There were at least 1,300 saloons in Cincinnati in 1874. At any rate, there were that many listed in the city directory for that year. The great majority of these saloons were unassuming beer halls, devoted to pouring sudsy lager into schooners or pails.
The sophisticated tippler of the 1870s and 1880s had to hunt for something a little more upscale than what the standard Cincinnati saloon offered. Luckily, The Cincinnati Enquirer published a guide to “Cock-Tail Slingers” on the front page of its issue for June 7, 1874. In announcing its list of “fashionable drinking resorts,” the Enquirer had this observation:
“Notwithstanding all the puritanical pow-wow of the Evangelical Know-Nothings about the alarming wickedness of Cincinnati, most rational minded and moderately informed persons are well aware that there are far fewer inducements to hard drinking and much less drunkenness in this city of ours, comparatively speaking, than in any other of the great Western towns. While the saloons of Chicago, St. Louis or San Francisco outrival in splendor the gin palaces of London, there is not one such establishment in our city with a showy exterior and but few interiorly elegant.”
The better bars in Cincinnati, according to the Enquirer, were usually hidden away inside hotels or restaurants and even inside cigar stores. With very few exceptions, the Enquirer’s list of “interiorly elegant” bars were clustered along Fourth Street between Main and Elm, and along Vine Street between Sixth and Seventh. Here is the refined tippler’s tour of Cincinnati in 1874:
* George V. Atkinson’s saloon on Race Street, just up from Fourth, was “high-toned and high-priced” according to the Enquirer, but was the “resort of the sporting fraternity.” The saloon closed only months after the Enquirer’s plug when the proprietor, a rising star in Democratic politics, died suddenly at the age of 35.
* The Enquirer claimed that the California Wine House on the southwest corner of Fourth and Main was the favorite “refreshment-room” in the city for one Deacon Richard Smith. “Deacon” Smith was the editor of the Enquirer‘s competitor, the Cincinnati Gazette.
* Schultz’s Restaurant on Fourth near Race catered to the artistic crowd. As the Enquirer explained:
“Here artists of reputation discuss seltzer and wine with tatterdemalion Bohemians to fortune and fame unknown; and here Commercial reporters meet to compare the mentality of Dr. Samuel Johnson unfavorably with their own, and declare that ‘Rasselas’ was the production of an idiot.”
Rasselas was a book by Johnson. The Commercial was another competitor to the Enquirer.
* The proprietor of Henry Grieumard’s wine shop on Vine between Sixth and Seventh is described as a “Buonapartist Frenchman” (in other words, a supporter of Napoleon), who can “procure you an unlimited quantity of any quality of any known brand of wine, if you will only give him time enough.”
* The Quarter-Stretch House, managed by a mysterious “Mr. Harmony” way out on Freeman Street near Bank Street in Brighton made the list primarily because it was the center of Cincinnati’s cock-fighting devotees.
* The St. Nicholas Hotel, on the southeast corner of Race and Fourth, featured a bartender named Matt who flourished a diamond breast pin estimated to have cost almost $2,000. (That’s more than $43,000 today.) The Enquirer guessed that the bar was far more profitable for owner Balthazar Roth than his popular St. Nicholas restaurant.
* David R. “Doc” Hickey ran a watering hole known as “The Post Office” on Vine Street south of Seventh. According to the Enquirer, it was the “favorite resort of frisky young bloods, who like billiards, and of domesticated merchants, who like Bourbon straight.”
“It was christened ‘The Post Office’ wholly with the wicked object of deceiving these later gentlemen’s sternly-moral spouses as to the nature of their husband’s twilight wanderings.”
* The St. Charles Restaurant on Third Street east of Main, “keeps a first-class bar and a first-class woman-killing bar-keeper, with an emerald breast-pin, and languishing eyes.”
* The “Opera Sample Room” on Vine just north of Fourth was apparently another of Gazette editor Smith’s hangouts, and also for man-about-town and noted gambler Richard Holland:
“One can get a tumbler of Kentucky’s best copper-distilled, and hear some of Colonel Dick Holland’s best jokes in the bargain here, without paying more for the fine liquor than elsewhere.”
* Zanoni’s, on Seventh Street west of Central Avenue, was among the first Italian restaurants in Cincinnati. Owner Joseph Zanoni was renowned for his ravioli, but also as a coin collector, linguist, astronomer and player of cards and checkers. The Enquirer called it a “first-class house” and noted that most of his clientele was Jewish.
* The St. Joe Restaurant on Vine Street, according to the Enquirer, was frequented by “journalists and men of irreproachable morals.”
* The Club House, run by Jacob Aug on Vine, is “patronized by respectable newspapermen, popular politicians, and the most brilliant intellects of our choicest society, snobs being rigidly excluded.”
* The Cornet, near the corner of Seventh and Vine, was aptly named. The owner was Charles M. Currier, who led one of the city’s most popular dance bands. “Only persons of aesthetic taste go there,” said the Enquirer.
* Almost directly across the street from the Enquirer building was “The Office,” run by George Ellis and decorated with paintings and statuary. “It is patronized particularly by the theatrical profession and by men of infinite jest and genius.”
* Also near the Enquirer was Mazzoni’s Cigar Store which, despite its name, was also a bar favored by the performer’s in Robinson’s Circus.
* The Atlantic Garden run by Fred Roos on Vine near Sixth was the “favorite summer evening resort of a mixed multitude.”
* Jim Callan’s Cigar Store also had a few bottles on hand and was “frequented by politicians of various shades of opinion, who nevertheless coincide in their taste for toothsome corn-juice.”
* Dave Kendall’s Billiard Parlor, located near the Cincinnati Library, joined this elite roster when Kendall moved up from his former location on Race Street.
With the exception of the Brighton Quarter-Stretch House, all of these establishments were within a four-block radius downtown.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities