Where To Drink Now: 36 of the Swankiest Bars, Darkest Dives, and Craftiest Cocktails in the Queen City

May 2016Comments

Whether it’s a custom-made cocktail you’re after, a craft beer (on nitro!) with the bros as you catch an FC Cincinnati match, a civilized place to grab a glass of wine with your sweetie, or a dim dive to drown your sorrows in, these 36 hot spots are just the ticket.

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Justin Simmons behind the bar at Sundry and Vice

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway



Dive Bars

Not fancy, but they’ll still welcome you.

→ EDGE INN
This ne plus ultra of dive bars endures in all its charming grittiness even as the many-tentacled Rookwood development grows around it. The well-stocked CD jukebox could blurt out anything from Violent Femmes to Taylor Swift, and the U-shaped bar forces you to at least look at, if not chat with, that nice older couple across the way. When To Go: Anytime. Pro Tip: The Long Island iced teas might hurt you. One. Only. Who’s There: NASCAR fans next to slumming Hyde Parkers next to a gaggle of African-American ladies ready to dance. 3935 Edwards Rd., Norwood, (513) 841-9030

→ HERB & THELMA’S
If you’ve driven up Pike Street in Covington, you’ve probably wondered what it’s like inside the painted red-brick building at the base of Montague Road. Surprisingly, it feels like your grandparents’ rec room, complete with local beer-abilia. Take one of the half-dozen seats at the bar, ask owners Suzanne and Joe Fessler for a beer, and order a cheeseburger.When To Go: Saturday, for lunch. Pro Tip: If you get onion on your burger, get it grilled. Who’s There: A strong Cov Cath contingent, a few neighbors popping in for carryout.  718 W. Pike St., Covington, (859) 491-6984


→ AFTER WERK
Punny, jokey names are a dive staple, and this place checks that box. (It’s at the southwest corner of Glenmore and Werk—get it?) On our visit, the bartender handed us a basket of peanut-butter filled pretzels, winning the prize for best bar snack ever. When To Go: After work, during power hour (two beers were $3.75!) Pro Tip: Free pool on Thursdays! Who’s There: Blue-collar dudes. We spotted a Local 392 T-shirt (that’s plumbers, pipefitters, and mechanical equipment services). 3095 Glenmore Ave., Westwood, (513) 661-9375

→ JD’S HONKY TONK & EMPORIUM
This place was a little hard to classify: a sign on the door read “NO GANG COLORS”; two CPD officers stopped in for carryout; a friendly dude at a nearby table offered my husband a pickle…that turned out to be devilishly spicy. We’re not sure what to make of it either. When To Go: Daylight hours only. Pro Tip: Order the fried bologna sandwich. Who’s There: Hillbillies, pool sharks, and cops. 2406 Spring Grove Ave., Camp Washington, (513) 721-6867

→ LIBERTY INN
It’s hard to miss this friendly roadhouse at the corner of Yankee Road and Princeton Road—the name of the place is painted right across its blue front in white letters. No hairy eyeball here—everyone welcomed us in and chatted us up. When To Go: Saturday afternoon. Or whenever Dallas Moore is playing. Pro Tip: This bar is biker-friendly. Who’s There: Your new best friends. 7163 Princeton Rd., Liberty Twp., (513) 777-9872



Wine Bars

Where to enjoy the fruit of the vine.

→ PICCOLO WINE ROOM
Between the charming white tin ceilings and chalkboard menu wall, uncluttered bar, and stemless glassware, we found no reason to leave. Ever. When To Go: Skip the crowd; go for a nightcap. Pro Tip: They serve house-seasoned Bugles as a bar snack. Eat them. Who’s There: A good mix of date-night couples, solo sippers, and friends-en-masse. 23 Village Square, Glendale, (513) 771-6612, piazzadiscepoli.com/piccolo.html

→ LIBERTY’S BAR & BOTTLE
Find the three little pigs on the sidewalk and head inside. Fifteen wines are available by the half-glass or full-glass, and the list is expertly curated in the order-anything-and-never-be-disappointed way. So go ahead and get that rosé you have no clue how to pronounce (like the Saint Roch Les Vignes). When To Go: Happy hour (3–7 p.m., Mon–Fri) means a $5 red or white. Pro Tip: Get the meat and cheese plate. Who’s There: OTR patrons who prefer sanity to, you know, the Pedal Wagon. 1427 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 429-2461

