchor Grill in an article titled “The Best Things I’ve Eaten This Decade.” That’s right: Mentioned among bites from New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and across the globe is the Anchor Grill’s G.L.T. (goetta, lettuce and tomato). She writes that the diner is “alluringly grimy” and has been open “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, since (as far as I am aware) the beginning of time.” Both of which are apt descriptions. Also fitting? She says that she encountered the Lynchian-esque diner in a hungover stupor. Rosner mentions the restaurant under the subhead “some really excellent sandwiches,” where she writes that, “of the hundred-ish bites and meals that stand out...nearly a quarter belong to the category of Stuff Between Bread.” The hole-in-the-wall diner serves up grub backdropped by a cozy atmosphere, complete with knick-knacks and an animatronic Jazz band. Stick a few quarters in the Anchor’s Jukebox and watch ‘em play well into the witching hour. Wood-paneled walls and vinyl-covered booths give the locale a distinct 1970s vibe. Not only are they known for their goetta (the Glier’s Goetta factory is right across the B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 49


BEST VEGAN BISCUITS AND GRAVY THAT WON’T LEAVE YOU MISSIN’ THE MEAT Appealing to residents on either side of the Ohio River, Fairfield Market brings coffee, cocktails, locally sourced snacks on pretty plates and a sun-dappled workspace to Bellevue’s main drag. Open since the summer of 2019, the décor blends Midcentury Modern with a Palm Desert vibe, mixing original terrazzo with contemporary furniture and plenty of outlets for charging electronics. In addition to its morning bites, daily deli operation, shareable snacks and sandwiches (try the kimchi grilled cheese), the eatery also hosts a weekly Sunday brunch. Opt for a la carte classics, avocado toast, brunch beverages (including a bloody mary; co-founder Brandon Moore was the mind behind the insane bloodies at Crazy Fox Saloon) or made-from-scratch biscuits topped with vegan mushroom gravy, a satisfyingly hearty dish that will make you forget all about the meatier alternative. Try it with an over-easy egg on top (if you swing lacto-ovo) and you will not be disappointed. Fairfield Market, 700 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, thefairfieldbellevue.com.

Fairfield Market PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

street), but they also serve up classic eats like burgers, omelets, chili and more. Here’s a toast to the Anchor Grill, the place that — according to its glowing neon sign — “may doze, but never close.” Anchor Grill, 438 W. Pike St., Covington, 859-431-9498, searchable on Facebook.

be alarmed when a foot-tall cheese tube arrives at your table; be amazed. It’s an excellent two-for-one deal — snap some off and dip it in salsa roja or salsa verde (both if you’re bold) or crumble it over the tlayuda for an added crunch factor. Mazunte Centro, 611 Main St., Downtown, centro.mazuntetacos.com.

BEST GIANT FRIED CHEESE TUBE

BEST SPOT TO FIND — AND TRY — TINNED FISH

Opened downtown this past summer, Mazunte Centro is inspired by the vibrancy of Mexico City as interpreted on a Cincinnati schedule: out-the-door-tacos for those on their lunch break and lingering evenings sipping tequila are both served with the same warm hospitality. You can still find the classics of the flagship Madisonville Mazunte — tacos and tostadas, tequila and Topo Chico — in addition to exclusives like tortas, tlayudas (a love child between a Mexican pizza and a giant loaded nacho) and the impressive chicharron de queso. Literally translated to “cheese cracklings,” it’s a disc of shredded cheese wrapped around a wine bottle and fried. Don’t 50  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Mom ‘n ‘em is a passion project several years in the making for the Ferrari brothers, Tony and Austin, and a tribute to their mom, Theresa. Located in a former 1890s home, Mom ‘n ‘em acts as a third place, with a diverse offering of wines and coffee, cheeses, cured meats, pastries from North South Baking, breakfast sandwiches and toasties. The anchovy toastie comes on thick slices of local Allez country loaf, generously swiped with homemade salsa verde, atop which rest silver strips of previously tinned anchovies, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and doused with a sprinkling of chili. There are eight other

beautifully tinned fish varieties to try from places like Spain and Portugal, all served with caper berries, toasted bread and lemon. Mom ‘n ‘em also has a full liquor license with cocktails like a classic negroni and Manhattan, and a smart selection of beer in their cooler. They were recently named one of the best coffee shops in the country by Food & Wine magazine. And what goes better with coffee than fish? Mom ‘n ‘em, 3128 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, momnemcoffee.com.

BEST CAFE TO GET A TASTE OF HONDURAS IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY Unataza Coffee was born from owner Alejandra Flores’ desire to bring together two places she loved dearly: Northern Kentucky and her native country of Honduras. Flores initially opened up her business as a pop-up shop and facilitated coffee origin trips to her home country to show the process behind the beloved beverage. In fall of 2019, Unataza Coffee opened a brick-and-mortar in Dayton,

Kentucky. The shop may be well-known for its delicious caffeinated drinks using Honduran coffee, but they also offer a petite menu of Honduran-inspired dishes, including their Sopa de Res and the popular Tacoma Taquito. They also host seasonal nightly events including Spanish lessons and salsa dancing classes. Unataza Coffee, 620 Sixth Ave., Dayton, Kentucky, unatazacoffee.com.

BEST RESTAURANT FOR A VEGETARIAN/ OMNIVORE COUPLE TO ENJOY A DECADENT DINNER When you’re dating or married to someone with a different dietary preference than you — specifically if you’re a vegetarian and they’re an omnivore — dining out somewhere that isn’t an Indian restaurant or pizza parlor can be a challenge, especially if you’re in the mood for something slightly sophisticated (and you don’t want to eat a plate of $20 pasta). Enter East Walnut Hills’ Branch and the


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genius that is chef Shoshannah Anderson. The Littlefield Restaurant Group rehabbed a historic Art Deco Bank to create the aptly named restaurant and its adjacent downstairs bar, Night Drop. Their original eatery, Northside’s Littlefield, offers bourbon cocktails and innovative, inexpensive comfort food with an inimitable Northside vibe. However, Branch is a much more ambitious venture both in food, service and ambiance and offers Anderson, who originally helmed the Littlefield kitchen, much more space to flex her culinary muscle. The menu is punily divided into “Shares,” or small plates, and “Stocks,” or entrées, with delicious international influences. The seared halloumi “share” with lemon-honey vinaigrette is unique enough for meat-eaters, and the fried artichoke hearts with harissa are complex and fun. Don’t skimp on the Sixteen Bricks bread with cultured butter either; worth the $5. For mains, there are many meats of varying origins — land, sea, air, etc. — that are probably delicious. But Anderson’s ability to transform tofu is basically unparalleled. Tofu is frequently wet, bland and crumbly but Anderson applies a smoker, intense flavors and the correct preparation to create a seriously satisfying, texturally interesting and extremely filling vegetarian main. And, whatever you do, since you’re here for a nice night out, don’t leave without dessert. Her sweets will leave you speechless; some are classic chocolate creations and others are more adventurous with savory herbal and interesting liquor accents. Speaking of liquor, house cocktails also play on the bank theme with names like the Joint Account (a dirty Vesper martini) and the Accelerated Depreciation (a new fashioned). Branch, 1535 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, eatatbranch.com.

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Last year, Ben Greiwe, an employee at Nine Giant Brewing, manifested his idea for over-the-top donuts. He first started selling them to the public at Nine Giant’s New Year’s Eve party and, after positive feedback, began offering them weekly at the brewery. Over the past year, Starlight Doughnut Lab’s confections became so popular Greiwe started selling them at Pleasant Ridge’s Apricot Coffee House and made them for CityBeat’s annual Sugar Rush event. His unusual flavor combinations include Blueberry Pie (a blueberry-cinnamon donut topped with blueberry glaze and streusel topping), Galaxy Dreamcicle (an orange-vanilla donut topped with an orange and vanilla “galaxy” glaze) and Spicy Boozy Mango (a mango and cayenne pepper donut topped with mango glaze,

toasted coconut and a spicy rum buttercream). And his treats are made a little differently than your average donut. Starlight uses mashed potatoes in their dough which “boosts moisture, sweetness, flavor and adds a crispy outside layer thanks to the potato’s natural sugars caramelizing in the fryer,” says Greiwe. Recently, Greiwe announced his beautiful baked goods will be available in one place by the end of the year: He’s planning to open a Starlight Doughnut Lab storefront in Norwood. Starlight Doughnut Lab, facebook.com/ starlightdoughnutlab.

BEST FRANKENSTEIN FOOD CREATION This past Halloween, the Northside Yacht Club transformed into SkyRosa’s, “Cincinnati’s No. 1 Chizzaria.” And for one night only, the gastropub served a disgustingly delicious blend of Cincinnati’s favorite regional delicacies: Skyline-style chili and LaRosa’s pizza. It’s like both local chains swiped right on Tinder and had a slew of very saucy love children ranging from a cheese coney wrapped in a slice of pizza to fries topped with chili on one side and marinara, cheese and pepperoni on the other to smoked wings with a parmesan marinara or chili cheese sauce. The bar even offered vegetarian options for all menu items so hot dog and pepperoni haters wouldn’t be left out of experiencing this unique form of Queen City indigestion for themselves. Northside Yacht Club, 4231 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, northsideyachtclub.com.

BEST FEEL-GOOD COOKBOOK It’s a fair assertion that most shared meals are those between close friends and families. Consider then hosting a different kind of dinner party: one where its guests are strangers to each other; one where they are from different parts of the world; one where they might not all speak the same language. Cincinnati’s Table spent an entire year doing just that. Since its inaugural dinner at Mount Healthy’s Tikkum Farm in October 2018, the monthly dinner series united immigrants, refugees and their neighbors across Cincinnati with a full passport’s worth of cuisine without ever leaving the city limits: cooks and chefs from Nepal, Mexico, Ghana, Palestine, Syria and Venezuela prepared their favorite traditional dishes for groups of new friends and old. In March, guests ate dinner amid the exhibition galleries at the Contemporary Arts Center. In June, chefs took on the Cincinnati Refugee Day World Cup, cooking for a crowd of hungry soccer players and attendees at Xavier University. The series


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BEST CHARCUTERIE ON A CAFETERIA TRAY With the nostalgic flair of Atomic Age cocktail parties out in full force, Los Angeles transplants Julia Petiprin and Catherine Manabat opened HomeMakers Bar in summer 2019 to the glee of the inner retro enthusiasts and dance party fiends in all of us. Beverage variations spin contemporary twists on cocktail menus of the 1950s and ’60s and fall under “A Stiff Drink” or “Keep It Light:” sip on something strong or let the team introduce you to their favorite aperitifs and low-proof spirits. Their stellar spritzer hour and late night Disco parties are reason enough to pop into this playfully designed corner of East 13th Street, but HomeMakers’ bar snacks deserve accolades all their own, even earning a shoutout from The Wall Street Journal for their ham salad sandwiches, Hanky Pankys and dressed up salami roll ups. (If you know, you know.) Matched with a side of Ritz crackers, these grown-up versions of a kid’s cold cut paradise are served two ways: one with tarragon, lemon and garlic cream cheese and another with smoked paprika, cucumber and lime cream cheese. The Welcome Wagon charcuterie adds on manchego, drunken goat cheese and Urban Stead gouda with Sixteen Bricks bread, stone-ground mustard, garlic honey, pickles, spiced nuts and seasonal housemade jams — all nestled into their respective compartments of a cool, candy-colored cafeteria tray. Finger food of yesteryear, welcome to tomorrow. HomeMakers Bar, 39 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, homemakersbar.com.

is an effort of The Welcome Project, a social enterprise arm of Camp Washington gallery Wave Pool founded in 2017 to teach art classes and workshops to local immigrants and refugees. Now, those experiences have culminated in the 126 pages of Cincinnati’s Table: Recipes and Stories from a Year of Community Dinners. Part cookbook, part scrapbook, Cincinnati’s Table is a celebratory tome with contributions from home and professional chefs, artists, community organizers and neighborhood residents that made the project possible. The Welcome Project recently opened the Welcome Market as a hub for kitchen essentials, spices and specialty grocery items and will expand with a commercial kitchen later this year, allowing for cooking classes and even more community 54  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

HomeMakers Bar PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

meals for the years to come. Find Cincinnati’s Table at The Welcome Project and various Cincinnati locations, including the Contemporary Arts Center and Joseph-Beth Booksellers. The Welcome Project, 2936 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, welcomecincinnati.org.

BEST BAGEL COMEBACK At the end of 2018, Covington favorite walk-up bagel window Lil’s Bagels abruptly closed. But after a long hiatus, the “Windough” reopened in April 2019 with a new concept. The menu had been expanded — with several kinds of non-bagel sandwiches and more spreads — and they introduced the Fam Club, a fee-based program in which members receive discounts on food and coffee and invites to special events. Some of those events included movie nights on the patio, all-you-can-eat latkes, pizza bagel Friday and LGBTQ nights. And in mid-February, after a fundraiser and much community support, Lil’s officially opened an indoor café. The

restaurant offers a full deli, boozy brunch cocktails and seating for more than 20, plus a gold-framed TV screening throwback sitcoms or cartoons. “We truly see Lil’s as a community-owned space, and hope everyone uses it as an extension of their own dining room,” owner Julia Keister told CityBeat. Lil’s Bagels, 308 Greenup St., Covington, lilsbagels.com.

BEST PHO EXPANSION OFFERING LESS COOKING FUMES AND MORE CRAFT COCKTAILS In fall 2019, brothers Bao and Duy Nguyen got the chance to move their original Pho Lang Thang restaurant from their cramped Findlay Market location to a newly renovated building a stone’s throw away on Race Street. The new space is stunning and such an upgrade from the original that you feel like you’re almost in a different universe. The dining room is at least three times as large, and so much more

pleasant now that cooking fumes don’t infuse the dining areas. Contemporary touches like the pressed-tin ceiling, exposed pipes and hanging balloon lights make it an airy and welcoming spot — as does the 14-seater bar. While the market location served only soft drinks and strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee (still available here), now you can select from a dozen draft beers, many more suds in cans and bottles and a short but carefully selected list of wines by the glass or bottle. Don’t overlook their playful, Asian-accented cocktail list, either. Or the food, obviously. Pho Lang Thang, 1828 Race St., Over-theRhine, pholangthang.com.

BEST DOWNTOWN DELI FOR A TAKE-OUT SANDWICH For more than 30 years, Fred & Gari’s has been a bustling favorite of the downtown lunch crowd, with its ’80s-throwback neon sign, house-roasted meats, pizza and homemade dessert — the fresh cookies are to-die for and have been a staff favorite since


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Barbecue & Catering (Restaurant) & Findlay Market Vendor Ribs Mac & Cheese

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You voted Kroger On the Rhine one of the “Best New Things” of 2020.

THANK YOU, CINCINNATI! WEEKLY ON THE RHINE EATERY EVENTS Tuesday

Pop-up vendors 11am-2pm Karaoke 6-8pm

Wednesday

Pop-up vendors 11am-2pm

Thursday

Pop-up vendors 11am-2pm SINGO 5-7pm

Friday

Live music 5-7pm

Saturday

Live music 5-7pm

Every Day

Happy Hour 4-7pm

UPCOMING MEET THE MASCOT EVENTS 4-6pm 3/24 3/31 4/2 4/7 4/16 4/21 5/5 5/19 6/2 6/16 7/7

Rosie Red & Gapper Gapper & Mr. Redlegs Mr. Redlegs & Mr. Red Who Dey Rosie Red & Mr. Red Rosie Red & Gapper Mr. Redlegs & Gapper Who Dey

BEST REASON TO POP A BOTTLE A seasoned sommelier and “decorated student of the vine,” Kevin Hart founded Hart & Cru in 2015 after years of earning his chops in the restaurant world, notably serving as the beverage director for Boca Restaurant Group and acting as a driving force behind local importing wine distributor wineCRAFT. Now, Hart and his “cru” — a dedicated web of well-versed Cincinnati-area wine aficionados — are committed to wine education and appreciation through artisanal tastings, classes, cellar offerings, special events and drinking the best damn grape juice the world has to offer. Swirling a fresh glass of wine from airy taprooms and the most intimate of restaurant booths is a pleasure in its own right, but Hart & Cru’s Wine Club allows for the freedom of sipping a primo bottle in friends’ living rooms, on the back porch and straight off the kitchen counter while dinner simmers on the stove (or arrives at the door in a to-go container). With multiple subscription levels to choose from, avid vino enthusiasts can get their monthly fix in the form of four bottles, compete with tasting notes and information on grapes, regions and producers. Hart & Cru, hartandcru.com.

BEST ALTERNATIVE TO TOTINO’S PIZZA ROLLS

Rosie Red & Gapper Who Dey Who Dey

Plus, enjoy FREE parking

on floors 3 & 4 with any purchase. ON THE RHINE

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we gave them a Best Of Cincinnati pick in 1999 (and if it’s your first visit, you may get a free one). The deli also specializes in a damn good soup-and-sandwich combo and the egg salad option is a nostalgic throwback, full of mayonnaise-y goodness and topped with lettuce, tomato and onion. While you wait for your sandwich to arrive in its Styrofoam container, enjoy the lighthearted banter between Fred, Gari and the slew of regulars. Fred & Gari’s, 629 Vine St., Downtown, facebook.com/fredgaris.

In 2014, Sarah Dworak quit her real estate job in favor of full-time pierogi making, pressing out the little Eastern European potato dumplings by the dozen to sell to customers at her Findlay Market storefront and grocers and restaurants throughout Cincinnati. By 2018, her Babushka Pierogies business occupied a late-night window on nearby Main Street at the future home of Wodka Bar, a homage to all things vodka and traditional Slavic delicacies. Between flights of house-infused spirits, guests can snack on bites of caviar in puff pastry, pickled fish and vegetables, smoked meats and cheese and butter on dense, dark rye bread. Of course, there are also plenty of

pierogies and kielbasa bowls to scarf down — get them for dinner or a happy hour snack or get comfy for Sunday pierogi brunch in the luxe bar, finished with all the intricacies of Eastern Orthodox architecture. And fear not: The walk-up window is still open for dinner and late-night bites (and lunch on the weekends) with a streamlined menu of what one could consider “drunk food.” There’s a Polish sausage sandwich (like a fancy hot dog), your choice of four pierogi, a vegetarian 4-way pierogi stuffed with lentil chili and topped with cheddar cheese, sour cream and Frank’s Redhot and the crown jewel: Pizzarogies. Pizzarogies are the Totino’s Pizza Rolls of the pierogi world — deep fried and full of pepperoni and provolone, served with dipping sauce. And you don’t even need to turn on your toaster oven. Wodka Bar, 1200 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, wodkabarotr.com.

BEST GERMAN RESTAURANT WITH SWABIAN-STYLE PRETZELS Pretzel baker Drew Rath got his start making his German Swabian soft pretzels (skinnier legs than Bavarian with a slit in the belly) out of Newport’s Incubator Kitchen Collective. Known as Tuba Baking Co., he wholesaled his pretzels and dips to places like MadTree, Urban Stead Cheese and Crafts & Vines. But in September 2019, he opened a brick-andmortar Tuba Baking Co. on Pike Street in Covington. Because the wholesaling takes up most of Rath’s time, the storefront is only open on Saturdays. However, it’s worth the exclusivity, as the eatery serves those pretzels but also an assortment of dips (beer cheese, housemade mustards), spätzle, zwiebelsuppe (onion soup), flammkuchen (flatbread) and imported draft German beers that you can’t find anywhere else in town. Tuba Baking Co., 212 W. Pike St., Covington, facebook.com/ tubabakingco.

BEST BOUJEE WAY TO EAT 24K GOLD With a mission “to continue sweetening life in urban Cincinnati” the Harkins and Grear families opened The Bold Face Dairy Bar, a whippy-dip-style walk-up window in East Price Hill in 2018. Their extra rich and extra velvety creamy whip includes elevated and epicurean flavors ranging from chai tea and pistachio to cardamom, coffee and bourbon barrel stout. But their crowd favorite, The Bold Face Cone, demands all the attention. Served in a waffle cone lined with caramel syrup, this decadent treat is filled halfway with creamy whip, loaded with a pocket of chocolate sauce, topped with


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Many thanks to Cincinnati’s Best Customers!


BEST NEW DOWNTOWN COFFEE SHOP THAT’S MORE THAN A COFFEE SHOP In July 2019, Means Cameron opened Cincy’s first black-owned coffee shop, BlaCk Coffee Lounge, next door to his clothing company BlaCk Owned. One reason he wanted to open the coffee shop was to reflect the city’s minority culture, which he felt wasn’t being represented in other coffee shops in the region. The lounge is decorated as a paean to Hip Hop artists, like Tupac, Cardi B., Biggie Smalls (they also have coffee cups with his face on them) and Ohioan Dave Chappelle. Besides selling coffee made from local roaster La Terza — try the “Wakanda” blend — they also sell locally made Matunda cold-pressed juices, pastries and sandwiches from other black-owned businesses and inhabit a community space for discussions, artists and open mic nights. BlaCk Coffee Lounge, 824 Elm St., Downtown, facebook.com/ blaCkCoffeeCincy.

BlaCk Coffee Lounge PHOTO | Liz Davis

more creamy whip and then adorned with chocolate sprinkles, mini chocolate chips and a real 24K gold leaf — that’s right, you can have your gold and eat it, too (for only $12). For a down-to-earth neighborhood treat, Bold Face also has soft serve, orange soda and root beer floats, shakes and malts, gourmet ice pops, smoothies and flurries. There’s even a “baby” cone for only $1. The Bold Face Dairy Bar, 801 Mount Hope Ave., East Price Hill, boldfacedairybar.com.

BEST VEGETARIAN BARBECUE Pendleton’s Lucius Q barbecue joint is undeniably known for its slow-smoked meat-laden dishes, from the pulled pork and brisket to the St. Louis-style ribs. With the majority of their meats, sans chicken wings, provided by local butcher shop Avril-Bleh, this laid-back joint is a carnivore’s paradise. But vegetarians aren’t an afterthought here, and dinner isn’t just relegated to an amalgamation of sides. Lucius has a special “veggie Q,” made with trumpet mushrooms, cabbage and 58  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

onions, doused in their signature Kansas City sweet and smoky sauce. This faux veggie pork is sure to satisfy omnivores with a craving for some finger-licking barbecue and comes by the pound (with pickles, onions and white bread) or quarter pound, in a breakfast burrito or on a breakfast sandwich during brunch. If you do want sides, vegetarians have options there as well in the queso corn, grits and mac and cheese. Lucius Q, 1131 Broadway St., Pendleton, luciusq.com.

BEST WAY TO DO GOOD WHILE DINING OUT Not to toot our own horn here or anything, but CityBeat’s Greater Cincinnati Restaurant Week — which happens twice a year; once in the spring and once in the fall — is certainly a great time to get out of the house and sample affordable multi-course, prix fixe meals from area restaurants you might not usually frequent. But CityBeat also partners with Cincinnati Children’s during the dining week to donate $1 from every meal purchased

throughout the event to the hospital’s Greatest Needs program, which is exactly what is sounds like: the money goes where the hospital needs it most. Last year, GCRW raised more than $44,000 for Cincinnati Children’s. Greater Cincinnati Restaurant Week, greatercincinnatirestaurantweek.com.

BEST USE OF SPENT GRAIN IN A BREWERY We’ve all seen the spent-grain dog biscuits offered up at Cincinnati breweries, made from the grains used to brew beer (see: Brewhaus Dog Bones). But after secretly eating them ourselves, we knew someone in town needed to make a people-palate-friendly version. The kitchen at HighGrain Brewing — an ecofriendly taproom and brewery housed in Silverton’s former 1950s Memorial Municipal Building — has done so with utter brilliance, serving their version of a human biscuit with avocado, Southern gravy, hamburgers and even jerked chicken. Luckily, the brewery produces excellent beer to wash it all down, too. Brews focus on Old World styles with a

modern twist and taps run the gamut from American sours and Lithuanian farmhouse ales to IPAs. And with a focus on sustainability (like using their spent grain in the kitchen), HighGrain has retrofitted their building with geothermal HVAC, a wind-powered electricity supply and LED lighting; they even produce a carbon-neutral Norwegian table ale. HighGrain Brewing, 6860 Plainfield Road, Silverton, highgrainbrewing.com.

BEST REASON TO UNFOLLOW THE TWIN PEAKS HASHTAG There was simpler time when following #TwinPeaks on Instagram would yield content related strictly to the 1990s David Lynch series. Surreal, mysterious and downright weird, the iconic crime drama followed FBI Agent Dale Cooper as he traveled to a town in the Pacific Northwest — the show’s namesake — to investigate the murder of high schooler Laura Palmer. That steady stream of damn fine content was interrupted for our Arts & Culture Editor, Mackenzie Manley, when a sports bar


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also named Twin Peaks came to West Chester in November. According to a press release, it is “the ultimate sports lodge featuring made-from-scratch food, the coldest beer in the business, attractive servers and wall-towall TVs for sports from every angle.” Oddly, it’s geared specifically toward men and promises that “the second you step inside, you’re surrounded by a lodge full of friendly and attentive Twin Peaks Girls serving up scratch food and our signature 29° beers.” Think Hooters except, instead of white cropped tanks, the servers wear lumber jack-esque shirts tied at their busts. Here’s to a future where the Twin Peaks hashtag is no longer infiltrated by photos from a restaurant that asks its patrons to embrace the “Lodge Mantality.” Please make it go away.

BEST PLACE TO EAT A METER OF MEAT

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How long is a meter? One of the great flaws of forgoing the metric system in America is not understanding how much meat is coming to your table when you sit down at Noodle & Hot Pot in Mason. Opened in 2018 by Yuke Qiu and Jennifer Niu, hot pot is a traditional Chinese dining method where everyone cooks their food in a boiling pot of soup at the center of the table, kind of like fondue. The restaurant offers seven different broths: nine boxes spicy, spicy, bone, wild mushroom, tomato, tom yum and curry and you can divide your pot into two or three different compartments to try different options (great for vegetarians and meat-eaters dining together). After you pick your broth, you pick stuff to go into the broth. The meter of premium beef and lamb are served on a long platter and other ingredients — both authentic and for those less adventurous — include pork intestine, crab stick, potato pasta, lotus root, winter melon, enoki mushrooms (tons of mushrooms, really), tofu and pages more. They also have a hot pot buffet special on Wednesdays and Thursdays and now serve beer and wine. Also, reminder that spicy here is very spicy. Noodle & Hot Pot, 4750 Fields Ertel Road, Mason, facebook.com/hotpotohio.

BEST PLACE TO LIVE OUT YOUR CANDY LAND FANTASIES After 10 years of crafting made-from-scratch treats in Hamilton, Ruby’s Chocolates expanded with a second sweet shop off of Oakley Square over the winter. One step into the store and you’re instantly transported into a wonderland of decadent treats, vibrant colors, cozy seating and even an upside-down “Candy Land”-like chandelier on the ceiling.

Founder Melinda Mueller built her brand with the dream of making treats that are as scrumptious as they are beautiful, marking each of her handmade creations with a signature red dot. Visitors can enjoy a variety of favorites, including Ruby’s signature truffle cakes, which are similar to a cake pop and come in a range of flavors; “Joy Sticks,” which are pretzels enrobed in caramel, chocolate, peanut butter and other toppings; no-bake cookies; buckeyes; and a newer menu item dubbed “Phatty Cakes,” which are two petite cakes with a layer of icing in between. Ruby’s Chocolates, 3923 Isabella Ave., Oakley; 6741 Gilmore Road, Suite D, Hamilton, rubyschocolates.com.

BEST PUNNY KOMBUCHA Even though Cincinnati’s rife with independent kombucha purveyors like Skinny Piggy and Fab Ferments, entrepreneur Natalie Jenkins saw a way to enter her own line of the fermented beverage into the ring. In June 2019 she launched Motherlode Kombucha and started selling bottles at the Montgomery farmers market. (The “mother” part refers to the bacteria used to ferment the ’buch.) A one-woman operation, Jenkins brews the kombucha at Covington’s Kickstart Kitchen and bottles and kegs it for distribution. A lot of kombuchas are either too sweet or not fizzy enough, but Motherlode’s hits the right spot (think GT’s Kombucha). Her flavors — apple-ginger, pineapple-turmeric and hibiscus-rose — can be found on draft and in bottles at Jungle Jim’s Eastgate, Sunny Blu Coffeehouse, Commonwealth Bistro and Poke Hut, with more places carrying it in the future. Motherlode Kombucha, motherlodekombucha.com

BEST MEXICAN EATERY TO MUNCH ON COW TONGUE AND BRAINS Newport’s La Mexicana is home to some of the city’s best tacos: tacos al pastor with deliciously marinated pork shoulder, barbacoa, carne asada, lengua (beef tongue), sesos (beef brains; they wash down perfectly with a cerveza) and you simply can’t go wrong with their shredded pollo tacos. For vegetarians, wide-ranging fillings include seasoned pumpkin flower, corn truffle, hongos, beans and queso fresco. On Tuesdays, the eatery offers $2 dine-in tacos and $3 Rhinegeists and Frida tequila shots. This inexpensive and authentic menu has been known to incite cravings after as little as one visit. Head back through the restaurant to

J


THANK YOU FOR VOTING ICHIBAN JAPANESE CUISINE BEST OF CINCINNATI!

#1 Sushi #3 Japanese

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www.IchibanCinci.com


BEST YOSHOKU RAMEN POP-UP Pining for a new taste of Japan in the Queen City? Track down Mochiko’s next pop-up dinner. This culinary endeavor takes inspiration from a style of Japanese cuisine known as “yoshoku,” which infuses Western recipes with Eastern ingredients and sensibilities. Erik Bentz cooks the savories and Elaine Townsend bakes the sweets. If you’ve explored all of the city’s ramen options, you owe it to yourself to experience a bowl of Bentz’s incredibly thoughtful noodle soup. Mochiko gets its noodles from Keizo Shimamoto, who operated New York’s acclaimed Ramen Shack. Shimamoto now makes noodles in small batches and Bentz figures a Mochiko pop-up is the only place to eat them outside of New York City. He also excels at dishes like karaage, omirice and gyokai tsukemen. Townsends’ variety of sweet pastries and confections walk the same line with creations like blueberry sticky buns dusted with kinako (roasted soybean flour that tastes kind of like peanut butter), ume kouign-amann (a French croissant-like pastry glazed with syrup made from salted and pickled Japanese plums) and even Hong Kong milk tea donuts. They have plans to open a physical location of their own, so keep your eyes open. Mochiko, facebook.com/mochikocincy. 

the tienda where you can find an assortment of grocery items, baked goods and a butcher counter. La Mexicana Restaurante Cantina & Tienda, 642 Monmouth St., Newport, 859-261-6112, searchable on Facebook.

BEST OATMEAL CREAM PIE Libby’s Southern Comfort, a Covington spot specializing in fried chicken and Cheerwine bourbon slushies, is from Brad Wainscott and his wife, Michelle. Brad’s dad, Butch, owns the Greyhound Tavern in Fort Mitchell — which has maintained a reputation for exceptional chicken dinners throughout the 30-plus years that he’s been at the helm — as well as the Tousey House Tavern in Burlington. So this family knows poultry and, chances are, if you’re heading to Libby’s, someone in your party is ordering it. The fried chicken entrée comes in sizes ranging from two pieces of white or dark meat to a half chicken to a whole bird (with two sides and a biscuit). 62  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Mochiko’s ramen PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

People also really like the hush puppies with Glier’s goetta as well as the oysters — on the half-shell, fried or in a po’boy. But whatever you order for dinner, stay for dessert. The oatmeal cream pie — two small oatmeal cookies with a cream filling, like Little Debbie without the preservatives — comes in a paper bag and is made by Scratch Hand Crafted Desserts. Self-taught baker Micaela Deye Holbrook used to make the cheesecakes and layer cakes for the now-defunct Chez Nora before moving into handcrafted desserts in 2014. She now specializes in plenty of baked goods, but cream pies are a customer favorite. She even created a limited-time Cheerwine oatmeal cream pie for the restaurant this February. Libby’s Southern Comfort, 35 W. Eighth St., Covington, libbyssoutherncomfort.com.

BEST BEEF BUTCHERING CLASS Want to get some highly allocated wagyu beef in your kitchen? Check out Wyoming Meat Market, which has been serving its

community’s hungry carnivores for decades. The market is a great spot to purchase locally raised meat, eggs and dairy, or, if you want to stop in on your lunch break, phenomenal sandwiches that showcase their mastery of all things meat. The market also hosts demos on how to fully break down half a cow. This past winter, they gave a step-by-step class on how to butcher an Ohio-raised carcass from Sakura Wagyu Farms to a full house. Wagyu is a breed of cattle prized for its exceptional tenderness and fat distribution. Meat connoisseurs consider it the champagne of beef thanks to tightly regulated guidelines on the animal’s breeding and diet. A lot of work is needed to process wagyu cattle into steaks but the end results are deliciously worthwhile, as those in attendance at the Wyoming Meat Market’s ticketed event found out. Starting with the forequarter of the cattle, market owner Jim Gelhausen and apprentice Shelbi Nation began to cut it down into individual cuts such as brisket, chuck and ribs. And then provided excellent examples of how to best savor each different one (with a bonus Wagyu tasting menu complemented by wines

from Charles Krug Winery and dessert pairings made with dairy from Indian Creek Creamery). Wyoming Meat Market, 513 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, facebook.com/ wyomingmeatmarket.

