25 Things That Were Here When CityBeat Started, but Aren’t Here Anymore

Learning from ghosts

click to enlarge Riverfront Stadium implosion - PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN
Photo: Public Domain
Riverfront Stadium implosion

When the first issue of CityBeat was published in late 1994, Cincinnati was not what it is today. Sure, it was the “Queen City,” a river town on Ohio’s border with Kentucky with a couple of frustrating sports teams and an odd proclivity for meat soup poured over spaghetti and drenched in shredded cheese.

But the city’s neighborhoods, its people, its national reputation and its sense of self have all changed quite a bit — and, in general, for the better. 

Cincinnatians have always had a bit of a chip on their shoulder about the city. But a quarter century ago it seemed like that sense of pride would often be tempered with a big dose of insecurity. We’d insist there was more to the city than detractors knew, but deep down, many of us knew a lot of the reasons for which people dismissed or mocked the city were legit. 

Twenty-five years on, that defensiveness is still there but the insecurity feels lessened because it feels more like the good things about the city outweigh the bad. From our perch here at CityBeat, covering local news, the food scene, arts, culture and more in the city during that period, the change in mentality has been especially noticeable. Cincinnati doesn’t feel as behind the rest of the country as it once did. In many ways we’ve become a progressive city, shedding a lot of the well-earned puritanical image that often made us a laughing stock. 

Looking back on things that were here 25 years ago but are now gone is a good way to gauge how far we’ve come. I’ve been lucky to have a good seat to watch that changeover. It’s not for me to say how much CityBeat has played a part in that change, but I’m proud to have been a part of monitoring it for the last two and half decades, helping to chronicle life in Cincinnati for current and future generations. 

Some of the things that are gone are just buildings, businesses or other local establishments. Some represent a lot more. A lot of it we miss. And some of it gets a hearty, “Good riddance.” 

Riverfront Stadium

The Cincinnati skyline of today wouldn’t be completely unrecognizable to a time traveler from 1994, but it’s quite different. Great American Tower (which opened in 2011) peeks out from behind our two prominent sports stadiums, with the Freedom Center nestled in the middle. But 25 years ago, those stadiums weren’t there. Instead stood the white, saucer-like Cinergy Field (aka Riverfront Stadium), where both the Reds and Bengals played their respective sports on ugly green carpet. 

Riverfront coliseum 

Riverfront Coliseum is still a part of the riverfront skyline, but its name and tenants have changed a lot since the mid-’90s. A sign of the rise of corporate sponsorships of venues, it’s been the Firstar Center, The Crown, U.S. Bank Arena and now the Heritage Bank Center. Sports teams of varying stripes have called the arena home over the past 25 years, playing everything from arena football and indoor soccer to basketball and, of course, hockey (go Cyclones), and the venue still regularly hosts concerts by some of the biggest musical acts that come to town.

The Cincinnati Post

Cincinnati was a two-daily-paper town when CityBeat began. It wasn’t hard to be an “alternative newsweekly” in Cincinnati circa 1994. Though still fairly conservative, The Cincinnati Post was considered the more “liberal” paper, with The Cincinnati Enquirer holding it down for the right wing and, early on at least, being our natural enemy (they famously started their own faux altweekly in the ’00s to essentially attempt to push us out of business). The Post published its final edition on the last day of 2007, an early sign of the gradual decline of print media. If you believe that a daily newspaper is reflective of its readership, The Enquirer is a good example of that, having largely shifted to, at the very least, a more centrist ideology, doing away with much of its editorializing for fear of going the way of its old co-daily buddy.

Everybody’s News 

In 1994, Cincinnati was also a two-altweekly town. Everybody’s News begat CityBeat — co-founder John Fox was Everybody’s News’ editor, but he broke off to create something he hoped would be bigger and better. There were hard feelings when we were both in competition with each other until Everybody’s closed in 1999 after 16 years. But it seems unlikely there would have been a CityBeat without an Everybody’s News. Its place in Cincinnati’s press history looms large, carrying on the tradition of our city’s alt/underground outlets by keeping an eye on the powers that be and pushing the culture forward. 

Citizens for Community Values 

Citizens for Community Values is still technically a thing, but as the city (and the world in general) has evolved, CCV’s power is far less than what it used to be. And it used to be unreasonably powerful. CCV played a huge role in fostering the city’s prudish reputation, launching numerous campaigns against adult entertainment, the arts and the LGBTQ community. The group was the force behind the attempt to shut down a photo exhibit featuring the sexually graphic work of legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the Contemporary Arts Center in the early 1990s. The CCV was also a leader in the campaign to have gay marriage declared unconstitutional in Ohio in 2004. As a progressive, LGBTQ-friendly voice, CityBeat was one of CCV’s favorite targets. In 2008, they got local officials to sign a letter demanding we stop selling ads advertising adult services. CityBeat successfully sued all parties involved and reached a settlement in which they agreed to back the fuck off and let us publish freely. As a sign of their gradual impotence, in 2011, Larry Flynt opened an adult store in downtown Cincinnati (once forbidden thanks to CCV’s efforts). And the city didn’t fall into a pit of fire. 