Liberty's Bar & Bottle
Liberty’s Bar & Bottle

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

→ THE CELLAR AT OAKLEY WINES
Around the corner from Habits Café sits Oakley Wines, and down the interior staircase: a basement renovated into a full bar. The wood walls and repurposed bottles as light fixtures add mellow charm. Grab any bottle from upstairs ($10 corkage) or order by the glass, but get the s’mores: they’re served with a mini fire pit for tabletop marshmallow roasting. When To Go: On Fridays, there’s a five-for-$10 tasting upstairs. Pro Tip: It’s not just wine; look for beer and cocktails too. Who’s There: Oakley YPs for daaays. 4011 Allston St., Oakley, (513) 531-1400, oakleywines.com

→ 1215 WINE BAR & COFFEE LAB
Grown-up drinking game time! They bring you three numbered glasses and a downturned notecard, and you test your tastebuds as to which member of the flight you’re sipping. Blind drinking too much like blind dating? Flip the card over and imbibe with full knowledge of the vintage and tasting notes (like arugula and pencil shavings). Wines from all flights are available by the glass, too. When To Go: Weeknights anytime; it gets packed at peak weekend hours. Pro Tip: No corkage fees on Mondays. Who’s There: The OTR creative class, Music Hall patrons. 1215 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 429-5745, 1215vine.com


 

Music Bars
Shake your groove thang while you sip.

→ MECKLENBURG GARDENS
Not necessarily the most famous German restaurant in the region, merely the oldest (151 years jung)—and a bit of a secret totally worth discovering. Especially fine in the months when one can haunt the outdoor gardens and pat your foot to oom-pah beats under the grapevine trellis. They have music several times a week, a canny combination of authentic German bands and indie rock. When To Go: Anytime Alpen Echos is playing. Pro Tip: Not a place to be extemporizing on your knowledge of soccer unless, you know, you have some. Who’s There: A priceless mix of hospital workers, university people, and folks who don’t see anything ironic about a bushy moustache. 302 E. University Ave., Corryville, (513) 221-5353, mecklenburgs.com

→ SONNY’S ALL BLUES CAFÉ & LOUNGE
From the boldly-purple exterior on, Sonny’s announces that it is a separate, better reality. Enter and transform into a blues (and funk, and disco, and jazz) drenched scenario. Sonny’s is where the apple martini, Big Joe Duskin, and red and white checkerboard linoleum flooring all live on. When To Go: The first Sunday of every month the local blues scene represents in full force. Pro Tip: Do not be messing around at the pool table. Do not. Who’s There: It’s a 30-and-over contingent of buppies, bawdy mamas, and indie rock blues-lovers. 4040 Reading Rd., North Avondale, (513) 281-0410

→ SOUTHGATE HOUSE REVIVAL
Three rooms for bands from local to regional to national-sized. The biggest, the Sanctuary Room, sports a dandy bar with sound beer prices at one end and a pipe organ at the other. The Lounge is the place to hang before and after you hear something in the big room. It’s got the stank of cigarettes and the crank of people arguing about who really carries on Hank’s legacy or when exactly Metallica jumped the shark. When To Go: The “artist in residence” program gives local heroes a chance to workshop new stuff every Wednesday of a given month. Pro Tip: Avoid the small, tough-to-navigate parking lot. Who’s There: Northern Kentucky University students, WAIF listeners, believers in the church of the electric guitar. 111 E. Sixth St., Newport, (859) 431-2201, southgatehouse.com

Southgate House Revival
Southgate House Revival

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

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Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

→ MOTR PUB
Given its trendy hood and its nonpareil owners, somehow MOTR abides as an unpretentious, abundant source of great music at a great price: free. The bar has rotating taps and friendly barkeeps, and the music features local-to-national acts virtually every night of the week—well-considered bills of indie, punk, backpack hip-hop, and beyond. When To Go: When you don’t absolutely need to be home by 11, ’cause sometimes the best live music starts north of that. Pro Tip: Don’t sleep on the “Sword Room” downstairs, which nails a Medieval-steakhouse-with-pinball vibe. Who’s There: OTR carousers, people who care about music. 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 381-6687, motrpub.com

→ BOBBY MACKEY’S MUSIC WORLD
Never mind the ghost shtick, check out the music in this shrine to outlaw hillbilly soul. Don’t miss the crackerjack line dancing when the DJ spins, and be sure to ride El Turbo the mechanical bull (gents, count your testicles on the way out). This is an outsider’s imagining of a country music nightclub that is maybe 12 minutes from downtown Cincinnati, and worth a drive much longer than that. When To Go: Check the schedule for visiting legends like Ohio’s own Dallas Moore, or go on Friday and Saturday nights when Mackey fronts his own band and credibly pumps out George Jones covers and nifty originals. Pro Tip: There are better places to order a local microbrew; the PBR tastes better here. Who’s There: Beer drinkers, hellraisers, folks with Trumperstickers on their car outside. 44 Licking Pike, Wilder, (859) 431-5588, bobbymackey.com



Romantic Bars

Looking for a little privacy? Done.

→ PROHIBITION BOURBON BAR
Like moths to a flame, bourbon lovers will be drawn to the backlit bar, visible from the street behind a glass garage door. The courtyard fire pit is the perfect place to meet your partner in crime. When To Go: Try dinner hour and you might score a seat at the teeny bar. Pro Tip: Hours are seasonal; check the website before you visit. Who’s There: Neighborhood regulars, Pappy fanboys. 530 Washington Ave., Newport, (859) 261-9463, newberrybroscoffee.com

→ SOUTHERBY’S PUB, MARIEMONT INN
The Mariemont Inn’s cozy bar is carved out of the lobby with a wall of wood and leaded glass. Get there early and score a spot by the roaring fire, and if all goes well, you can quite literally get a room. When To Go: Stop in for a pre-Mariemont Theatre drink. Pro Tip: Order off the menu from the on-site National Exemplar restaurant. Who’s There: Moneyed retirees, YPs on date three. 6880 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, 513-271-2103, mariemontinn.com

→ THE BAR AT PALM COURT, HILTON CINCINNATI NETHERLAND PLAZA
Built in 1931, the Art Deco room is both a conversation starter and an easy distraction, making it the perfect setting for a first date. Ran out of stuff to talk about? Hey, look at those crazy seahorses! When To Go: After work. Pro Tip: Ask for the happy hour menu (4 to 7 p.m.). Who’s There: Suits with corporate lapel pins, Euro business travellers, the odd movie star. 35 W. Fifth St., downtown, (513) 421-9100, orchidsatpalmcourt.com

→ NELLIE’S TAP ROOM, TAFT’S ALE HOUSE
For a tête–à–tête, slip downstairs to Nellie’s Tap Room. The street-level bar (named for Taft’s wife, Helen Louise Herron “Nellie” Taft) is genteel: The lighting is dim, the space is comparatively quiet, and the furniture is arranged in parlor-style groupings. When To Go: When not to go? Pro Tip: Want to get to know your date? Share an $8 beer flight. Who’s There: OTR cool kids, your mom. 1429 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 334-1393, taftsalehouse.com

→ UNWIND WINE BAR
Park at one of the outdoor tables or take refuge in the dim dining room, which feels like a hotel lobby (in a good way). Order one of dozens of by-the-glass pours with the crostini chevre, served with cognac compote and fresh berries. When To Go: The patio is perfect for sunny late afternoons. Pro Tip: Pours are generous. Pace yourself. Who’s There: Hyde Park ladies, dudes with purebred dogs. 3435 Michigan Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 321-9463



Cocktail Bars

You’ll be shaken and stirred.

 


→ THE LACKMAN
Its no-nonsense, generous-pour approach to cocktails keeps the Lackman top-of-mind. Take the Albert, which pairs Blanton’s Private Select Barrel with just a touch of housemade smoked apple and cherry wood syrup, bitters, and bourbon-soaked dried cherries, allowing the Blanton’s to shine. When To Go: Weekdays, right after work. It fills up fast. Pro Tip: Grab a spot at the bar with the complimentary pretzel sticks. Who’s There: Business casual happy hour crowd. 1237 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, lackmanbar.com

→ SUNDRY AND VICE
It kind of feels like the cocktail bar in a movie you’re not cool enough to be in: cozy booths, indoor street lamps, posh glass display cases. The menu is heavy on the current trends—bourbon, rye, gin, bitters, vermouth—but the care and attention to detail comes through. When To Go: On a date. Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Bartenders are friendly and know their stuff. Who’s There: DAAP students and graduates. 18 W. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, sundryandvice.com

→ THE OVERLOOK LODGE
With a name—and ethos—inspired by The Shining, this Pleasant Ridge bar hitches its wagon to the cocktail star and just lets it ride. The Writer’s Block (bourbon and apple-berry tea) is sweet and smooth, Snow Tracks (gin, rosemary-thyme, limeade) is fresh and effervescent, and the Moonlight “twin shots” of moonshine and Mountain Dew are…perfect. When To Go: Weeknights, especially Tuesday Movie Trivia. Pro Tip: Check the bar’s Facebook page—they have cool themed nights and specials. Who’s There: Neighborhood regulars and Everybody’s Records customers. 6083 Montgomery Rd., Pleasant Ridge, theoverlooklodgecincinnati.com