BEST ALTERNATIVE GRAIN AND PROTEIN OPTIONS IN A NORTHERN KENTUCKY STRIP MALL Tucked away in a strip mall along Dixie Highway and helmed by a former U.S. Army Sergeant and family (look for veteran and service member discounts), Sake Bomb in Erlanger is a staple of sorts among Northern Kentuckians. Serving up Korean and Japanese grub — including sushi, bento boxes, ramen, stone bowls and more — the restaurant also touts items that cater to a variety of dietary needs, from vegetarians to those who need or want to go gluten-free. Sake Bomb has also developed dishes that


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cater to those with diabetes, including a bowl made with barley/brown rice and a medley of veggies: bean sprouts, spinach, lettuce, carrots, beets, zucchini, mushrooms, pickled radish, broccoli and kimchi — all topped with an egg. In another quirky turn, you can also feast on goetta fried rice here and green tea ramen. Bonus: Sake Bomb keeps the kiddos entertained with DIY sushi classes. Sake Bomb, 3072 Dixie Highway, Erlanger, sakebombcatering.com.

BEST KITCHEN POPUP OFFERING UPAND-COMING CHEFS A “POT TO PISS IN” Chef and restaurateur Daniel Wright (Senate, Abigail Street, Pontiac) opened up the kitchen at his Over-the-Rhine Middle Eastern street food spot Forty Thieves this fall to aspiring chefs, cooks and bakers. Once a week — on Sundays — he welcomed in the new talent as part of a residency program so they could hone their craft while serving their food to his customers (and theirs). According to a Facebook post announcing the event series, Wright said that all residents would receive 100 percent of their profits made from the pop-ups; the only thing Forty Thieves asked is that they treat the kitchen as if it was their own. “A handful of people believed in us when we were getting started and didn’t have a pot to piss in, and we want to help a new generation get to where they’re going,” Wright wrote in the post. Past residents have included Pata Roja Taqueria, Bigee Talls and Han.Thee. Chef. Forty Thieves/Holiday Spirits, 1538 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, fortythievesgang.com.

BEST REASON TO BITCH ABOUT BARISTA RIGHTS Last summer, Holly Birrer began brainstorming the idea for Bitchy Baristas — a support network that works to create a safer community for local baristas and champions better workplace rights — after noticing troubling things happening in the local specialty coffee scene. When a woman she worked with at another place came to her to discuss problems she was having as a barista, Birrer felt that she could no longer keep quiet. Christina Snyder came on as co-founder and would later be joined by Kae Bonaguro. In part, Birrer drew inspiration from Coffee at Large, a Seattle-based nonprofit that formed after five baristas from Slate Coffee Roasters taped their resignation letters to their storefront’s door, alleging late paychecks and the management’s failure to address what 64  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

they called a “toxic work environment.” The org, much like Bitchy Baristas, aims to “shed light upon workplace injustice in the specialty coffee world.” As of September 2019, Bitchy Baristas became the first chapter of Coffee at Large. In the time since the Cincinnati group formed, they have hosted meet-ups, held latte art throwdowns and advocated for wage transparency, inclusive and healthy workplace environments and more. Let’s raise a mug for more change to come. Bitchy Baristas, facebook.com/btchybaristas.

BEST MEDITERRANEAN IN MASON Phoenician Taverna has established a glittering reputation in its half-dozen years of operation, turning up on local top 10 lists with downtown and Over-the-Rhine establishments by famed chefs with names like “Salazar,” “Falk” and “de Cavel.” Helmed by owner Wassim Matar, the strip-mall gem serves up superb, authentic Lebanese food in enviable proximity for Mason residents and a worth-thedrive spot for those living on the other side of I-275. The menu lists less than a dozen main dishes, everything from fatteh bel — “a traditional yogurt dish with chicken, lamb or eggplant” served in layers with chickpeas, warm yogurt garlic sauce and sautéed pine nuts — to a simple kebab of meat chunks and vegetables over rice. Appetizers, or “mezza” on the menu, are listed in three sections: cold mezza vegetarian, hot mezza vegetarian and not vegetarian. The hot mezza vegetarian list offers mouth-watering items such as a cheese pie and a spinach pie (fatayer b’sbanigh in Lebanese), described as homemade dough filled with spinach, pine nuts and sumac onions in lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Mr. Matar, would you consider opening a second location in the city? Phoenician Taverna, 7944 Mason Montgomery Road, Mason, facebook. com/phoeniciantaverna.

BEST POP-UP MADE PERMANENT This past August, Kiki College Hill opened its doors after a spell of planning, fundraising, pop-ups and patience. Former owner of Kaze izakaya (RIP), Hideki Harada and his wife Yuko were Monday night pop-up regulars at Northside Yacht Club for two years, slinging quick-to-sell-out bowls of ramen while they made their vision of a new brick-and-mortar a reality. The opening of the restaurant in a renovated bank proved the community’s support for this long-awaited arrival in previously ramen-less College Hill. That week’s turnout made it difficult to grab a table


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BEST BRUNCH SPOT TURNED DINNER HUB Nestled behind the bright windows of a garage-door-style front in an unexpected corner of Newport, The Baker’s Table has been serving local, seasonal cuisine to the masses since December 2018. This little gem of a restaurant offers such a cozy, inviting décor and ambiance that one immediately feels at home. And the menu adds to that sense of well-being. With a focus on the titular baker’s table, the brunch offerings read like a love letter to biscuits and brioche and sourdough sandwiches. Options run the gamut from breakfast pastries, like the raved-about Italian ricotta donuts, to biscuits and gravy with Eckerlin pork sausage. After attracting national praise from food and dining website Eater and USA Today, husband-and-wife ownership team chef David Willocks and designer Wendy Braun announced they’d expand their Newport breakfast, brunch and lunch spot offerings to include dinner. Dinners demonstrate that the kitchen has gone way beyond bread as a mainstay of the menu, rotating in pastas, vegetarian main courses and meat, poultry and fish entrées while still keeping a few baker’s choice breads. Hungry guests can always expect inviting interiors, housemade everything and excellent service, no matter the time of day. The Baker’s Table, 1004 Monmouth St., Newport, bakerstablenewport.com.

and even more difficult to hold it together while waiting (not-so) patiently for a bowl of noodles. It’s not that the space is small (it seats 65); it’s that so many ramen-lovers and frequenters of NSYC had been waiting years for the arrival of this ramen spot. There are nine appetizers and two varieties of ramen on the current menu, but it isn’t lacking; it is focused with a bit of something for everyone, veg-heads, meat lovers and gluten averse included. Choose between shio ramen — a chicken broth with pork belly, negi), a tea-marinated egg and rayu (chili oil) — and kimchi ramen, featuring housemade kimchi and tofu. All those years in the making have made Hideki and Yuko’s restaurant worth the wait. Kiki College Hill, 5932 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, kikicincinnati.com.

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The Baker’s Table PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

BEST VEGETARIAN RAMEN Zundo Ramen & Donburi may be known for its signature creamy pork-infused tonkotsu ramen, but their meat-free take hits the spot all the same. Made with steamy vegetable broth, lotus root and green onion, this dish is best slurped by kicking the spice level up a notch. (Fun fact: Zundo has a machine dedicated solely to chopping green onions because they go through so many.) Owner/ chef Han Lin, who also runs Mei Japanese Restaurant in Montgomery, has the goal of balancing authenticity and modernity in the dish, specifically authentic eating techniques. Lin told CityBeat before the restaurant opened, “The thing with the United States is when people eat ramen, they eat it slowly. It’s weird to watch. When I eat ramen, it’s like a two-minute or three-minute finish. I eat it while it’s hot. When it gets cold, the noodles soak in too much and it’s not good.” See if you can tackle the fast food the same way: Mix all the ingredients floating in the deep bowl together and slurp. Adjacent to Washington Park, it’s the perfect cozy dinner or lunch spot before

hitting the town. They also offer more than 35 types of filtered and non-filtered sake (including sake bombs). Zundo Ramen & Donburi, 220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, zundootr.com.

BEST PHO SPOTS WE LOST Obviously, Vietnamese restaurants are not chili parlors, but in Cincinnati the dining concepts engender a similar fervent fan base — a sort of culinary cult wherein diners revere a favorite hidden gem or mom-and-pop spot as offering the best pho. (Pho is not a 3-way but it is a bowl of steaming noodles so there’s probably some parallel to draw there.) Sadly, two of the most beloved family-run Vietnamese spots shut their doors this past year: Clifton Heights’ Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro and downtown’s Le’s Pho & Sandwiches. Both had a slew of loyal clientele who would extol the virtues of their treasured eatery’s menu above all others, and patronage definitely wasn’t the reason either restaurant gave for shutting their doors. Cilantro’s last

day of business was Jan. 31 and they said in a Facebook post, “We owe our success and continuity over the past 16 years of business to you, our customers. We’d like to thank everyone — from those who helped build the foundation of the business, to our various staff members over the years, to our regular customers — for being a part of this incredible journey with us...It will be a strange feeling waking up Saturday morning knowing that Cilantro will not be opening, but it’s a decision we know is right for us and our family at this time.” The restaurant closed for a short time in March 2018 (restaurateur Simon Verderame bought it and reopened the space as High Steaks steak and frites shop; that closed after five days) before reopening in July of that year. Le’s closed its storefront at the end of February for similar reasons to Cilantro. For those who work downtown, Le’s tiny corner of Court Street was likely a familiar and favorite lunchtime destination. Husband and wife Hai and Le Bui and their family made the food fresh every day and their daughter, Huyen Bui-Gauck, said closing when the restaurant’s lease ended in March felt right. She said her


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parents are getting older and suffering from different health issues, and she has a nine-month-old son at home with whom she wants to spend more time. “It is such a hard decision because we have really grown so close to our customers,” she said to CityBeat in an email. “I know it might sound weird but with most of them they have become much more than just customers. We have seen people through so many stages of their life. Some people I know about their medical conditions and if they need to stay away from certain foods because an ulcer or a new trendy diet they want to try. I have seen people at the beginning of their pregnancies all the way until their children are graduated high school or college. It truly is an end of an era.”

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Oct. 2 marked a fateful day in the Northern Kentucky restaurant community: The Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club, a barge-turned-floatingrestaurant anchored to the side of the Ohio River, was struck by a tow ship that, quite literally, sunk the business. A report from the U.S. Coast Guard later determined the worker tasked with operating the ship at the time fell asleep, causing the ship to strike the restaurant. The impact reportedly sunk part of the Yacht Club and caused the tow ship to drag another portion of the restaurant downriver. According to owners Steve and Andrea Gott, the restaurant was completely destroyed. In the wake of the closure, Steve Gott wrote in a Facebook post that the future of the Yacht Club remains “unclear,” but added “I will be back.” In the meantime, the Gotts have asked former patrons of the Yacht Club to drop by their other Ludlow eatery, Lagoon Saloon, located just across the road from where the floating restaurant went asunder last fall. Lagoon Saloon, 859 Elm St., Ludlow, ludlowbromleyyachtclub.com.

BEST BRUSSELS SPROUTS Nestled at the intersection of Delta and Linwood avenues in Mount Lookout Square (hence the name), Delwood is a family-friendly and dog-friendly Peruvian-inspired gastropub. Delwood’s kitchen is small and so is the restaurant, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in worth-the-wait flavor. The petite food menu offers six different sharables and eight sandwiches and salads, like their popular Delwood Burger, topped with salsa criolla (a sort of vinegary red onion and pepper mixture), avocado and huancaina sauce. But the thing that has people raving here is, surprisingly, the Brussels sprouts. These

charred and crispy green balls of goodness are served with a garlicky, spicy verde aioli — and that’s it. There’s no bacon or over-easy egg or anything else to distract from the veggie itself. The cocktail menu also includes a taste of Peru via the pisco sour, made with the titular South American liquor, egg white, lime, simple syrup and bitters. Delwood, 3204 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout, delwoodcincy.com.

BEST WEIRD PLACE TO PUT A FOOD GRILL The Ohio Valley Antique Mall is a massive antique mall in Fairfield filled with more than two acres’ worth of vendor booths offering everything from Midcentury furniture, architectural finds, vintage fashions and artwork to rugs, ornaments, books and kitschy collectibles. And after wandering about half of the aisles, you’ll start to smell a fragrance reminiscent of food cooking on a flattop grill. Follow that scent and you’ll be led to the OVAM Café, a much-needed respite from wandering for antique hunters with tired feet and hangry attitudes. The oddly but conveniently placed pop-up looks like a little roadside café, with a corrugated metal roof and an “Open” sign. It serves brunch and lunch seven days a week (and an early dinner) offering items like cheeseburgers, hotdogs, BLTs and baked potatoes. There’s even egg salad and tuna salad, cottage cheese and cake. It will most likely take you off guard the first time you visit the antique mall — especially if you weren’t expecting to smell hamburger meat — but it’s a similar concept to the IKEA cafeteria. If people go wandering around a large and complicated store for too long without eating, someone is bound to get in a fight with a significant other, child or parent. Ohio Valley Antique Mall, 7285 Dixie Highway, Fairfield, ohiovalleyantiques.com.

BEST DOUBLE DOSE OF MEAT AND OATS When Glier’s Goettafest took to the Newport riverfront last summer, it did a full Coachella (minus the ultra-expensive musical lineup and plus lots more goetta), and encompassed two weekends and eight days, running July 25 to 28 and Aug. 1 to 4 at Festival Park on the Levee. That was the first time the annual celebration has expanded in its 18-year run. Goetta — a log of pork and beef, whole-grain oats, onion and spices — is our city’s most popular regional dish after Cincinnati-style chili. And chances are high that you’ve been ordering Glier’s brand goetta from local restaurants; the Covington-based company claims to sell the most goetta in the world and


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BEST $10 LUNCH DEAL Chef Jose Salazar opened Goose & Elder, a sort of comfort food destination with self-described “Midcentury grandma” décor, adjacent to Findlay Market last year. It’s the third in the local favorite’s restaurant portfolio, which includes the eponymous New American Salazar (opened in 2013) and the Spanish/Latin American Mita’s (opened in 2015). Sydney Fisher is chef de cuisine here but Salazar himself greets patrons and puts finishing touches on just about every plate coming out of the kitchen. Though it feels more casual or at least more affordable than Salazar’s other eateries, Goose & Elder’s menu is just as creative, boasting fun takes on easy eats. Chicken wings are covered with Calabrian chili sauce and served with parmesan dip; the baked mac and cheese is infused with pickled jalapeno; fall-off-the-bone duck leg confit is served over grits; and the fried bologna sandwich comes topped with American cheese, pickles, coleslaw, an over-easy egg and potato chips. Retro cocktails like the Harvey Wallbanger and White Russian add a fun twist. And if you stop by for lunch during the week — specifically between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday — don’t sleep on the burger deal. You can get a Royale Goose burger, featuring grass-fed beef, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and Dijonnaise on a sesame bun, plus crinkle cut fries and a soft drink for $10. Pretty sweet because usually all of those options come a la carte. Goose & Elder, 1800 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, gooseandelder.com.

has played a large role in maintaining goetta’s popularity since the sausage kitchen and smokehouse opened more than 70 years ago. Not unlike scrapple, livermush or haggis, the meat was made to stretch and is generally considered a breakfast dish. But Goettafest makes its vendors think outside the omelet by requiring each of them to have an entirely unique menu. That means the food variety at the festival is incredibly diverse. You’ll find goetta fudge, goetta pizza, goetta Rangoon, ice cream topped with crumbled goetta, goetta on a sick, deep-fried goetta balls and the ever-popular grilled goetta donut sandwich. In addition to eats, there are carnival games, live music and even a refrigerated goetta vending machine on-site in case you want to take goetta home. So why 70  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Goose & Elder PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

the double dates? The only complaints Glier’s says it ever received about Goettafest are that it is always too busy and people with strollers or wheelchairs can’t easily navigate the crowd, so the solution was to stretch the party out longer with the hope that attendance wouldn’t be so heavily concentrated. It must have worked because they’re doing it again this year: July 30 to Aug. 2 and Aug. 6 to 9. Glier’s Goettafest, Festival Park on the Levee, Newport on the Levee, Newport, goettafest.com.

BEST CONEY BOY Even though Xavier University graduate Patrick Kaple may not be a Cincinnati native, he really likes Skyline Chili. So much so that he created a challenge for himself: to eat 1,000 cheese coneys in one year. The challenge started in December 2018 after Kaple was inspired by an article he read in the Cleveland Scene, telling CityBeat at the time, “I decided to embark on this challenge mainly because I thought that I could do it. My friends and I stumbled across an article written by

Cleveland Scene tabbed: ‘An Ohio Man ate 400 Skyline Chili Cheese Coneys this year and is still somehow alive.’ I have some friends who eat three coneys every day for lunch at work and we’re like, ‘Why is that something newsworthy?” I said, ‘I’m going to go for 1,000 and see what happens.’ If you love Skyline that much, 400 coneys is like second nature to you.” Kaple started a Twitter profile with the handle @1kconey, where followers could keep up with his journey and receive daily updates on his coney count. On Dec. 15, 2019, Kaple threw a party to celebrate his success and consume his 1,000th cheese coney surrounded by his friends and supporters at Norwood’s Dana Gardens. Skyline Chili retweeted a video of Kaple eating his coney, recognizing his devotion to the delicacy. “1k Cheese Coneys in 365 days. Safe to say Patrick is our #1 fan,” the post read. And that is how a legend was born. His first bite is also immortalized on a plaque his brother gave him with a photo, the date and the words, “Stay Golden Coney Boy.”

BEST BABY CHEEZUS Mikey’s Late Night Slice is an Instagram-feed feverdream of a pizza parlor that serves a blend of Ohio/New York-style pizza by the slice (or pie) and “unpretentious classic cocktails.” With glowing neon signs, ’80s music videos, boldly patterned wallpapers, an entire wall of record covers and retro industrial décor, it’s a pulsing TGI Fridays reimagined to meet the needs of modern millennial diners. It’s fun, it’s weird and it’s attached to its sister bar — Oddfellows Liquor Bar — via an electric bathroom grotto. The Columbus-based operation offers options for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diners, plus drunk people as a nice nod to the “late night” in the name. Order one of the Sacraments, a list of outrageous pizza bastardizations, for a decadent experience. The Pizza Dawg is a butterflied hot dog stuffed with pepperoni and cheese and served with a pizza as the bun. The Cheezus Crust is a grilled cheese sandwich with pizza instead of bread. And if you’re feeling naughty but not that naughty, the Baby Cheezus is slightly less overwhelming in size but “every


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BEST SQUARE PIZZA Taglio is the second pizza-focused restaurant “chain” from brothers Nick and Jared Wayne and their business partners (“chain” as in they have two locations: one in Columbia Tusculum and one in the former OTR Lachey’s); A Tavola was their first (also with two locations: one in OTR and one in Madeira). But unlike A Tavola, which uses family recipes to craft an Italian trattoria experience as well as Neapolitan/ Roman-style pizzas via a wood-fired oven, Taglio keeps things a little closer to home. This pizzeria is known for its Detroit-style pizza. What is Detroit-style pizza, you ask? Some frozen Detroit-style pizza brand uses this helpful Eminem-referenced phrase on its box to explain it: instead of trailer park girls (like in the Detroit rapper’s song “Without Me”), cheese goes ‘round the outside. Of the crust. Before it’s baked. Taglio puts its housemade dough into deep-dish, rectangular pans and then places whole-milk mozzarella around the edges and on the top of the crust, under the sauce. The pizza is baked for longer than a normal pizza so the sides get all caramelized and crunchy. It’s awesome and it only comes in one size — 18 inches. You can create your own or select from one of Taglio’s signature pizzas. The pepperoni and hot honey is a good place to start if you’ve never tried a Detroit-style pie before. Dine in at one of the restaurants or download their app to order delivery. They also deliver alcohol. Taglio, 3531 Columbia Parkway, Columbia Tusculum; 56 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, eattaglio.com.

BEST WAY TO WHIP IT Zip Dip literally shines like a beacon of light through the dark — the iconic neon lightning bolt adorning the roof is unmistakable. It was added to the building in 1951 and has been guiding customers through summer heat waves to ice cream salvation ever since. The walk-up ice creamy whip was built in 1950 by Charlie Metzger, himself a resident of Westwood’s Drew Avenue, and first leased out to two teachers at Colerain High School. It was then owned by two different couples before going up for sale in 1987 when the current owners took charge. Now it belongs to Chris Torbeck and his wife, the fourth owners tasked with keeping this mainstay alive. This slice of nostalgia has employed generations of families, seen 60th wedding anniversary parties (because the couple had their first date at the whip) and even mourners stopping by 72  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

after funerals to commemorate a favorite spot of a departed loved one. Now open for its 70th season, not much has changed — and that’s the way people like it. Just like every Cincinnatian has their favorite creamy whip, every creamy whip has their own quirky specialties. If you’re a Zip Dip first timer, try their orange and vanilla twist. Zip Dip, 4050 Drew Ave., Bridgetown, zip-dip.com.

BEST SPACE AGE STEAKHOUSE Gorilla Cinema Presents is a self-described “creative experiences company” that traffics in immersive concept bars and enchanting pop-ups: the colorful La Ofrenda tequila spot near Findlay Market, the Video Archive movie-store speakeasy in Walnut Hills and The Shining-influenced Overlook Lodge in Pleasant Ridge. Next to the latter is the group’s first foray into full food service. The Lonely Pine Steakhouse is a retro restaurant with transportive décor reminiscent of the American Southwest and the Atomic Age. It’s less focused on blatantly paying homage to a film than some of their other establishments, though there are nods to Back to the Future hidden throughout (even the name Lonely Pine is from the film). The concept here is a call-back to owner Jacob Trevino’s Texas childhood where delicious and affordable steaks were available at every roadside restaurant. His hope is to strip the idea of steak having to be a pricey special occasion dish, instead making options available for every budget. “To me it’s very much a working-man’s steakhouse. The secret is that we’ve got some high-end dry-aged steaks, but we also have a steak on the menu for $18 that’s wagyu high-quality beef,” he told CityBeat in an interview. The New York strip is dry-aged in house for 30 days, whereas that aforementioned wagyu comes in a four or eight ounce cut. The eight-ounce version is available in a special Route 66 combo: bread, salad, a side and that buttery dual-cut shoulder filet cooked to your specifications, all for $40. And if you happen to be eating with someone steak-averse, they don’t have to eat a wedge salad and a baked potato here. Lonely Pine has created a vegetarian Prairie Loaf meatloaf with mushrooms, black beans, eggplant, flaxseed and salsa verde. All very Mad Men when enjoyed with an ice-cold and nostalgic Steakhouse Martini. Lonely Pine Steakhouse, 6085 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, lonelypinesteakhouse.com.

BEST PLACE FOR PÂTÉ AND A HIGH LIFE Over-the-Rhine’s Longfellow is highly lauded


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BEST TACO TUESDAY Tortilleria Garcia is the ever-expanding edible empire of Omar Garcia, who currently operates restaurants in Springdale and College Hill with a forthcoming third spot in Mason, slated to open this spring. The menu consists of straightforward Mexican classics like tamales, burritos, housemade salsas and rotisserie chicken, in addition to tacos, but what makes Tortilleria Garcia stand out are the excellent, excellent tortillas. Garcia grew up on a family farm in Michoacan, Mexico and learned how to make corn tortillas the old-fashioned way from his mother and grandmother. Garcia has committed to honoring his culinary history and his restaurants uncompromisingly follow the family recipe for fresh tortillas, never using flour or preservatives. Every Tuesday, tacos — which come wrapped in two of the aforementioned delicious corn tortillas — are just $1 each, all day. Fillings include carnitas, pollo, carne or al pastor (vegetarians can request beans) and you can top them with your choice of cilantro, onion, tomato, lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream and/ or salsa, plus guacamole for an upcharge. Limes come on the side. They are so good and worth way more than a dollar. You can also buy packages of fresh corn tortillas to go and make your own tacos at home. Garcia sells meat by the pound and rotisserie chicken (whole or in parts), or a “family pack” with meat, a pint each of two sides, a pack of tortillas and homemade salsa. Tortilleria Garcia, 5917 Hamilton Ave., College Hill; 11774 Springfield Pike, Springdale, tortilleriagarcia.us.

for its smart cocktail service, incorporating atypical alcohols with interesting liqueurs and complex flavor profiles. For example, the always-on-menu Spruce Goose, with barrel-aged-gin, honey, lime and bitters, or the Shiso Painkiller, a green colored Tiki take with navy rum, shiso, pina, orange, coconut and nutmeg. They also have a ton of wine, cider, sake, beer and non-alcoholic options like Topo Chico. All of which are a fine complement to anything on the Longfellow food menu. Food in bars is fun — drink, eat, stay a while. The menu boasts plenty of sandwiches for when you need something slightly more substantial — dill pickle and cheese; casino egg salad; peanut butter, tahini and spicy honey with cherry jam; and a scrap sandwich with charcuterie slicer scraps 74  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Tortilleria Garcia PHOTO | Paige Deglow

and Dijon — plus chips, dip, cottage cheese with black pepper and even caviar. But a fun and fancy bar snack (OK, caviar is fancy, too) is the Longfellow Pâté. The chicken liver pâté is made with cognac and rosemary brown butter and served with saltines. It’s only $7, which means for a grand total of $10, you can tack on a $3 daily cheap tall can of beer. Selections rotate so it’s like a secret beer surprise. Or you can just get a Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, for that same $3. Longfellow, 1233 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, longfellowbar.com.

BEST CREOLE CREAM PASTA From 2011 until 2018, owner Joby Bowman and chef Michael Shields ran BrewRiver GastroPub as a Creole and craft beer-focused eatery on Riverside Drive before the closure of longstanding Italian eatery Bella Luna opened up a bigger space nearby. The duo has now brought the spirit of New Orleans to that stately — and much larger — 150-year-old building on Eastern Avenue, changing their

restaurant name to BrewRiver Creole Kitchen. Shields, who earned his chops under Emeril Lagasse, has added new items to the menu — broiled oysters, fried green tomatoes and jambalaya — but kept his focus on Crescent City cuisine. “People get confused by our restaurant because restaurants are usually Cajun if they are New Orleansthemed,” Bowman told CityBeat. “We called ourselves ‘Creole’ because it comes from the influence of French, Spanish, African, Italian, even Vietnamese in New Orleans food.” One of those Creole dishes is Pasta Monica, inspired by Crawfish Monica from the New Orleans Jazz Fest: plump shrimp are placed on spaghetti and generously coated in a spicy cream sauce; vegetarians can sub in mixed vegetables for a flavor-packed entrée. If the weather’s nice, try to snag a spot on the small patio and sip a Hurricane or Sazerac. BrewRiver Creole Kitchen, 4632 Eastern Ave., East End, brewrivercreolekitchen.com.

BEST USE OF SALT

Walt’s Hitching Post is a rib and steak

restaurant in an old white, let’s call it a “house” — although it’s much larger than your domicile’s dining room — that was founded in Fort Wright in 1942. It was so named for the literal cast-iron posts where guests could hitch their horses. Undergoing several expansions and one other owner — Bill Melton, the “Rib Caesar,” ran the place until he died in 2008 — Walt’s current caretakers are Bronson Trebbi and Donny Arnsperger. The duo is dedicated to preserving this classic haunt’s place in local lore and its culinary legacy through customer favorites. There are charred steaks, fried green tomatoes with chicken livers, mac and cheese served in a skillet and salads topped with housemade tomato garlic ranch. Every entrée also comes with Walt’s salted rye — it arrives at your table in a bread basket. It’s a fluffy, dark bread that has been heavily coated with butter and dropped on some type of grill surface or under a broiler to create a pleasing crunch. It’s also really, really salty. And if you’d prefer your salt on meat instead of carbs, stop by early on a Friday night for Kosher-salt encrusted prime rib. It’s there until they sell out. Walt’s Hitching Post, 3300 Madison Pike, Fort Wright, waltshitchingpost.com.


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BEST UNEXPECTED BURGER Helmed by an actual Belgian — Jean-Francois Flechet — Taste of Belgium is known for its Liege waffles, thick and caramelized creations cooked in a cast-iron waffle maker. And, as suggested in the name, the restaurant also offers myriad other Belgian-style dishes: stoemp, escargot, Pernod mussels, steak frites, crepes, Brittany-style savory galettes and many Belgian beers. (The bistro at The Banks is only the second place in the world to offer all four Chimay trappist ales on draft, outside of the brewery.) But if you’re skipping the breakfast options here, try the ToB Burger. The patty is made with a mix of short rib, brisket and chuck and comes topped with bacon, goat cheese and an unexpected addition of caramelized apples and shallots. It’s a fun combo of sweet and savory, especially when paired with the bistro’s frites. They are thick potato fries that might strangely remind you of those you grew up eating at Kings Island and they’re served with a side of aioli. Taste of Belgium, 1135 Vine St., Over-theRhine; 2845 Short Vine, Corryville; 3825 Edwards Road, Hyde Park; 16 W. Freedom Way, The Banks, authenticwaffle.com.

BEST FAMILY FRIEDCHICKEN NIGHT

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The Greyhound Tavern has offered downhome comfort food to Northern Kentuckians since the 1920s. The atmosphere is pleasantly country-fied, with wood paneling, vinyl tablecloths and multiple fireplaces, and so is the menu. The tavern is known for its herbed secret-recipe fried chicken, available daily with a starring role on the Sunday brunch buffet. But if you really want to get your fill of this pleasant poultry, visit on a Monday or Tuesday night for their family-style special. Starting at 4 p.m., you can get half a chicken, mashed potatoes and a side of gravy, green beans, coleslaw and biscuits for less than $17, ideally to share with family, or you can eat it all yourself. Greyhound Tavern, 2500 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright, greyhoundtavern.com.

BEST SYRIAN SAMPLER

The word “baladi” in Arabic means “my country” and introducing Cincinnatians to true Syrian cuisine, culture and hospitality is exactly what the Barazi family is aiming to do with their Clifton eatery Baladi Restaurant & Bakery. The family opened Baladi in 2017, serving a broad menu of authentic Arabic eats with an emphasis on delicious desserts and warm and welcoming hospitality. On the list of dishes, you’ll find familiar hits with influences from

Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. There’s hummus, falafel, kebabs and gyros, but branch out and try something you won’t find on other Middle Eastern-leaning menus, like Foul (fava beans, olive oil and lemon juice); Fatayir, a “cheese boat” baked in handmade dough, as the menu elegantly and aptly calls it; or the Syrian flatbread wrap. These are different than your average pita sandwich, with fillings like beef or chicken shawarma pressed inside handmade flatbread — a grab-and-go snack you’d literally be able to find at a Middle Eastern street vendor. And don’t skip the “beverages” section of the menu. Two super selections to bring to your attention: the fresh mint lemonade and the ayran. The mint lemonade is more like a mint and citrus slushie. And aryan is a chilled, savory yogurt drink. Variations of both can be found throughout the Middle East, but are hard to find at local restaurants. Baladi Restaurant & Bakery, 3307 Clifton Ave., Clifton, facebook.com/ baladirestaurantandbakery.

BEST BIG CITY FOOD HALL When Kroger on the Rhine opened in September, it was the first Kroger location in downtown Cincinnati proper since 1969. The multi-floor concept — and we’re just talking about the Kroger here, not the attached garage or the market-rate apartments — brings to mind the food halls of larger American and even European cities. Food halls are not quite market houses, grocery stores or food courts, they’re a mix of all three and On the Rhine Eatery is Cincinnati’s first. It’s a trend that allows patrons to wander while snacking and drinking in a community space. Located on the second floor of the grocer, the food hall is home to five favorite local concepts: Eli’s BBQ, dope! Asian Street Fare, Django Western Taco, Queen City Whip and Kroger’s 1883 Café & Bar. You order from each restaurant independently and then bring your food to the tables at the center. There’s also a full-service bar so you can grab a glass of wine or cocktail while you dine. If there’s space on the outdoor patio — there are only a few coveted tables — it’s an excellent, elevated spot to watch the world go by. Kroger on the Rhine, 100 E. Court St., Downtown, ontherhineeatery.com.

BEST TRUE CRIME BEER DINNER

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APRIL 20-26, 2020

Dates are subject to change. Visit www.gcrweek.com for the most up to date information.

ENJOY $26 AND $36 THREE COURSE PRIX FIXE MENUS $1 OF EVERY MEAL GOES TO CINCINNATI CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL PA R T I C I P AT I N G R E S TA U R A N T S ALFIO’S BUON CIBO | BREWDOG | BREWRIVER CREOLE KITCHEN | BROWN DOG CAFÉ | BUTCHER AND BARREL | CHART HOUSE | CHÉ | COOPER’S HAWK | COPPER BLUE | COPPIN’S | COURT STREET LOBSTER BAR | EDDIE MERLOTS | EIGHTEEN AT THE RADISSON | EMBERS | FIERY HEN | FIREBIRDS | GOOSE AND ELDER | GROVE PARK GRILLE | HOFBRAUHAUS | JAG’S STEAK AND SEAFOOD | JEAN ROBERT’S TABLE | KONA GRILL | LE BAR A BOEUF | LIBBY’S SOUTHERN COMFORT | LOUVINO | MATT THE MILLERS | MCCORMICK AND SCHMICK’S | METROPOLE | MITA’S | MITCHELL’S FISH MARKET | MORTON’S STEAK HOUSE | NAPA KITCHEN + BAR | NATIONAL EXEMPLAR | NICOLA’S | OVERLOOK KITCHEN + BAR | PARKER’S BLUE ASH TAVERN | PARLOR ON 7TH | PLEASANTRY | POMPILIOS | PRIMAVISTA | PRIME | QUARTER BISTRO | ROTOLO | RUTH’S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE | SALAZAR | SEASONS 52 | SKALLY’S | SOMM WINE BAR | SORRENTO’S | SPOON & CELLAR | STREET CITY PUB | TASTE OF BELGIUM | THE CAPITAL GRILLE | THE GOLDEN LAMB | THE KITCHEN | THE MELTING POT | THE MERCER OTR | THE VIEW AT SHIRES GARDEN | TRIO MORE TO BE ANNOUNCED!

