Written by Seamus Kelleher.
Cincinnati’s historic Over-The-Rhine (OTR) district is a lively, thriving neighborhood with no shortage of arts & culture, food & drink and places to relax. It’s reclaimed its identity as a major hub for brewing, and is home to several promising up-and-coming technology startups. But it didn’t always have this stellar reputation.
In 2001, OTR was the focus of the national spotlight, attracting unwanted attention for four days of riots, the largest urban disturbance in the U.S. since the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. In 2009, OTR was being called the most dangerous area in America, “beating out” traditional mainstay neighborhoods in Chicago, Miami, Jacksonville and Baltimore.
These blemishes to the city’s reputation on the national stage were a sharp contradiction to the city’s ramped up efforts to revitalize the historic area, and served as a catalyst for major change. Today, OTR is recognized nationally for its remarkable renaissance, a total transformation that’s resulted in its emergence as a residential hotspot, reduced crime rates, a flourishing arts scene, beautiful parks and plenty of places to eat and drink.
OTR has also emerged as an entrepreneurial hotspot—home to many of Cincinnati’s tech startups and key entrepreneurial resources like CincyTech, The Brandery and Cintrifuse, all regional partners of Ohio Third Frontier. OTR’s position as the center of Cincinnati’s strong startup scene adds another unique characteristic to the district’s distinctive identity.
Let’s check out what Cincinnati’s trendiest neighborhood has to offer!
Findlay Market is the oldest continuously operated public market in Ohio and an authentic Cincinnati tradition. The Market is open year-round and is home to more than two dozen merchants offering cuisines including Thai, Polish, Belgian, Italian, Indian, Vietnamese— you name it. When it’s warm, check out the outdoor farmers’ market for fresh foods and entrancing street entertainment.
Do you like fried chicken? Then you’ve come to the right place. This “food and beer hall featuring fried chicken” is a local favorite of Cincinnatians. The Eagle also features an assortment of craft beers, southern style mac n’ cheese and a lively atmosphere driven by a blues soundtrack. Enjoy some good eats without spending a fortune.
Nicola’s Ristorante Italiano
Looking for something a little more upscale? Check out Nicola’s, a classy wine bistro in OTR. They make all of their own pastas, desserts and breads fresh, in-house daily. Nicola’s has an extensive wine list and five unique areas to dine, including a beautiful outdoor space. Chef Aaron Owen and owners Nicola and Maureen Pietoso are committed to reinterpreting classic dishes while maintaining an unmistakably authentic Italian atmosphere.
A rich German history has helped shape Cincinnati’s identity. It’s how the area got its name; German settlers nostalgically referred to the Ohio River as the Rhine, like their beloved river back in Germany. Germans are known for their great beer, so it shouldn’t be surprising that OTR is as well.
You can’t mention Over-The-Rhine without mentioning Rhinegeist, Cincinnati’s most well-known brewery. Rhinegeist is to OTR what Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company is to Ohio City in Cleveland, a true anchor for the neighborhood and extremely successful beyond city limits. Their most popular brew is the Rhinegeist Truth IPA, voted Cincinnati’s favorite beer by Cincinnati Enquirer readers. Rhinegeist grew its business by 80% in 2016.
Taft’s Ale House
Named after Cincinnati’s prodigal son, Supreme Court Justice and 27th President of the U.S. William Howard Taft, Taft’s Ale House is a local favorite in OTR. It’s located in the old St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, constructed in 1850 during the height of OTR’s historic brewery district. The space has been renovated and modernized, while maintaining the architectural integrity of the original church. It’s complete with raised ceilings, a choir loft and floor-to-ceiling windows — a different charm than your average bar. The food’s delicious too!
Sundry and Vice
Not a fan of beer? You’ve got options. Check out Sundry & Vice, OTR’s premier cocktail bar. They know their way around a cocktail, classic or contemporary. Try the Magical Mystery, a blend of rye whiskey, Amaro Montenegro, strawberries, lemon, egg white and homemade rhubarb bitters. As for the atmosphere—S&V was described by the New York Daily News as a place where “mustachioed men and women in flapper dresses sip cocktails.”
Take in the Neighborhood
The Cincinnati Streetcar is a modern streetcar system run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Authority linking the Ohio Riverfront to OTR’s Findlay Market. Cincinnati invested in refurbishing its forgotten streetcar system because of its longevity and its ability to attract visitors and businesses back downtown. There are 18 stops along the streetcar route passing through the heart of OTR. This popular method of transportation began running in September of 2016, and offers residents and visitors a charming, old-time way to hit many Cincinnati hotspots.
Washington Park reopened in 2012 after a major renovation that saw it expand from six acres to eight. Among the key enhancements were the addition of a plaza, a civic green and performance stage, a 450-space underground parking garage, a dog park, a children’s playground and interactive fountains for kids. The Park features year-round free arts programming, which brings thousands of people each week during spring and summer to enjoy and explore OTR.
On the last Friday of each month, art galleries and artists in the Over-the-Rhine district open their doors for a special showing. Dubbed simply as “Final Friday,” this event attracts crowds of people who enjoy experiencing art from both established and newer artists in a walkable, relaxed environment. This ongoing neighborhood arts event snakes through Main Street galleries, the Art Academy of Cincinnati and Moerlein Tap Room, featuring more than 30 artists and artisans.
Over-The-Rhine’s emergence as a well-documented premier destination for arts, culture, and food & drink marks a drastic turnaround from just a couple of years ago. Credit for this renaissance belongs to the people and institutions of Cincinnati who invested their time, money and effort into OTR’s revitalization. The redevelopment of this district has made OTR, and Cincinnati as a whole, the attractive destination it is today.