→ LOW SPARK
The centered bar, with seating all the way around, makes Low Spark’s tiny space at the corner of 14th and Republic feel less clustered, and the giant fish tank in the middle keeps the bar on the casual side of pretentious. Named after the 1971 Traffic album The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, the vibe and cocktail menu are appropriately retro: the Baya Sour (tequila, lime, rhubarb bitters, raspberries, agave) uses egg whites—now en vogue again—to give the margarita-esque drink a frothy finish, while the Roxanne (gin, lemon, grapefruit, prosecco) is like a boozy, sparkling lemonade. When To Go: While waiting for a table at Salazar. Or The Eagle. Or Zula. Or… Pro Tip: Sit at the bar for prime fish/people/cocktail- making watching. Who’s There: People waiting for a table at Salazar. Or The Eagle. Or Zula. Or… 15 W. 14th St., Over-the-Rhine, lowsparkbar.com



Sports Bars

The next best thing to being at the game.

→ KITTY’S SPORTS GRILL
In September, owners Billy and Betty Watson completed a massive $200,000 renovation that saw a dozen TVs installed—including a 120-inch projection screen above the old horseshoe bar. Though the nine taps may not feature many local brews, Kitty’s makes up for it with bottomless Bloody Marys and mimosas on the weekends. When To Go: Pre, post, or during football games. Pro Tip: Don’t miss the leather couch and loveseat at the entrance. Who’s There: Bengals lifers still clinging to hope, rowdy groups that couldn’t get tickets. 218 W. Third St., downtown, (513) 421-8900, kittyssportsgrill.net

→ MOLLY MALONE’S IRISH PUB & RESTAURANT
If you ask to watch football, you’ll likely be treated to the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, or any number of European soccer teams. Practically every sect of Cincinnati soccer supporters claims the friendly Covington bar as its regional home for downing a pint of Guinness during a Saturday morning fixture. Sláinte! When To Go: Early weekend mornings. Pro Tip: Fiddles take the stage on Tuesday nights. Who’s There: Soccer supporters young and old from across the globe. 112 E. Fourth St., Covington, (859) 491-6659, covington.mollymalonesirishpub.com

Molly Malone's Irish Pub & Restaurant
Molly Malone’s Irish Pub & Restaurant

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Molly Malone's Irish Pub & Restaurant
Molly Malone’s Irish Pub & Restaurant

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

OAK TAVERN
Bruh, it’s not the number of TVs in a sports bar that matters; it’s how you use them. The Oak Tavern makes a conscious effort to feature the best games on five indoor TVs (plus two on the outdoor patio), regardless of sport. But come Saturdays in the fall, the space turns into Alpha Sigma Oakley, with Ohio State fans ordering buckets of beer like they’re at homecoming again. When To Go: Saturday afternoons when you’re hit with college nostalgia. Pro Tip: The smoked wings are worth the mess. Who’s There: Ex-jocks rocking that J. Crew gingham shirt uniform, popped collar optional. 3089 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 321-6258, oaktavernoakley.com

HOLY GRAIL TAVERN & GRILLE
Located 100 yards from GABP’s home plate, you can practically feel a Joey Votto walk or Brandon Phillips double play from the patio. Outfitted with 31 TVs, the bar attracts a college-aged crowd ready to chug Bud Lights and is usually the last spot to shut down on the Banks. Just remember: Uber is your friend. When To Go: After the seventh inning stretch. Pro Tip: Post-work happy hour has a more laid back vibe. Who’s There: Baseball-capped men and women in various states of drunken stupor. 161 Joe Nuxhall Way, downtown, (513) 621-2222, holygrailcincy.com



Brew Pubs

Get your beer fix here.

