Foolproof Directions

Fear not the Devil’s Backbone! A guide to the land beyond I-74.

When I tell east-siders I’m from the west side, the most common response I hear is, “I always get lost over there.” They recall an ill-fated trip to a body shop or to S&S Western Bowl, mention an aunt’s house they can never seem to find, or bluntly state that they avoid this side of town and its Silly String layout whenever possible.

Illustration by Ryan Snook

I’ll admit it can be confusing to get around here. There’s no grid, and even main arteries tend to wind capriciously through ever-changing neighborhoods. North Bend Road, for example, is located nowhere near the Village of North Bend. And the sharp bend in the road takes you east, not north. If you miss the bend and keep going straight on what appears to be the same street, you’ll find yourself on Cheviot Road, which is located 3.5 miles from the city of Cheviot (where you can, however, find Cheviot Avenue, which has absolutely nothing to do with Cheviot Road). Thus, a certain amount of bewilderment among the uninitiated is understandable. Even the voice on your GPS will start to sound cranky.

To be fair, west-siders have similar trouble with the east side, particularly the Far East. I’ve lived in Cincinnati for many years, but for a long time places like Amelia and Milford were as foreign to me as Dubai. And yet, for whatever reason, west-siders suffer the bad rap. If we get lost looking for Anderson, we’re stupid and provincial. When Andersonians lose their way trying to find Covedale, it’s the west side’s fault for being such a muddle. Nevertheless, by popular request, I hereby provide a guide to the west side for those of you who don’t know Mack from Monfort Heights, Devil’s Backbone from Dog Trot, Ron’s Roost from The Crow’s Nest.

The main reason folks get lost over here is our lack of interstate highways, which has kept the west side isolated and insular since, well, forever. On the east side, one can always use I-71 as an orientation. Far Easterners use I-275. East-west arteries like the Norwood Lateral and Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway help too, as does Columbia Parkway. No matter where you live, you’re never all that far from one of these roads.

On the west side, depending on your neighborhood and the time of day, you can spend 20 minutes or longer just reaching an interstate. The closest one is I-74, which, as local highways go, seems to get the same lack of respect the west side receives. Getting on 74 usually means that you’re leaving the west side because it offers so few connections within the area. We do have some main roads, such as Westwood Northern Boulevard, Glenway Avenue, and Delhi Pike, but these are seen by outsiders as little more than paved Indian trails.

The other problem is that it’s not easy to tell when one has passed from one neighborhood to another. Bridgetown fuses into Mack. West Price Hill more or less becomes Covedale. Delhi sort of melds into Western Hills—truth be told, there really isn’t a Western Hills in a specific sense. It’s a generic name given to a nebulous collection of neighborhoods. In recent years, civic groups have begun erecting little signs that announce one is entering Miami Heights or leaving Taylor Creek, but if you’re looking for a more significant signifier, well, there isn’t one.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s begin by heading west on I-74, because we know you’re a little more comfortable using an interstate. Take the Montana Avenue exit, which, in itself, is a bit tricky because it allows you to get off the highway but not back on again if you’re traveling west. If you stop here for gas, you’ll need to drive a few miles along Shepherd Creek—a lovely trip past horse farms and wooded hills—and make a left on North Bend Road to find the highway.

If you go straight at the end of the Montana Avenue ramp, you’ll pass Putz’s Creamy Whip, which always raises a giggle from my out-of-town Jewish friends. Then you’ll enter Mt. Airy Forest. With more than 1,400 acres, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the state. It’s well-known for its beautiful arboretum, herds of white-tailed deer, first-rate disc golf course, and a ubiquitous handful of questionable-looking men sitting alone in their parked cars.

But let’s turn left and head up Montana Avenue’s long, steep hill, which on icy winter days presents a delightful challenge to west-siders, who enjoy spending rush hour sliding toward the interstate or a violent death. Montana Avenue leads us into the heart of Westwood, the city’s most populous neighborhood, where you’ll find the Westwood Town Hall, a gracious old building built in 1889 and recently remodeled to more graciously appear as it did in 1889. The town hall stands at the intersection of Montana and Harrison Avenue, where we’ll take a right into the Westwood business district, which, like most such districts in inner-ring neighborhoods, ain’t what it used to be. Empty storefronts and check-cashing centers have replaced the local bakeries and drugstores that once made it a quaint and buzzing retail locale. A hundred years ago—and longer—Westwood was a posh address, home to soap barons like the Werk and Gamble families. Now, not so much. Even the Westwood grade school has been shut down. Still, the neighborhood features a few noteworthy spots, such as the Henke Winery, a charming restaurant that has produced the state’s top wine for the past three years.

