Mixologist Molly Wellmann Makes History Special

“People always think it’s just a flyover city, and I’m like ’You have no idea. You just have to come and see it.’”

NAME: Molly Wellmann
AGE: 48
WHO IS SHE: Owner of Japp’s OTR, well-known mixology expert

Photograph courtesy Molly Wellmann

What are your Cincinnati roots?

I was born in Westwood and raised in Colerain. My whole family is from Price Hill mostly, but I have some family in Cheviot now. Both my mom’s and dad’s sides have been here since the 1850s.

When did you leave Cincinnati, and why?

It was in the 1990s, when Cincinnati was not fun. I was young, in my twenties, and I left because my best friend was going to school out west and I’d gone to visit her for a week, and while I was out there one of her roommates was moving out and my friend was, like, You should move in. So I came back to Cincinnati, sold my stuff, packed up my bags, my cat, and my sewing machine and moved to San Francisco. I thought I’d be there for six months and just see how it was and then come back. I was there for 12 years.

Is that when you built up your bartending and entrepreneurial skills?

I think I was an entrepreneur long before that. When I was in high school, I would make jewelry and sell it to my classmates and my mom’s friends. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was younger, so I would steal my sister’s and my mom’s clothes and cut them up and make them my own. They weren’t really happy about that, but I started sewing when I was 7 because I wanted to be a fashion designer. I worked for Chanel and Prada when I moved to San Francisco, and then I didn’t want to be a fashion designer any more. I became a jeweler. I was thinking I was going to own my own business, and 9/11 kind of killed that, so I went into the service industry instead.

When did you return to Cincinnati?

I came back in 2008 because my family was changing and I was getting nieces and nephews. I was a cocktail waitress in San Francisco at the time, and I was like, OK, it’s time to go. I’m getting too old for this, and these club people are driving me crazy. So I packed up all my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to Cincinnati. I thought, you know, since I’m from the west side, I would live down the street from my parents and buy a house, get married, gain 30 pounds, and have five kids, but I didn’t do that.

Were you excited to return or was it bittersweet?

A little bit of both. I was really excited to be close to my family and make new friends and connect with old ones and just start a new adventure in a city that my family has been a part of for so many years.

How has Cincinnati changed since you left?

Before I left, I lived on 14th Street and Central Parkway on the side of Music Hall. I would walk to work through Washington Park and Vine Street all the way down to Eighth and Main. I remember I always had to make sure I was home by dark, because, you know, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl walking through Over-the-Rhine in the ’90s was not the safest thing in the world. It just wasn’t. When I came back in 2008, I started working at this restaurant and some friends were like, We’re gonna go over to Lavomatic on Vine Street. When we pulled up, I was like, What the heck? Oh my God. Where are we? I could not believe the block—which I would never walk past before I left—had changed that much, and it was just the beginning. I was amazed. Amazed. Right then and there I knew that I was going to open my own business downtown. I was working at Neons in 2009, the same year it opened, and then I partnered with the owners to open Japp’s in 2010, and being part of the growth of Over-the-Rhine has been the coolest thing ever.

How is Cincinnati the same as before you left?

I think so much has improved, but whenever I see Union Terminal, that’s Cincinnati for me. The bridges, the river, the boats, and Riverfest are Cincinnati to me. I believe we’re still a family-oriented city. People still don’t leave, or if they leave they always come back. We’re still well-educated and well-traveled, but there’s just something about living in Cincinnati that, if you do travel, you come home and it feels like a hug. There’s something really comfortable about Cincinnati that I don’t think will ever change.

What’s your favorite new discovery since returning?

I’ve discovered so much about the history of our city. I’ve been digging into the history of drinking in Cincinnati from the very beginning to Prohibition and trying to put a book together, but it’s taking forever because we drank a freaking lot back in the day. When you learn about drinking in Cincinnati, you learn so much about the history here because a lot of it revolved around alcohol. I really love doing events for different companies that give our city so much culture and vibrancy. An example would be BLINK; I just can’t get over how cool it is. I also love how the parks have been revamped, especially Washington Park and Smale Park, and the remodels of the Music Hall and Union Terminal to make sure we have those for years to come is super cool.

What keeps you here now?

I love it! Mostly it’s making sure I keep those roots. I want to make history as a Cincinnatian. I want somebody to read about me and tell my story 100 years from now. I want to make some history here in Cincinnati so we continue to be a really important place on the map. I really love this city; I’m going to cry now because I really do. I think it’s so cool when people finally discover our city. People always think it’s just a flyover city, and I’m like, You have no idea. You just have to come and see it, and then you’ll know that it’s really special.

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