→ THE GROWLER HOUSE
Local brews flow from most of TGH’s 30 taps, including offerings from smaller shops like Tap & Screw and Urban Artifact. The color-coded menu (dark beers are purple, hoppy ones are green, etc.) makes it easy to find what you like, and the five-ounce “bencher” makes it even easier to sample if you can’t decide. When To Go: During Walk on Woodburn, the almost-monthly Friday strolls. Pro Tip: The stools are extra-tall. Who’s There: Groups, carryout buyers. 1526 Madison Rd., East Walnut Hills, (513) 580-8277

→ THE LISTING LOON
It is possible to reach hop-head nirvana via a can or bottle. And the Loon has an extensive selection, backed up by bartenders who can direct you to what you’re craving, whether it’s a Uinta Ready Set Gose or Brew Kettle’s Dark Heart Schwartzbier. When To Go: Whenever you’re in the neighborhood. Pro Tip: Be careful—it can be a bit too dark in there. Who’s There: Young (and old) bohemian hipsters. 4124 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 542-5666

→ DEAN’S HOPS & VINES 
One of the most welcoming spots—with one of the baddest beer menus—we’ve ever wandered into. You might find something unexpected, like Mt. Carmel’s Sap Attack, an Imperial Brown Ale brewed with maple syrup from the Cincinnati Nature Center. When To Go: Bourbon and Bacon Wednesdays. Pro Tip: There’s no printed beer list. Who’s There: Untappd Elite badge holders, plus Hudy drinkers. 3722 Harrison Ave., Cheviot, (513) 515-3215

→ LUCKY TURTLE
With two nitro lines, two dedicated sour lines, and the main “lucky 13” rotating taps, plus the handles available for tap takeovers or other goodies, you’re sure to find a pint worth lifting here. When To Go: Weekend evenings, early. Pro Tip: Four-and eight-ounce pours are available. Who’s There: Near-west-side beer lovers, late-20s dudes, a few families. 8621 Winton Rd., Finneytown, (513) 442-4619

→ WILD MIKE’S SHADY LANE
All three locations of this west side wing wonderland carry craft brews, but Shady Lane (the only one with a full bar) has always been a step ahead of the rest. A late 2014 renovation gave Shady Lane more taps (20!), which allows for regular tap takeovers and events. When To Go: On Thursdays, craft beers are 75 cents off. Pro Tip: The Mike’s Mix wing sauce is the best. Who’s There: Dads’ night out, teenagers refueling after practice or games. 7587 Bridgetown Rd., Bridgetown, (513) 467-9464



Restaurant Bars

Food and drink worth your time.

→ FRIDA 602
Sample a mezcal flight—the sister spirit to tequila ranges in flavor from smoky to sweet. Too potent? Test the waters with their nectar del diablo, a mezcal-based citrus and chile margarita. Or switch gears entirely and sip a peppery michelada—think Bloody Mary, but finished with Victoria (a Mexican lager) instead of vodka. When To Go: Weekday lunch, if you can take your time. Pro Tip: Don’t drink mezcal on an empty stomach. Who’s There: Heavily tattooed to stay-at-home dads pushing prams. 602 Main St., Covington, (859) 815-8736, facebook.com/frida602


→ TASTE OF BELGIUM, ROOKWOOD
Find insider brews—think hometown heroes MadTree Sprye and 50 West Coffee Please alongside Euro favorites like Tripel Karmeliet and St. Bernardus Abt. 12—in an upbeat, well lit gastropub conveniently (perhaps cursedly?) close to your I-71 commute. When To Go: Nothing says blissful brunch like beer and waffles. Pro Tip: Seize the chance to try a new brew. Who’s There: Well-heeled urbanites and beer aficionados. 3825 Edwards Road, Suite 110, Hyde Park, (513) 396-5800, authenticwaffle.com

→ SOTTO
Boca-based wine director and consultant Kevin Hart trains staff to steer Boca Group guests toward stunning small production bottles, especially at the grotto-gorgeous Sotto. Falanghina, a lesser-known white grape, is prized for its clean flavor and balanced acidity. Or embrace the chocolate-cherry ancient Basilicata (located in the instep of Italy’s “boot”) varietal aglianico with a glass of Grifalco aglianico del vulture. When To Go: The earlier the better. Pro Tip: They don’t call it a “super” Tuscan for nothing. Who’s There: Couples, the expense account set. 118 E. Sixth St., downtown, (513) 977-6886, sottocincinnati.com

→ MITA’S
Be prepared to be absolutely bewitched by this bar. Bros, besties, and business associates all rub shoulders come 5 p.m. at this central business district hot spot as they quaff caipirinhas heady with lime and mint, flutes of sparkling rosé cava, or bottles of Quilmes, a lager from Argentina. And while we’d never be ones to over-imbibe, it’s good to know that slices of Iberico ham and chorizo arepas are just a quick order away. Y’know, just in case. When To Go: After dark. The Moorish lanterns lend a certain magic. Pro Tip: It’s hard to go wrong with white wine or bubbles here. Who’s There: The industry crowd—chefs and somms on their nights off. Mita’s, 501 Race St., downtown, (513) 421-6482, mitas.co

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