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Cincinnati


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THANK YOU FOR VOTING US TOP TEN OVERALL PIZZA

Thanks to bartenders Casey Murphy, Andrew Gleason, Caren Curk, and chefs Nigel Hardy, Dalton Jude, Brandon Pennington, Jason LoGrasso, Jon Robinson, Andrew Aragon, Dylan Hopkins, and Nick Linthicum. Best team in the world! 513-751-3473 773 EAST MCMILLANCINCINNATI, OHIO WWW.FIRESIDEPIZZAWALNUTHILLS.COM

Doing southern food at its best.

35 West 8th Street Covington, Kentucky 41011 859-261-3106 B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 79


BEST DAILY DOLLAR OYSTERS Social OTR in Findlay Market has two spaces: a main restaurant and a back bar. At the main Elm Street entrance, you’ll find a couple of sidewalk patio tables and a sunny front room with a mirrored bar and communal tables. The back room — also known as The Alley at Social…because you enter from Campbell Alley — has a darker, cozier feel where the bartenders double as servers. It is here where you’ll find the 5-1-3 Happy Hour, named for the city’s area code, boasting $5 house wines, $1 oysters and $3 drafts. It happens 4 to 6 p.m. every day they’re open aka Tuesday through Saturday. And this isn’t the only special at Social. On Tuesday, you can get a pound of mussels and a bottle of house white for $20, then come back on Wednesday for burger night. (They also have a special brunch menu on the weekends.) A nonprofit venture, Social OTR nails its ambitious New American menu full of snacks and shareables while aiming to fill a multitude of societal and business needs. In partnership with CityLink Center, a faith-based nonprofit organization that works on multiple fronts to combat poverty, the restaurant offers an internship for students involved in the Findlay Culinary Training program. Students participate in a workforce development program before getting hands-on training in the restaurant to prepare them for a professional career in kitchens around the area. Social OTR, 1819 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, socialotr.com.

Cincinnati Beer. The third Thursdays of the month, Morgan hosts a thrilling true crime dinner series at Washington Platform called Murder on the Menu. It’s not like one of those murder mystery dinners where guests have to solve clues provided by a troupe of wellintentioned but low-budget actors in between courses. Morgan weaves a tale of a real unsolved Cincinnati murder from 1879. Check in, chug a drink and then Morgan will lead you on a walking tour around the neighborhood to see where Harry Baldwin was shot and mortally wounded, pointing out historic brothels, converted breweries and twisting plotlines along the way. Baldwin’s case was never solved and, as so eloquently put on the event website, “almost destroyed the Schaller-Gerke brewing empire, threatened to expose a celebrity Madam’s list of exclusive and influential clientele, and laid bare the 80  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Social OTR PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

depths of Cincinnati’s moral depravity.” Afterward, head back to the restaurant and saloon for a paired dinner with a different brewery. Chef Jon Diebold crafts a unique menu each time (let them know about any dietary restrictions in advance) and Morgan unravels more of the top case theories between each dish. Washington Platform, 1000 Elm St., Downtown, queencityhistory.com.

BEST LUNCH DELIVERY ON TWO WHEELS

If you are a busy person who also likes to eat and cannot leave your office for whatever reason to procure lunch, the humans at 53T Courier will bring it to you because they are the best. They have been delivering lunch (and dinner) to downtowners (and CityBeaters) via bicycle in the rain, sleet, snow and heat since 2014. Pronounced “fifty-three tee” — for the number of teeth on a road bike’s chain ring — the company, founded by Ian Bulling and Dave Adams, is rider-owned and operated and “comprised of experienced, dedicated cyclists

who love what they do.” Monday through Saturday, these be-spoked saviors will drop off food from an ever-growing list of local restaurants throughout downtown, Over-theRhine and Northern Kentucky, like Cheapside Café, Pho Lang Thang and The Baker’s Table. They also perform other assorted bike messenger services like delivering parcels, papers and etc. The restaurant selection may be greater through food delivery conglomerates but those mega-fleets don’t have Ian — or his giant backpack — hand delivering your lunch to you at your desk, still hot and intact, while you’re trying to make a deadline. It is only a slight exaggeration to say some of us here might starve without him and 53T. 53T Courier, 53tcourier.com.

BEST WAY TO CONSUME COOKIE DOUGH WITHOUT GETTING SALMONELLA

Nick Ganim’s family owns three local ice cream parlors: Mt. Washington Creamy Whip,

Old Milford Parlor and, the most recent in the portfolio, Pendleton Parlor. Visitors can order from a diverse menu of creamy whip flavors ranging from strawberry to espresso, but soft serve isn’t the only choice to fill your cup or cone. More adventurous customers can opt for edible cookie dough by the scoop or choose to blend the batter into a shake or sundae. This dough isn’t full of raw eggs, so it’s safe to eat. The core flavors are chocolate chip, sugar cookie with sprinkles, oatmeal chocolate chip and cake batter, available literally to eat as a scoop in a cup, in a milkshake, sundae or affogato (with espresso), or as a best-selling side-by-side with ice cream. They also offer rotating dough flavors of the month ranging from Oreo cream cheese to strawberry shortcake and pumpkin pie. If you can’t pick, get four of them in a flight. Pendleton Parlor, 1218 Broadway St., Pendleton, pendletonparlor.com

BEST NO-FRILLS 3-WAY

Diners and chili parlors are not necessarily synonymous with terms like “fancy” or


www.ohioburgerweek.com

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positively changing lives Since 1987, we’ve worked to shape a world where hope prevails for those at-risk for and living with HIV/AIDS. Learn more about our mission and how we serve the community: caracole.org @wearecaracole

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“black-tie” and Fort Wright Family Restaurant is truly a laid-back, zero-frills, huge-portions hole in the wall. On their menu it says in quotes, “A lot for a little,” and the friendly staff really delivers on that promise with bigger-than-your head omelets and massive double deckers with plenty of American cheese and goetta throughout. But, like many diners in Cincinnati, this greasy spoon leans Greek with its gyros, classical wall mural and chili iterations. There are coneys, chili cheese sandwiches and all the numbered ways. If you are looking for a new place to try a 3-way, try here. Their chili leans more diner than Skyline or Gold Star, so think super homemade with finely ground beef and thick shreds of cheddar. This place is generally packed with longtime regulars and happy seniors, so they must be doing something right. Fort Wright Family Restaurant, 1860 Ashwood Circle, Fort Mitchell, 859-331-8359.

BEST FISH KATSU

Izen’s Drunken Bento is a tiny shotgun-style izakaya offering exquisite sushi and surprisingly affordable Korean in Clifton Heights. Students from the nearby University of Cincinnati love it for its stuffed special rolls (the triple tuna roll is filled with spicy tuna and cucumber then topped with avocado, more tuna, even more super white tuna, spicy crab, masago and eel sauce), cheap alcohol and late hours (they’re open until at least 1 a.m. most nights). You can also draw on this wall of exposed two-by-fours that are filled with scribbled graffiti about “hearting” people. Among the pan-Asian selections are three different katsu entrées — crunchy and breaded chicken, pork and fish. The fish is where it’s at. Red snapper is tempura battered and deep fried and served with a house salad topped with that ginger dressing made famous by Benihana. If you want to try the other two proteins, come during lunch for a bento box special. Izen’s Drunken Bento, 212 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, 513-381-5905, searchable on Facebook.

BEST FOUR SEASONS PIZZA

Will de Luca has operated Betta’s Italian Oven near Xavier University since 2003. The casual, family-run trattoria is named after his mother, Betta, who immigrated from Italy with his father. The duo had separately worked in their own family’s restaurants in their home country and brought that love of food and cherished recipes with them. Betta’s was one of the first in the area to offer wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas, with that asymmetrical shape and charred, delicious crust. The restaurant makes their dough and sauces (and salad dressing) fresh every day to create what can only be considered authentic Italian cuisine. You can build your own but Betta’s also offers its own creations, including a pizza margherita, pizza diavolo (spicy sauce!) and the quattro stagioni. Italian for four seasons, the pizza is divided into

quarters and each section is topped with a different collection of goodies. There is fresh, handmade mozzarella in one quarter, kalamata olives in another, prosciutto in another and fresh tomatoes, olive oil and fresh basil in the last. You should also check out the deli case when you walk in to see daily gourmet salads, available by the pound. If you see marinated artichokes, get them. Also, you can’t argue with the $12 price tag on their full carafe of house white wine. Betta’s Italian Oven, 3764 Montgomery Road, Norwood, facebook.com/bettasitalianoven.

BEST RESCUE OF A NEIGHBORHOOD HANGOUT

The renovation and reopening of Sitwell’s on Ludlow Avenue — officially now called Sitwell’s Coffeehouse Act II — has given Clifton’s Gaslight District a much more inviting place to eat, drink coffee, hold small meetings and get some work done on your laptop. Closed for several months in 2018 while ownership changed hands, it reopened a little over a year ago powered by the energetic vision of a young couple who had worked for the previous owner. They got rid of some of the dilapidated furniture, added their own décor, and revitalized the menu. Sitwell’s had long been vegetarianfriendly and still strongly leans that way, although they’ve just recently added a few meat items. They do bang-up business with their weekend brunch — try the Tuscan eggs — and the place welcomes local artists of all types by hosting poetry readings, musical performances and hangs paintings and other works on its walls. Sitwell’s Coffeehouse Act II, 324 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, sitwellsact2.com.

BEST BULL CARTOON

Maury’s Tiny Cove has been packed full of flavor and West Side tradition since 1949. The dimly lit supper-club vibe backdrops an extensive menu consisting of all the classic steakhouse options: tender, juicy filets, seafood and chicken cooked just right, plus pasta, retro sides (shredded lettuce salads; a complimentary ramekin of pickles on every table) and a perfect martini. And in 1995, CityBeat writer Steve Ramos paid tribute to this comforting stalwart, comparing it to Shangri-La with a baked potato on the side: “Maury’s is a culinary temple to permanence. Dining fads come and go, health trends constantly change. But Maury’s stays the same: red meat, baked potatoes, salads. We’re not talking about some retro diner a la Johnny Rockets that tries to recreate an old-fashioned eatery with a ’90s twist. This is the real thing.” And you can’t forget Maury’s iconic sign, featuring a kitschy cartoon steer holding a martini. The restaurant is still a staple and was immortalized on screen in the Oscar-nominated, Cincinnati-filmed movie Carol. Maury’s Tiny Cove, 3908 Harrison Ave., Cheviot, maurys-steakhouse.com.


Coming Downtown Soon! Follow Us @eatsugarnspice to be the first to know, follow the story, and share your #snsducks adventures The New: 1203 Sycamore Street The Original: 4381 Reading Road

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Cincinnati’s Original Direct Diamond Importer Explore Cincy’s largest in house diamond collection. We are the only Jeweler in the tri-state to have thousands of diamonds right here in our showroom.

What does this mean to you? This means you save.

For over a century, we have gathered diamonds direct. NO middle man markups. NO deposits to view diamonds.

Why does this matter to you? This means you have options. Take your time exploring your options. We don’t push our agenda. We are here to help you find a diamond that you love within your own budget. Google us and see what Cincinnati has to say about Richter & Phillips Jewelers.

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Best Jeweler | Best Place to Buy Your Engagement Ring

Thank you, Cincinnati

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REA D ER PIC KS BEST NEW STORE

1. Kentucky Botanical Co. 2. The Native Brand (Covington) 3. Wildfire Home & Gift

OVERALL BOUTIQUE (LOCAL) 1. The Native Brand 2. Elm & Iron 3. HOMAGE 4. Cincy Shirts 5. Kismet 6. MiCA 12/v 7. BlaCk OWned Outerwear 8. Rose & Remington 9. Queen City Alchemy 10. Quince & Quinn

ACUPUNCTURE PRACTICE

1. Caldwell Family Wellness 2. Tiny Needle Community Acupuncture 3. Hamilton Health Associates

ADULT TOY STORE 1. Hustler Hollywood 2. Dusty Flynt Sexy Gifts 3. High on the Hill

ANTIQUE STORE

1. Ohio Valley Antique Mall 2. Florence Antique Mall 3. Wooden Nickel Antiques

ARTS & CRAFTS CLASSES

1. Cincinnati Art Museum 2. Clifton Cultural Arts Center 3. Brazee Street Studios

ARTS & CRAFTS SUPPLIES 1. Indigo Hippo 2. Michaels 3. Cappel’s

AUTO DEALER (NEW VEHICLES)

1. Jake Sweeney Automotive 2. Beechmont Subaru 3. Walt Sweeney Ford

AUTO DEALER (USED VEHICLES)

1. Jake Sweeney Automotive 2. Courtesy Automotive 3. Joseph Toyota of Cincinnati

AUTO DETAILER

1. Jake Sweeney Automotive 2. CarZmedics 3. Carriage House Car Wash

AUTO REPAIR SERVICE

1. Donovan’s Auto & Tire Center 2. Tire Discounters 3. AAA | Bob Sumerel Tire and Service

AUTO/CAR WASH

1. Mike’s Carwash 2. Sharonville Car Wash & Detailing 3. AAA Auto Wash

BANK

1. Huntington 2. Chase 3. Fifth Third Bank

BARBER SHOP 1. Bishops 2. Gil’s Barber Shop 3. Clifton Barbers

BED AND BREAKFAST

1. Inn of Hyde Park 2. The Clifton House Bed and Breakfast 3. Gaslight Bed & Breakfast (TIE) 3. Murphin Ridge Inn (TIE)

BICYCLE STORE

1. Montgomery Cyclery 2. Reser Bicycle Outfitters 3. BioWheels

BIRTHING/MATERNITY CENTER 1. Good Samaritan Hospital 2. The Christ Hospital 3. St. Elizabeth Healthcare

BOOKSTORE (CHAIN) 1. Joseph-Beth Booksellers

2. Half Price Books 3. Barnes & Noble

BOOKSTORE (NON-CHAIN)

1. Blue Manatee Literacy Project and Bookstore 2. The Friends’ Used Book Store at the Warehouse 3. Blue Marble Books 4. Shake It Records 5. Ohio Book Store 6. Roebling Point Books & Coffee 7. Up Up & Away 8. DuBois Book Store 9. Homestead Used Books (TIE) 9. Iris Bookcafe (TIE) 10. Cincy Book Bus

BOTTLED BEER SELECTION (RETAIL)

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. The Party Source 3. Clifton Market

CAMERA STORE

1. Dodd Camera 2. Best Buy 3. Western Hills Photo & Hobby

CANDY STORE

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CARPET CLEANING 1. Stanley Steemer 2. Widmer’s Cleaners 3. Excel Carpet Services

How does your style define you

CARPET STORE

1. McSwain Carpets & Floors 2. JP Flooring Design Center 3. Amelia Floor Store

Inclusion is more than a word. It drives everything we do.

CATERER

1. Funky’s Catering Events 2. Vonderhaar’s Catering 3. Elegant Fare

CATERING (RESTAURANT) 1. Eli’s BBQ 2. City Barbeque 3. Revolution Rotisserie

CBD RETAILER

1. Kentucky Botanical Co. 2. Jungle Jim’s International Market 3. Hemptations 4. Queen City Hemp 5. Kola Flower Co. 6. KY Girl Hemp 7. Thrive Well 8. Ohio CBD Guy 9. The Party Source 10. Vape Shop Mafia

CD/RECORD STORE (NON-CHAIN)

1. Everybody’s Records 2. Shake It Records 3. Phil’s Music and Memories 4. The Friends’ Used Book Store at the Warehouse 5. MetaModern Music 6. Plaid Room Records 7. Torn Light Records 8. Black Plastic Records 9. Morrow Audio Records 10. Jet Age Records

The truth is we are all different. Let's make your differene shine. At Bishops Cincinnati, we invite you to be your authentic self. Than you Cincinnati for voting for us

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@bishops.cliftonheights

We value your opinions. We value your uirs. We value you as you are now. We value who you want to become. Together let's define you.

@bishops.oakley

BEST HAIR SALON AND BEST BARBER SHOP

CELLPHONE SERVICE PROVIDER 1. Verizon 2. AT&T 3. Sprint

CHILDREN’S CLOTHING STORE 1. Once Upon a Child 2. The Spotted Goose 3. HOMAGE

CHIROPRACTIC PRACTICE/CLINIC

1. King Chiropractic of Florence 2. Thrive Chiropractic 3. Oak Hills Back & Neck Care Center

CLOTHING CONSIGNMENT 1. Clothes Mentor 2. Once Upon A Child 3. Snooty Fox

COMIC BOOK STORE

1. Queen City Comics and Card Company 2. Shake It Records 3. Paper Street Trading Co.

COSTUME SHOP 1. Cappel’s 2. Party City 3. Talk of the Town

CRAFT BEER STORE

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. The Party Source 3. The Root Cellar

CREDIT UNION

1. General Electric Credit Union 2. Kemba Credit Union 3. Cinfed Credit Union

DANCE CLASSES

1. Cincinnati Ballet Academy 2. DANCEFIX by HBDC 3. Arthur Murray Dance Studios

DAY SPA

1. Woodhouse Day Spa 2. Mitchell’s Salon & Day Spa 3. 501 Salon & Spa

DENTAL PRACTICE/CLINIC 1. Vita Dental 2. Beckett Dental Care 3. Smiles on York

DRIVE-THRU MARKET 1. Trotta’s Pizza & Drive Thru 2. Big Daddy’s Liquor Store 3. Miami Market

DRY CLEANER

1. Tide Cleaners 2. Springdale Cleaners 3. Widmer’s Cleaners


We accomplish great things TOGETHER

Thank you for your support, Greater Cincinnati! As a nonprofit hospital and research center, every gift helps us advance discovery, deliver innovative treatments and create brighter futures for children. You are an important part of our care team!

cincinnatichildrens.org/giving

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GIFTSHOP

1. Cincinnati Art Museum 2. Puzzle Pieces - A Sensory Sensation 3. The Library Friends’ Shop 4. Ten Thousand Villages 5. Cincinnati Museum Center 6. I Love Cincinnati Shop 7. MiCA 12/v 8. indigenous craft gallery 9. Elm & Iron 10. Metallic Giraffe

GREEN/ SUSTAINABLE GOODS STORE 1. Hemptations 2. Growing Trade Pet & Plant 3. The Green Store

GROCERY STORE

1. Kroger 2. Jungle Jim’s International Market 3. Trader Joe’s

Jungle Jim’s International Market | Best Fresh Seafood Store PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

ELECTRONICS REPAIR

FRAME SHOP

HAIR REMOVAL SERVICE

EYEWEAR STORE

FRESH SEAFOOD STORE

HAIR SALON

FINANCIAL PLANNING SERVICE

FURNITURE STORE

HANDYMAN

1. Mount Lookout Television & Electronics 2. Micro Center 3. iPhone Dude

1. Oakley Square Eye Associates 2. LensCrafters 3. Wing Eyecare

1. Fidelity Investments 2. Edward Jones 3. Fifth Third Bank

FINDLAY MARKET VENDOR

1. Eli’s BBQ 2. Blue Oven Bakery 3. Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices

FLORIST

1. Adrian Durban Florist 2. The Flower Bug 3. Daisy Jane’s Flower Truck

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1. Michaels 2. Fabulous Frames & Art 3. frameshop

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Luken’s Poultry, Fish & Seafood 3. Lobsta Bakes of Maine

1. IKEA 2. Furniture Fair 3. Nadeau 4. Elm & Iron 5. Arhaus 6. Bargains and Buyouts 7. HighStreet 8. Crate & Barrel 9. Home Emporium 10. Open Box Outlet

GENERAL CONTRACTOR 1. Build It Brothers Custom Remodeling 2. Renovations by Rodier 3. Ortwein Remodeling

1. Mandell-Brown Plastic Surgery Center 2. Woodhouse Day Spa 3. European Wax Center

1. Bishops 2. Alba Organic Beauty Studio 3. Le Salon

1. Chris Cochran 2. Dadstasks 3. Mr. Handyman

HARDWARE STORE 1. Ace Hardware 2. The Home Depot 3. Lowe’s Home Improvement

HEALTH FOOD STORE

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Whole Foods Market 3. Trader Joe’s

HOME ACCESSORIES STORE 1. Elm & Iron 2. HighStreet 3. MiCA 12/v

HOSPITAL

1. The Christ Hospital 2. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital 3. The Jewish Hospital

HOTEL

1. 21c Museum Hotel 2. Great Wolf Lodge 3. Hotel Covington

HOUSE PAINTER 1. Dadstasks 2. Steady Hand Painting 3. Smith & Metz Painting

HVAC COMPANY

1. Apollo Home 2. Arlinghaus Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning 3. Wingate Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electrical

INSURANCE AGENCY

1. AAA Insurance 2. Wallace Insurance Group 3. The Cincinnati Insurance Companies

INTERIOR DESIGNER

1. Pear Tree Interiors 2. Honor & Grace Designs 3. Creative Concepts by Lori Daniels

JEWELER

1. Richter & Phillips Jewelers 2. Genesis Diamonds 3. Schwartz Jewelers

LANDSCAPING

1. Natorp’s 2. Wimberg Landscaping 3. Seiler’s Landscaping

LASIK SURGERY CENTER 1. Midwest Eye Center 2. Cincinnati Eye Institute 3. Apex Eye

LAW FIRM

1. Treleven & Klingensmith 2. Law Offices of Shannon C. Smith 3. Keating Muething & Klekamp

LAWN SERVICE

1. Oasis Turf & Tree 2. Royse Lawn Care 3. A & A Lawn Care & Landscaping


10-TIME AWARD

WINNER #1 IN VETERINARY CARE

#1 IN BOARDING & DAYCARE SERVICES FAMILY OPERATED • ESTABLISHED IN 1980

$10 coupon Coupon only valid on services $35 or more. Coupon must be presented to front desk prior to service. Coupon expires on 6/30/2020. Not valid with other promotions or coupons. Visit us online at AmbianceNailSalon.com

services We are an award-winning nail salon & spa. With the best nail technicians and customer-oriented management, we are consistently voted best nail salon for manicures and pedicures in Cincinnati, Ohio! We offer a variety of nail and skin care services in a relaxing, luxurious environment. Our services includes manicures, pedicures, acrylics, pink & white, dip powder, gel, waxing, facials, microblading, and much more. Our primary mission is to provide the highest level of customer service to all of our valued guests. Our expertise and professionalism allows us to provide guests with the utmost beauty experience.

Manicures Pedicures Gel Acrylics Pink & White Microblading

Regular Polish Dip Powder Waxing Facials Lashes Massage

Locations Hyde Park Center (513) 924-9900 2709 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH Harper's Point (513) 489-9500 11322 Montgomery Rd, Cincinnati, OH Rookwood Exchange (513) 924-9090 3831 Edwards Rd, Cincinnati, OH

BAR

Oakley Station (513) 871-1234 3120 Vandercar Way, Cincinnati, OH

We now have a bar available at several of our locations! Enjoy a glass of wine while getting your nails done.

32 East (513) 947-8888 720 Eastgate South Dr, Cincinnati, OH

Hours Open 7 Days a Week Monday - Saturday 9am - 8pm Sunday 11am - 6pm Appointments Available Walk-Ins Welcome

Contact service@ambiacenailsalon.com ambiancenailsalon.com facebook.com/ambiancenailsalon

Harper's Station (513) 469-0944 11309 Montgomery Rd, Cincinnati, OH Anderson (513) 231-1234 7634 Beechmont Ave, Cincinnati, OH Brentwood Plaza (513) 729-4444 8491 Winton Rd, Cincinnati, OH Beckett Ridge (513) 860-9999 (Coming Soon) 7996 Princeton Glendale Rd, West Chester, OH VOA (513) 779-7999 7602 VOA Centre Drive, West Chester, OH Deerfield Towne Center (513) 770-0799 5875 Deerfield Blvd, Mason, OH Waterstone (513) 230-2323 (Coming Soon) 9869 Waterstone Blvd, Cincinnati, OH

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LAWYER (INDIVIDUAL) 1. Pamela Hall 2. Kirk M. Pfefferman 3. John Treleven

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LIGHTING STORE 1. Menards 2. IKEA 3. Elm & Iron

LINGERIE STORE 1. Knickers of Hyde Park 2. Hustler Hollywood 3. Victoria’s Secret

LIQUOR STORE

1. The Party Source 2. Jungle Jim’s International Market 3. Hyde Park Wine & Spirits

LOCAL INDIE CRAFT MARKET 1. The City Flea 2. Art on Vine 3. Second Sunday on Main

LOCAL INDIE CRAFT MARKET VENDOR

1. Handzy Shop + Studio 2. Fern 3. Stitches & Sass (TIE) 3. Robot Inside Crafting Company (TIE)

LOCKSMITH

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1. Affordable Lock & Door 2. Larry’s Lock Safe & Security 3. Mr. Lock

MAGAZINE/NEWSPAPER SELECTION 1. Joseph-Beth Booksellers 2. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County 3. Shake It Records

MALL/SHOPPING CENTER 1. Kenwood Towne Centre 2. Rookwood Commons & Pavilion 3. Liberty Center

APRIL 30 · 2020 | 7PM 20th Centur y Theater 1 Year Anniversar y Event with CATALINA WINE MIXER!

B U Y A B O O K & W E ’ L L D O N AT E O N E !

For ever y book sold through the Blue Manatee bookstore, a new book is donated to a Cincinnati child in need.

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MANICURE/PEDICURE 1. Ambiance Nail Spa 2. Deluxe Nail Salon & Spa 3. Spruce Nail Shop

MARTIAL ARTS STUDIO 1. Club MMA 2. Mt. Washington Taekwondo 3. Academy of Kung Fu & Tai Chi

MASSAGE THERAPY PRACTICE/CLINIC 1. Woodhouse Day Spa 2. Massage Envy 3. Grace + Grit Spa

MEDI SPA

1. Mandell-Brown Plastic Surgery Center 2. Somi Javaid MD and Associates 3. Transform Medspa

MEN’S CLOTHING STORE 1. The Native Brand 2. HOMAGE 3. Romualdo

MOTORCYCLE/ MOTORSPORTS DEALER 1. CinCity Harley-Davidson 2. Honda of Fairfield 3. Eastgate Harley-Davidson

MOVING COMPANY

1. Two Men and a Truck 2. All My Sons Moving & Storage 3. EkoMovers

MUSICAL INSTRUMENT STORE 1. Antonio Violins & Ukes 2. Buddy Roger’s Music 3. Willis Music

NEIGHBORHOOD SHOPPING DISTRICT 1. Rookwood Commons & Pavilion 2. Over-the-Rhine 3. Hyde Park Square

NURSERY/GREENHOUSE 1. Natorp’s 2. White Oak Gardens 3. H.J. Benken Florist Home and Garden Center

OBGYN

1. Seven Hills Women’s Health Centers 2. TriHealth Women’s Services 3. For Women, Inc.

OUTDOOR/OUTFITTERS SHOP 1. REI 2. Cabela’s 3. Bass Pro Shops

PAINT STORE

1. Oakley Paint & Glass 2. Sherwin-Williams 3. Ace Hardware


Schneider’s Schneider’s Sweet Sweet Shop Shop Home Made Candies & ICE CREAM

Thank you for voting us one of the top gift stores in Cincinnati - Together we thrive!

Home Made Candies & ICE CREAM

“Since “Since 1939” 1939”

LIVE IN LUXURY IN THE HEART OF DOWNTON COVINGTON Try our delicious Opera Creams, Trymost our delicious Opera aCreams, our popular candy, Greater our most popular candy, Greater Cincinnati specialty! Madeawith pure Cincinnati specialty! Made with pure rich cream to tantalize the tastebuds rich cream to tantalize the tastebuds and to create the ultimate of creams. and to create the ultimate creams. Other specialties includeofFudges, Other specialties include Fudges, Caramels, Cordial Cherries, Pecan Caramels, Cordial Pecan Caramelettes, and Cherries, so much more. Caramelettes, and so much more. phone - 859.431.3545 phone - 859.431.3545 www.schneiderscandies.com www.schneiderscandies.com 420 FairFIeld ave. bellevue, ky 41073

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Oakley Square • Montgomery Sq. Shopping Center www.aglamesis.com B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 95


PAPERGOOD STORE 1. Handzy Shop + Studio 2. Joseph-Beth Booksellers 3. M. Hopple & Co.

PAWN SHOP

1. Ted’s Pawn Shop 2. American Trading Company 3. Classic Pawn

PET ADOPTION SERVICE

1. SPCA Cincinnati 2. Stray Animal Adoption Program (SAAP) 3. Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay/ Neuter Clinic 4. Joseph’s Legacy 5. Save the Animals Foundation (STAF) 6. Peppermint Pig Animal Rescue 7. HART Animal Rescue 8. Cincinnati Lab Rescue 9. Adore-A-Bull Rescue (TIE) 9. Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue (TIE) 10. Animal Friends Humane Society

PET BOARDING/DAYCARE 1. Animal Care Centers of Cincinnati 2. Pawsitive Play 3. PetSuites

PET GROOMING

1. Wüf Pet Spa 2. Furry and Fabulous 3. Animal Care Centers of Cincinnati

PET RESCUE/SHELTER

1. Joseph’s Legacy 2. SPCA 3. Stray Animal Adoption Program (SAAP)

PET SUPPLY STORE 1. PetPeople 2. Pet Wants OTR 3. PetSmart

PHARMACY

1. Kroger 2. Mullaney’s Pharmacy & Medical Supply 3. Meijer

PHYSICIAN/HEALTHCARE PRACTICE 1. TriHealth 2. The Christ Hospital 3. Mercy Health

PIERCING STUDIO 1. Beelistic Tattoo & Piercing 2. Skincraft Piercing & Tattoo 3. Designs by Dana Tattoo

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PLACE FOR A KIDS BIRTHDAY

1. Cincinnati Museum Center 2. Beechmont Rollarena 3. Dave & Busters

PLACE FOR AN ADULTS BIRTHDAY

1. MadTree Brewing 2. Coppin’s at Hotel Covington 3. Chroma Vino Paint Bar + Gift Shop

PLACE TO BUY ART 1. Pendleton Art Center 2. MiCA 12/v 3. Florence Antique Mall

PLACE TO BUY SNEAKERS 1. DSW 2. JackRabbit 3. Nordstrom

PLACE TO BUY YOUR ENGAGEMENT RING 1. Richter & Phillips Jewelers 2. Genesis Diamonds 3. Schwartz Jewelers

PLANT STORE 1. Fern 2. White Oak Gardens 3. Natorp’s

PLASTIC SURGERY

1. Mandell-Brown Plastic Surgery Center 2. The Plastic Surgery Group 3. Mangat, Holzapfel & Lied Plastic Surgery

SKIN CARE SERVICE

VAPE SHOP

SMOKE/TOBACCO SHOP

VETERINARY CARE

SPORTING GOODS

VINTAGE CLOTHING STORE

1. Mandell-Brown Plastic Surgery Center 2. Alba Organic Beauty Studio 3. Grace + Grit Spa

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Bell’s House of Tobacco 3. Hemptations

1. Dick’s Sporting Goods 2. Play It Again Sports 3. Koch Sporting Goods

TAILOR/SEAMSTRESS 1. Lisa Rumple (And Sew On) 2. Peppe Ramundo 3. Janet E. Morris

TANNING SALON 1. Palm Beach Tan 2. Envy Tan 3. A Total Tan

TATTOO SHOP 1. Flying Tiger Tattoo 2. White Whale Tattoo 3. Body of Art Tattoo

TAX SERVICE

1. Tax Man Associates 2. Orcutt & Company CPA 3. Burke & Schindler

TEA SHOP/SELECTION 1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Coffee Emporium 3. Churchill’s Fine Teas

PLUMBING COMPANY

THRIFT SHOP

REAL ESTATE AGENT

TIRE STORE

1. Holtmeier Plumbing 2. DuPont Plumbing Inc. 3. Apollo Home

1. Jordan Nicely 2. Steve Sylvester 3. Bri and Joe Biggs

REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE

1. Sibcy Cline 2. Coldwell Banker West Shell 3. Keller Williams Realty

SHOE REPAIR

1. Clarence Howell Shoe Repair 2. Lee & Hayes Shoe Repair 3. Hillman’s Luggage & Shoes Inc.

1. Society of St. Vincent de Paul 2. Retail Therapy NKY 3. Valley Thrift Store

1. Tire Discounters 2. Donovan’s Auto & Tire Center 3. AAA | Bob Sumerel Tire & Service

TOY STORE

1. King Arthur’s Court Toys 2. Puzzle Pieces - A Sensory Sensation 3. Coolest Toys on Earth

TREE SERVICE

1. Madison Tree Care and Landscaping 2. Shawnee Tree 3. Back Tree Service

1. Ground Zero Vaping 2. Cincy Vapors 3. Cloud 9 Vapor Lounge

1. Animal Care Centers of Cincinnati 2. Grady Veterinary Hospital 3. Pleasant Ridge Pet Hospital

1. Casablanca Vintage 2. Down to Mars Vintage 3. NVISION

WEDDING CAKES 1. The BonBonerie 2. A Spoon Fulla Sugar 3. Tres Belle Cakes

WEDDING DRESSES 1. Bridal & Formal 2. Carrie Karibo Bridal Boutique 3. Lovely Bride

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICE 1. Jessica Wiggins Photography 2. Megan Noll Photography 3. Carly Sue Photography

WEDDING RECEPTION HALL 1. Drees Pavilion 2. Bell Event Centre 3. Urban Artifact

WEDDING VENUE (INDOORS)

1. Hotel Covington 2. The Transept 3. The View at Mount Adams

WEDDING VENUE (OUTDOORS)

1. Drees Pavilion 2. Lake Lyndsay 3. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

WINE SHOP

1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. Hyde Park Wine & Spirits 3. DEP’s Fine Wine & Spirits

WOMEN’S CLOTHING STORE 1. MEAS Active 2. Nordstrom 3. T.J. Maxx


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BEST STOP FOR FASHIONABLE TYKES AND THE PARENTS WHO DRESS THEM This winter, fans of Handzy boutique’s funky products were handed the opportunity to style their little ones in similar curation that has made Handzy the go-to for quirky lifestyle and women’s clothing items. The boutique moved to a storefront next door to its former downtown Covington location in November, and in its place Gumdrop was born, a toddler-targeted boutique run by Handzy’s owners that offers adorable products designed for the most fashionable tykes. In addition to charming dresses dotted with rainbows and onesies adorned with quirky catchphrases, patrons can also spoil their toddling tots with other non-clothing products, like wooden toys, pacifiers, bibs, picture books and crib bedding. If Covington is too much of a hike with the kids in tow, the boutique has an online store with a variety of goods that can also be found in the brick-and-mortar shop. Gumdrop, 15 W. Pike St., Covington, gumdroptots.com. 98  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0


BEST NON-BINARY HAIRCUTS From short crops and easy shags to contemporary dye jobs and the sweetest of kids’ cuts, Parlour has been working hair magic on people of all ages and genders from a cool corner of East Walnut Hills since 2012. Most salons organize their services (and prices) by male or female, but the folks at Parlour must have realized who haircuts are really for: people who have hair and occasionally pay to have said hair snipped and styled by a professional. So, most everyone. In the name of gender neutrality, they recently ditched the labels and announced new names for a few of their services — there’s not a “men’s” or “women’s” cut to be found anywhere on their list of offerings. Need a short barber cut that doesn’t require a full blowout and styling? That’s a clipper cut. Looking for a full wash and blow-dry for your longer hair? That’s a haircut and blow-dry. Simple, straightforward and always chic, every service at Parlour also comes with a complimentary cocktail (or water, coffee or tea). Parlour, 2600 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, salonparlour.com.