Harrison Avenue leads us into the city of Cheviot, which is, in fact, a real place with official corporation lines and everything. Cheviot has its own mayor and city services, along with what seems to be the densest concentration of liquor licenses in the state. It’s not hard to get a drink here. On the weekends the many bars buzz with revelers who come from all over the city to party in their favorite hangouts, joyously staggering from one place to the next. Some of the establishments, like Skin’s Place and Rootie’s Brickhouse, harken back to the beer-and-a-shot spots that used to freckle the main drag. Others, like Black Sheep Bar & Grill and Mr. B’s, are bigger and offer live music and dancing. Cornhole rules at the Cheviot Sports Tavern while karaoke is king at Keller’s Cheviot Cafe.

Old-timers tell me that back in the day every bar in the city offered gambling—numbers games, sports betting, or a perpetual card game in a back room. They say the town was known as “Little Chicago.” Seems like there were quite a few little Chicagos; I’ve heard the same said about at least a handful of other places. Today the town is more legit. The commercial district does include more than watering holes—a few mom-and-pop diners, antique shops, fast-food restaurants, and the best dry cleaner (Kroner’s) in the universe. But it’s mostly bars. Even the mayor owns one. Those brave enough to attempt the city’s frequent pub crawls usually end up crawling home.

Now stay on Harrison through Cheviot until we reach an important fork in the road on the western edge of town. Bear left and you’re on Bridgetown Road; bear right and you stay on Harrison. Either way, you’ve now entered Bridgetown. Many years ago there was a railroad bridge in the heart of the area, and most people thought the bridge inspired the name; in fact, the name actually comes from Bridgeton, New Jersey, the previous home of the first settlers.

If Cheviot is the west side’s party central, Bridgetown is its quintessential suburb—middle-class homes filled with mostly white, mostly Catholic west-siders who vote Republican, save their money, cut their grass, and root for the Reds. Of course, that’s a superficial view, and like all places it’s more diverse and complex than it seems. It’s home to the very cool Zen & Now Coffee House and the equally cool Fawn Confectionery, along with Stump’s Lanes, Ron’s Roost Restaurant & Bar (known for the gigantic chicken on its roof), and the classically retro Zip Dip ice cream stand. Bridgetown also used to be home to the venerable, and after its destruction, venerated Wagon Wheel Café at its main intersection—where Bridgetown Road meets Glenway Avenue, which suddenly becomes, for reasons I’ve never investigated, Race Road. I remember even as a kid hearing west-siders call the intersection, with perverse pride, one of the most dangerous in the state. To widen the intersection—thus making it less dangerous or congested—the Wagon Wheel was closed in March 2008 and torn down later that year despite public outcry. The building was nearly 150 years old. On the property once stood the Bridgetown Hotel and Saloon, which essentially spawned the neighborhood. Nearly two years later, the lot remains empty. No construction or widening or any sort of safety- or convenience-inspired work has been done. In fact, it’s been seeded for grass. It seems like a waste of history and local color, though, in fairness, a driver now can more easily see the oncoming car right before the collision.

At this intersection we can turn right and take Race Road as it dips and winds through jagged topography all the way into Monfort Heights. Or we can go straight, deep into the heart of Bridgetown and on into Mack, named many years ago for the Markland family’s dog (the Marklands ran the general store and post office in what was previously called Dry Ridge). The best-known landmark in Mack is the water tower, a robust hunk of metal that survived a head-on collision with the 1974 tornado that ripped through the area. Around that time, an enterprising gang of youths spray-painted “Mack Studs” in huge black letters on the tower, giving all of us local boys a shot of self-esteem until some callous civic group demanded a new paint job.

