Cinema Is a Haven for Black Film and Music in OTR

The new bar and lounge in Over-the-Rhine welcomes everyone to celebrate and enjoy movies, ’90s hip-hop, and clever drinks all under one roof.

When the air conditioning went out during Cinema’s opening weekend in the dead heat of August, the packed crowd didn’t disperse—instead, they were happy to stay inside and keep grooving at Over-the-Rhine’s newest bar and lounge dedicated to 90’s hip-hop and Black films.

“We’ve been slammed. It’s unbelievable,” says Ricardo Grant, co-founder of Cinema. “We are very appreciative over what’s happening and people being excited about it.”

Cinema is located at 1517 Vine St.

Photograph by Sam Rosenstiel

The new lounge, located inside one of Vine Street’s historic buildings, spins classic hip-hop, screens Black films like Sunset Park and Brown Sugar, and serves up craft cocktails paying tribute to well-loved characters from what Grant calls the “golden era” of music and movies. “The pairing of music to film specifically in Black and Brown culture is unique, and we wanted to build an institution that that was able to promote that and folks can have a good time there.”

The Cincinnati move-maker already has several successful ventures under his belt, including the Gallery at Gumbo (part barber shop, part art gallery) and Paloozanoire exhibitions. Cinema’s concept has stuck with him, brewing in his brain for more than a decade. Roughly a year ago, he engaged with 3CDC, who have been partnered with him on previous projects, to make the dream reality. “It was the right time, it was the right opportunity,” he says. “And quite honestly, it’s been overwhelming to be supported in a way that speaks to—in a positive light—just the thirst for what we’ve been able to create here.”

Grant says the renovation of the historic space proved challenging, but with help from 3CDC and his unwavering vision, the finished project is exactly how he pictured it.

“People would think that I’m crazy when I say this, but when we walked into this space, I saw it right away,” Grant says. “I saw the beveled green and I saw the lighting; I saw the film jerseys on the wall; I saw the DJ booth; I saw these lounge areas in the back—I saw it right away.”

Photograph by Sam Rosenstiel

Sports jerseys from films like Love & Basketball and Hardball line Cinema’s walls, as does a white neon sign behind the DJ booth quoting Biggie’s “Juicy”: “Birthdays was the worst days / now we sip champagne when we thirsty.” Speaking of drinks, Cinema’s staff have crafted cocktails as clever homages to celebrated movie characters based on what they might drink. For instance, the Sister Mary Clarence, a nod to Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Sister Act, is a mix of Casamigos Blanco, lemonade, and cucumber; the Sugar Ray, based on Richard Pryor’s character in Harlem Nights, features a mix of Tito’s, Bailey’s, and blaCk coffee; the O-Dog, from Menace II Society, is a mix of Tanqueray, blueberry, lemon, and soda.

The righthand wall of Cinema’s VIP lounge is a bright collage of photos of Grant’s favorite artists, like LL Cool J, Janet Jackson, Pharrell, and Grant’s all-time favorite, Jay-Z: “artist, mogul, businessman, philanthropist social impact leader—kind of the goal.”

Photograph by Sam Rosenstiel

All of these touches add up to Grant’s vision to create a space for everyone to feel welcome and enjoy the media that formed him. “There’s no question on what era and what timeframe in life we built this bar replicating… You don’t have to be a person of color to enjoy that atmosphere, but we want everyone to feel welcome and included, and have a good time here and enjoy it.”

Big things are on the horizon for Cinema, too, with an upcoming “Fade to Black” Labor Day celebration, watch parties for Bengals and FC Cincinnati games, and a planned partnership for October’s BLINK light show and festival. Grant says, like most other bars, the creative aspects of Cinema have been limited by supply chain issues and rising inflation, so be on the lookout for new features and pieces over the next few months.

Overall, Grant says Cinema is far more than a revamped space or a cool place to watch movies. “For us, it’s a place where you can come and feel a culture that can’t be replicated, to feel a moment in time that can’t be replicated. We’re big on people having an emotional experience when they come here, and the feeling and energy of the films that they watched with their uncles and their grandparents—it’s bigger than just a bar.”

Cinema, 1517 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine,

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