Probably the three greatest advances in the sports world in the last 100 years are the curve ball, the protective cup and the sports bar. And since most of us at CityBeat can't throw a decent breaking ball and the cup is the most uncomfortable piece of plastic we've ever met, today we'll focus on the sports bar.
Cincinnati is a great sports town, with its rare combination of two professional big-league teams, a handful of noted collegiate teams, some minor league teams scattered around the area and a nearly unrivaled love for high school sports.
But it's also a great drinking town thanks to its German heritage and its surplus of watering holes tucked into every nook and cranny.
Is it any wonder, then, that you could practically throw a softball in any direction on any corner of the Tristate and hit a sports bar?
We wandered the city to find not just where to go to watch the big game — which is essentially the first and most obvious sign of a good sports bar — but also to find the places that show the not-so-big games; the bars that let you participate in a sporting event; the joints to hit after attending the big game; the unofficial fan zones for transplant Cincinnatians who root root root against the home team; the bars where you're most likely to run into a pro athlete; and the best places to get away from all things sports. Because whether you're an athlete or an athletic supporter, everyone needs a break from sports every once in a while.
Best Bars to Watch the Big Game
Informal polling concluded quickly that the best sports bars in the area are those with plenty of televisions — preferably high def, thank you very much — and with enough ambience to keep you in the sporting mood even when the big game is over.
Champions (Western Hills) and Holy Grail West (Covedale) represented the best West Side options. Especially Champions for its Monday Night Football deal, which includes Trotta's Pizza at halftime. Score!
Mulligan's (Hyde Park) and O'Bryon's (O'Bryonville) were the top choices to the east. To the north, the new Willie's in Deerfield Township and Rick's Tavern in Fairfield were stand-outs.
And for those looking for a drink and a game across the river, Arnie's in Newport and Dickmann's in Fort Wright were popular choices.
Two other sports bars deserve honorable mention. Butterbee's in Mount Orab was deemed a great place for those on the far east side (and being in Mount Orab, you could understand why they need a drink). Shimmer's in Park Hills was also a pretty great place to take in a game, especially on UK game nights.
Best Bars to Watch Unusual Sports
Any old bar can (and does) put on the Reds game on any given night and call itself a sports bar. But what about those less traditional televised events? Nowadays, if there's a niche audience, there’s probably a niche sports bar for them.
To wit: If you like soccer (or the real football, depending on where you're from), you can go to Hap's Irish Pub (Hyde Park) and be assured that the best matchup is playing on their screens. Especially if Ireland is involved. Confirmed reports say that Hap's was the place to be during the World Cup a few years ago, with matches often starting at 3 a.m.
Molly Malone's in Pleasant Ridge is another logical choice for the Gaelic sports. Plus there's the Guinness. What's not to like?
For those who like their sport slightly more civilized, local bars have embraced Ultimate Fighting with open arms and a scissor kick. The various BW3s and Hooters are particularly good, with a special nod to the Mason BW3. Word has it you have to get there an hour before a fight to get a seat.
Less commercial but no less enthusiastic places to watch a good UFC fight are Head First Café (Downtown) and The Black Sheep (Cheviot).
If your tastes are less traditional still, you might like the following: Win, Place or Show (Montgomery) for televised horseracing (duh); the Car Rock (Blue Ash) for NASCAR; and the Gypsy Hut (Northside) for American Gladiator. Yeah, you read that right.
Best Bars to Participate in Sport
Sports bars aren't all passive spectating. There are also bars to visit and participate in the sporting process. And of course they'll serve you an adult beverage before, during and after to refresh you. Everyone knows about pool, so we'll leave that aside for now.
Darts? Check out Maloney's Pub (Delhi), Murphy's Pub in Clifton Heights, Fries Cafe in Clifton and Silverton Café. Each boasts superior set-ups and great weekly leagues.
Bocce ball? Two great options in the area are Christy's (Clifton Heights) and Pompilio's (Newport). CityBeat disclaimer: If your friends are anything like ours, do not start a game after midnight or after five group pitchers. You could take a boccino in the side of the head.
Cornhole is 21st century pool, with seemingly every bar offering a free set of boards. But special props should be given to Cheviot Sports Bar, whose indoor set-up is unmatched.
West Eighth Gardens (Price Hill) goes even further, offering a killer horseshoe set-up. When asked why they stick with that when cornhole is all the rage, a patron stated frankly: "Because cornhole is for pussies."
Best Bars for Post-Game
Until the Banks Working Group starts, um, working, you're practically forced to hop in your car after a Reds or Bengals game to keep the spirits flowing. The In-Between and Game Day are downtown exceptions, but they're good mostly because they're close.
Designate a driver and hop over to the Cock N Bull (Covington) for superior post-game libations, or keep the crowd and boisterous yelling alive by stopping by the Hofbrauhaus (Newport). No one's going to cut you off in the seventh inning over there.
Official and Unofficial Fan Zones
Chances are good that if you're a fan of an out of town team you already know about the double-secret, hush-hush locations where you can go and root against the home team. But we offer this as a public service to those unfamiliar, so you don't stumble in by mistake.
Martino's (Corryville) is a Pittsburgh Steelers mecca. Willie's in Covington tends to attract a Cleveland contingent. And Ticket's Sports Bar (Covington) is the place to go to back the Green Bay Packers.
For Crosstown Shootout fanatics, there's Dana Gardens (for Norwood XU fans) and Holy Grail (for Corryville Bearcat fans).
Best Bars to Run Into a Pro Athlete (and Size Him/Her Up in the Restroom
If you can afford to regularly drink in the same places as pro athletes, then more power to you. For the rest of us, just keep an eye out when you're in J. Alexander's (Norwood), Bang (Downtown), the Montgomery Inn Boathouse (Downtown) and any establishment owned by Jeff Ruby. Mt. Adams Bar and Grill is a less known athlete hangout, and O'Malley's in the Alley (Downtown) is one of the best-kept secrets for running into the visiting team's players during the baseball season.
Top Anti-Sports Bars
Difficult as it is to fathom, there are times when you just have to get away from all things sport. Maybe the bullpen just blew the lead (again), or maybe your favorite Bengal fumbled the ball away on what should have been the winning drive.
Times like that, you want to be assured you're not in a bar where the replays will haunt you on every channel every five minutes. No worries.
Head to The Comet in Northside to hear a great, loud band. Take your frustrations out by belting a grunge anthem at karaoke night at the Universal Grille (Downtown). Or just sit and chill on the idyllic patio behind the Blind Lemon (Mount Adams). When you're ready to return to the sports world, there’s always a bar nearby to oblige. ©