Bridgetown Road (once known as Cleves Pike) slithers through Miami Heights, and eventually dumps us into Cleves, along River Road. The river towns of Cleves, Addyston, North Bend, Sedamsville, and Sayler Park form the southwestern rim of the west side. When you reach this point, you’ve probably missed your destination and are completely lost. You need to turn around and head back the way you came. Or you can continue farther west into Indiana, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Let’s back up to the intersection of Bridgetown Road and Glenway Avenue and turn left onto Glenway, the main commercial artery of the west side. The six-mile road takes you past a seemingly endless parade of restaurants, stores (big box and smaller box), strip malls, non-stripping malls, car dealerships, body shops, schools, and churches. On it you’ll find many of the places synonymous with the west side—Western Bowl and Price Hill Chili; Elder, Seton, and Western Hills high schools; Oskamp ball fields; the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts; and Phillipps Swim Club. You’ll pass the densest aggregate of chili parlors in the city, maybe even the world. West Side Chili even offers a six-way, which is called a “Glenway,” and we can stop there for a bite if you really want to feel a part of things.

Packed with traffic at seemingly all hours, Glenway Avenue leads you from Bridgetown through the heart of Western Hills and on into Covedale—a vague area that has fought to retain its name so its residents can savor a unique sense of place and avoid saying they live in Price Hill. Once a proud, clean, working-class area, Price Hill has begun to suffer from falling property values, rising crime rates, and an increasingly sketchy reputation. The days when Price Hill epitomized the west side are fading. Even Price Hillians now refer to West and East Price Hill, the West being the side used more frequently in real estate ads. Most say they live in Covedale or, as is becoming more common, “the Covedale Garden District,” a name that conjures bucolic images of flowers and trees rather than muggings. Depending on whom you ask, Covedale spans parts of Green and Delhi townships with a chunk or two stretching into Cincinnati proper. It boasts many lovely older homes and quiet streets, some of which no doubt have splendid gardens or at least decorative shrubbery.

For those of us who have lived on the west side for a long time, names like the “Covedale Garden District” are tough to say and tougher to swallow. For me, the area remains “Price Hill,” and there’s certainly no shame in that. There’s lots to like about a place where the roots run so deep. And where the streets run so haphazardly. Next up on our itinerary is Delhi, where it only gets worse.

We’ll take a right on Cleves Warsaw Pike and head west, past a number of beautiful mansions built in the early 20th century, when this area was looking like the western equivalent of Indian Hill. Though many of the homes are majestic, this area never achieved the same exclusivity. Some have aged better than others, and in recent years some of the spacious properties have been broken up to make way for handsome, if somewhat less majestic, homes. Those clustered around the Western Hills Country Club, however, remain impressive.

At the country club, we’ll turn left onto Neeb Road, which apparently was laid out by an engineer with a fondness for roller coasters. If you’ve survived Kings Island’s Son of Beast, you’re probably ready to take on Neeb. The ear-popping ride takes you up and down one slope after the next. If you’re even braver, we can go a bit farther west and face the break-neck curves, steep hills, and sharp switchbacks of the aptly named Devil’s Backbone. I’m ready if you are, and I’ve provided sick bags and drop-down oxygen masks for our trip. Maybe another time? OK, we’ll stay on Neeb, which eventually leads us to the intersection with Delhi Pike, where you’ll see the lovely campus of Mount St. Joseph College. A left turn leads us into the heart of Delhi and its miles of suburban homes, most of them built in the boom years of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. If you thought Bridgetown was confusing, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. In Delhi you can get lost in a helicopter. Delhi Pike, however, is like a milder Glenway with its myriad shopping centers and leads us directly through the area. The commercial district eventually gives way to the long descent to River Road, which takes us back into downtown. You’re back in familiar territory.

And so you see, it’s really not so confusing after all. The key to getting around over here is to accept that you’re going to get lost and be willing to stop frequently to ask for directions. Most of us who live here have lived here for a long time, and we’ll know the easiest way to get you where you need to go. We’re a friendly bunch and probably will throw in a few recommendations for where to eat, along with a story or two about the places you’ll pass along the way. There really is a lot to be said for a place where the roots run deep—even if the streets seem like a hopeless tangle.

Facebook Comments