BEST WEARABLE WAY TO GIVE BACK Cincy Shirts is frequently releasing collaboration T-shirts with area businesses and nonprofits to help create wearable ways to give back. This past year, they released a shirt in conjunction with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden to raise funds for the care of the animals affected by the massive Gumdrop PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

wildfires in Australia. The shirts featured Fiona the hippo cuddling up with a koala bear and a kangaroo and the words “Support Our Friends Down Under,” all illustrated by artist Loren Long. Proceeds from the shirt sales went to benefit the Zoos Victoria’s Bushfire Emergency Wildfire Fund. Cincy Shirts also raised funds for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati with a timely T-shirt featuring a duct-taped cheese coney on the chest, playing off of the duct-taped banana meme (an artist listed the price of a banana duct-taped to a wall during Art Basel in Miami last year at $120,000 and it went viral). The limited-edition piece of Queen City artwork was sold for $125 and $100 from each sale went directly to the local charity. Cincy Shirts, 1301 Main St., Over-the-Rhine; 2709 Observatory Ave., Hyde Park; 295 W. Loveland Ave., Loveland, cincyshirts.com.

BEST LOCAL NIKE COLLABORATION For the past five-plus-years, Bond Hill native and entrepreneurial boss lady Ray Ball has been navigating her way through the regional marketing landscape — and did it on her own. The self-described “creative brandpreneur” singlehandedly championed her own brand marketing operation BallR Media and has more than a few notable bullet points on her resume. According to her website, she’s managed an Ohio state representative’s campaign, helped a Cincinnati clothing company sell out a widely hyped product online in a single day, and boosted an e-commerce client’s online sales by nearly 521 percent within two months. Last year, she

teamed up with Nike and designed custom Air Max 1 kicks that are an ode to Ball and her Bond Hill roots that she named the Neighborhood Rose. The sneakers also brought about a nationwide campaign launched by Ball that she coined “#myhoodtaughtme.” The goal was to encourage others to celebrate their neighborhood roots and to provide inspiration to become more active in their communities. Unfortunately, those clamoring for a pair of the $130 pink low-tops are out of luck. The shoes sold out at the beginning of November. And they ran out fast — Ball said sales ended just a week after the product’s national release. Ray Ball: Creative Marketing, iamrayball.com.

BEST WAY TO NOT DIE IN A DITCH Covington-headquartered start-up Road iD was formed in 1999 after co-founder Edward Wimmer was almost hit by a “King Kong-size pick-up truck” while training for his first marathon. He had been running long miles on back roads (there’s an amusing reenactment video complete with late-’90s references on the Road iD site) and his father kept telling him to carry an ID so he could be notified — by a hospital, passerby or good Samaritan — in case Wimmer got into an accident. Thankfully, Wimmer escaped his showdown with the pick-up unscathed, but the close call made an impression. “A few months later, from my father’s damp basement, he and I launched Road iD,” he recalls on the website. “To us, Road iD has always been far more than a business. We are on a mission to save B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 99


BEST NEW SALON TO DYE YOUR HAIR A COLOR YOUR GRANDMA WOULD HATE Sit in any salon chair at the newly opened Olive and Ivy Salon and someone next to you is sure to be getting a rainbow-colored dye job (or maybe it’s yourself). The talented team of independent stylists is great at executing current trending hairstyles, including short cuts, long weaves and sultry balayage. But for those looking to punch up their look, it’s the go-to-spot for a multi-hued hairdo by colorists who know a thing or two about standing out, embracing their true selves, and experimenting with endless dye combinations. The studio in and of itself is reason enough to stop in for a consultation, with complimentary beverages, hanging plants, a chill vibe and an accommodating staff ready to take your hair to the next level. Olive and Ivy Salon, 4803 Whetsel Ave., Madisonville, facebook.com/ oliveandivysalon.

Olive and Ivy Salon PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

lives and make a difference in the world.” The most basic Road iD ($19.99) is a silicone wristband with an engraved faceplate listing several lines of text, typically your name, address, two emergency contacts and a fun phrase like “running is cool.” There are also IDs compatible with Fitbit and Garmin models and Apple watches, kids’ sized wristbands and Road iDs that can act as a sporty medical ID. Road iD has also invented Pet iDs that you can thread onto your animal’s existing collar (these probably won’t work for martingale collars) for a soundless solution to jingly metal tags. And if you don’t want to wear your Road iD on your wrist, there are options for shoes and a FIXX iD military-style dog tag. You can read testimonials on the site from people whose lives were saved or helped by Road iD — cyclists hit by cars, lost children reunited with parents, even someone thrown from their bike after colliding with a white tail deer. Road iD donates a portion of every sale to 4 Paws for Ability, an Ohio nonprofit that provides service dogs to children all over the world. Road iD, roadid.com.

BEST DIGITAL BEAUTY BOUTIQUE Cincinnati makeup artist Brit Cochran opened her online beauty retail shop Launch Party in 2019, offering a curated collection of independent skincare, makeup, bath and body, fragrance and accessories brands to make “shopping for beauty a friendly, approachable and inclusive experience,” says the website. And while you can shop by item, you can also shop by cause: woman-owned, eco-friendly, organic, vegan or social good, so you know the product you’re buying aligns with your personal values. Product descriptions have helpful icons, ingredients and information to let you know the background behind each lipstick, bath soak, mask or mascara. Follow the Instagram page (@shoplaunchparty) for fun product and people photoshoots. Launch Party, shoplaunchparty.com.

BEST EARTH-TONED INSTAGRAM Walk into Over-the-Rhine’s Wolfpack or take a

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scroll on their Instagram (@shopthewolfpack) and you’ll be hit with a distinct flavor of warm, earthy tones. And if you’ve done the former, maybe you’ve met the owner’s lovable dog Timberwolf. Owned by Katherine Dalton, the cozy store’s mission is grounded in selling clothing, homegoods and gifts that are sustainability minded. As stated on their website, that means items that are ethically sourced and made by people who are being paid a living wage in a safe environment. Those are ideals worth getting behind. Wolfpack, 1342 Main St., Over-the Rhine, shopthewolfpack.com.  

every book sold, another will be donated to a school that lacks age-appropriate reading materials for students. The program specifically targets children between ages 4 and 8, an age group where the nonprofit says there is a critical need for reading materials in order to improve literacy rates by third grade. In addition to book donations, the nonprofit also promotes literacy by assisting reading mentors and holding kids’ events at the bookstore. An event calendar can be found on the Blue Manatee’s website. Blue Manatee Literacy Project Bookstore, 3094 Madison Road, Oakley, bluemanatee.org.

BEST LITERARY CAUSE

BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR SKINCARE FIX

The Blue Manatee Bookstore underwent a rebirth for the goal of childhood literacy last spring. In April, the charming children’s bookstore located near Oakley Square reopened as a nonprofit with a new mission: Get books in the hands of kids who need them. From there, the Blue Manatee Literacy Project was born, and now the bookstore offers a one for one donation strategy. For

Over-the-Rhine skincare mecca Oasis Face Bar opened on Walnut Street in January, and for serial spenders of skincare treatments, the store’s business model isn’t an impractical option. Memberships are available to drag down the average price of a $49 facial, with options to receive a 30-minute treatment either once or twice a month. Skincare junkies can choose from six different facial treatment


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options, ranging from honey and cannabis facials designed for sensitive skin, to deep cleanses to clear acne-prone skin. Dudes aren’t left out either — there’s a treatment specifically designed for men’s skin. If none of the facial choices are ringing your bell, you can customize your treatment with add-ons like extractions and peels for a few extra bucks. Can’t squeeze a facial into your budget this month? Make a point to monitor Oasis Face Bar’s Instagram. The store often posts when a lower-price special will be going on. Oasis Face Bar, 1345 Walnut St., Over-theRhine, oasisfacebar.com.

person who hates dogs, the person who doesn’t say “Bless you” when someone sneezes and the person who orders steak “well, well done.” (As you may have guessed, Jolly Plumbing plumbers are people you can trust.) In early 2020, Jolly unveiled its latest spot — a spoof of those gauzy, pretentious TV ads for perfume featuring a plumber slow-motion twirling in the sun in the name of the designer fragrance “Poope.” It’s good, sometimes-not-so-clean fun that occasionally rivals Saturday Night Live in the laughs-per-second department. Jolly Plumbing, jollyplumbing.com.

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Look, we’ve all been there. You say the wrong thing at the wrong time, you forget to show up to an important event, or you’re generally just really good at pissing people off. When you screw up, Gia & the Blooms in Over-the-Rhine has unique bouquets and fast local flower delivery to mend relationships with irresistible arrangements. Their burlap-wrapped bouquets lean more avant-garde than Hallmark with rich colors and rare finds. Owner Yuliya Bui, from Minsk, Belarus, named the shop after her pitbull Gia, a rescue from the SPCA. Bouquets start at just $35 and 20 percent of all proceeds go to local charities. Of course, the flowers can be sent on any occasion and the shop also sells single stems, houseplants, planters and greeting cards to brighten someone’s day. Stop in or order online. Gia & the Blooms, 114 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine; Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, giablooms.com.

BEST LOW-BUDGET LOCAL TV COMMERCIALS Locally made TV commercials created on a shoestring budget are usually unintentionally funny, whether it’s the cheap production values or the clumsy attempts to feature business owners whose sparkling personality doesn’t really come across on the small screen. But Greater Cincinnati’s Jolly Plumbing proves that you don’t need to drop a ton of money to make impactful TV ads. You just have to be legitimately funny. Many of the 40-year-old company’s spots over the past couple of years have been guffaw-worthy (by design), including ads featuring a brutally honest plumber destroying his coworkers with deadpan quips, as well as the “People You Can’t Trust” spots that feature villains like the

Next time you pull back your hair for a workout, you can do so in support of stopping human trafficking. Ryan and April Berg “couldn’t walk away” when they witnessed the sexual exploitation of women in India. So they founded the Aruna Project, which provides holistic care to women trapped by sex slavery. Once the women are freed, they have the option of employment in their Freedom Business that ensures financial and personal independence. Aruna’s line of luxury athleisure accessories includes artisan-made headbands that are as stylish as they are functional. Each headband is made with Bluesign Certified recycled polyester that supports eco-friendliness and the Aruna mission. Headbands start at $10 and can be ordered online. Aruna Project, arunaproject.com.

BEST MACRAMÉ HANGINGS TO BOOST YOUR BOHO DÉCOR

For those who are so over Midcentury Modern, Coda Co. in Bellevue sells handmade macramé wall hangings to add eclectic flare to your boho home. Owned by husband-andwife team Tanner and Kelti Ziese, what started as an attempt to make a Pinterest project together blossomed into a desire to learn more about the ins and outs of building and designing uniquely crafted home décor. The couple takes pieces that are no longer in use, including old bourbon barrels and burlap coffee sacks, and upcycles them into something new. They make furniture and homegoods and also carry clothing and locally sourced products made in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. Their brick and mortar store is in Bellevue, but they also accommodate custom orders as needed. In addition to macramé hangings, made by Kelti, you can also purchase other macramé products, like bridal bouquet wraps and plant hangers. Coda Co., 400 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, shopcodaco.com.


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BEST PET SPA WHERE YOUR FURRY FRIEND CAN GET A BLUEBERRY FACIAL Owners Jessica Whitaker and Jonathon Casey opened Wüf Pet Spa last summer across from Over-the-Rhine’s Findlay Market. The upscale grooming facility focuses on skilled styling and compassionate care, with a wide variety of services ranging from nail trims to full grooms (with complimentary blueberry facials, of course). Pricing begins at $55 for small dogs and includes a facial, high-quality shampoo and conditioner treatment specific to the pet’s coat needs as well as leave-in conditioner, nail grinding and a homemade bow. The shop also offers a variety of pet accessories like bandanas, sweaters and pet-friendly hair dye, as well as treats. Wüf Pet Spa, 1812 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, wufpetspa.com.

Wüf Pet Spa PHOTO | Kaitlyn Handel

BEST TIE-DYE SHOP MAKING MATS FOR THOSE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS An eclectic little shop in Anderson Township, Funky Sunshine specializes in homemade local art and lots and lots of rainbow tie-dye creations. Their feel-good, communityminded ethos manifests in fun do-it-yourself dying workshops as well as an ongoing project in service of environmentalism and social advocacy. Funky Sunshine creates mats for fellow Cincinnatians experiencing homelessness, providing a clean, cushy seat or a comfortable layer for underneath sleeping bags. The shop hosts kid- and adult-friendly get-togethers for novice crafters to crochet the mats from recycled plastic grocery bags. Those who can’t make it to a mat-making session can always swing by with bags to donate, since it takes anywhere from 500 to 1,000 of them to craft a single mat. Funky Sunshine, 6448 Sherman Ave., Anderson Township, funkysunshine.com.

BEST MACABRE COLLECTION Across the river in Covington is Hail Dark Aesthetics: A truly weird gem where you can buy vinyl, an opossum skull, taxidermied bats, a pickled hedgehog fetus and more all in the same transaction. Anyone in need of sage or crystals would also likely find what they seek here. Need to contact the dead? There’s a Ouija board for that. A second outpost of the Nashville-based oddities shop, they also host niche classes that aren’t for the squeamish. Case in point: In partnership with educational group Meddling with Nature, they led a rat taxidermy workshop last summer and many more scorpion and bug mounting workshops this winter. The store’s ambiance is equal parts creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky — regardless, we love this little haven for all things weird. Hail Dark Aesthetics, 720 Main St., Covington, hailcincinnati.com.

BEST AFFORDABLE MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY So, you qualified for medical marijuana in

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Ohio: Great, and sorry for what ails ya’. Ohio law currently allows those with certain medical conditions (cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, PTSD, chronic pain and many more) to sign up as a patient, after being approved by a licensed physician, with the Ohio Medical Marijuana Registry and Ohio Board of Pharmacy. Your physician will approve you to use a 90-day supply of certain forms of marijuana for your specific condition — oils, tinctures, edibles, vapes. And once you’re approved, you have to go to a licensed dispensary to purchase your medication. There are only a few in the Cincinnati area: Verilife, kind of by Pleasant Ridge; Have a Heart Cincy, co-founded by Rev. Damon Lynch III and located in Hartwell, which is the only dispensary to open so far technically within city limits; and Verdant Creations in Columbia Township, kind of by Target and across from the original little MadTree taproom. (There’s also About Wellness Ohio in Lebanon.) But Verdant Creations seems to be a cardcarrying favorite because it has affordable price points and offers frequent discounts. After checking in with your medical marijuana card and ID, you’ll head to the Verdant Creations waiting room to peruse a menu of the current offerings. The menu is divided by

form (edible, flower, tincture, etc.) as well as brand and strain (indica, sativa). And if you have no idea what any of that means, the helpful “budtenders” will teach you about the different applications as they relate to your specific ailment, especially if you weren’t or haven’t been a big pot smoker/vaper/eater/ tincture-er up until his point. Note: These budtenders aren’t pharmacists, they just know a lot about pot. (They’re also very helpful if you’re confused about what constitutes a “90-day supply” limit.) After you make your selection, it’s filled in a back room and delivered through a window with a prescription label and sealed in a bag with a staple. You have to pay in cash (they have an ATM) or some weird digital payment. But it doesn’t really matter, because prices here are reasonable. And they usually have sales, special deals and promotions. Like they offered 29 percent off their entire inventory on Leap Day (there was a line out the door and an hours-long wait). Sign up for text alerts for discount notifications. Verdant Creations, 5149 Kennedy Ave., Columbia Township, verdantcreations.com.


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King Arthur’s Court opened more than 40 years ago and remains an East Side staple. Housed in the heart of Oakley Square, the hobby shop is stocked with a bounty of toys, board games and puzzles galore. They live up to their tagline, “Where play is king!” Stroll in and you’ll likely encounter multiple kids (and adults) testing out a toy or snacking on a bag of popcorn, which customers can grab for free. The most whimsical addition to this Cincy staple, however, is “The Dungeon.” Make your way down a set of stairs into a renovated basement set up with couches, hanging Huggelpods, a mini zip line and even a room dedicated to archery. You don’t need to be a kid to appreciate this haven of fun. King Arthur’s Court, 3040 Madison Road, Oakley, kingarthurstoys.com.

THANK YOU, CINCINNATI, FOR VOTING US #1 RECORD/CD STORE! Slingin' up new and used records, CD’s and more for everybody’s music tastes for over 40 years! 513-531-4500 | 6106 Montgomery Rd, Cincinnati OH 45213

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BEST WAY TO STOCK UP ON HOUSE PLANTS Houseplants are having a moment. Quirky succulents, whimsical vines, aesthetic snake plants and everything in between have infiltrated our homes, social media feeds, our hearts and, well, our wallets. That’s where College Hill’s Fern comes in. Located in a converted gas station, the houseplant and design shop has a (very) popular biannual sale. Customers can buy new plant babies for up to 60 percent off. Not only do they carry all sorts of leafy wonders, but they also have a selection of ceramics, apothecary, candles, art prints and more. Word to the wise: Get there early because these sales pull crowds. Fern, 6040 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, fern-shop.com.

BEST USED ART SUPPLY STORE FOR LAST-MINUTE PROJECTS Artists of all sorts can be caught in Over-theRhine with an idea and no supplies to actualize their project. Enter Indigo Hippo and you’re almost certain to find exactly what you need and then some. Inside you’ll find drawing tools like pens, colored pencils and markers. Need a notebook? They have stacks of them, maybe even containing some of the original owner’s notes. There’s stuff for collages, painters, poets, sculptors and more — you’ve just got to sift through their eclectic inventory that’s priced to move. This is why a shop like Indigo Hippo is such an incredibly important resource; not only do they sell a ton of

different stuff, but they also have flexible price points that give a suggested minimum, which essentially allows you to pay what you can. Want to donate your used art supplies? It might be a good idea to call ahead if you have large items, but you’re likely to leave with more than what you came with since everything in there is real dang cool. Indigo Hippo, 1334 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, indigohippo.org.   

BEST LOCAL BOOK PUBLISHER One of the nation’s most exciting literary publishers is based here in Cincinnati. Acre Books, an offshoot of The Cincinnati Review, shares incredibly thoughtful, award-winning works of poetry and fiction that have garnered praise and awards from the industry’s top minds. Edited by Nicola Mason, Acre Books publishes genre-bending hybrid works of prose and poetry, such as Matthew Kirkpatrick’s The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art, an intriguing mystery told through museum exhibit labels for fictional works of art. Visual artists in a collaborative exhibit at DAAP Galleries interpreted the book so fans could see the made-up artworks in real life. Keep an eye on Acre Books’ catalog, there’s a lot of intensely good writing to be found. Acre Books, 248 McMicken Hall, University of Cincinnati, 2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, acre-books.com..

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Foreverland Farm can be found nestled along the woodsy roads of Amelia, Ohio. It’s home to a sassy pig named Betty, an adorable three-legged goat known as Champ, Biscuits the Donkey, and over 30 other rescues ranging from chickens to rabbits and horses. Of the many stories of how the animals arrived at the farm is the one of a sheep named Lala, whose previous owner wanted to get rid of her because he believed she couldn’t have offspring. Without Foreverland — run by Brittney Kane and her wife, Leann — she would have been slaughtered. Ironically, Lala was actually pregnant when she arrived and Foreverland named the sweet lamb Marvel. The nonprofit champions a compassionate vegan lifestyle grounded in giving former farm animals, as their name suggests, forever homes. You can visit on open barn days or donate via Patreon, Paypal and Venmo (just search Foreverland Farm). Foreverland Farm, 2885 Lindale Mount Holly Road, Amelia, facebook.com/foreverlandfarm. 

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BEST LASERCUT WOODEN KITCHENWARE When Lindsey Estes started her laser woodcutting workshop Lucca in 2014, she was 24 years old with a single laser cutter, no backstock and a dwindling bank account. In 2015 she opened her first brick and mortar on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine before hopping on over to a new, 2,500-square-foot Findlay Market shop and workspace to house her flourishing business last spring. Six years into entrepreneurship, Estes’ gorgeous, millennial-minded laser cut creations can be found in homes and storefronts across the city, as well as the custom work created for the likes of Union Terminal, Hotel Covington, Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey, Music Hall, Rhinegeist Brewery and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Lucca’s stock holds plenty of homegoods and gifts like Midcentury Modern mirrors, minimalistic planters, holiday ornaments and real wood greeting cards, but the brand’s kitchenware is a surefire way to upgrade simple basics and dinner party centerpieces alike. Bamboo scrub brushes with geometric engraved handles and Brazilian walnut soap dishes make for pretty, sustainable switches for plastic sink essentials; floral-patterned cutting boards, spoon rests and serving utensils add a special touch to meal prep; and glass and marble accented creations add everyday elegance to decanters, teapots, coasters, spice jars and the coolest serving trays for the tastiest of charcuterie. Lucca, 126 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine, luccaworkshop.com.

BEST CURATED VINTAGE RESALE SHOP Wanna feel fancy? Get something to wear from Hi-Bred, whose new Northside location is turning heads all over town thanks to the immaculately bedecked — and frequently changing — mannequins in the storefront. Owner Shawna Maria curates an incredibly chic collection and, unlike other resale shops that force you to dig through tons of filler for the gold, there’s an abundance of sheer style on the racks. Evening attire, motorcycle jackets, chic army surplus fatigues, fancy footwear ... they’ve literally got all that covered and much more. Want to treat 108  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Lucca PHOTO | Emily Palm

someone with a great sense of style, but too polite to ask their size? Get them a gift card, that’s always en vogue. Hi-Bred, 4041 Hamilton Ave., Northside, hibred.life.

BEST WAY TO JOIN THE HIVE MIND Apiculture — aka beekeeping — has a long history that dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, who made hives using pipes formed from clay. They would move the hives up and down the Nile River, letting the bees pollinate whatever flowers were in season. Centuries later, the delicate art of beekeeping still happens all over the world, including in Cincinnati. If you want to try your hand at this unique trade, Gaiser Bee Company sells five nucs in drawn-out frames for $210. Also known as nucleus colonies, nucs are derived from larger colonies and are home to bees in all stages of development, including one unmarked mated queen. The frames come in a plastic Jester box to get you started. On last year’s pickup day, Gaiser’s trailer brimmed with 250 packages, which they sold to new

and experienced beekeepers alike. Gaiser Bee Company, 3402 Kleenman Road, Monfort Heights, gaiserbeeco.com.

BEST CLIFTON RECORD STORE WITH A PARKING LOT Torn Light Records first made waves in Bellevue, where their eclectic range of records, cassette tapes, zines and VHS tapes made them a must-stop for anyone seeking weird finds and deep dives, whether you’re into Jazz, Punk, obscure 1990s Emo, Black Metal or anything in between. They made the move across the river in early 2019, opening a storefront on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The new shop was a big upgrade in terms of floor space — 625 feet to 2,000, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer — which means Torn Light has expanded its inventory to include a larger selection of not only vinyl but films and books, too. They also have an attached parking lot (parking is free for customers), which they’ve used to hold parking lot sales (at least one). In September, the record shop

put thousands of LP and 45 records from their own collection and other vendors in crates in the parking lot for people to thumb through. The event also included a DJ, coffee from Deeper Roots and beer from 3 Points Urban Brewery. Torn Light Records, 356 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, tornlightrecords.com. 

BEST ONE-STOP SHOP FOR OLD HOME REPAIR AND RESTORATION If you own an old home and don’t know about Hyde Park Lumber, consider this the best piece of advice you’ll ever receive. This historic Cincinnati business has been around for more than a century and deals in a plethora of craftsman creations you won’t find at your average Home Depot. The showroom is filled with hard-to-find moulding, trim and antique-style doors, replica vintage and traditional doorknobs and hardware, raised paneling and even historic-style columns. If you’re undertaking any kind of renovation, repair or restoration on a home built in the


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19th or early 20th century and can’t find a new — or even antique — item to match your needs, chances are Hyde Park Lumber has it. Weird-sized baseboards? There. Those rounded solid-wood Hobbit-style doors? Got ’em. Vintage-looking crystal doorknobs? Yup. You would be amazed at the selection. Just reading their “history” section on the website is impressive: “The Hyde Park Lumber & Design Center — founded in 1902 by the former governor of Ohio, Myers Y. Cooper — has been a pivotal part of Cincinnati history. We supplied rowboats during the flood of 1937 and built ammo boxes for World War II. But we’re best known for what we continue to do today — supplying top quality interior millwork, doors, cabinets and designer hardware for thousands of newly built and remodeled homes in Greater Cincinnati.” It’s honestly a one-stop-shop for any This Old House-rs. Hyde Park Lumber, 3360 Red Bank Road, Madisonville, hydeparklumber.com.

BEST FLOWER SHOP ON WHEELS Daisy Jane’s Flower Truck is easy to spot with its bright red exterior and custom-made white canopy, which covers baskets filled to the brim with bouquet-ready flowers, each accompanied by a sign that lists its name, price and background story. Having a bad day? There’s a flower for that. Owner and founder Megan Moore is readily available near her truck — which can be found rolling around Greater Cincinnati on any given day and popping up at various art fairs and events — to answer questions, chat with customers and arrange flowers into vibrant, colorful bouquets. You can even customize your own bouquet and write a personalized note with Moore’s vintage typewriter. As Moore explains, daisies symbolize new beginnings and the name Jane means “God is gracious,” from ancient Greek and Hebrew. If you want flowers to come to you instead of you finding the truck, bouquets start at $35 (greenery starts at $25) and can be delivered Monday through Friday (for a fee). You can also book the truck for events or for your own DIY florals — grab your bridal party and get together to build your own bouquets. Daisy Jane’s Flower Truck, daisyjanesflowertruck.com.

BEST BOOKSTORE ON WHEELS After 25 years of teaching in various schools across the country, Melanie Moore rerouted her career to focus on inspiring a passion for reading by delivering the joy of books to cafés, flea markets and nonprofit events all from the bed of a vintage blue Volkswagen pickup 110  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

truck. The Cincy Book Bus offers a unique, beautifully bound selection of reads along with a personable book-buying experience in a time where the internet offers instant gratification and two-day delivery. Moore and her husband, Tony, originally bought the truck from a cherry farm in Colorado and picked it up with cherry pits and juice stains still in the bed. It’s a manual and a little rickety, so Moore leaves the driving to Tony, who has an affinity for vintage vehicles. He’s happy to show off the book-mobile by welcoming customers into the driver’s seat or snapping photos of them with their newly purchased books in front of the bus. On days she’s not popping up at cafés and markets, she’s pulling into yard sales and shuffling through cardboard boxes or meticulously scanning each shelf in any store that sells books. She won’t pick up just anything — they’ve got to be unique and in good shape to make the cut. Though she stepped out of the education system several years ago, she still stays involved, helping schools in the area stock their libraries and participating in community literacy programs. Cincy Book Bus, facebook.com/cincybookbus.

BEST PUP FOOD PANTRY At the end of 2019, local nonprofit Queen City Bulldog Rescue opened a dog food pantry at its headquarters in Bellevue to offer assistance to anyone who might need help feeding their four-legged family member — and not just bully breeds. Following the closing of the Norwood-based Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry in the summer of 2018, it’s also the only pantry of its kind in Northern Kentucky. QCBR founder Chelsea Muenzer says the decision to add a pet food pantry was an organic one. With each passing week, she says turnout grows both in terms of people actually utilizing the pantry and for incoming donations. It’s also drawn more awareness of their first-and-foremost mission. Founded in 2017, the foster-based rescue has placed over 300 English and French bulldogs in their forever homes and have over 200 volunteers in their ranks. Currently, the pantry is operating on a no-questions-asked honor system: For those who need help getting fido food, all they need to do is simply show up during open hours — every other Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — or reach out to make an appointment. If they have what you need, it’s yours. Muenzer says they have yet to run out of kibble, but they’re also hoping that they keep getting more food to keep supply up as word spreads. Find a link to donate affordable food via an Amazon wishlist on their Facebook page. Queen City Bulldog Rescue, 707 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, facebook.com/queencitybulldogrescue.


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BEST NEW NEIGHBORHOOD BOOKSTORE Between online shopping and a bevy of large chain retailers with massive inventories, it can be hard to make up your mind on what to read and where to buy. That’s why an independent bookstore like Downbound Books is so important in this age of overwhelming information: think “less is more,” with an abundance of thoughtful variety. Downbound is the newest addition to Cincinnati’s community of independent bookstores. Owner Gregory Kornbluh, a Cincinnati native, recently returned from a 13-year stint on the East Coast where he worked as a bookseller at a shop outside Boston and later in sales and marketing for Harvard University Press. With a focus on intentional curation and comprehensive subheads, Kornbluh says “it forces people to see stuff they might not have been looking for.” Downbound also offers crafts, stationery and novelty items from locals like Paper Acorn, Cryptogram Ink and Volcano Goods, with more to come. Downbound Books, 4139 Apple St., Northside, downboundbooks.com. Downbound Books PHOTO | Kaitlyn Handel

BEST SUSTAINABILITY SHOP Deerhaus Décor in Findlay Market launched as an eco-friendly boutique in 2016 offering locally made goods, vintage finds and other well-crafted products for kids, grown-ups and home. But where Deerhaus really shines is their well-rounded selection of sustainable goods for green-leaning customers. Visit the shop or even click the “sustainable” section on their website to view reusable homegoods. They carry Beeswrap brand washable food wrap so you can stop buying the plastic kind; Stasher bags to replace any tossable sandwich/snack bags; coconut fiber straw cleaners and bamboo or metal reusable straws; muslin and mesh produce bags; and even vegan dental floss. And starting this spring, they’re opening a refill station where customers can bring in their own reusable containers to refill with a variety of products (Deerhaus will also carry containers for purchase). The refill menu is still being decided but might carry items like laundry detergent, cleaning products, etc. Deerhaus Décor, 135 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine, deerhausdecor.com. 114  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

BEST DIY BEAUTY BAR Emily Little first launched her line of soaps and body products as “Little Organics,” with a focus on herbal medicine, informed and filtered through her Appalachian heritage. Now, more than a decade old, Little Organics is Queen City Alchemy, a high-end locally made holistic skincare and apothecary line featuring soaps, serums, balms, deodorants and other botanicals crafted using non-toxic, compassionate and therapeutic ingredients. There are no dyes, fillers, parabens or sulfates in Little’s products and the cruelty-free line is Leaping Bunny certified. You can find everything you need to craft a witchy-womanapproved #shelfie, from a glowy Green Goddess French green clay/alfalfa/spinach powder facial mask to an anxiety tincture (with passionflower, mimosa flower, kava kava and skullcap) and rose water toning spritzers — all with super clean, minimalist packaging. And if you can’t find what you want on the shelf, head to the DIY Bar in the back of the Findlay Market-adjacent OTR shop to make your own. Ingredients and instructions are included to create your own facial masks or serums, bath soaks, herbal extracts and more. Queen City

Alchemy, 1808 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, queencityalchemy.com.

BEST NATURALIST SKATEBOARD DECK Modernist wildlife artist Charley Harper — an Art Academy of Cincinnati graduate who created iconic works for Ford Times, The Golden Book of Biology, the National Park Service and plenty of local organizations — is a Cincinnati favorite. Find murals he crafted himself, like the colorful and geometric ceramic tile wall of animals in the John Weld Peck Federal Building or the uncoveredin-2015 abstract “Space Walk” at the Duke Energy Convention Center, or those made in homage to him — like ArtWorks’ “Homecoming (Blue Birds)” — spread throughout the city. And if you want to wear his art or use it on everyday objects like mugs or tea towels, you can find Harper goods at shops like MiCA 12/v, the Cincinnati Art Museum or Fabulous Frames & Art. The latter specializes in all things Harper, including Edie Harper (Charley’s wife and also an artist) and Brett Harper (their son and artist). Fabulous

Frames has a special portal online, charleyharper.com, featuring art for collectors and a dizzying array of products. If you just want more Harper in your home, they carry everything from quilting bundles to puzzles, earrings, art tiles, ornaments, onesies and very cool skateboard decks. A collaboration with Habitat Skateboards, the decks feature works including Harper’s poster for “The Desert” made for the National Park Service in the 1980s, his “Squid and Whale” and several of his iconic red cardinals. The illustrations are printed on the decks, which are made of American-sourced 7-ply maple, according to the site. Fabulous Frames & Art, multiple locations including 17 W. Fourth St., Downtown, charleyharperartstudio.com, fabframes.com.

BEST PERSONAL PAPER ART SHOP The husband-and-wife team behind Over-the-Rhine’s MiCA 12/v, Carolyn and Mike Deininger, opened a sister store specializing in all things paper this past summer. Paper Wings — located a few storefronts down on


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Vine Street — offers an expanded selection of paper items including journals, sketchbooks, notebooks and cards as well as wrapping paper. It’s products they’ve seen an increased demand for at MiCA but didn’t necessarily have the space to devote to, so they just opened a new spot. In addition to selling paper products, Carolyn’s fine arts background inspired the introduction of Paper Wings’ second major aspect: a gallery. Making up just under half of the shop’s interior, the gallery features rotating shows by local artists working on or with paper. Media ranges from photography to charcoal drawings. Though a business dedicated to paper in the digital age may seem counterintuitive, Carolyn says Paper Wings offers a refreshing change from the barrage of emails, texts and screens we’re exposed to daily. “I think it’s just a natural response to want to slow down a little and send something more personal, to take some time and really think about what you’re doing,” she says. “I think that’s what can make (Paper Wings) successful is creating something that reminds people of the positives and how good it feels to take time and do something more personal and more meaningful.” Paper Wings, 1207 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, shoppaperwings.com.

BEST TILE SHOWROOM SELECTION So you want to update your bathroom tile or add a new kitchen backsplash, but you’re looking for something that feels more unique than the ceramics you can find at the big box stores. Head to Mees Distributors at the edge of Northside. This tile shop has been around since the 1930s and the 10,000-foot public showroom has an almost overwhelming selection of tile to peruse at every price point and style, from subway tiles and colored marble to quarry tiles and brightly patterned cement. There are shiny tiles, Tuscan-look tiles, muted pink tiles, tiles with little fruit designs on them; honestly, any kind of tile you can imagine, they have it. And they also have humans who can help you. If you have your project specs, Mees can provide guidance regarding specific products as well as grout color, layout and more. They also have a list of professional tile installers they work with or can recommend if you’re completely lost. You can also sometimes find a cat sleeping at the check-out counter (behind which there is an impressive collection of mounted fish and sports trophies). Mees Distributors, 1541 West Fork Road, Northside, meesdistributors.com.

BEST WAY TO REUPHOLSTER A THRIFTED FIND The term “good bones” generally refers to a structurally well-made home that has the potential to be great after some decorative upgrades and renovations. The same concept applies to thrifted and antique furniture finds. If you snag a Midcentury Modern couch, Victorian settee or knock-off Eames lounger for a nice price but the fabric screams Brady Bunch baby vomit or has been used as a scratching post by an overly zealous cat, Helen Smith and her Helltown Workshop can help refurbish your treasure into a covetable piece of home décor. The reupholstery shop — whose moniker is taken from an old nickname for the Northside neighborhood, where the shop is located — specializes in vintage-style projects, using both subdued fabrics and wacky ones. And while she does work for plenty of individual clients, Smith has also done large-scale upholstery projects for the likes of Memorial Hall, Branch, HangOverEasy and even made props for the Netflix film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Pricing is incredibly affordable, especially considering you don’t have to figure out how to wrangle a channel-back sofa or tufted ottoman yourself. Just request a quote online. Helltown Workshop, 4178 Hamilton Ave., Northside, helltownworkshop.co.

BEST SNEAKER SHOP FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY Offering Greater Cincinnatians the freshest kicks since 2008, Corporate carries big brands — from Adidas and Nike to Karhu and Converse — in sizes and styles that appeal to all ages of men, women and children. The shop also carries contemporary streetwear including a house line of sweats, T-shirts, bucket hats, beanies and even patterned face masks. In addition to running the shop, Corporate gives back through their nonprofit, Bigger Than Sneakers. The mission is to “empower and inspire the leaders of tomorrow” by offering mentorship programs, community events and more to uplift the “ecosystem surrounding sneaker culture.” The annual Cincinnati SneakerBall fundraiser gives guests a chance to pair their best black tie with their favorite sneakers to raise funds for a specific cause under the Bigger Than Sneakers umbrella; last year it was Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Charitable Care Fund. Corporate, 2643 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, corporategotem.com.


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REA D ER PICKS NEW BAR

1. Hoppin’ Vines (TIE) 1. Jerry’s Jug House (TIE) 2. Lost & Found 3. Comfort Station 4. Wodka Bar 5. HomeMakers Bar 6. Ripple Wine Bar 7. Holiday Spirits 8. Night Drop 9. Fishbowl at The Banks 10. Larry’s

OVERALL BAR/CLUB 1. Below Zero Lounge 2. rhinehaus 3. Hoppin’ Vines 4. Longfellow 5. Arnold’s Bar & Grill 6. The Birdcage 7. Queen City Radio 8. MOTR Pub 9. Japp’s 10. Northside Yacht Club

BAR/CLUB (DOWNTOWN/OTR) 1. The Birdcage 2. MOTR Pub 3. Arnold’s Bar & Grill

BAR/CLUB (NORTHERN KENTUCKY)

BAR/CLUB FOR LIVE MUSIC (NATIONAL ACTS)

BAR/CLUB (CENTRAL)

BAR/CLUB STAFF

BAR/CLUB (EAST SIDE)

BARTENDER (FEMALE)

1. The Crazy Fox Saloon 2. The Hannaford 3. The Southgate House Revival

1. Tillie’s Lounge 2. Northside Yacht Club 3. The Comet

1. Streetside Brewery 2. Mt. Lookout Tavern 3. Latitudes Bar & Bistro

BAR/CLUB (WEST SIDE) 1. Knotty Pine Rock Club & Tiki Bar 2. The Crow’s Nest 3. Blue Note Harrison

BAR/CLUB (BURBS) 1. The Monkey Bar & Grille 2. March First Brewing 3. The Village Tavern

BAR/CLUB FOR LIVE MUSIC (LOCAL BANDS)

1. Arnold’s Bar & Grill 2. The Southgate House Revival 3. MOTR Pub

1. Bogart’s 2. The Southgate House Revival 3. Madison Theater

1. Longfellow 2. Streetside Brewery 3. The Belle and the Bear

1. Molly Wellmann (Japp’s) 2. Valerie Diehl (Northside Yacht Club) 3. Ceris Christopher (The Belle and the Bear)

BARTENDER (MALE)

1. Patrick Carnes (Tillie’s Lounge) 2. Alex Meece (Mellow Mushroom) 3. Yahezequiel Walker (Northside Yacht Club)

BEER SELECTION (BOTTLES & CANS) 1. Higher Gravity 2. The Comet 3. 16-Bit Bar+Arcade

BLOODY MARY

1. Nation Kitchen & Bar 2. Northside Yacht Club 3. The Crazy Fox Saloon 4. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar 5. The Birdcage 6. The Eagle 7. Clyborne’s 8. Streetside Brewery 9. Taste of Belgium 10. HangOverEasy (TIE) 10. Lucius Q (TIE)

BOURBON COCKTAIL 1. Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar 2. The Hannaford 3. Japp’s

BOURBON SELECTION (BAR) 1. Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar 2. The Hannaford 3. Wiseguy Lounge

BOURBON SELECTION (RETAIL) 1. Jungle Jim’s International Market 2. The Party Source 3. DEP’s Fine Wine & Spirits

BEER SELECTION (DRAFT) 1. Yard House 2. rhinehaus 3. Hoppin’ Vines

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BOWLING ALLEY

1. Stone Lanes 2. Madison Bowl 3. Western Bowl Strike & Spare

CASINO

1. JACK Casino 2. Belterra Casino Resort 3. Belterra Park

CELTIC/BRITISH PUB

1. Nicholson’s Pub 2. Molly Malone’s Irish Pub & Restaurant 3. O’Malley’s in the Alley

CLUB/PARTY DJ 1. DJ Björg 2. DJ Airborne 3. DJ NV Reckless

COCKTAIL BAR/LOUNGE 1. Tillie’s Lounge 2. The Hannaford 3. Japp’s

COLLEGE-CROWD BAR 1. 16-Bit Bar+Arcade 2. Mac’s Pizza Pub (Clifton Heights) 3. Murphy’s Pub

COMEDY CLUB

1. Go Bananas Comedy Club 2. Liberty Funny Bone 3. Urban Artifact

CONCERT IN 2019

1. Panic! At the Disco (U.S. Bank Arena) 2. Tyler Childers (Madison Theater) 3. Iron Maiden (Riverbend Music Center)

CONCERT VENUE

1. Riverbend Music Center 2. The Southgate House Revival 3. Bogart’s

DANCE CLUB

1. Below Zero Lounge 2. The Birdcage 3. Tokyo Kitty

DRAG QUEEN

1. Penny Tration 2. Stixen Stones 3. Sarah Jessica Darker

ESCAPE ROOM

1. The Escape Game 2. Breakout Games Cincinnati 3. Houdini’s Room Escape

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HAPPY HOUR (DRINKS) 1. Streetside Brewery 2. Queen City Exchange 3. The Righteous Room

HAPPY HOUR (FOOD) 1. Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey 2. Ché 3. Nada

HARD CIDER

1. Cidergeist 2. March First Brewing 3. Karrikin Spirits Co.

HARD SELTZER

1. VIVE 2. March First Brewing 3. Karrikin Sparkling Spirit

HOTEL BAR

1. The Bar at Palm Court 2. Coppin’s at Hotel Covington 3. AC Upper Deck

JUKEBOX

1. The Comet 2. Anchor Grill 3. The Crazy Fox Saloon

KARAOKE

1. Below Zero Lounge 2. Tokyo Kitty 3. Northside Yacht Club

LGBTQ/INCLUSIVE BAR 1. Below Zero Lounge 2. The Birdcage 3. Tillie’s Lounge

LOCAL BAND (COVERS) 1. Naked Karate Girls 2. DV8 3. The Rusty Griswolds

LOCAL BAND (ORIGINALS) 1. Fox Soxx 2. Over the Rhine 3. 500 Miles to Memphis

LOCAL BREWERY

1. Rhinegeist 2. MadTree Brewing (TIE) 2. Streetside Brewery (TIE) 3. March First Brewing 4. Braxton Brewing Company 5. Urban Artifact 6. Fretboard Brewing Company 7. West Side Brewing 8. Fifty West Brewing Company

9. Brink Brewing Co. 10. Listermann Brewing Company

LOCAL DISTILLERY 1. New Riff Distilling 2. Sycamore Distilling 3. Karrikin Spirits Co.

LOCAL MUSIC PROMOTER 1. Leroy Ellington Productions 2. Nederlander Entertainment 3. Dan McCabe and Chris Schadler

LOCAL MUSICIAN 1. Ken Poleyeff 2. Lauren Eylise 3. Kevin Fox

LOCAL TAPROOM

1. 3 Points Urban Brewery 2. Nine Giant Brewing 3. Sons of Toil Brewing 4. March First Brewing 5. MadTree Brewing 6. Streetside Brewery 7. Urban Artifact 8. Rhinegeist 9. Braxton Brewing Company 10. Fretboard Brewing Company

LOCAL WINERY

1. Revel OTR Urban Winery 2. Henke Winery 3. The Skeleton Root 4. Valley Vineyards 5. Vinoklet Winery & Restaurant 6. Indian Spring Winery 7. Elk Creek Winery 8. Burnet Ridge 9. StoneBrook Winery 10. Harmony Hill Vineyards

MARGARITA

1. Taqueria Mercado 2. Bakersfield 3. El Rancho Grande

MARTINI

1. Below Zero Lounge 2. Longfellow 3. Japp’s

MUSIC FESTIVAL/EVENT 1. Cincinnati Pride 2. Bunbury Music Festival 3. Overcast Hip-Hop Festival

NO-FRILLS WATERING HOLE 1. rhinehaus 2. The Belle and the Bear 3. Northside Tavern

OPEN MIC NIGHT 1. MOTR Pub 2. Urban Artifact 3. Stanley’s Pub

PLACE TO DRINK WHILE YOU WAIT FOR A TABLE 1. The Lackman 2. Longfellow 3. Taft’s Ale House

PLACE TO PLAY GAMES 1. 16-Bit Bar+Arcade 2. Arcade Legacy: Bar Edition 3. Hoppin’ Vines

PLACE TO SHOOT POOL 1. The Comet 2. Mainstrasse Village Pub 3. Animations

PLACE TO THROW DARTS 1. Hap’s Irish Pub 2. Murphy’s Pub 3. Knockback Nats

ROOFTOP BAR

1. Rhinegeist 2. AC Upper Deck 3. Braxton Brewing Company 4. Top of the Park 5. 21c Cocktail Terrace 6. The Blind Pig 7. City View Tavern 8. Pins Mechanical Company 9. The View at Shires’ Garden 10. Bishop’s Quarter

SPORTS BAR

1. rhinehaus 2. Holy Grail Tavern & Grille 3. Knockback Nats

TRIVIA NIGHT

1. rhinehaus 2. Northside Yacht Club 3. March First Brewing

WINE BAR

1. Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant (TIE) 1. Revel OTR Urban Winery (TIE) 2. Ripple Wine Bar 3. Hoppin’ Vines 4. Oakley Wines 5. Liberty’s Bar & Bottle 6. Unwind Wine Bar 7. 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab 8. Somm Wine Bar 9. The Listing Loon 10. Marty’s Hops and Vines


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BEST CAMPING EXPERIENCE WITHOUT CAMPING Last summer, MainStrasse’s Commonwealth Bistro opened a seasonal rooftop bar as an ode to camping in Kentucky parks. Despite the sweltering heat — and lack of misting stations — Yonder was the place to be every Thursday through Saturday (and sometimes Sundays). The semi-enclosed patio included a living wall, plants and a rustic aesthetic that made it a cool place to chill in hanging hammock chairs while drinking kombucha slushies, local beer and refreshing cocktails. The food menu — separate from the downstairs menu — offered spreads, chicken wings and watermelon. Yonder is one of many places pushing mocktails as a non-alcoholic alternative, so in October they and Wise Wellness Guild, The Mocktail Project and Roasted Not Toasted hosted a Mocktober Social Hour to raise awareness that you can still have fun without getting drunk. (They also have an elaborate regular craft mocktail menu.) Yonder, 621 Main St., Covington, commonwealthbistro.com/yonder. 124  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0


BEST WINTER WARMER FOR ROOFTOP BARS A weird trend popped up at Cincinnati-area bars over the winter, specifically those with outdoor rooftops. Drinking destinations including The View at Shires’ Garden and the AC Upper Deck started offering rentable “igloos” so those willing to spend a certain amount of money could enjoy cozy cocktails in a heated, domed shelter. The igloos were not made of ice but rather a transparentplastic-y material draped over an iglooshaped skeleton and generally came complete with all sorts of winter wonderland amenities: warm blankets, pillows, LED lights, games and even electric fireplaces. Reservations — and a food/drink minimum — were required to get you into these exclusive roughly eight-person bubbles, which offered panoramic views of the city skyline. Kings Island’s WinterFest even sprung for a series of rentable VIP domes in Jack Frost’s Igloo Village that looked identical to the ones at the rooftop bars. So where did they come from? It’s unknown (maybe Amazon, because they are selling “garden dome igloo-stylish conservatory”) but people really loved them.

BEST NEW “GROWNUPS NEED NOT APPLY” SUMMER CAMP Youth summer camps come in all shapes and sizes, but an underlying mission most share is offering life lessons — be it through campfire Yonder PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

singalongs, art projects or other means. Girls Rock Cincinnati debuted in 2019 with a different twist on the arts camp concept. Part of a global movement (there are Girls Rock programs all over the world), in its inaugural year the Cincinnati camp taught young day-campers lessons in creativity and, ultimately, empowerment during a weeklong program at the MYCincinnati Firehouse Performing Arts Center in Price Hill. Designed for girls and gender-variant youth ages 12 to 18, the camp is staffed by a dedicated crew of volunteers that includes numerous Cincinnatiarea musicians, some of whom serenaded campers with special lunch-time concerts. The campers learn instruments, put together bands and write and perform their own original song, but there are also workshops about movement, meditation and stage presence, plus crafts like T-shirt-making and logo design. If you have some young aspiring musicians in your life, let them know — the 2020 Girls Rock camp is accepting applications through June 1. Girls Rock Cincinnati, girlsrockcinci.com.

BEST LATEST ROUND IN THE BATTLE BETWEEN CINCINNATI AND NORTHERN KENTUCKY Ever year at the annual Labor Day fireworks spectacular, WEBN leads the masses assembled on both sides of the Ohio River in a friendly game of “who can be louder.” As both sides of the river have seen major riverfront projects spring up in recent years,

that rivalry has been more focused on business competitiveness — and it’s a bit less friendly. The great riverfront music venue war of the ’20s have officially begun. Last year, plans for a new music venue on the Cincinnati side were unveiled. The announcement of the forthcoming ICON music venue on the Cincinnati side was met with controversy after some city officials expressed the desire to work with Columbus, Ohio concert promoter PromoWest on the project. After the venue was awarded to local Riverbend and Taft Theatre promoters MEMI, Newport officials announced that their own very similar project would be helmed by, you guessed it, PromoWest. Ideally, music lovers in Greater Cincinnati will be the big winners, with a wealth of concert options on the horizon, but some have wondered if the marketplace can support both mid-sized venues, which would essentially be competing for the same tours.

BEST NEW NONCORPORATE VENUE NAME It’s common for new sports/entertainment arenas to sell naming rights to companies and arts organizations will often tag the name of a big donor onto a new venue. So when MEMI teased the announcement of the new name for its forthcoming music venue on the riverfront, some braced for the possibility that it might be called the Carl Lindner III Music Pavilion or the LaRosa’s Pizzatorium (don’t laugh — you’ve heard of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, right?). But the venue’s new name turned out to be quite touching and sincere B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 125


BEST PLACE TO HAVE A POSITIVE TEQUILA EXPERIENCE A lot of us have a “tequila” story. And if yours doesn’t end with you on the floor (or in jail), congrats, you’ve survived the worst aspects of the agave spirit. But the reason so many have a regretful tequila experience is because it’s associated with shots. La Ofrenda, Cincinnati’s new tequila bar, lends a different approach. Their 2-ounce pours are meant to be sipped and savored. And with over 130 varieties of tequila, mezcal and sotol, there’s a lot to be appreciated. The 1940s Mexican cinema-themed bar has channeled the spirit of Mexico from owner Jacob Trevino’s own childhood influences. Most importantly, the intention of La Ofrenda is to be a celebration of life, changing the narrative of bad tequila-driven nights one sip at a time. La Ofrenda, 30 Findlay St., Over-the-Rhine, laofrendatequila.com.

La Ofrenda PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

— with seemingly no strings attached. Christened the Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center, the 4,500-person capacity venue is named for a longtime Cincinnati music educator and musician. A 1938 University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduate, Brady was the music director at Western Hills High School and a Jazz musician who worked with various youth programs over the years. The ICON (as it will inevitably be known colloquially) is set to open before the end of 2020. Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center, 25 Race St., Downtown, iconmusiccenter.com.

BEST FOLKIN’ FEST RELOCATION Created in 2008, the Whispering Beard Folk Festival grew into one of the region’s most beloved Folk/Americana fests when it moved to its longtime home on campgrounds in Friendship, Indiana. The festival’s large cult of devoted fans — aka “Beardos” — flocked to the small town and set up camp for an expertly curated weekend of Roots music that 126  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

over the years featured legends like Peter Rowan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and acclaimed modern greats like Jason Isbell and Tyler Childers. For its 2019 festival, Whispering Beard took the next step in its evolution and moved to Cincinnati’s Smale Riverfront Park. Though the popular camping element was gone, die-hard Beardos were still treated to another excellent lineup that included The Felice Brothers, M. Ward and Ryan Bingham, as well as WBFF alum like Chicago Farmer, Frontier Folk Nebraska, The Tillers and Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle, who participated in one of the fest’s new features — riverboat shows, where fans could enjoy some tunes on a little Ohio River cruise. The festival is slated to return this year for its 13th-annual edition Aug. 28 to 30. Whispering Beard Folk Festival, whisperingbeard.com.

BEST NORTHERN KENTUCKY BAR SCENE REVIVAL Covington and Newport have dive bars

aplenty, but last year a couple of them underwent a makeover. Northside Yacht Club co-owner Stuart MacKenzie and preservationist Mark Ramler transformed Newport’s 80-year-old Jerry’s Jug House and added craft cocktails, organic wines, White Claw and local craft drafts to the menu while still serving cheap domestic beers. (Keeping with the jug house of yore, you can buy bottles of wine and beer to go.) The flaked-ice libations include everything from housemade vanilla syrup-mixed Coke with bourbon to negronis. On the other side of town, near MainStrasse, Larry’s, named after previous owner Larry Collins, also maintains its kitschy essence — billiards, a fake Buffalo head presiding over the bar, a pinball lamp, $3 Tullamore on Thursdays — while also integrating a few simple Kentucky cocktails, all priced under $7. The bar was once known as Larry’s All-American Café, so new owners Paul Weckman and Emily Wolff created a full food menu with gourmet hot dogs (with veggie/vegan options) and tater tots. Larry’s and Jerry’s still exude nostalgia yet have successfully adapted to modern times. Jerry’s

Jug House, 414 E. Seventh St., Newport, facebook.com/jerrysjughouse; Larry’s, 536 W. Ninth St., Covington, 859-360-6259, searchable on Facebook.

BEST DECK FOR CINCINNATI MUSIC HISTORY FANS Shake It Records and ArtWorks teamed up on a special (and ongoing project) in 2019 that was a smart and novel way of sharing stories about the incredibly rich but still weirdly under-noticed musical history of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Musical Legends deck of cards are in the spirit of classic baseball cards and inspired by R. Crumb’s famous trading card sets dedicated to Blues, Jazz and Country music pioneers. Each card features a notable musician on the front — illustrated by a team headed up by Cincinnati comics artist and sign painter Justin Green — and a synopsis of their contributions on the back. The Volume 1 deck featured well-known artists like Bootsy and Catfish Collins, Lonnie Mack, Mamie Smith, Stephen Foster and The


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Isley Brothers, as well as lesser known acts like Junior McCants, Cody Black, Sacred Mushroom and Mr. Spoons. Some of the non-musician cards include ones dedicated to The Cotton Club, Herzog Studios and “Cincy Indie Labels” (King, Federal, Saxony, Jewel and others), as well as iconic King Records kingpin Syd Nathan. More decks are slated to come. Available at Shake It Records, 4156 Hamilton Ave., Northside, shakeitrecords.com.

BEST BARREL-AGED BEER PROGRAM For its fourth anniversary, Covington’s Braxton Brewing Company expanded in 2019, adding a giant rooftop deck to its flagship taproom and opening the Braxton Barrel House in a former Remke Market on Dixie Highway in Fort Mitchell. The brewer converted the grocer into a 20-tap drinking destination with a patio on the old loading dock and 20,000 square feet of storage for housing bourbon barrels and other assorted barrels to age their beers. The Barrel House also offers a private barrel-aging program, where anyone with the funds can “experience the barrel aging process from the initial brewing all the way to the packaging,” says Braxton. Guests work with brewers to create a custom beer and then age it in either their own whiskey or bourbon barrels (if they have one on hand; some people might) or one of the brewery’s. Braxton says the barrels can range between $1,500 to $5,000, take one month to one year to age and produce 200 bottles of barrel-aged beer, which Braxton will help you name and package. “To our knowledge, this is the nation’s first dedicated private barrel program, and we’re so proud to open the doors to our newest location,” said Braxton co-founder and CEO Jack Rouse in a release. Braxton Barrel House, 2501 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell, braxtonbrewing.com.

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In December, the WCPO special The Who: The Night That Changed Rock — about the 1979 Rock concert at Riverfront Coliseum that left 11 area fans dead — aired on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. The well-produced documentary was a good primer for those who weren’t aware of the tragic events, during which fans were crushed and trampled in the push to get into the arena, an incident that led to widespread safety changes in the concert industry. It was also healing for many of those who remember or lost family and friends that night. After some have for many years questioned their long silence regarding the tragedy, the hour-long special marked the first time that The Who’s Pete Townshend and

Roger Daltrey talked extensively about the tragedy in an interview. WCPO also scored another major scoop with the special — The Who used it to announce a 2020 concert at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, marking the first time they’ve played in Greater Cincinnati since the Coliseum concert 40 years ago. The band will be donating a portion of the proceeds from the April concert to the P.E.M. Memorial scholarships for Finneytown High School students looking to pursue the arts. The grants are given in the name of the three Finneytown students killed on that night in 1979.

BEST “HELLO, CLEVELAND” CONCERT MISHAP If Rock legends KISS are going to roll around the country to graciously give fans one more chance to see them/give them money on their “farewell” (insert eye-roll emoji) tour, the band could have at least hired a merch director who knows how to spell the names of the cities they are visiting. When the group came to rock Riverbend one last time over the summer, they were selling the local version of their cityspecific tour T-shirts, which were created to make fans feel like KISS cares so much about our town, they went and made an exclusive Cincinnati shirt. Or, rather, “Cincinnatti” shirt. The misspelled tees — photos of which quickly went viral on social media — were priced at $50 and are probably collector’s items of some sort, so hold onto yours if you bought one. Heck, maybe that was the game plan all along — if nothing else, KISS are pretty savvy when it comes to making money off of merchandizing. Maybe Jean Simons held back a few boxes for himself to sell on eBay as he gets further into his twilight years?

BEST USE OF TIKTOK Cincinnati AltPop trio PUBLIC’s hard work over the past several years (including constant touring and playing with artists like Walk the Moon, Twenty One Pilots and The Driver Era) paid off in 2019 when the band signed a record deal with major label Island Records. And at least part of the reason for the deal came down to their success on the app TikTok. Before the signing, PUBLIC’s single “Make You Mine” went viral thanks to the music and video app, where, in just three months, over 1 million videos were made featuring the song (that number is now approach 3 million). TikTok has become a leading tastemaker in the music world — it’s how “Old Town Road,” which last year broke the record for most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart, first came into the public’s consciousness. Rereleased


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BEST CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BAR Located in a former 105-year-old rest area (basically a public restroom), Comfort Station has transformed a dilapidated space into an airy nightlife destination full of hip cocktails and outdoor lounge areas (including a very cool seating nook with cushions). And guests have the choice to enter the bar through the original women’s restroom door, now painted a bright blue, to access the main-floor space, replete with original skylights, plush blue-velvet seating and living plant walls, or through the men’s door to access the subterranean microbar Among the Lost, which offers a darker, sexier and more intimate drinking experience. The eight-seater basement bar “is reminiscent of omakase-style presentation where a highly skilled, incredibly knowledgeable mixologist showcases their own specialities and artistic merits by creating a tailored cocktail progression serving only the very best ingredients and selections from a curated list of spirits,” said a press release when the bar opened. While Among the Lost is only open Thursday through Saturday night (and is available for private parties), the women’s room access is open daily, serving clever and seasonal cocktails and hosting fun events like bar bingo and movie nights. Comfort Station, 793 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, comfortstationcincinnati.com.

through Island, the “Make You Mine” single gained even more steam — it now has close to 80 million streams on Spotify alone. PUBLIC, publictheband.com.

BEST TEQUILA COCKTAIL THAT’S NOT A MARGARITA The Paloma at Mesa Loca — a modern Mexican eatery that has taken over the former Cock & Bull space on Hyde Park Square — is a tall, refreshing drink based on reposado tequila and freshly squeezed red grapefruit juice. Already that should have your attention but the addition of fragrant St-Germain liqueur and some extra sweetness with simple syrup should leave you demanding, “Line ‘em up.” The drink isn’t as sugary as a margarita and it doesn’t involve a salt rim — two things that can ruin a cocktail. It’s very hard to reproduce the drink at home so you’ll just have to keep 130  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

The back patio at Comfort Station PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

going back to Mesa Loca for the real deal. And maybe eat a sliced skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and a side of Manchego rice while you’re at it. Mesa Loca, 2645 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, mesalocahydepark.com.

BEST OVERLOOKED GREATER CINCINNATI BREWERY Formerly home to an old bowling alley, the 1930s Flamingo Club and 1980s Punk Rock venue The Jockey Club, the Wooden Cask Brewing Company is located in the heart of Newport’s historic section. And the owners — Karen and Randy Schiltz (a co-founder of Rivertown Brewery) — have incorporated some of that past into their current taproom: The bar and some tabletops are handcrafted from the building’s reclaimed bowling lanes. And while the décor may be missing some of the cushy amenities found at bigger name breweries, Wooden Cask’s focus is on high-quality, highly drinkable beers. “We don’t rely on trends or gimmicks to influence the beers we do. Every beer we do is a good,

drinkable beer,” said Karen in an interview for CityBeat’s Beer Issue. And she’s right. Traditional English, Irish and Scottish beers are the house specialty, though the draft list is no stranger to IPAs, wheats and blonde ales. If it’s your first time, opt for a flight from their 18 taps to sample their range. Go with something easy like the Girl Next Door blonde ale or a Tweed English mild and then set your tastebuds up for a real thrill with one of their seasonal bourbonbarrel-aged brews or small-batch collaborations with the on-site Drunken Hog BBQ. And if you don’t like beer, they also serve their own cider and wine and even some spirits. Wooden Cask Brewing Company, 629 York St., Newport, woodencask.com.

BEST WEST SIDE ’80S FLASHBACK During the heyday of video game arcades, the West Side of Cincinnati was a hot spot. Within a half-mile radius there were places like Doc Holliday’s Game Emporium in Western Bowl and the mall arcade in the complex that housed Shillito’s department store, among

other spots. In 2019, a new West Side arcade was announced for 2020 and it looks to recapture that old ’80s spirit, part of an area trend over the past few years. Set to open later this year, Wondercade will join the business district of the revitalized Westwood neighborhood and offer retro coin-operated favorites like Asteroids, Pac-Man, Tron and Dig Dug. Unlike some similar places, while you will be able to order adult beverages, Wondercade will be legitimately old-school and welcome gamers of all ages. Wondercade, 3143 Harrison Ave., Westwood, wondercadecincy.com.

BEST CINCINNATI PUNK ROCK HISTORY LESSON A compilation album put together by former local musician/club booker/DJ Peter Aaron offered a fascinating glimpse into the earliest days of Punk and “Alternative” music in Greater Cincinnati. It’s also an excellent document of how Midwestern outsiders absorbed and translated the new, odd and


exciting music of the mid-’70s/early-’80s into their own language. We Were Living in Cincinnati was released via Chicago-based HoZac Records in conjunction with the locally based Shake It Records label and included early recordings from The Dents, Bitter Blood, The Customs, Dennis The Menace, Ed Davis Band, 11,000 Switches, Erector Set, BPA and several more bands, all “rescued and remastered” from cassette and (exceptionally rare) 45 releases. HoZac Records, hozacrecords.com.

BEST HALL AND OATES COCKTAIL TRIBUTE Night Drop, the downstairs speakeasy-esque bar of East Walnut Hills’ Branch restaurant, gets creative with their novella-length drink menu. Seasonally, they like to theme their cocktails, and last summer Hall and Oates (yes, the acclaimed ’70s-’80s Pop/Soul band), garnered a section of the menu. Cocktails named after their hits, like 1977’s “Rich Girl” (curry, walnut, bourbon and mezcal), came with a poetic description of the music and the drink. At the end of last year, Night Drop introduced its latest theme: The John Hughes Profile, which includes drinks like Totally Shermer (named for the fictional Illinois town where Hughes based some of his classic teen films), a combination of Bitter Truth EXR Amaro, lemon and orange Fanta. These cocktails complement Night Drop and Branch’s financial-themed cocktails like the Accelerated Depreciation and Joint Account. Night Drop, 1535 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, eatatbranch.com.

BEST HOT NEW EP When helmeted Cincinnati Electronic Rock band Black Signal released its excellent latest EP, Parallels, in 2019, they didn’t merely upload it to Spotify and wait for the .003 cents per stream to start rolling in. Giving fans an extra-spicy perk, Parallels — which featured vocals from locals like Eugenius, Von Claire and Jess Lamb — was released not on vinyl or cassette but also “on” hot sauce. At Black Signal shows or at blacksignal.bandcamp. com, fans can purchase hot sauce handmade by the musicians. Each bottle — you can choose between habanero pepper and ghost pepper — includes a code to download the EP’s five fire tracks. Black Signal, blacksignal. bandcamp.com.

BEST COCKTAIL WITH AN INFUSED ICE CUBE While there’s no shortage of terrific bourbon cocktails around town, including plenty of

satisfying old-fashioned drinks, the Chef’s Old Fashioned at the Bar at Palm Court beats them all. While the $18 price tag is eyepopping, you do get to enjoy this scrumptious libation in the splendid Art Deco surroundings of the historic Netherland Plaza. The drink starts with a glass containing a large semi-frozen ice cube made from bitters, simple syrup and water. Your server pours a hefty shot of single-barrel bourbon and you mush the cube around with your little plastic straw. The longer you can wait to sip, the better it tastes. Try something from the excellent bar menu, too, such as a cheese and charcuterie platter, duck confit flatbread or a burger, among many other choices. Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, 35 W. Fifth St., Downtown, orchidsatpalmcourt.com.

