Northside Tavern has long been one of the city’s most reliable and economical venues to catch compelling national acts and an endless parade of impressive locals. The booking philosophy is time-tested, simple, and effective: if a band is relatively unknown, add high profile local artists to the bill as an enticement to pull in an audience. The vast majority of shows are free, and there are two performance spaces in the club—the intimate singer/songwriter front bar stage, and the larger, potentially raucous back bar stage.
The Tavern’s reputation for solid, intent crowds is what endears it to both established local groups and freshly minted bands looking to polish their new vibe. There’s no better endorsement of its hallowed status in the local scene than the continued presence of bands that have escaped Cincinnati’s gravity and hit the national/international touring circuit, yet still book regular shows, such as Electric Citizen and Wussy (whose drummer, Joe Klug, is often tending bar).
Northside Tavern keeps a variety of genres in rotation and hosts specialty nights to attract a wider demographic, including karaoke, trivia, and the ever popular Classical Revolution held on the second Sunday of every month. It also remains a great place for fanboys and fangirls to spot their favorite local musicians in the crowd.
4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 542-3603, northsidetav.com
A great spot to see rising national bands across the stylistic spectrum; Alabama Shakes played here just before they broke wide. Friendly bartenders, great kitchen, and superb national, regional, and local music with no cover charge.
345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 381-6687, motrpub.com
One of the city’s oldest music venues, featuring blues and jazz of every possible stripe. Mostly local and regional acts (and an art gallery), but an occasional touring artist drops in—all for a reasonable entry fee.
2442 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, (513) 221-1151, the-greenwich.com
Eclectic programming—indie, pop, bluegrass, metal, experimental—and a fantastic jukebox. Features a solid slate of new and established locals and occasional national artists (sometimes free, sometimes cheap) and one of the city’s best burritos.
4579 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 541-8900, cometbar.com
Northside Yacht Club
Owners and local musicians Stuart MacKenzie and Jon Weiner have turned the old Gypsy Hut into a punk/indie rock palace of stellar national and local bookings with an excellent bar and menu.
4231 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, (513) 541-0528, northsideyachtclub.com
Fare at this University of Cincinnati mainstay runs the gamut from jam to metal to hip-hop, always for a reasonable door charge.
1 E. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, (513) 784-9119, themadfrog.net