A bustling restaurant and bar scene continues to gain momentum downtown, filling Cincinnati with happy bellies and slightly less happy livers. But sometimes we all need a break from the hip crowds, and we find it in old neighborhood bars, surrounded by the standard dive comforts of domestic beer banners and free popcorn.
Housed in a former shoeshine parlor, this bar has held its place on the west end of downtown since 1983. With bar tops made of old bowling alley lanes and a loyal set of regulars, it has all the character and charm you look for in a neighborhood watering hole. The Mike’s Deluxe Burger, made with meat from Findlay Market, will help soak up the several seasonal craft beers on tap. It’s a perfect place to come to watch the Reds play—and avoid those crowds on the other side of town. 423 Plum St., downtown, (513) 651-4341
The laid-back go-to of the downtown bar scene, Knockback Nats is a happy hour favorite and a great late night stop. If you’re a skeptic when it comes to bar food, prepare for a pleasant surprise. The bar is rightfully known around town for its wings, but once you try the brisket hoagie you may never go back (both items are smoked in-house). Sip the rotating craft beer on tap. Or, for the full experience, grab some tall boys served in bar-branded cozies and, well, knock ’em back. 10 West Seventh St., downtown, (513) 621-1000
Just across the intersection from Knockback, Madonna’s defines dive. The pool table, pinball machine, and touch-screen bar games can entertain—though interacting with the always-eclectic crowd should be enough. The vibe varies, with jukebox-controlled tunes fluctuating song-to-song and night-to-night, so plan for a new experience each time a need for cheap drinks and low-key relaxing brings you in. 11 East Seventh St., downtown, (513) 621-8838
Louder and brighter than your typical dive bar, Tina’s offers an upbeat but unpretentious evening. Grab a beer and a bowl of their family-recipe chili to fuel up for some shuffleboard or darts, or stop in before heading a block south for a Bengals game. When you try the chili, be sure to consult the Cliff’s Famous Chili Meter (named for the recipe’s originator, a.k.a. the owner’s grandpa) hanging on the wall. 350 West Fourth St., downtown, (513) 621-3567
Enter Cincinnati’s second oldest bar through the old tavern entrance in a side alley off Vine Street. Low tin ceilings keep it cozy, and the music makes for an odd but lively clash of Irish and country. Although they no longer offer a barrel of peanuts to shell onto the floor, there is a full menu and small outdoor patio to keep you coming back. 25 Ogden Pl., downtown, (513) 381-3114, omalleysinthealley.com
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