BEST WORTH-THEWAIT SOLO DEBUT Chuck Cleaver is a bonafide Cincinnati music legend. With his brilliantly poetic and offbeat songwriting, Cleaver began attracting national attention in the 1990s with local heroes The Ass Ponys, then continued his hot streak in the new millennium with the equally beloved Wussy. In 2019, after more than 30 years in “the biz,” Cleaver notched another milestone, releasing his very first solo album, Send Aid, via locally based Shake It Records. The album — adventurous and unexpected, while at the same time recalling the best of his previous work — was another critical darling for Cleaver’s flawless discography, drawing praise from outlets like Stereogum, Minneapolis’ City Pages and NPR. Though it’s technically a “solo” effort, Send Aid also showed that Cleaver genuinely enjoys the process of collaboration — joining him throughout the album are local musicians from bands like Vacation, Lung, Dawg Yawp and, yes, Wussy. Wussy, wussyworld.com.

BEST JEOPARDY! JAM Veteran Cincinnati Hip Hop artist Santino Corleon (now going by just Santino) kicked off what is looking to be a helluva 2020 by signing a record deal and getting some prime national TV exposure. If you saw the commercials for Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time — the game show’s prime-time tournament on ABC featuring its greatest champions — you got a little taste of Corleon’s talents. Santino’s song “GOAT” — a possible future “Jock Jam” classic — was featured in the promos for the show. The single was the first music released as part of Corleon’s new record deal, as he became one of the first signings to 83 Sound, the label founded by producer Cook Classics (whose work includes B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 131


BEST REASON FOR RECORD HEADS TO VISIT LOVELAND Actually, if you are a vinyl connoisseur and not aware of Loveland’s Plaid Room Records store — well, you’re probably not actually a record head. Vinyl lovers across the region (and beyond) regularly flock to the shop, which opened in a smaller space five years ago before moving across the street to its beautiful current location. Before opening the store, Plaid Room’s co-founder Terry Cole went on a cross-country trip to visit record stores in an effort to promote his now-highly-successful Soul/Funk record label Colemine. Ultimately quitting his job as a teacher and teaming up with his brother, Bob, Cole plotted out what kind of store Plaid Room would be based on the things he saw and liked best on his roadtrip. The shop is a vinyl lovers’ dream, with rows of used and new platters, well organized and laid out with a clean design. The ambiance is further enhanced by the friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff — none of that stereotypical “look down your nose” counter encounters. But if you know your stuff and know what you’re looking for, you’ll be even more impressed with the service. Even those nowhere near Loveland can enjoy Plaid Room’s extensive vinyl offerings — the shop’s well-stocked online selection is just as impressive. Plaid Room Records, 122 W. Loveland Ave., Loveland, plaidroomrecords.com.

hits like Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes” and Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho”) and Platinum-selling Pop artist and songwriter Outasight. Santino, facebook.com/ santinocorleon.

BEST BREWERY WINNING STREAK Ohio breweries have been faring incredibly well at the annual Great American Beer Festival of late. In 2019, according to ohiocraftbeer.org, the esteemed competition featuring beers from all over the country awarded Ohio breweries 15 medals overall, a record for the state. Cincinnati brewers contributed nicely to that count, with Listermann, Rhinegeist and Taft’s all taking home medals. But Brink Brewing Co. had the best year out of all of the Ohio competitors. For the second year in a row, the College Hill-based brewers took home top Very Small 132  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Plaid Room Records PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

Brewery of the Year honors, given annually to breweries that produce less than 1,000 barrels a year. Brink also won the award in 2018, making it the first brewery to ever take home that prize in back-to-back years. As if that wasn’t enough, Brink also took home two gold medals — for its Hold the Reins English-style mild ale and Moozie Sweet Stout. Brink Brewing Co., 5905 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, brinkbrewing.com.

BEST CELEBRATIONS FOR A LEGENDARY CINCINNATI MUSIC VENUE While 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock music festival, many Cincinnatians were celebrating a different Rock music icon. The Ludlow Garage in Clifton opened in September of 1969 and in just two years it was responsible for bringing to Cincinnati an amazing array of popular and influential artists of the time, including Santana, Iggy and the Stooges, The Kinks, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk

Railroad, MC5 and The Allman Brothers. To celebrate, a handful of artists from the era that had performed at the club — including headliner Rick Derringer — and several like-minded local acts played at a free all-day concert in Eden Park over the summer. Meanwhile, the current iteration of The Ludlow Garage celebrated the anniversary by hosting Dweezil Zappa’s tour on which the guitarist was playing his father Frank’s legendary album Hot Rats, which was released about a month after the original Ludlow Garage opened. The new Garage’s sold-out anniversary show was timed to the club’s reopening following an extensive renovation project. The Ludlow Garage, 342 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, ludlowgaragecincinnati.com.

bourbon isn’t the only reigning American spirit. As a separate back bar tucked behind Longfellow, Other Room has more than 100 fluctuating rums, which they claim is the largest rum collection in Ohio. While rum might be associated with tropical locations, Other Room brings the beach vibes to the Queen City (minus the kitschy beach cottage décor). Actually, the bar itself feels more like a cooler version of your grandparent’s basement, with wood paneling, framed floral prints and other vintage trinkets. Rum fanatics can order specialty cocktails like the Out Adrift, Dr. Jones and Shisho Painkiller — or just enjoy the complexities of the spirit on its own. The Other Room, 109 E. 13th St., Over-theRhine, longfellowbar.com/other-room.

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If Other Room has proven anything to the city since opening in early 2019, it’s that rum cocktails are more than a sugary frozen drink sipped on a beach at an island resort, and that

In the 1930s, Swede Carl Jeppson immigrated to Chicago and founded his company Jeppson’s Malört, crafting an herbal spirit to


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end all liquors — and one that could seemingly destroy your palate. It used to be you had to go to Chicago to even try it, but in 2019 the drink — which has been described as “like swallowing a burnt condom filled with gasoline” — finally arrived in glorious Kentucky thanks to Heidelberg Distributing. Bottles have popped up in Covington’s Wiseguy Lounge and Newport’s Jerry’s Jug House. The more-bitter-than-anything-you-can-imagine drink is best drunk as a shot, no chaser. Here’s a fun tip: When trying it for the first time, make sure you snap a photo and capture what’s known as “Malört face” — usually a contorted expression of pain, confusion and eventually delight. Try it, if you dare. Jeppson’s Malört, jeppsonsmalort.com.

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BEST WEB SERIES FOR GEAR HEADS AND MUSIC LOVERS ALIKE Fret Buzz is a monthly web series that’s like a cross between an interview podcast and the talk shows of yesteryear, when multiple (often disparate) guests would appear “on the couch” together and entertainingly interact. The brainchild of musician/gear expert Mike Reeder, founder of instrument shop Mike’s Music — one of the best vintage guitar stores in the country — each episode of Fret Buzz features a panel of Cincinnati musicians (mostly guitarists and singers) who share stories and play a few tunes. So far the show has included artists like The Newbees, Danny Frazier, Dallas Moore, Veronica Grim, Steve Earle, Brent James, Noah Wotherspoon and Taylor Shannon, whose episode debuted just a few weeks before his unexpected death. Recorded at Covington’s The Village, a multimedia production house Reeder created with local musician/producer Brian Lovely, Reeder and co-host William Gilmore Weber (a veteran guitarist who’s worked with GG Allin and The Tigerlilies, among others) lead the casual yet lively discussions and the musicians play a song of their choosing on vintage guitars Reeder selects for them. It’s a loose, spontaneous show loaded with insight between the laughs, reminiscent of what it might be like to be a fly on the wall backstage in a dressing room at a music festival. Fret Buzz, youtube. com/thevillagesightsoundandstage.

BEST LOCAL MUSIC PODCAST WITH HEART Hero Radio is a podcast with a local music focus created by the staff and students at Melodic Connections, a nonprofit that provides creative music therapy programs and classes for people with developmental disabilities and others who would benefit from

them. Hero Radio is hosted by Melodic Connections students, who interview a different Cincinnati musician or music figure on each episode and make connections to their own experiences in the organization’s programs. Longtime local musician Justin Todhunter (an instructor at Melodic Connections) helps set up the interviews, which are often impressively insightful, as the guests offer up honest and informative answers about their musical “hero’s journey,” talking about their creative processes and the things they’ve learned about music and life in general throughout their careers. So far, the show has featured artists like The Cliftones’ Diedrich Jones, Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, Wonky Tonk, Missy Werner, Eddy Kwon, Freekbass, Lauren Eylise, Maria Carrelli, Jess Lamb, The Tillers’ Mike Oberst and Triiibe’s Siri Imani. Hero Radio has completed three seasons, and all episodes are available to listen to via Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Hero Radio, melodicconnections.org.

BEST DRINKING DESTINATION MAKEOVER Over-the-Rhine’s popular cocktail bar Japp’s got a facelift last October when owner Molly Wellmann partnered with local designer Susana Tolentino to revamp the space while holding on to its original 1800s charms. Renovations included removing the pergolas; refinishing the floors; opening the windows; installing new seating on the other side of the bar; painting and installing a new banquette; and adding a gas fireplace from local shop Bromwell’s. Complete with new furniture and décor, the drinking destination emerged as a brighter, more open space. Also new is a neon sign made by the American Sign Museum. Hung in a window, it reads, “Are you thirsty?” — Wellmann’s way of greeting bar patrons. Japp’s, 1136 Main St., Over-theRhine, facebook.com/japps1879.

BEST BOURBON BAR WITH A MONORAIL Along with, well, seemingly just about anything you can imagine, Fairfield’s legendary mega-grocery complex Jungle Jim’s offers a wide retail selection of bourbon, while the connected Oscar Event Center has hosted Bourbon Dinners for the past few years that have sold out. Bourbon fans got even more reasons to make Jungle Jim’s a regular destination with the opening of a new bourbon bar, The Oscar Station. Founder “Jungle” Jim Bonaminio — who, in a promo video, appears to have traded in his trademark safari gear for a steampunk Willy Wonka look


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BEST MURAL YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ON ACID TO ENJOY If you’ve walked down East 14th Street in Over-the-Rhine you’ve probably been magnetized by the funky rainbow mural leading passersby to poke their head into Cincinnati’s new cocktail bar, Lost & Found. Rightfully so. The mural, created by artist Cody Gunningham, has become an iconic landmark used to locate the bar, which has even more art by local artists inside. Gunningham is also the artist behind other prints found in famed OTR spots like Social OTR and Wodka Bar. But his mural at Lost & Found is the easiest to transcend into, with endless cartoony and abnormal objects at which to look. The trippy artwork has enough wonderment, crazy colors and warped perceptions that you don’t even have to be on psychedelics to enjoy the experience. See for yourself. Lost & Found, 22 E. 14th St., Over-theRhine, lostandfoundotr.com.

Lost & Found PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

— has given the new bar some of that clever/ kitschy cool that makes Jungle Jim’s such a popular attraction. Patrons use the monorail train Bonaminio purchased from Kings Island years ago to get to the Oscar Station, which offers more than 40 varieties of bourbon (including faves like Pappy Van Winkle and Elmer T. Lee) and also has a covered outdoor, heated cigar lounge area (don’t worry, there’s no smoking inside the bar). The classy rustic/ industrial décor of the Oscar Station is enhanced by more of Bonaminio’s repurposing ingenuity — tables are made from old bowling lane wood and the bar sits beneath a revolving rack that showcases the varying bourbon options; the rack was purchased from an old dry cleaners. Jungle Jim’s, 8871 N. Gilmore Road, Fairfield, junglejims.com.

BEST HARVEY WALLBANGER HomeMakers Bar was one of 2019’s best new openings, mainly because owners Julia Petiprin and Catherine Manabat know their 136  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

spirits and they know the elements that go into elevating the typical bar experience. HomeMakers merges a focus on fun design with nontraditional drinks — vermouth, low-proof cocktails, infused aperitifs — and the domestic cocktails of the 1950s through the 1970s. The food menu offers delightfully nostalgic bites like finger sammies, homemade snack mix and late-night grilled cheese pastry pockets. The retro-inspired drinking destination also opened a back bar experience called Harvey Wallbangers, named after the 1970s cocktail made with vodka, Galliano and orange juice. The intimate (and rentable for cocktail classes and parties) space lets guests directly engage with bartenders in a one-on-one-style environment, trying exclusive cocktails. Open every Saturday night, the décor blends Baja-vibes and psychedelia. Make reservations online to guarantee a seat. The $15 per person fee includes your first cocktail and snack mix. HomeMakers Bar, 39 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, homemakersbar.com.

BEST FUNKY IPA Blue Ash’s Fretboard Brewing marries music and beer by providing creation spaces for local musicians to rattle off riffs while grabbing brews at the taproom. What could have simply been a traditional German-bier-inspired brewery was electrified into an incredibly lively live music venue with a pro-grade sound system. Fretboard’s main stage hosts live performances nearly every night, putting an emphasis on the sort of tunes that are nearly synonymous with microbrewed beverages. So it made perfect sense that Fretboard was the place that debuted the funkiest brew of 2019: the Bootsy Brewski IPA, a beer honoring Cincinnati native and global music icon Bootsy Collins. Fretboard describes it as “front loaded with bright funky citrus and finishes crisp and dry and is approved by the grand funkmaster himself.” And the commercial video promoting the Bootsy Brewski calls it “the beer that sings, baba.” This collab, which was released in August and comes in cans, started as an experiment but has proven to have some staying power: the beer took home the gold at the 2019 US Open Beer

Championship. A portion of all beer proceeds benefits the Bootsy Collins Foundation, a multi-pronged charity whose mission is “to inspired, educate and enrich the lives of individuals from all backgrounds.” Fretboard Brewing, 5800 Creek Road, Blue Ash, fretboardbrewing.com.

BEST TINY-BALL BOWLING Duckpin bowling is a special iteration of the sport in which players use smaller bowling balls (without holes), smaller pins and smaller lanes than traditional bowling alleys. It originated somewhere in the upper right-hand side of the U.S. — maybe Baltimore, maybe Pittsburgh, maybe Boston; it’s debated — but regardless, it’s the latest trend in bar-based sports and people are lining up to toss these tiny balls down tiny lanes with boozy beverages in hand. Pins Mechanical Company was one of the first to bring the game to Over-the-Rhine. Based in Columbus, the OTR Pins location features three floors of fun (and a rooftop deck). There’s duckpin


bowling, vintage pinball, ping pong, foosball, bocce ball and yard games like giant Jenga and Connect Four. The bowling lanes are first-come, first-served, so come early, put your name in the queue, grab a craft beer or seasonally rotating cocktail and play something else while you wait. Games are $6 per person, no shoe rental required (wear whatever you want). They also offer duckpin leagues. And if you happen to frequent the suburbs more than the city center, Hoppin’ Vines in the former Kenwood TGI Fridays also offers duckpin bowling — plus Delicio Coal Fired Pizza, 40 taps and more than 30 flights. Pins Mechanical Co., 1124 Main St., Over-theRhine, pinsbar.com/cincy; Hoppin’ Vines, 8150 Montgomery Road, Kenwood, hoppinvines.com.

BEST BIWEEKLY WINE TASTINGS Technically, any time you go to a wine bar that offers wine flights, any night is a wine tasting night. And even if said wine bar doesn’t offer a specific, listed wine flight, you can still drink glasses — or even half-pours if they have them! — of several different wines (as long as someone else is driving) and call it a tasting. Don’t let anyone tell you what a “tasting” is. That being said, Oakley Wines has a great wine tasting program. This cozy spot off of Madison Avenue’s main drag features a first-floor wine bar and bottle shop with big windows and flickering candles. Downstairs is The Cellar, a low-lit speakeasy space with room for live music. The vino venture is now under the ownership of Stephanie and Dave Webster, who also own The Rhined cheese shop in Over-the-Rhine, and the duo decided to keep the wine bar’s famous Friday night tastings: five wines for $12 from 5 to 8 p.m. (This event is what made Oakley Wines so popular that they had to open The Cellar in the first place.) But they also have tastings again on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Same deal. And, because of its association with The Rhined, the snack menu at Oakley Wines is putting bites front-and-center. There’s charcuterie, marinated olives, mussels, mushroom toast and other stuff that’s easy to put in your mouth to complement a glass of wine, plus plenty of restaurant and chef-centric pop-ups. The current is relocating, so keep an eye out for updates on that front. Oakley Wines, 4011 Allston St., Oakley, oakleywines.com.

BEST IMMERSIVE RETRO LAYOVER LOUNGE This past October, Tokyo Kitty transformed into a Pan Am Layover Lounge — a groovy

fake escape inviting guests to visit the airline’s most popular destinations, including Tokyo, Hawaii, Mexico City, London and even the moon (yes, Pan Am pre-sold tickets to the moon). The sold-out pop-up let patrons book a 45-minute “trip” that evoked a nostalgic golden age of flight-style of service and Pan Am’s iconic branding. When you checked in at the front desk, you were led to a private VIP suite, redecorated to emulate the height of Midcentury luxury, with authentic Pan Am memorabilia, a replica boarding pass/ticket and reimagined retro travel posters. Guests were treated to a personal cocktail tasting, which included two drinks inspired by the ticket-holder’s chosen destination along with tasting notes and fun quirks like faux cigarettes and a safety demo from a deckedout flight attendant. For those who had to skip the trip but still wanted some cool Pan Am swag, a gift shop was open during the duration of the event selling limited-edition prints, baggage and other merch. And after the immediate success of the Cincy Pan Am experience, Gorilla Cinema Presents (the minds behind Tokyo Kitty, the Video Archive, La Ofrenda, Overlook Lodge and Lonely Pine Steakhouse) took the concept to Columbus, offering more dedicated space, room for 12 passengers per trip — tripling in size from the first run — and adding two exciting new flight options: Havana and the North Pole. Tokyo Kitty, 575 Race St., Downtown, thattokyobar.com.

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BEST WAY TO MAKE A B-LINE FOR BOURBON Part of the thrill of visiting a distillery is, yes, sampling the spirits. But distillery tours have also become a booming tourism business in Kentucky. And Northern Kentucky is no exception. Newport’s New Riff Distilling released its first batch of bourbon in 2018 after four years of patient aging. The high-rye, full-bodied spirit is savory, spicy, bottled in bond, and there are a couple different ways to get up close and personal with the magical mash. New Riff offers its own regular distillery tours and tastings. There are three options to choose from: the Bonded Tour, the Barrel Proof Tour and the Distiller’s Tour. During the Bonded Tour, guests can get a detailed look at New Riff’s distilling process “from grain to barrel.” The Barrel Proof Tour takes guests to the West Newport Campus twice a month to visit the aging warehouse to experience the intoxicating scent of the evaporating “angel’s share,” see the building’s early 1900s architecture (it used to be a storage facility for the Greenline trolleys and buses) and sample spirits directly from the barrel. And the Distiller’s Tour gives you “unprecedented

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BEST PLACE TO GET TANKED A hidden gem on the West Side, the White Oak Marathon — a literal gas station with a bonafide bar in the back — offers one of the area’s widest craft beer and fine wine selections as well as Wine Wednesdays and Thursday Pint Nights hosted on their spacious patio. That’s right: They have a bar with rotating beer taps updated almost weekly. Need to make a quick stop? Swing through their drive-thru. Fill up your tank, grab a drank and enjoy great company at this local one-stop shop. White Oak Marathon, 6050 Cheviot Road, White Oak, twitter.com/ cheviotmarathon.

White Oak Marathon PHOTO | Emily Palm

access” to New Riff distillers to learn about the process and taste limited offerings and unreleased barrel samples. To sample more, take The B-Line, a localized extension of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour centering on New Riff, Boone County Distilling Co., Old Pogue Distillery and the Neely Family Distillery, plus a collection of bonus bourboncentric Northern Kentucky bars and restaurants at which to stop and sip. B-Line locations include Coppin’s at Hotel Covington, Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar, Prohibition Bourbon Bar and more. Download an official B-Line guide online and collect stamps from at least six stops to get some swag. B-Line, findyoursippingpoint.com.

BEST RESURRECTION OF A LEGENDARY CINCINNATI MUSIC VENUE In the ’80s, Annie’s was the place to be for fans of Heavy Metal, a Cincinnati version of the Whisky a Go Go that hosted touring Hair 138  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Metal and Thrash acts, plus plenty of hard-rockin’ local faves. Through the years the club hosted a variety of musical acts — it was home to legendary Hip Hop fest Scribble Jam — and in more recent years it changed names and attracted controversy with shootings and other crimes reported in and around the premises. But in 2019 Annie’s was reborn under new ownership and a new name — Riverfront Live. The club has so far showcased an impressive array of artists on both its indoor and outdoor stages — from George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and KC & The Sunshine Band to Trombone Shorty and Corrosion of Conformity. The venue has also welcomed local artists with open arms, including the 2019 edition of the three-day Cincinnati-music-heavy event Rhythm Brew Art and Music Fest. Riverfront Live, 4343 Kellogg Ave., East End, riverfrontlivecincy.com.

BEST FIRST BIRTHDAY PRESENT The Samuel Adams Cincinnati Taproom

celebrated its first birthday by giving us a present: it released its barrel-aged Utopias on draft for the first time ever in November. One could say, “Big deal. Who cares?” But this wasn’t just any regular beer release — Utopias is one of the most expensive, exclusive and extreme beers on the market. With an ABV of 28 percent, the top-shelf beer is illegal in 15 states across the nation. Illegal. And in 2019, Sam Adams only brewed 77 wooden casks of Utopias, then bottled it in 25.4-ounce ceramic decanters that looked like shiny brew kettles and sold them for $210 per bottle. According to a press release from the brewery, the rich, barrelaged beer has a flavor profile reminiscent of a fine sherry or vintage port. (People on CityBeat’s staff sampled it and would agree on this description; very much like a sherry.) Utopias requires a time-intensive, multiyear brewing, aging and blending process, using only the world’s finest ingredients. Last year’s edition was aged in cognac and Madeira finishing barrels and was a blend of earlier batches of Samuel Adams’ extreme beers — some dating back 25 years. Samuel Adams

Cincinnati Taproom, 1727 Logan St., Over-theRhine, facebook.com/samadamscincy.

BEST SHOW OF OHIO ROCK BROTHERHOOD

When Akron-spawned Rock chart-busters The Black Keys set out to do an arena tour last year behind their latest album Let’s Rock, the now-Nashville-based duo looked to some friends from the past to help them flesh out their live band. Zachary and Andrew Gabbard of Cincinnati Rock greats Buffalo Killers spent last fall traveling across the country with the Keys, playing massive venues like the United Center in Chicago and Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Keys frontman Dan Auerbach was a fan of the Gabbards’ pre-Buffalo Killers band Thee Shams, who did tour dates with the Keys, and he produced Buffalo Killers’ second album, Let It Ride, in 2008. After the tour, the siblings released new music as The Gabbard Brothers. The ’60s-flavored Pop Rock nugget “Sell Your Gun Buy A Guitar” was issued via the Ohio’s Colemine Records, on its Karma Chief imprint. The Gabbards will be back on the road with


The Black Keys for a summer amphitheater tour that includes a stop at Riverbend Music Center. The Black Keys, theblackkeys.com.

BEST 1920S BAR FOR THE 2020S

Twenties, the descriptively named 1920s-themed cocktail bar that took over the former Myrtle’s Punch House spot in East Walnut Hills, is a jazzy sort of destination that plays on century-old cocktail culture with a drink menu featuring classic libations and updated takes — think an Old Fashioned made with mezcal or rum instead of your standard bourbon (but they have the bourbon version, too) — as well as local craft drafts, wine and spirits from Cincinnati distilleries. The generously sized bar features ample seating throughout the space as well as in the cozy catacomb-style cellar, which is more like a speakeasy with cool ambient lighting and less about skeletons. TVs play black-andwhite films for some anachronistic flair, and they recently opened a billiards parlor inside. For a real deal, the bar offers $7 select drinks on Thursdays. If you’re looking for a spot to try out your new futuristic flapper look, this might be the place. Twenties, 2733 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, facebook.com/ twentiescincy.

BEST NONALCOHOLIC BEER ON TAP

Scotland-based brewery BrewDog has expanded its U.S. operations by opening a massive taproom in Pendleton, their secondlargest in America. The taproom features 24 drafts; a large dining and bar area on the first floor (the food menu runs the gamut from pizza and tacos to sandwiches and cauliflower wings); a game area on the second-floor loft; and a rooftop bar with a great view of the neighborhood. And the taps not only feature BrewDog beers and ciders, but also guest beers in addition to BrewDog AF selections: non-alcoholic or low-alcohol beers like the Punk AF and Nanny State pale ales, Stout AF and the Faux Fox Raspberry Berliner weisse. They even offered bottomless AF refills during Dry January. So how did a Scottish brewery wind up in Pendleton? Founded in the U.K. in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie, the duo began a crowdfunding campaign called Equity for Punks in 2010 that has made an “army of punk shareholders” which has allowed the brewery to “scale up without selling out,” says the website. While most “punks” are located in the U.K., since BrewDog opened its HQ in Columbus, Ohio in 2017, more than 13,760 Americans have signed on to become shareholders. But it hasn’t been all rosy. In addition to ever-expanding global

breweries and additional experiences, BrewDog was given an “uncool, dog” last year when they were accused of co-opting branding and marketing created for them by an ad agency without crediting or paying them. BrewDog, 316 Reading Road, Pendleton, brewdog.com.

BEST NEW CONCERT VIEWS

In 1992, when Pearl Jam played Riverbend Music Center — early in the day as part of that year’s traveling Lollapalooza festival — singer Eddie Vedder climbed the scaffolding at the back of the venue’s pavilion, then dove into the throngs cheering him on in the crowd below. If Pearl Jam ever comes back to Riverbend, he’ll have a little less room to work with (though something tells us a 55-year-old Vedder would probably be at least a little less daring). Before the 2019 concert season began, Riverbend removed the support beam towers that had been part of the pavilion structure since its original construction in 1984. The move wasn’t an effort to keep pesky singers from risking their lives during shows — the removal did away with most of the obstructed views the towers caused, improving sightlines for fans trying to enjoy concerts from the lawn. Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave., California, riverbend.org.

BEST CINCINNATIRECORDED SONGS CELEBRATING 70TH ANNIVERSARIES The recording studios run by E. T. Herzog on Race Street in downtown Cincinnati were especially hopping seven decades ago. In 2019, Herzog Music (the instruments-andmore shop that operates on the ground floor of the studio’s former building) and the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation (which is headquartered in the same building and in the same space Herzog’s studios operated) hosted events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of two huge and important songs that were recorded at the studio. In March, they honored the second of two sessions music icon Hank Williams did at the space. In August of 1949, Williams laid down, among other songs, the stone-cold classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Just five months later, Flatt & Scruggs were at the recording studio to record “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” an eventual Bluegrass staple that NPR deemed one of the 100 most important musical works in American music history. Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, takingyoutothebridge.org; Herzog Music, 811 Race St., Downtown, herzogmusic.com.

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REA D ER PICKS APARTMENT COMMUNITY 1. The Lofts at Shillito Place 2. Current at the Banks 3. 1010 on the Rhine

BUILDER

1. Drees Homes 2. Fischer Homes 3. Zicka Homes

DEVELOPER

1. 3CDC 2. Over-the-Rhine Community Housing 3. College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation

BUILDING

1. Union Terminal 2. Music Hall 3. Cincinnati Art Museum

CINCINNATI NEIGHBORHOOD 1. Northside 2. Clifton 3. Over-the-Rhine

NORTHERN KENTUCKY NEIGHBORHOOD 1. Covington 2. Newport 3. Bellevue

SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD 1. Delhi Township 2. Anderson Township 3. Liberty Township

CINCINNATIAN 1. Fiona the Hippo 2. Rose Lavelle 3. Todd Portune 4. Thane Maynard 5. Molly Wellmann 6. Bootsy Collins 7. Marty Brennaman 8. Bob Herzog 9. Tamaya Dennard 10. Pete Rose

NORTHERN KENTUCKIAN

CONSERVATIVE 1. Joe Deters 2. John Cranley 3. Bill Cunningham

DO GOODER

1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Matthew 25: Ministries 3. The Friends of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

FRIEND TO THE ENVIRONMENT

1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Great Parks of Hamilton County 3. Cincinnati Nature Center

JOURNALIST

1. George Clooney 2. Nick Clooney 3. Kathrine Nero (TIE) 3. Otto M. Budig Jr. (TIE) 4. Cris Collinsworth 5. Jean-Robert de Cavel 6. Michael Monks 7. Amy McGrath 8. Joe Gallenstein 9. Maryanne Zeleznik 10. Jill Dunne

1. Jessica Schmidt (WXIX) 2. Paul Daugherty (The Cincinnati Enquirer) 3. Michael Baldwin (WXIX) 4. Tana Weingartner (WVXU) 5. Bob Herzog (WKRC) 6. Nick Swartsell (CityBeat) 7. Megan Mitchell (WLWT) 8. Michael Monks (WVXU) 9. John Matarese (WCPO) TIE 9. Sheree Paolello (WLWT) TIE 10. Lucy May (WCPO)

COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY

LOCAL ACTIVIST

1. University of Cincinnati 2. Northern Kentucky University 3. Xavier University

1. Brian Garry 2. Jim Tarbell 3. Triiibe

4. Billie Mays 5. Mike Moroski 6. Mass Action for Black Liberation 7. Cam Hardy 8. Missy Spears 9. Al Gerhardstein 10. Young Activists Coalition

LOCAL CAUSE

1. Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio 2. The Friends of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County 3. Maslow’s Army

LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIAL 1. Todd Portune 2. Aftab Pureval 3. Joe Deters

LOCAL NEWS STORY OF 2019

1. Baby giraffe born at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. The Who: The Night That Changed Rock documentary and 40th anniversary special on WCPO 3. Cincinnati Art Museum breaks all-time attendance record

LOCAL PODCAST 1. Autism Stories 2. The Gravel Lot 3. Accused

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RELIGIOUS LEADER

1. Fr. Al Bischoff (Xavier) 2. Chuck Mingo (Crossroads) 3. Brian Tome (Crossroads)

SCENIC OVERLOOK 1. Devou Park 2. Eden Park 3. Mt. Echo Park

TROUBLEMAKER 1. Mike Brown 2. Brian Garry 3. The Gang of Five

TV ANCHOR

1. Jessica Schmidt (WXIX) 2. Bob Herzog (WKRC) 3. Tanya O’Rourke (WCPO)

TV NEWSCAST 1. WCPO (Channel 9) 2. WLWT (Channel 5) 3. WXIX (Channel 19)

Theo the baby giraffe | Best Local News Story of 2019 Photo: Adam Doty

MBA PROGRAM

1. University of Cincinnati 2. Xavier University 3. Miami University

PARK (CITY)

1. Smale Riverfront Park 2. Eden Park 3. Washington Park

PARK (COUNTY)

1. Cincinnati Nature Center 2. Sharon Woods 3. Winton Woods

PHILANTHROPIST

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PLACE TO TAKE A VISITOR

PUBLIC SCHOOL

TV SPORTSCASTER

1. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 2. Findlay Market 3. Jungle Jim’s International Market

1. Walnut Hills High School 2. Oak Hills High School 3. School for Creative and Performing Arts

PLAYGROUND

RADIO SHOW

TV WEATHERCASTER

1. Smale Riverfront Park 2. Washington Park 3. Summit Park

1. Jeff & Jenn (Q102) 2. Cincinnati Edition (WVXU) 3. The Scott Sloan Show (700 WLW)

1. Steve Horstmeyer (WXIX) 2. Steve Raleigh (WCPO) 3. Randi Rico (WLWT)

PRIVATE SCHOOL

RADIO STATION

WEEKEND GETAWAY (WITHIN 150 MILES)

1. Cincinnati Waldorf School 2. St. Xavier High School 3. Elder High School

1. 91.7 (WVXU) 2. 101.9 (WKRQ/Q102) 3. 105.1 (WUBE/B105)

PROGRESSIVE

RADIO TALK SHOW HOST

1. Aftab Pureval 2. Brian Garry 3. P.G. Sittenfeld

1. Jeff Thomas and Jenn Jordan (Q102) 2. Maryanne Zeleznik (WVXU) 3. Scott Sloan (700 WLW)

1. Dan Hoard (Bengals, Bearcats) 2. Joe Danneman (WXIX) 3. Elise Jesse (WLWT)

1. Hocking Hills, Ohio 2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky 3. Yellow Springs, Ohio


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BEST ILLUMINATING ATTENDANCE RECORD Cincinnati’s four-day, light-filled arts extravaganza that spread throughout downtown, Over-the-Rhine and spilled across the Ohio River into Covington drew huge crowds — even larger than the event’s first run in 2017. At least 1.25 million people — and perhaps as many as 1.5 million — attended BLINK from Oct. 10 to 13, 2019, according to estimates based on the city’s public safety efforts and reports from consultants working the event. That’s likely the biggest crowd ever to visit the city’s urban core. (About 1 million attended the event during its first year.) More than 150,000 people watched the “Future City Light Spectacular” opening parade. The procession featured 3,400 people representing 93 participating groups, according to estimates. The overall BLINK event, which spanned 30 city blocks, also included 50 artists, 39 dynamic projection mappings on various murals and the creation of 16 new murals across Cincinnati and Covington. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber estimates suggested hotels downtown saw 95 percent occupancy rates on the Friday the festival took place and 99 percent occupancy rates on that Saturday. Transit options also saw big numbers as attendees looked for ways to escape traffic. Cincinnati’s Metro bus service provided 14,655 rides from three park-and-ride locations over the four days of BLINK, while Cincinnati’s streetcar saw more than 43,200 rides over those four days, including 14,670 on Saturday alone. That’s not quite as many as the more than 50,000 who rode the streetcar on its opening weekend, but is much higher than the 26,000 who rode during BLINK 2017. “BLINK was designed to bring communities together,” said Tim Maloney, President and CEO of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, one of the event’s founding organizations. “This year we literally bridged our differences in a bigger, better, and brighter way. Thank you to everyone who has embraced BLINK in such an extraordinary way.” BLINK, blink2019.com. 144  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0


BEST PUBLIC SERVANT WE’LL MISS Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who retired to battle cancer in 2019 and passed away this year, was one of those rare public servants who never stopped working and who could bare-knuckle brawl for his policy ideas without making permanent enemies. Portune was ahead of the curve regionally on many issues that are front-and-center today — LGBTQ rights, help for those experiencing poverty and housing insecurity, better transit and others. Over his nearly three-decade career, Portune often focused on the big picture for the region. He held his commission seat for almost exactly 20 years and was a city council member for seven years before that. He had also chaired or been president of a number of other governmental bodies, including the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District, the Hamilton County Homeland Security Commission and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. During his time on the board, he pushed to trim the county’s budget during lean years while at times dueling with the Cincinnati Bengals over the county’s stadium deal with the team. He also helped find funding for Cradle Cincinnati, an effort launched in 2012 to fight the county’s high infant mortality rate. When it came to the business of governing, Portune was nearly unstoppable. He once held a commission meeting in a hospital after surgery and, though he was quite ill, worked as commissioner until just weeks before his death, making sure his former chief-of-staff would become his temporary replacement. Roebling Bridge during BLINK 2019 PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

“There’s no job that I love more than the job I have now,” he said upon announcing his retirement last year. “It’s what I am, it’s what I’ve been about.”

