Editor’s Letter May 2024: Neighborhood Bars

Cincinnati Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief recalls his first favorite neighborhood bar.
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Illustration by Lars Leetaru

My first favorite neighborhood bar was inside a shack on my college campus. It was called The Shack, and it had been slapped together around an old catering truck and a large tree across from the main administration building. There’s no way that kind of place could operate today, with all of our modern building codes and safety checklists and basic common sense. Even during my college days in the anything-goes-1970s and early ’80s, I knew The Shack skirted all recognized rules of propriety. And I loved it.

It was the only place in town that would sell beer to us under-21 folks without a fake ID, and they’d take your student ID card as collateral for glass pitchers. There were two kinds of beer on tap, Schlitz and Stag; a small grill for burgers with “Shack Sauce”; and a tiny TV above the bar. Every wooden floorboard, table, booth, wall, and support column sagged in one direction or another—all of it painted green and covered in carved graffiti, mostly names, initials, and years. I know I added my pertinent information at some point, maybe twice, but those details are a little fuzzy—as most things were in The Shack. I do recall perfecting a trick of pouring beer on a certain spot at our favorite booth and watching the stream zig and zag along the tabletop through the carvings until, what seemed like five minutes later, it would spill into the lap of an unsuspecting friend. Hey, that was high comedy back in college!

I bring up The Shack because—besides taking a fun stroll down memory lane—its story is similar to all great neighborhood bars (as evidenced in our May issue section). There was a reason we originally chose this place, but the specifics are beside the point; it’s our place now. The more that others fail to appreciate its charms, the more we love it. The more broken in the bar appears, the more we take pride in contributing to the breaking in.

No one “gets” our neighborhood bar like we do, but that’s their loss. Let’s order another round. Put it on my tab!

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