BEST CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS WE’LL MISS Cincinnati was long blessed by the long presence of — and now mourns the absence of — former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Marian Spencer, who passed away in 2019, and former federal judge and civil rights leader Nathaniel Jones, who we lost in early 2020. Spencer, who lived in Avondale, passed away last July. But her legacy will remain — concretely in the form of a section of Walnut Street downtown the city renamed in her honor in 2016 and in a wider sense through myriad contributions she made to civil rights in Cincinnati. The granddaughter of a former slave, Spencer traced her lineage back to African-American, Native American and Scottish ancestors. She came to Cincinnati with her twin sister Mildred in 1938 to attend the University of Cincinnati and stayed after marrying Donald Spencer. She received her degree in English in 1942 and had two children: Donald Jr. and Edward Spencer. It was her children’s desire to swim at Coney Island that sparked Spencer’s first big integration effort. In 1952, she organized two dozen other women to push for the desegregation of the Cincinnati water park, which at the time did not admit black people. Spencer, already heavily involved in her community, went on to become a Cincinnati City Council member and sit on the University of Cincinnati board of trustees. Internationally

known civil rights advocate and Cincinnatibased former federal judge Jones died this January at the age of 93. Locally, Jones was a mentor to a number of Cincinnati political heavyweights, from Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper to Mayor John Cranley to former Cincinnati City Council member and current Democracy for America CEO Yvette Simpson. Jones’ career featured many highlights and acts of courage. During his stint with the NAACP starting in 1969, Jones worked to desegregate public schools across the nation, leading to some harrowing experiences with racial violence. Later, in 1993, Jones traveled to South Africa as an observer for the country’s first democratic elections.

BEST EXIT FROM A STORIED NEWS BROADCASTER When veteran Cincinnati broadcaster Rob Braun announced he was leaving his anchor position at Local 12 (WKRC) after 35 years with the station, he gave a hint as to what led to that decision. A part of the conservativeleaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, Local 12 was caught up in controversy and backlash last year after a video went viral featuring anchors from various Sinclair affiliates reading identical scripts for promo spots that parroted Donald Trump’s attempts to deride the press as biased “fake news.” Sinclair has been criticized for making affiliates air right-wing editorial commentaries. After his announcement, Braun posted on Facebook about his departure, which followed an exodus of other Local 12 B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 145


BEST PLACE TO DRINK SOME BREWS WITH (OK, NEAR) A FAMOUS HIPPO Alright, alright, so you can’t actually drink with the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved animal celebrities like Fiona the hippo, Kris the cheetah or Theo the giraffe, but you can certainly be in close proximity while you enjoy a frosty, adult human beverage at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Hops Beer Garden. The 130-seat multi-tiered deck looks out over a penguin habitat, Roo Valley kangaroo walk-about and other zoo features. While you’re on your visual safari, you can sip a brew from locals like 3 Points, Braxton, Fifty West, HighGrain and MadTree as well national craft beer brands like Breckenridge and Goose Island. You can also snack on sustainably produced fare that includes flatbread pizzas, roasted cauliflower and oven-fired chicken wings. The beer garden, which opened last August, is the perfect spot to sit back and raise a toast to your favorite zoo creatures. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Avondale, cincinnatizoo.org.

Hops Beer Garden at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

employees, explicitly naming Sinclair as a reason for his decision to leave. “I want you to know that I am not retiring,” he wrote. “Ch 12 is NOT forcing me out. In fact they offered me a generous contract. I am choosing to leave. There is no ‘real story’ but.... Sometimes in life, you just know, it’s time to move on. I don’t feel I fit well with the Sinclair News model.”

BEST CINCY NONPROFIT GETTING CELEBRITY SHOUTOUTS

Learning how to be yourself can be hard when you’re young. It’s especially difficult when you’re navigating questions about your gender identity. Last year, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit called Transform launched in the back room of Nancy Dawson’s makeup boutique BRIDEface to make that process a little easier for area transgender and non-binary youth ages 6 to 18 by opening up a free clothing closet. With the shop growing, the group started looking for a stand-alone location, and in early January, they launched a 146  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

crowdfunding campaign to get there. Making the drive all the more poignant — and painful — is the fact that Dawson has terminal cancer. Transform has gotten a few big boosts from some big names along the way. Dawson’s husband Matt Zoller Seitz (a film and TV journalist) included information on the fundraiser in a tweet that was a part of his thread about Dawson’s diagnosis. Soon after, Seth Meyers, who hosts NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, shared the tweet and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, recorded a video promoting the fundraiser. “I think what you’re doing with Transform is incredible,” Miranda said in the video. “I think you’re going to change Cincinnati. I think it’s really laudable.” Transform, transformcincy.org.

BEST ON-AIR LOVE STORY

The usual wisdom you hear from folks is that you shouldn’t date your co-workers. Maybe that’s true, but sometimes it works out just fine. Channel 5 (WLWT) news anchors Mike Dardis and Sheree Paolello know this

first-hand. The two tied the knot in Mount Adams last June after their on-air chemistry bloomed into an off-air romance in 2017. In what has to be just about the most Cincinnati thing ever, Dardis proposed near the Roebling Suspension Bridge, Paolello’s favorite landmark. The two announced their engagement with a social media post reading “co-anchors for life.” That’s a big commitment — one that could have drifted into Anchor Man territory quickly. But the two seem to be doing great, and heck, even Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone ended up together in the end.

BEST JOB YOU MAY HAVE WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT

Last September, the man listed for years on campaign finance filings for 12-term Republican congressman Steve Chabot — Jim Schwartz, Sr. — released a statement disavowing any major involvement with Chabot’s campaign, claiming he had no idea he was listed as the campaign’s treasurer. An attorney for Schwartz, Sr. issued the statement, deepening a mystery

surrounding a more than $120,000 gap that the Federal Elections Commission had found in financial disclosure statements submitted by Chabot’s campaign. The investigation into that unexplained gap is believed to center around Schwartz’s son, prominent Republican consultant and longtime Chabot staffer Jamie Schwartz. The FEC sent a letter addressed to “Jim Schwartz” the previous month asking questions about the gap, and a review of filings with the FEC shows that Jim Schwartz, Sr. was listed as the Chabot campaign’s treasurer as early as 2011. But the elder Schwartz said he was unaware of that. That was news to Chabot’s campaign, which has said it thought the elder Schwartz had been its treasurer since 2011. 

BEST FREE RIDE AROUND DOWNTOWN CINCINNATI, COVINGTON & NEWPORT OGGO has assembled a fleet of fourpassenger electric vehicles to prowl around


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downtown Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine, Covington and Newport and provide free rides from late afternoon to the evening. OGGO lines up sponsors to cover the expense; in return, companies get brightly colored exterior signage and some promotion inside the cars. If scooters and bikes aren’t quite your thing, OGGO is a perfect choice for quick trips around our urban core. The only cost to you? A voluntary tip for your pleasant driver, someone recruited to “cruise the city, show people around and make some money.” It must be working: OGGO has more than 2,000 followers on Facebook. Hail a vehicle you see cruising — sometimes one will run by while you’re waiting at a streetcar platform. Even easier: Download the free app and summon a ride from where you are to wherever you need to go, from Findlay Market to Hotel Covington. Rides operate after 4 p.m. daily. OGGO, oggo.com.

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When Kroger on the Rhine, the first grocery store in downtown Cincinnati since 1969, opened last September, Cincinnatians greeted it with long lines of shoppers and celebration from city officials. Getting in on the fanfare: Cincinnati Reds announcer Marty Brennaman, the University of Cincinnati marching band, Mayor John Cranley, members of Cincinnati City Council, county officials and more. The Cincinnati-based grocer partnered with the city to build a 45,000-square-foot, two-story store as part of a mixed-used development. That project also includes an 18-story, 139-unit market-rate apartment tower and a 550-space parking garage. Urbanists and elected city leaders have salivated at the idea of a downtown store for years, but before 2017 — when the project on Walnut Street was announced — the pieces had never come together. The location has been 15 years in the making, Kroger officials say. Kroger on the Rhine, 100 E. Court St., Downtown, kroger.com.

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What better way to celebrate Reds Opening Day than by humping on the scenic SkyStar Wheel at The Banks? Actually, nevermind. Just about any way you might choose to hail the beginning of the professional baseball season would be better than that. But that’s exactly what one now-notorious couple did last year — and they got caught in the process. Oops. That’s embarrassing. “The couple made eye contact and continued doing what they were

doing,” a representative for the company that owns the SkyStar Wheel told local media. “They weren’t thinking correctly. It’s a festive day, festive environment.” Festive indeed. Luckily, “it was over in just an instant,” the SkyStar representative said. Sounds… unsatisfying. Staff saw the two caught up in the moment and hit an emergency stop button. An off-duty police officer responded to the situation. Both were charged with disorderly conduct. We knew that Cincinnatians get excited about baseball, but that’s just over the top. SkyStar Wheel, 55 E. Freedom Way, The Banks, thebankscincy.com.

BEST WAY TO FIND OUT WHAT’S IN THE ROAD Traditional media sometimes leaves important topics uncovered. That’s why we’re glad that in addition to his usual stellar traditional reporting you hear on local NPR affiliate WVXU (91.7), Bill Rinehart keeps us updated on the really important topics others are scared to cover. He is always there when we need him to identify what that thing is in the middle of the road. And if you thought you were alone in your rapt listening enjoyment of hearing Rinehart read — with his patented comic pause — the assorted things blocking Queen City highways and byways, you aren’t. In 2019, Rinehart took to the Cincinnati subreddit to do an AMA (ask me anything) where fans asked just how he knows if it’s a piece of metal, a recliner or a pot-bellied pig blocking the way. Spoiler: WVXU subscribes to a tracking website. And if you don’t follow Rinehart on Twitter, you’re missing out on the status of the Ohio River — including how many basketballs or sticks are floating in it — a steady stream of puns, references to The Office and Doctor Who and actual important news. He has the makings of an online legend. Get you a reporter who can do it all. Bill Rinehart, @BillGRinehart, wvxu.org.

BEST RENAMING OF A COLLEGE Charles McMicken owned land that he willed to the city in the 1850s so it could create what would become the University of Cincinnati. He also owned people as slaves and stipulated that the land he deeded should be used for a school for “white boys and girls.” Somehow it took until 2020 — after UC celebrated the 200th anniversary of its origins as the Medical College of Ohio — to decide to strip McMicken’s name from the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. Lest someone protest that we need historical reminders of


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BEST BUILDING IMPERSONATION OF A ’70S T-SHIRT GRAPHIC One day, there was just an empty field. Then, seemingly overnight, Rhinegeist’s new Camp Washington facility was present along Spring Grove Avenue looking for all the world like a racingstriped vintage motorcycle gasoline tank, one of those really rad threequarter-sleeve T-shirts your dad used to wear while working on his Ford Grenada and drinking PBR, or well, like a can of Rhinegeist. Fitting. The dark blue building with the red, orange and yellow stripes is a warehouse and brewing facility for the bustling brewery, but despite its shiny newness, it fills us with a strange sense of nostalgia.

Rhinegeist PHOTO | Kaitlyn Handel

the slaveowner’s link to the school, UC’s McMicken Hall will keep his name. The City of Cincinnati may someday take a step similar to UC’s — Cincinnati City Council member Jeff Pastor has suggested changing the name of McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview. We think that’s a righteous move. University of Cincinnati, 2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton, uc.edu.

BEST GUIDE TO CINCINNATI’S WEIRD, WILD PAST Want to know the grim secret about why Burnet Woods is so dang haunted? Need all the juicy details about Mark Twain’s feud with The Cincinnati Enquirer? Where was Cincinnati’s first tattoo parlor? What kind of things happened last century in the city’s seedier corners and dens of ill-repute? Greg Hand has all the answers about the Queen City’s strange, uncanny and sometimes hilarious history. The retired University of Cincinnati communications director is a non-stop font of what he calls Cincinnati 150  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Curiosities — the name of his blog and the column in Cincinnati Magazine adapted from it. Did you know that young people used to flock to Cincy to elope? Hand can tell you why. What went on in local opium dens back in the day? Hand has the deets. If you’ve ever wondered why the city is the way it is — or you’re just eager for some century-old gossip — there’s a place to satisfy your curiosity. Cincinnati Curiosities, handeaux.tumblr.com.

BEST LOCAL MARKET THAT IS ALSO ONE OF THE BEST FOOD MARKETS IN THE WORLD We have always known Findlay Market is great. But one of the best in the world? OK, we kinda knew that, too. Last year Newsweek caught on and affirmed our love for the 165-year-old outdoor market — the oldest continually operated public market in Ohio — by declaring it one of the top 10 food markets in the world. The article has some

odd moments — it calls our beloved goetta “haggis-like” — but we can definitely attest to the accuracy of the accolade otherwise. Newsweek puts Findlay rightfully alongside food markets like Torvehallerne Market in Copenhagen, Or Tor Kor Market in Bangkok, La Merced in Mexico City and La Boqueria in Barcelona. The highest praise of all? Findlay was the only market in the United States to make the list. Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, findlaymarket.org.

BEST WAY TO GET AROUND TOWN OLDSCHOOL-STYLE Everything was cooler in the 1980s. Actually, that’s very debatable. But it’s safe to say Greater Cincinnati’s Metro buses looked pretty awesome back then. They also cost less — just 65 cents. (That’s $1.52 in today’s money — a fare lower than today’s $1.75). Starting last November, Metro offered riders the chance to relive all the glory that was 1986 on one of two “Retro Metro” buses circulating throughout the Southwest Ohio Regional

Transit Authority’s bus system to celebrate four decades of Metro service. The buses sported throwback branding and a throwback cheap fare to match. Oh, and in a kind of mobile Where’s Waldo (which technically didn’t come out until 1987, but we digress) twist, if you happened to see Metro interim CEO Darryl Haley riding your bus, the ride was free. No word on whether the buses screened 1986 faves Top Gun and The Karate Kid or bumped Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Go Metro, go-metro.com.

BEST CHANCE TO IMPROVE THE REGION’S BUS SERVICE For years, Greater Cincinnati has suffered due to a bus system it has outgrown and crumbling roads and bridges. But there is a possibility to help remedy both of those issues: a ballot initiative called Issue 7 that would raise the county’s sales tax by .8 percent to increase bus frequency, add new routes and make some popular routes run 24


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hours a day. Three-quarters of the estimated $130 million a year the 25-year levy would raise would go to bus service, while another quarter would go to infrastructure improvements throughout the region that benefit public transit in some way. According to the ballot language, none of the money could be used for Cincinnati’s streetcar. Should voters approve the levy, the .3 portion of the city’s earnings tax that pays for buses would be eliminated, per a citywide ballot issue that voters gave the OK by a wide margin. That would mean those who work in Cincinnati would pay $50 million less in taxes. The bus system badly needs more funding. It faced a $5.8 million budget deficit last year and needs many millions of dollars in investment to become better-functioning and connect more Greater Cincinnati residents to jobs and studies local officials say. The levy has drawn bipartisan support from progressive groups, noted conservatives and Cincinnati’s business community. If it passes, it could mark a new age for public transit in Greater Cincinnati.

BEST MOVE BY A LOCAL LEGISLATOR If you were tired of paying (or watching women pay) the so-called “pink tax” on products related to feminine hygiene, 2019 brought you some good news. The bill to eliminate state sales taxes on feminine hygiene products introduced by Cincinnati’s State Rep. Brigid Kelly passed the Ohio General Assembly and got Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature last year. Being able to forego that tax on things like tampons and other items could save women more than $600 over the course of their lives, supporters of the bill estimated. A legislative analysis of the bill found that women spend roughly $78 million on such hygiene products every year. Ten other states have eliminated taxes on items like tampons, including Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

BEST FIGHT ABOUT A MUSIC VENUE For a while, it looked like if we wanted a music venue at riverfront development The Banks, we were going to have to provide replacement parking for the Cincinnati Bengals. To do that, the city would need to move a building supplies company called Hilltop Basic Services to a location in Lower Price Hill. To do that, another company leasing city land would need to move. And on and on. Did you get all that? The complicated deal was shaky from the start — Mayor John Cranley 152  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

opposed the whole thing and wanted the music venue at a different part of The Banks entirely, while Hamilton County officials were set on the spot in question. Alas, eventually a deal emerged that didn’t necessitate all the geographic musical chairs and the 4,500-person capacity Andrew J. Brady ICON Music Center will open on land between Smale Riverfront Park and The Banks in fall 2020. But there are continuing repercussions from the wrangling: Cincinnati City Council member Tamaya Dennard has been accused of soliciting money from Hamilton County attorney Tom Gabelman in exchange for votes advantageous to the complicated land swap. She faces federal charges over those allegations and stepped down from her council position in March 2020.

BEST REASON TO PUT DOWN YOUR SMARTPHONE Stay with us here. Two years ago, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black was in the process of getting fired by the mayor. So five members of Cincinnati City Council — P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach, Tamaya Dennard and Wendell Young — texted among themselves about their plan to address the situation. That’s a majority of council talking with each other outside a public meeting, which, it turns out, is against Ohio’s open meetings laws. Under pressure, the City of Cincinnati released some of those messages, and a conservative activist sued to get others. They revealed some petty name-calling and some chatter about city business. The result: a $200 fine for each council member plus a $10,000 fine for one accused of deleting his messages. The biggest expense, though: a whopping $90,000 in legal fees to the law firm representing the conservative activist. Oops.

BEST PLACE TO WATCH PEOPLE FALL ON THEIR BUTTS We’re all familiar with the German term “schadenfreude,” ja? The direct English language parallel is “malicious joy” and, since Cincinnati is a town with deep Germanic roots, it’s totally fine to embrace this culturally relevant emotion. So, what better place to experience true schadenfreude than the Fountain Square ice rink? Ice skating is awkward for the less-coordinated, especially when rookie skaters want to capture footage of their Instagrammable wintertime activity on cellphones. Combine slippery surfaces with distracted people and WHAM, you’ve got a great opportunity to see someone fall flat on

der arsch. Now, we’d never condone you to deliberately cause someone to fall but we cannot deny the thrilling satisfaction you get when you observe somebody wipe out hard on the rink. Every year between November and February, Fountain Square turns into a winter wonderland and the true gift it gives needs no unwrapping, maybe just a pillow to sit on for a few days. Fountain Square, 520 Vine St., Downtown, myfountainsquare.com. 

BEST ELECTION CLIFFHANGER It was a close one, but former Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear defeated incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin in the state’s hard-fought and closely watched gubernatorial contest. When all was said and done, Beshear won by just a few thousand votes. But the excitement didn’t end there. Bevin didn’t concede the race immediately, asking election officials to check voting machines throughout the state. In amassing his slim lead, Beshear flipped some suburban Northern Kentucky counties that Bevin won in 2015 and that fellow Republican, President Donald Trump, took in the presidential election the next year. Beshear narrowly won Kenton County and turned in a somewhat more robust performance in Campbell County. Bevin won both of those counties handily in 2015, grabbing 57 percent of the vote in Kenton. This time around, Bevin easily took Boone County with 56 percent of the vote. He also took a large red swath of the central part of the state. However, that wasn’t enough to turn back Beshear’s decisive victories in the more liberal (and populous) counties containing Lexington and Louisville. Beshear also took a run of counties — Bath, Boyd, Carter, Elliott and Rowan —  on Kentucky’s eastern side and a handful of others around the state. Beshear’s victory comes despite — or, depending on who you talk to, partly because of — Bevin’s alignment with Trump. The president, who won Kentucky overall by 30 points in 2016, swooped through the Bluegrass State to campaign for Bevin shortly before the election.

BEST MUNICIPAL PRIDE MOMENT

As Cincinnati’s Pride weekend geared up to celebrate the LGBTQ community last June, city officials revealed a surprise: the city would raise the pride movement’s rainbow flag outside Cincinnati City Hall. It would be the first time that had happened, Cincinnati City Council member Chris Seelbach said. Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member, purchased a flag for the occasion — as did fellow council member Greg

Landsman. Officials say the flag raising is another sign of how far Cincinnati has come in terms of LGBTQ rights. In 1993, voters passed Article XII, an anti-gay rights law. That law came into being after the city passed a human rights ordinance the year prior that included sexual orientation as a protected class. It took 11 years for Cincinnati City Council to repeal Article XII, which many claimed was one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ municipal laws in the U.S. Fifteen years later, the city scored a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index thanks to a raft of LGBTQ rights legislation championed by council members like Seelbach.

BEST WONKY POLITICAL ARGUMENT LITERALLY NO ONE COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDS The year-long debate between Cincinnati Public Schools and the City of Cincinnati over tax incentives for developers included some vital, if complicated, arguments about local policy and politics. The argument also got into the wonkiest of weeds: How does the state of Ohio’s school funding formula work for our mostly property-tax funded school district when the city writes off the property tax value of new developments? What is the amount the school district needs to be compensated for when the city gives big developers tax breaks on their new construction and renovation projects? The city had one set of numbers. The school district had another. And, even after the two came to a deal earlier this year, no one is entirely sure which is correct. Hopefully we’ll find out over time — a yearly analysis is required under the deal the two finally reached.

BEST MOVE FOR LOCAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Getting caught with small amounts of marijuana by Cincinnati police once resulted in legal ramifications that could have serious consequences for finding jobs, housing and other vital needs. But in June of last year, Cincinnati City Council approved an ordinance that decriminalized up to 3.5 ounces of marijuana. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman introduced that ordinance. The new law doesn’t include provisions for expungement for those already convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana — something several council members called for — but that could be coming eventually. Smitherman says the ordinance is a matter of fairness, especially for people of color who


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BEST WIN FOR CITYBEAT Last year, this very publication and a large private nonprofit charged with beautifying downtown got into something of a boxing match. In June, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) removed at least nine of CityBeat’s newspaper boxes near Cincinnati City Hall and other locations around downtown. 3CDC indicated it would remove the rest of the boxes in downtown and Over-the-Rhine over time. CityBeat, which has been distributing via those boxes on public right-of-way for a quarter century, pushed back, threatening legal action and receiving waves of support from loyal readers. Several city elected officials also stepped in to speak up for CityBeat. City of Cincinnati Solicitor Paula Boggs-Muething stressed that the city did not order the removal of the boxes and asked 3CDC to replace them. Before you knew it, the boxes were back.

CityBeat box PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

have been disproportionately cited under both a strict city law in force between 2004 and 2010 and the Ohio Revised Code. That can have big implications, Smitherman said. “Now someone applies to get a loan to go to college, or they apply for a job in the construction industry, and they’re choosing between someone who doesn’t have a drug conviction and someone who does,” he said. “We’re creating a permanent underclass.”

BEST SELF-GUIDED BREWING HISTORY WALK

Once one of the largest brewing boomtowns in 19th-century America, the Queen City was home to major pre-Prohibition beer kingpins and, in recent years, has bolstered an ever-expanding craft brewing scene. And Over-the-Rhine’s Brewing Heritage Trail — which opened this past spring — explores, preserves and celebrates the city’s storied past as a beer-producing capital with a series of guided tours and a free walking trail. “Hop on” the trail, which stretches about threefourths of a mile between Findlay Market (1801 Race St.) and Grant Park (73 E. McMillan Ave.) 154  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

in Over-the-Rhine, at either terminus and follow embedded medallions in the sidewalk to discover historic buildings, brewing sites, public art and more. Currently, about two dozen signs or so are available to peruse anytime — for free. Every building that was part of a brewery on the trail is identified in some way, and other stops were selected to tell a part of Cincinnati’s beer-infused historical narrative. Murals mix with markers to reveal tales of the influence of German immigration on local brewing culture, along with stories of 19th-century labor practices, Cincinnati’s involvement in the Civil War and novel brewing innovations. The trail will eventually stretch two miles and include an app with audio tours and augmented reality experiences that will let users look inside underground lagering cellars and former brewing spaces. A number of guided tours are also available to complement the self-guided trail where you can go into those subterranean tunnels of the now defunct breweries, learn about the Queen City’s beer barons and just bask in our pre-Prohibition boozy history. Most tours also include a pint or two at a local taproom. Brewing Heritage Trail, brewingheritagetrail.com.

BEST EFFORT TO FIGURE OUT GREATER CINCINNATI’S NEED FOR MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Could Hamilton County’s thousands of vacant lots and homes help solve the area’s affordable housing shortage? That’s one idea groups working on a comprehensive housing strategy for Greater Cincinnati are looking into. Local Initiatives Support Corporation Greater Cincinnati (LISC), the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF), Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and community engagement firm Cohear are compiling data and public input to design a series of recommendations that could guide policymakers as they seek to address the big gap in affordable housing in the county. Currently, Cincinnati needs roughly 27,000 more units of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income residents. The county overall needs about 40,000 units, according to a study LISC completed in 2017. The question

is how best to address that problem. That’s what the effort, funded by GCF, PNC Bank, the Mayerson Foundation and JP Morgan Chase, looks to do. One answer might be funding rehabilitation of the county’s thousands of vacant properties to add more housing stock in the region. Other groups are also pushing more funding for affordable housing via increased money for the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

BEST DISPLAY OF RESILIENCY IN THE FACE OF DISPLACEMENT

In 2019, 99-year-old Mary Frances Page received a notice that she would need to leave her apartment at 421 Wade Street in 70 days. The notice set her niece, Kim Dillard, her main caregiver, on a feverish scramble to find new housing affordable on Page’s fixed income. It also sparked an intense debate after it was revealed that FC Cincinnati purchased her building and another nearby for development around their coming $250-million soccer stadium. (FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff


2020 EVENTS

APRIL 20-26

DATES SUBJECT TO CHANGE

WWW.GCRWEEK.COM

SEPTEMBER 18

NEWPORT AQUARIUM WWW.SUGARRUSHCINCY.COM

NOVEMBER 2020

WWW.MACANDCHEESECINCY.COM

MAY 29 PURPLE PEOPLE BRIDGE

JULY 13-19

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NOVEMBER 2-8

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THE PHOENIX

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WWW.MARGARITAMADNESSCINCY.COM

SEPTEMBER 21-27

AUGUST 26

OCTOBER 2020

WWW.HOPSCOTCHCINCY.COM

NOVEMBER 2020

WWW.CINCINNATIENTERTAINMENTAWARDS.COM

OCTOBER 12-18

WWW.CINCYTACOWEEK.COM

DECEMBER 2020

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WWW.BOURBONANDBACONCINCY.COM


BEST ADDITION TO CINCINNATI’S HISTORIC UNION TERMINAL In 2015, Hamilton County voters approved a levy to fund the massive undertaking of saving Cincinnati’s historic Union Terminal, and three years later, in November 2018, it reopened to visitors. Today, the Cincinnati Museum Center remains in the iconic building and a new occupant — the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center — has moved into a prominent spot in the terminal’s concourse mezzanine, formerly home to the Cincinnati History Library and Archives. Founded in 2000 by Holocaust survivors and their families, the Holocaust & Humanity Center’s small museum and educational programs were previously located inside Kenwood’s Rockwern Academy, a Jewish community school. The new center now has roughly three times more exhibition space than it had previously, and the location is especially poignant given that Holocaust survivors arriving after World War II got their first taste of the city when they entered Union Terminal. That history — plus countless others — is preserved thanks to the renovation. Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Ave., Queensgate, cincymuseum.org; holocaustandhumanity.org.

Berding last year pledged the stadium wouldn’t result in displacement as the team made its pitch for building in the West End.) Eventually, with the help of the city, the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati and housing advocates, the team and residents including Page came to a confidential agreement. The upshot — Page and others had until January this year to move and received relocation assistance from the team. Dillard says it took every bit of that time and assistance to find a suitable place for her great aunt. There was the daunting search for an apartment that would accept her housing voucher and that was on the first floor without steps. There were paperwork struggles. And loud in the background, the political fight over the coming stadium’s impact on a historically African-American community that has long suffered from disinvestment and lack of economic opportunity. It’s clear that change has been hard for Page. The media attention, the back-and-forth over housing, the uncertainty — they all disturbed Page greatly, her niece says. But at the end of February this year, Page celebrated her 100th birthday in her 156  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

new West End apartment. Although she’s mostly bedridden, she says she feels good. “I’m going to make it to 101,” she says. “Just hang on to the lord. He’ll work you on up there.”

BEST EXAMPLE OF A NEW DEAL ‘UTOPIA’ IN CINCINNATI

As the crush of the Great Depression dragged on into 1939, the American Institute of Planners released a curious film simply called The City meant to screen at that year’s New York World’s Fair. The striking collection of black-and-white footage sat at an odd intersection of documentary film, social commentary and borderline propaganda for one of the most radical experiments the United States government would ever undertake — the wholesale creation of entire self-sufficient (and racially segregated) “greenbelt” towns ringed by forests and farmland and built around collectivist principles. The federal government built one of those towns, called Greenhills, on a flat sweep of farmland 15 miles north of Cincinnati. These New Deal towns

were meant to provide work and housing for those struggling under the harshest economic calamity the country had ever seen. But they also aimed to provide a new way of living together for the white residents lucky enough to be selected as “pioneers” to settle there. But that dream — designed by a small cadre of advisors to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, executed by his recently created Resettlement Administration and championed in its early years by first lady Eleanor — was also dead by 1939, declared unconstitutional by a federal court. Greenhills still exists, both in memory and reality, its International Style white buildings surrounded by now-mature trees planted in spots dictated by federal planners’ diagrams. The march of time and social conventions shed harsh light on the town’s segregated origins. And recent demolitions have leveled some of its original buildings. In some ways, these towns exist in their own strange moment in time. But eighty years later, the lessons of the greenbelt towns may still have some relevance as America rediscovers a love for walkability and urban green space in its cities and struggles with housing affordability, residential segregation and its fraught, complicated relationship with ideas and

policies some would call socialist. Greenhills, greenhillsohio.us.

BEST NONPROFIT KEEPING PETS AND PEOPLE TOGETHER

The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati is an organization that provides emergency shelter and services to families and individuals experiencing homelessness. It offers hospitality at its center during the day and housing through interfaith communities at night. IHNGC’s team of dedicated social workers and volunteers also helps those in need find and retain affordable housing. The nonprofit’s mission is to keep families together, and if that family includes a pet, they will shelter and care for the animal in their in-house Pet Support Program while their owners get back on their feet. Then, once the individual or family has secured pet-friendly housing, they will reunite them. With a new grant from PetSmart Charities, PSP hopes to go from caring for 110 pets per year to 250. Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, 990 Nassau St., Walnut Hills, ihncincinnati.org.


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REA D ER PICKS BARRE

1. The Barre Code 2. Pure Barre (Oakley) 3. DEFINE: body & mind

BIKING TRAIL

1. Loveland Bike Trail 2. Miami Whitewater Forest 3. Devou Park

CLIMBING GYM

GOLF COURSE (PUBLIC) 1. Blue Ash Golf Course 2. Devou Park Golf Course 3. Aston Oaks Golf Club

HEALTH CLUB/GYM 1. Planet Fitness 2. YMCA 3. Mercy HealthPlex

HIKING TRAIL

1. Climb Time Oakley 2. Mosaic Climbing 3. The University of Cincinnati Campus Recreation Center

1. Cincinnati Nature Center 2. Loveland Bike Trail 3. Miami Whitewater Forest

COACH/MANAGER PRO/ COLLEGE

1. Loveland Bike Trail 2. Ault Park 3. Eden Park

1. Luke Fickell (University of Cincinnati Football) 2. John Brannen (University of Cincinnati Basketball) 3. Matt Thomas (Cincinnati Cyclones)

CYCLONE (CURRENT) 1. Nate Mitton 2. Jesse Schultz 3. Justin Vaive

FC CINCINNATI PLAYER (CURRENT) 1. Frankie Amaya 2. Tommy McCabe 3. Przemysław Tytoń

JOGGING ROUTE

UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI BEARCAT (CURRENT) 1. Jarron Cumberland 2. Chris Vogt 3. Michael Warren II

XAVIER MUSKETEER (CURRENT) 1. Naji Marshall 2. KyKy Tandy 3. Paul Scruggs

NORTHERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY NORSE (CURRENT) 1. Trevon Faulkner 2. Tyler Sharpe 3. Dantez Walton

OVERALL LOCAL ATHLETE 1. Wheezy (Cincinnati Rollergirls) 2. Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit/U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team) 3. Maria Kaylor (Princeton High School Cross Country)

PERSONAL TRAINING/ CROSSFIT GYM 1. ProForce Sports Performance 2. Cincy 360 Fitness 3. Queen City CrossFit

PICK-UP BASKETBALL COURT 1. Blue Ash Recreation Center 2. Cincinnati Athletic Club 3. LA Fitness (Oakley)

PILATES STUDIO

1. SAW Pilates 2. The Breathing Room 3. Pilates Center of Cincinnati

PLACE TO CAMP

2. Hocking Hills, Ohio 3. East Fork State Park, Ohio

PUBLIC POOL

1. Coney Island Sunlite Water Adventure 2. Ziegler Park Pool 3. Versailles State Park

RED (CURRENT) 1. Joey Votto 2. Eugenio Suarez 3. Michael Lorenzen

RUNNING/BIKING EVENT 1. Flying Pig Marathon 2. Cyclones Frozen 5K/10K 3. Queen Bee Half Marathon

SOCCER FACILITY

1. Soccer City 2. Town & Country Sports and Health Club 3. GameTime Training Center

SOFTBALL FIELDS

1. Schmidt Boat Ramp & Ballfields 2. River City West 3. Mid-America Ballyard

SPORTS COVERAGE 1. 700 WLW 2. FOX Sports Ohio 3. Pardon The Punctuation

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Flying Pig Marathon | Best Running/Biking Event PHOTO: KELLIE COLEMAN

SUMMER CAMP

1. Camp Joy 2. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Zoo Camps 3. Camp Ernst 4. Cincinnati Nature Center CincyNature Camp 5. Cincinnati Museum Center Museum Camps 6. Camp Kern 7. University of Cincinnati REC Kids Camp 8. Great Parks of Hamilton County Day Camps 9. Mayerson JCC Camp at the J 10. University of Cincinnati DAAP Camps

TEAM (AMATEUR/SEMI-PRO) 1. Cincinnati Rollergirls 2. Florence Y’alls 3. Black-n-Bluegrass Roller Girls

TEAM (COLLEGE)

1. University of Cincinnati Football 2. Xavier Basketball (Men’s) 3. University of Cincinnati Basketball (Men’s) 160  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

TEAM (PROFESSIONAL) 1. Reds 2. Cyclones 3. FC Cincinnati

TENNIS COURTS

1. Queen City Racquet and Fitness Club 2. Cincinnati Sports Club 3. Beechmont Racquet & Fitness

VOLLEYBALL COURTS 1. Fifty West Brewing Company Production Works 2. The Sandbar 3. Cincinnati Sand Volleyball Club

YOGA STUDIO 1. Body Alive 2. Modo Yoga 3. Aloha Yoga Center


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BEST DIY SKATEPARK Galaxie Skateshop owner Gary Collins and Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso are the driving forces behind Newport’s DIY Skatepark, a collaborative spot hand-crafted beneath the I-471 bridge. “The idea (for the park) was conceived by the previous owner of Galaxie, my friend Andrew Martin,” said Collins in an interview with CityBeat. “He just started building under the bridge, like, renegade, with a box, and then a quarter pipe. When I bought the shop, I reached out to the city a little bit more about letting us push it.” In 2008, Martin approached Peluso about clearing the area of mud and debris in exchange for creative control beneath the overpass. Peluso, who also happens to be Galaxie’s landlord, was enthusiastic about the idea — the city had long considered building a park, and the DIY spot’s remote location would provide a space for skaters to ride without being chased off by cops. When Collins bought Galaxie in 2009, he made it his mission to further expand the park with Peluso’s approval. What was originally a few parking blocks and wooden ramps has now become an urban oasis. A former pro skater and founder of the Instrument skate brand, Collins used his vast network to raise funds for the project. Thanks to a $1,000 grant from Citigroup, $14,000 donated by local nonprofit Newport Foundations and contributions from regular customers, the park now boasts an empty pool and an impressive array of ramps — all designed and built by skaters. Even the concrete was hand-mixed. “You can’t even measure the impact it’s had on the skateboarding scene out here,” Collins said. One of just a few fully fledged DIY parks in the country, the spot brings in a steady stream of pros and road-trippers. “Now, every time a pro crew comes through, they want to go to the bridge,” Collins said. “You’ll be down there, and you never know who you’ll see. The most mind-blowing person I’ve seen come through there is (former Thrasher Skater of the Year) Grant Taylor. But the local guys who skate there, they’re fucking ridiculous, too.” Newport DIY Skatepark, I-471 Bridge, Newport. 162  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0


BEST SPORTS INCLUSIVITY EVENTS Sports aren’t always the best place to go when searching for signs of inclusivity (hello, still-somehow-existing Washington “Redskins”), but the Cincinnati Cyclones really set a new standard with their efforts of late. In 2019, the longtime local hockey team took their pride to the ice with Shut Out the Hate night, celebrating the “diversity of (their) fans, employees, players and coaches, because Hockey Is Anyone’s Game.” The concourse at the Heritage Bank Center during the game had a special LGBTQ support pop-up and the players wore Shut Out the Hate jerseys that were auctioned off after the game, with proceeds going to local LGBTQ charities. For the past few years, the team also has been hosting special sensoryfriendly games, so those with autism, PTSD, Down syndrome and sensory sensitivities can enjoy the action on the ice without fear of being overwhelmed. During those games, the team worked to create an inclusive atmosphere by not using pyro or goal horns, decreasing the volume of music and announcements and keeping the houselights up. The Cyclones also gave away “sensory kits” with antiglare sunglasses, a communication card, ID wristband, noisereducing ear covers, a fidget toy, sanitizing wipes, a venue map and more. Some sensory kits are available anytime; stop by the customer service desk for more info. Cincinnati Cyclones, Heritage Bank Center, 100 Broadway, Downtown, cycloneshockey.com.

Newport DIY Skatepark PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

BEST PLACE TO EXPERIENCE NATURE WHILE NAPPING IN A COMMUNAL HAMMOCK Just outside of the Queen City in Clermont County is the Cincinnati Nature Center, over 1,700 acres of enchanting woodland, ponds and streams. Seriously, it’s like our own real-life Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, sans evil forces. Perhaps best known for their beautifully kept trails — which number nearly 20 combined miles — this peaceful gem is an ideal location to reconnect with the environment, bird-watch or learn more about local natural history and conservation efforts. If you’re tuckered out, or just want to laze the day away (no shame!), there is also a group of already-strung hammocks to cocoon yourself in. Or, if you fancy hanging your own, there are also designated stands in which do so. Either way, let the relaxation commence. Cincinnati Nature Center, 4949 Tealtown Road, Milford, cincynature.org. 

BEST LEGENDARY SPORTS SIGN OFF Few things are as synonymous with Reds baseball as the voice of Marty Brennaman. After a long and lauded career of calling games for the Reds that began in 1974, Brennaman said goodbye to the broadcast booth at the end of the 2019 season. Although the Reds didn’t secure a win against the Milwaukee Brewers during Brennaman’s last game, the legendary broadcaster took

time during the broadcast to say his farewells to the Reds organization and the city of Cincinnati. In a tearful goodbye at Great American Ball Park, he said, “I’m proud to say I’m a Cincinnatian. And for those who are here today, and for those listening, wherever they might be, just know that you’re loved, and how much you’re appreciated.” Brennaman’s voice was a staple in Cincinnati for over 40 years, and with his retirement, the city and the team bid farewell to the man who called historic games across multiple eras of Reds’ baseball — from Pete Rose’s record breaking 4,192nd career hit in 1985 to Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988 to Ken Griffey Jr.’s 500th home run in 2004. At the end of one of sports broadcasting’s most notable careers, it’s safe to say that, when it comes to Marty Brennaman, “This one belongs to the Reds!” Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

BEST WOMEN’S WORLD CUP MVP Cincinnati’s Rose Lavelle had a big year in 2019. The U.S. Women’s soccer player scored three pivotal goals on the team’s journey to a World Cup tournament win and scored one of just two goals against the Netherlands to seal the U.S. victory. She also received the Bronze Ball, an award signifying she was one of the three best players in the Cup. The triumph represents a dizzying pinnacle for the 24-year-old. Fifteen years ago, Lavelle was 9 years old and raptly watching the victorious 2004 U.S. women’s Olympic team play an exhibition match at Paul Brown Stadium. Soon, she was dressing like Mia Hamm, the B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 163


BEST PLACE TO EXERCISE IN PUBLIC Want to get healthy? You’ve got to put in the work, regardless of your goal. Sure, you could get a decent gym membership for a fair price, but that comes with some baggage not everyone wants to lug (looking at you, gym bros — nobody cares about your gains). If you want to start to get into shape without having to fork over your hard-earned cash, check out Jacob Hoffner Park in Northside. Cincinnati Parks recently joined forces with the AARP for its 60th anniversary to install a FitLot Fitness Park, complete with a self-powered cardio stepper, elliptical, pull-up bars, chest and back press, parallel bars, a knee raise, hand cycle and more. It’s all free to use and open to the public. The Cincinnati FitLot was one of 15 installed across America in 2019 and the AARP’s goal is to place FitLots in communities in every state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you don’t want to use the provided equipment, you can always run endless laps around the park’s playground, as long as you don’t run over any Northside kiddos — the neighborhood is groovy and open minded, but only to an extent. After your exercise session comes to an end, why not hit up Northside Tavern for a few pints to undo all your hard work? Jacob Hoffner Park, 4101 Hamilton Ave., Northside, cincinnatiparks.com.

star of the 1999 U.S. team that won the World Cup, for a school project at Cincinnati’s St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School. It wasn’t a phase. Lavelle played for the Cincinnati United Premier team, graduated from Mount Notre Dame High School and went to the University of Wisconsin. Four years ago, she was playing in a summer league for Seattle Sounders FC when U.S. Women’s soccer coach Jill Ellis asked her to the team’s camp. She didn’t make the team in time for the Olympics, but showed promise. Then, in 2017, she suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined her for an entire year. Lavelle persevered and, with the aid of her virtuosic ball-handling abilities and quickness, scored the final goal of the second World Cup victory in a row for the U.S. Women’s team. It would be an understatement to say people — both in Cincinnati and around the world — have taken notice. Lavelle received congratulations from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and a host of other elected officials. A 164  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

FitLot at Jacob Hoffner Park PHOTO | Kaitlyn Handel

local sports reporter nominated her for a true Cincinnati tribute — a statue and Skyline Chili for life — and there’s even a mural of her at The Banks. And of course, there has been an avalanche of national plaudits, as well as eager looks to the future. Lavelle is an up-and-coming star on a team of seasoned veterans, many of whom are expected to move on soon. It will be an exciting four years both on and off the pitch.

BEST WAY TO GIVE YOUR LEGS A REST ON STEEP CINCINNATI HILLS Cincinnati’s sweeping, undulating hills are great for Instagram, but a pain for budding cyclists. Maybe the thought of those hills has kept you from riding as much as you’d like as you commute to work or hop from one neighborhood to another. Or maybe overall distance is a barrier. Or perhaps you feel like you can’t keep up with traffic because you’re not in Tour de France shape right this minute. Well, 100 Cincinnati Red Bike E-Bikes rolled

out last May could help folks with those dilemmas and get more cyclists riding the city’s seven (plus) hills. The E-Bikes are very similar to the bikes Red Bike has been offering since the nonprofit launched in 2014 — a hefty but stable step-through frame with thick tires, disc brakes and three gears you can change via a twist of the handlebar grip shift. But press the power button above the left grip and you engage the electronic pedal-assist feature. It’s not like riding a moped with a throttle. The system augments your own pedaling via a small Bosch electric motor, providing a little extra oomph when you need it — like a hand on your back gently pushing you forward just before your legs start flagging. In “turbo” mode, the assist goes up to 17 miles per hour. Speed demons are on their own above that. The bikes have been distributed among the 57 Red Bike stations across Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Riders can find an E-Bike by looking for a station with a lightning bolt symbol on the Red Bike app. Cincinnati Red Bike, stations across Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, cincyredbike.org.

BEST BEARCATS FOOTBALL PERSONNEL NEWS With remarkably consistent play over the past few seasons, running back Michael Warren II earned himself a place in the hearts of UC fans and the Bearcats football record books. So it was disappointing when he announced at the beginning of 2020 that he would forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, becoming the first player in the history of UC’s football program to leave early for the opportunity. Still, fans — more hyped about UC football than anyone has been in quite some time — had plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the coming season, after two bowl-winning years with a combined 22-5 record. That excitement was replaced with anxiety when news surfaced in February that Michigan State was interested in poaching UC head coach Luke Fickell, just as they’d done in 2006 when they stole away Mark Dantonio (whose abrupt retirement from Michigan State put the job up for grabs again). After a few nervous days, fans let out a massive sigh of


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relief when it was clear the coach who has led the team through their major turnaround had decided to stay put. You lose some, you win some. UC Bearcats, gobearcats.com.

BEST REASON TO ROOT FOR THE BENGALS IN 2019 Most years, the Bengals consistent losing is the source of endless consternation, but the 2019 season offered up something a little different — at a certain point, Who Dey Nation had to actually cheer for a loss in the hopes that the team would end the year with the league’s worst record and earn the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But any Bengals fan with a heart had to do at least a little low-keep cheering for Jeff Lanham, owner of the Hog Rock Cafe in Milan, Indiana, who undertook the heroic (stupid? Heroically stupid?) mission of living on the roof of his bar and not coming down until the team won a game. One game. Lanham went up on the roof after the Bengals’ fifth straight loss of the season in early October, promising to remain there until their winless streak was broken. Even for the Bengals, of course, it was a losing season for the record books — Lanham spent Thanksgiving on the roof, but finally got to come down after the team beat the New York Jets in early December, mercifully ending their 11-game losing streak. Lanham’s 57-day stint wasn’t even the longest Bengals victory vigil. He just missed the record set when radio personality Dennis “Wildman” Walker similarly camped out on a billboard in 1991. Walker was on the billboard for 61 days after the team’s first loss that year until the Bengals finally won the ninth game of their season. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

BEST VINTAGE REDSWEAR As the nation’s first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds had a lot of time to reference when picking out their retro uniforms to wear at home games during their 150th season. In 2019, the Reds wore 15 different vintage “throwback” uniforms — think pinstripes, blue denim and even red pants — featuring classic Reds threads from as early as the days of the Red Stockings to the uniforms worn by the Big Red Machine in 1976 and all the way to the hometown-favorite 1999 uniform (which featured black as a primary color in the team’s color scheme for the first time) donned by the likes of Barry Larkin and Sean Casey. The first uniforms from 1902 — which the team wore in their Greco-Roman “Palace of the Fans” ballpark — made an appearance on the field in a May game 166  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

against the San Francisco Giants. And the Big Red Machine came out in August against the Saint Louis Cardinals. The Reds unveiled a new alternate jersey for the 2020 season with Mr. Redlegs on the sleeve and “Reds” in script across the chest of the red shirt. Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

BEST ROARING ROLLER RELOCATION The locally beloved Cincinnati Rollergirls were on the move once again in 2020, and this time they’ve skated into their best home yet. In March the roller derby team was slated to kick off their 2020 season in some swanky new digs — at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University, which is also home to the Xavier Musketeers basketball and volleyball teams. (The coronavirus had different plans, delaying the season, but they’ll be in their new arena at some point.) Founded in 2005, the Rollergirls have hosted matches on Xavier’s campus since 2017 when they moved to the 3,000-seat Schmidt Memorial Fieldhouse after their former home, Cincinnati Gardens, was sold (and later demolished). Cintas Center is a major step up — the state-of-the-art arena not only offers top-notch accommodations across the board, it also has 10,224 seats. All together, it should greatly help the team’s efforts to grow its rabidly loyal fanbase. Cincinnati Rollergirls, cincinnatirollergirls.com.

BEST WINDY INDOOR FLIGHT If you’ve ever wanted to experience the thrill of skydiving without actually having to jump out of an airplane, iFly Indoor Skydiving facilitates just that. With spots across the globe, Greater Cincinnati became the first iFly location in Ohio last summer when a center opened in Liberty Township. (The next closest location is in Chicago.) If you can’t wrap your head around what “indoor skydiving” is — as opposed to its outside jumping-out-of-anairplane counterpart — it’s not as complicated as you might think. In short, the facility uses a vertical wind-tunnel fly chamber with wind speeds high enough to keep participants afloat. After signing in and suiting up, a flight instructor guides you through what to expect and how to keep your body afloat. For newbies, it’s definitely a learning curve. iFly offers multiple packages to accommodate multiple levels of experience — and with every return flight, you’ll be able to hone your skills. As a bonus, you’ll likely see some wicked cool stunts while there from the instructors or more experienced fliers. Each session lasts over an hour and each flight in the wind tunnel lasts

just 60 seconds; the package you book determines how many times you get to go in the tunnel. iFly, 7689 Warehouse Row, Liberty Township, iflyworld.com.

BEST ARTFUL BRAWL Bat-licker Yasiel Puig didn’t have as big of an impact on the Cincinnati Reds as many fans had hoped, ultimately getting traded to the Cleveland Indians before the end of the 2019 season. But the slugger did leave Reds fans with a few memorable moments — including a pair that involved fighting with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Early in the season, when the benches cleared after a Pirates pitcher threw behind batter Derek Dietrich, Puig rushed out of the dugout and began throwing hands. An image posted by Fox Sports of a solo Puig lurching toward a wall of angry Pirate players (with other Reds players rushing in to assist) was so artful, many declared it museum-worthy, comparing it to a great Renaissance masterpiece. Puig was also beefing with the Pirates later in the season — on the day news surfaced that he’d been traded, during Puig’s final game as a Red, the Pirates again appeared to try to hit Dietrich during an at bat, which caused both teams to empty on to the field once again. Despite it being his last game as a Red, Puig was again in the middle of the action and standing up for his teammates. Fortunately, no one was hurt; unfortunately, no one got a good meme out of the second fight. Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

BEST PLACE TO FOWL Fowling Warehouse stretches over 46,000 square feet and boasts 30 total lanes of fowling, which is a unique combination of bowling and football. Here’s the deal: two teams set up bowling pins across from one another and take turns knocking each other’s pins down with a football. The Michigan-based franchise opened the Cincinnati location in 2019, making it the first spot not in the Great Lake State. Now Atlanta and Indianapolis also have their own warehouses. Guests can either reserve a lane, which costs $120 for two hours with up to 10 maximum players per lane, or they can enjoy “open play,” which requires no reservation and costs $10 per person. During “open play,” fowlers can play all night long — the winner remains on the lane and the loser must to get in line for another challenge. Fowling Warehouse Cincinnati, 2940 Highland Ave., Pleasant Ridge, fowlingwarehouse.com.

BEST PLACE TO SHOOT (NON-DEADLY)

ARROWS AT FRIENDS Dodgeball and archery may sound like a concept straight out of Hunger Games but hear us out: Archery Arena is all about a wholesome, family-friendly round of combat archery dodgeball. Never touched a bow and arrow in your life? No experience is necessary. The arrows are tipped with foam and players wear paintball masks and arm guards for protection, so you can rest assured your whole crew will walk away unscathed. Individual tickets start at $25 and several private/party packages are offered starting at $250 for up to 10 people. Archery Arena, 4950 Provident Drive, West Chester Township, archery-arena.com. 

BEST PLACE TO JUMP YOUR CARES AWAY Sky Zone bills itself as the world’s first indoor trampoline park and Greater Cincinnati is home to two. Who says working up a sweat has to be boring? Bounce, flip and (hopefully) land in a pit filled with over 10,000 foam cubes. Or freestyle on their wall-to-wall trampolines. Make like Space Jam and score a slam dunk. Dodgeball? Check. Jousting? Also, check. It’s like recess — for kids and adults alike — but with extra-bouncy padding. Sky Zone, 7522 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Township; 11745 Commons Drive, Springdale, skyzone.com/cincinnati.

BEST MOMENT IN THE WORST BENGALS SEASON In a Bengals season without many ups to complement the downs, fans would be excused for thinking all hope was lost when it comes to other teams taking the Bengals seriously. But in Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season, the New England Patriots, one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, were caught filming the Bengals’ sideline in their match-up with the Browns. The footage was taken by a Patriots production employee a week before the Pats and Bengals were set to face off. This caused a disturbance throughout the league, as any casual fan of the game need not be reminded about the 2007 “Spygate” scandal, when the Patriots were disciplined for filming the New York Jets’ sideline signals. And while the NFL and the media were in a frenzy over whether the Patriots were cheating again, Bengals fans were quietly and half-seriously rejoicing at the prospect of a dynastic team like the Patriots feeling the need to cheat in order to beat them. The Patriots quickly assured the NFL that the filming of the Bengals was merely


BEST PLACE TO GET HIGH WHILE GETTING SOME EXERCISE Loveland’s Mosaic Climbing is a multi-functional gym with modern touches and unique features that opened in the spring of 2019. The gym is the second business venture for owners Nicole Brown and Chris Shotwell, who also own Lexington’s LEF Climbing, the gym’s parent company. Mosaic is home to Ohio’s largest indoor climbing gym, with their tallest wall reaching over 50 feet. There’s a lot to love — the gym features geometric Walltopia walls for rope climbing and bouldering, advanced training amenities like a yoga studio, fitness room, co-working spaces and private event rooms. Mosaic offers day passes as well as membership plans with packages for youth, family and student options and fitness-only plans. Mosaic Climbing, 9501 Union Cemetery Road, Loveland, mosaicclimbing.com.

Mosaic Climbing PHOTO | Holden Mathis

accidental. In the end, the Patriots didn’t seem to need any kind of footage — they went on to beat the Bengals 34-13. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

BEST SPORTS REBRANDING Northern Kentucky lost its Freedom in 2020. In 2019, in the wake of new ownership taking over, Frontier League Baseball team the Florence Freedom announced it would be changing its name in the coming year and asked fans for suggestions. Those picks were whittled down to five fun choices, including the Go-Goettas, the No Sox and the Fossil Jockeys (a reference to the archaeologically rich nearby Big Bone Lick historic site). In the end, the fans voted and the team – and Florence City Council, which had to approve the move — settled on the Florence Y’alls, a tribute to the city’s famous water tower emblazoned with the words “Florence Y’all.” The red-and-white water tower initially advertised the nearby Florence Mall in the mid-’70s, but the “M” was changed to a “Y” 168  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

when the state said they couldn’t promote the then-still-under-construction mall. So, conceivably, the team could’ve been named the Florence Malls? Florence Y’alls, florenceyalls.com.

BEST SINCERE APOLOGY Some social media users were offended when Cincinnati Reds TV analyst Chris Welsh said during a game that the Atlanta Braves’ Curaçao-born second baseman “may not know the difference between $35 million and $85 million.” The longtime Fox Sports Ohio announcer was talking about Braves star Ozzie Albies’ contract extension, which many felt was for way below what he should have received. The social media response to Welsh’s comments led to posts from Deadspin, Awful Announcing and The New York Post, with many suggesting that Welsh was essentially saying Albies was too dumb and (formerly) poor to understand his own contract negotiations. Many felt the controversy was ridiculous, the result of a

perhaps intentional misreading and misrepresentation of what the announcer said. But Welsh stepped up and took responsibility for his remarks — he said he’d apologized to Albies in person and then before the next game he told viewers, “I used some words last night that are just not very good choices for words. In fact, they were uninformed and they were wrong.” In our age of angry denials and aloof non-apologies, Welsh deserves a lot of credit for addressing the issue head-on and with sincerity.

BEST FIRST SEASON IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER OK, so FC Cincinnati’s first season as an MLS team didn’t go so great. But it was definitely the best first major-league season for a Cincinnati soccer team — there’s never been another quite like it (or at all). After building up one of the most dedicated and loyal fanbases in all of Cincinnati sports, hopes were high as the team entered the majors just three years after debuting in the United Soccer League.

As those fans would soon learn, that sort of rapid ascent comes with some growing pains. The team hasn’t had great luck with head coaches. Just two months into the 2019 season, Alan Koch was fired due to the team’s bad record. It didn’t get any better, even after new coach Ron Jans was hired — FCC’s first MLS season ended with a 6–22–6 record, the worst in the league. They also set an MLS record for most goals given up in a season (75). Going into the 2020 season, Jans resigned after he was embroiled in controversy for allegedly using racially insensitive language. Still, the FCC fanbase remains ride-or-die and lots of optimism and excitement is on the horizon — in 2021, the team moves into its new state-of-the-art stadium in the West End. FC Cincinnati, fccincinnati.com.

BEST NEW HOME ON ICE Since being founded in 2012 by four Queen City residents, the Cincinnati Curling Club’s ranks now number over 100. And 2019


saw them get an official home of their own in West Chester, where they now offer a variety of programming related to the sport. Similar to shuffleboard, the game consists of competitors — in two teams of four players — guiding “stones” (large, weighted pucks with handles on top) with sticks called “brooms” toward the target, all on a rectangular sheet of ice. Between learn-to-curl classes and multiple leagues, Cincinnati Curling Club aims, above all, to spread their love for the niche sport. Cincinnati Curling Club, 5150 Duff Drive, West Chester, cincinnaticurlingclub.org. 

BEST BUNGLING BENGALS BIRTHDAY BENCHING After going winless in its first eight games of the 2019 season, the Cincinnati Bengals sought to shake things up at the quarterback position for the first time in nine years. Veteran Andy Dalton was benched in favor of rookie Ryan Finley when the team played the Ravens in November. It was hard to blame the Bengals for wanting to see what they had in Finley, but the timing was a bit awkward (and typically Bengalian). The news of the benching came out on Oct. 20 — Dalton’s 32nd birthday. Suffice to say, Finley didn’t play well enough for him to keep the starting job — Dalton was back under center to help the team win its first game of the year, one of only two wins all season. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

BEST REDS CRITICS Joey Votto remains the Reds most slyly funny player, but outfielder Derek Dietrich is the clear extroverted class clown. Dietrich became a fan favorite in 2019 in part due to his slugging ability, but also because of his playful antics. Last spring, a swarm of bees caused the start of a springtime afternoon game between the Reds and the San Francisco Giants to be delayed for 15 minutes as workers tried to remove the pests (yes, yes — they are very valuable creatures in our eco system but at baseball games they are pests). Dietrich did his part, running around the field dressed as an exterminator — or perhaps a Ghostbuster — and spraying… something (can’t imagine they’d give him actual poison). Once the bees were lured away by an actual beekeeper who just happened to be at the game, the Reds won handily — 12-4 was the final score. Surprisingly (given the popularity of superstitions in sports), the team didn’t attempt to bring back the bees for regular ceremonial game delays in an effort to recapture the magic. Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

BEST SIGN CINCINNATI WINTERS ARE STILL PRETTY BAD (COMPARED TO CALIFORNIA) Following the University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team’s early exit from the 2019 NCAA tournament, longtime UC coach Mick Cronin surprised many by announcing his departure from the team to take the UCLA head coaching job after 13 seasons leading the ’Cats. The move left the team scrambling — five players transferred, but former Northern Kentucky University head coach John Brannen was able to convince 2019 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year winner Jarron Cumberland to come back and play for him. The prospect of leaving the Midwest for some West Coast sunshine apparently appealed to Cronin’s old boss, too. Before the end of 2019, UC athletic director Mike Bohn decided to ditch the Bearcats and take the AD role at the University of Southern California, a job that opened up after football legend Lynn Swann resigned last year.

BEST EMERGING SPORT TO HIT THE CINCY SCENE In the last year, Cincinnati has edged into the fast-growing market of electronic sports, aka esports. According to Forbes, its global revenue exceeded $1 billion in 2019 with audiences surpassing 443 million. That’s more viewership than IRL American football and rugby combined. A glance at the Queen City’s local esports scene reflects this development. Here are a few highlights: In late 2018, FC Cincinnati signed Cincinnati-native Gordon “Fiddle” Thornsberry in FIFA — a soccer simulation game created by EA Sports — to compete for them as part of the eMLS. Last year also marked their first season not only competing in the MLS but also the virtual arena, too, and in January, Thornsberry took home FCC’s first eMLS title. The inaugural PiviP esports tournament and gaming conference also arrived in the Queen City in 2019. Held at Kings Island, it was the first event of its kind locally and was co-founded by Bill Donabedian (founder of the Bunbury Music Festival, MidPoint Music Festival and Bellwether Music Festival) and Cincy-based esports event organizer AllMid. Newport’s GameWorks unveiled a new fully stocked esports lounge in March 2019 to provide space for more tournaments and events while competitive teams have sprouted locally on both a collegiate and high school level. As stated in Forbes, audiences for such entertainment are B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0   | 169


BEST BABY BEARCAT The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden welcomed a new baby bearcat in October. Born at the Nashville Zoo, the super cute binturong arrived in Cincinnati nameless and destined to be the University of Cincinnati’s next living bearcat mascot. The school’s beloved former bearcat Lucy retired from public life last August. So leading up to UC’s bicentennial homecoming celebration, the zoo asked the public to name the new baby. And the zoo narrowed the recommendations down to two: “Lucille” or “UCelia” (get it?), asking fans to pick their favorite. In the end, the 42,000 people who voted opted for the non-punny choice — Lucille — by 70 percent. We’re sure Lucille appreciates that. Binturongs are native to Asia and can grow to be between 20 and 30 pounds. They’re also rumored to smell like buttered popcorn. But why is this little civet the UC mascot? The origin of the program’s nickname dates back to 1914, when UC newspaper editor and cheerleader Norman Lyon deemed football captain Leonard Baehr a “Baehr cat” during a face-off against the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Shortly after the UC victory, a cartoon in the school paper depicted their team as a quadruped bear-cat hybrid chasing a scrawny kitten. The name stuck. The Bearcat’s first on-field mascot — a person in a bearcat costume — suited up in 1950. And Lucille will be the school’s fourth living bearcat mascot. University of Cincinnati, 2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, uc.edu.

predicted to number 645 million in 2020. The esports arena, it seems, is only getting bigger. Let’s see if Cincy can keep up.

BEST CEMETERY FOR HIKERS

Exercise can be lonely if you don’t have friends or family who share your desire to get into better shape. Why not surround yourself with some of the city’s finest folks in a gorgeous environment? Bonus: they’ll keep quiet, being six feet under and all. Spring Grove Cemetery is not only a massive sprawling expanse of immaculately manicured grounds, but it also has been a beautiful final destination for Cincinnati families for 175 years. Spanning 733 acres, the cemetery/ arboretum is recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and rightly so. If you’ve 170  |  B E S T O F C I N C I N N AT I 2 0 2 0

Lucille the bearcat at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden PHOTO | Hailey Bollinger

never visited, do yourself a favor and take a stroll through Spring Grove Cemetery, but leave your doggos at home. (They do allow furry pals inside one day a year for their annual Dog Day of Summer, with 2020’s planned for June 28.) Also, while you visit, be respectful of those in mourning: no loud music, keep your voices down and maintain a respectful distance from any processions that may be taking place. Remember why the cemetery was established (hint: not specifically for joggers) and be appreciative that our city is home to these beautiful grounds. If you don’t want to walk alone, Spring Grove offers frequent docent-led tours including Twilight Tours, early morning bird walks, native plant identification tours and the ever-popular An Afternoon with the Beer Barons event (beer + guided tours of historic brewery figure graves). Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Spring Grove Village, springgrove.org.

BEST CORNHOLE KING In 2019, hundreds of people gathered in Las Vegas at the American Cornhole

Organization’s World Championships to watch Matt Guy compete for the world champion and “King of Cornhole” title. The 40-something janitorial supply salesman from Alexandria, Kentucky is the most dominant player the sport has seen. Of the 14 ACO World Championships held, Guy has claimed eight titles, including last year’s. Fun fact: The ACO — the “governing body for the sport of cornhole” — is a Milford-based organization launched by Frank “The Cornhole Dude” Geers. Geers opened Harris Hawk, a promotional products company, in 2002 with zero intentions of starting a professional cornhole organization. With his background in marketing, he was always a good promoter and while tailgating at a Bengals game in 2004, he noticed people playing cornhole and saw an opportunity to add company logos to the cornhole boards. It was then he decided to launch a new company around the game and came up with the name “American Cornhole.” After discussing it with his partner at Harris Hawk, they decided to start a products company that would manufacture boards and bags with company logos on them. From there, the ACO started organizing

tournaments and creating a ranking system for the sport. The ACO hosted its first major tournament in partnership with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer for the Carson Palmer Cornhole Classic in June 2006. The winner of the classic was none other than Guy. It was his first ACO cornhole tournament he had ever entered. Guy started off pitching horseshoes before cornhole. A similar game and throwing motion, he claims that cornhole just came naturally — at one point he was ranked sixth in the world at horseshoes. And success in cornhole runs in the family: his son Bret has been a pro since he was 12 years old and was the World Singles Champion in 2013. He also won a doubles championship in 2014 with his father. Guy says his proudest moments were watching Bret win his singles championship and sharing the doubles title together. The cornhole king contributes his own success to three main things: “competitiveness, mental toughness and Bud Light.” The ACO 2020 World Championships take place in Columbia, South Carolina in July. American Cornhole Organization, americancornhole.com.


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Best Of Cincinnati© 2020 | CityBeat  

Best Of Cincinnati© 2020 | CityBeat