Sheriff Simon Leis 

Simon Leis was the Hamilton County Sheriff when CityBeat published its first issue. Leis was another leader of the anti-pornography fight, going back to his time as Hamilton County Prosecutor in the ’70s — he famously prosecuted Larry Flynt for “obscenity” in 1977 and as sheriff he declared that controversial Mapplethorpe photo exhibit “criminally obscene.” One of the main faces of Cincinnati’s puritanical crusades, Leis retired in 2012. 

Sudsy Malone’s 

In 1994, the University Heights/Corryville area was the “cool part of town.” The spine of that hipness was Short Vine, a strip of record stores, cheap eats and music venues that made it ground zero of the Cincinnati Alternative/Indie music scene. At the heart of the scene was Sudsy Malone’s, famous for being a bar/laundromat that gave locals like The Afghan Whigs and Ass Ponys a home, while also hosting some of the biggest names on the national Indie/Alt circuit from Superchunk, Neutral Milk Hotel and Sleater-Kinney to Modest Mouse, Jeff Buckley and Beck. Local booking legend Dan McCabe (also a former CityBeat employee who’d go on to create MOTR Pub and Woodward Theater) was responsible for making Sudsy’s both a locally beloved institution as well as a favorite of touring acts (partly because, duh, you could get your laundry done while you played). 

Wizard Records 

Along with Bogart’s, Top Cats, Sub Galley and Daniel’s, Wizard Records was another popular stop on Short Vine in 1994. The shop — which employed a steady stream of local musicians to work the counter — had a couple of spots in the area, all within a few yards of each other (it was next to Bogart’s in ’94, with the Wizard’s Cave around the corner in the store’s original spot selling used stuff). John James (who also wrote the “Yeah Yeah Yeah” music column for CityBeat in the early years) moved the store to Oxford, Ohio in 2000 and closed up shop for good the following year.

Citybeat’s Smoking Lounge 

We weren’t always headquartered at our current home in a six-story building on Race Street. In 1994, CityBeat opened up shop at the Provident Bank building at Seventh and Vine. And at that time, it wasn’t illegal to smoke indoors. Now, it’s a good thing that smoking has become stigmatized and you can no longer light up in an office building where other people work, but in our early years, the CityBeat smoking lounge directly across from the main offices was the place to socialize, at least among the staff smokers (of which there were many early on). With a simple wooden table and a few vending machines, it was a nice opportunity to step away for a few minutes, bond with our colleagues and gossip about our non-smoking bosses (just kidding, John and Dan!). 

The Blue Wisp Jazz Club

Cincinnati has always had a good Jazz scene (though in recent years, with the general decline in interest, things have cooled down a bit). Part of that was/is due to the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, which had/has a great Jazz program that fosters new talent and gives teaching jobs to musicians to keep them in town. But the other big draw for Jazz artists and fans was the Blue Wisp Jazz Club. A breeding ground for the local scene’s greatest players that also hosted international stars, when CityBeat launched, the Wisp was downtown in a cozy basement space along Garfield Place. It bounced around to a couple of different locations until it closed for good in 2014. The Blue Wisp Big Band still plays weekly; they’re currently at Caffè Vivace in Walnut Hills.

The CAC on Fifth Street 

One of the architectural jewels of downtown is the Contemporary Arts Center’s Zaha Hadid-designed building at the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets. But before moving there in 2003, the CAC was tucked into a much smaller space across from the bus stops at Government Square, above a Walgreens and at the end of an under-used “mini-mall.” It still managed to host world-class exhibits, including that infamous Mapplethorpe show. We love the current CAC, but there was something cool and cozy about that little spot on Fifth Street. 

The King Cobra and The Vortex

Our renowned local amusement park in Mason has remained relatively intact since opening in the ’70s. But there have been some notable changes, including the closure of a pair of beloved Kings Island rollercoasters. In 1994, you could still ride the King Cobra, the first real stand-up coaster in the world. After 17 years, it shut down in 2001. More recently, another ride there 25 years ago, the Vortex, was also shuttered. Its last ride was in October after a 32-year run. 

Larry Gross

Larry Gross was 40 years old in 1994 and while he wasn’t yet a member of CityBeat’s staff, he was very much a part of the Cincinnati scene, working (I believe) at a downtown furniture store and doing volunteer work for AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati. But he’d soon become a big part of CityBeat’s history. He first came aboard in the ’90s as our gruff-but-loveable accountant, later asking editor John Fox if he could give writing a shot. He did and was a natural — his “slice of life” column “Living Out Loud” became one of the most popular things to ever run in CityBeat. And his conversational-yet-organically-poetic style of prose was one of the paper’s clearest connections to the pioneering altweeklies and underground papers that paved the way for CityBeat. Our hearts collectively broke when Larry died unexpectedly in 2015 at the age of 61. 

Jeff Blake

In 1994, a month before CityBeat’s first issue, the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting quarterback David Klingler went down with a season-ending injuring, leaving the team with an 0-7 record. In came flashy young quarterback, Jeff Blake, who gave fans hope for the future. “Shake-N-Blake” led the team to a 3-13 record, but in 1995, Blake went to the Pro Bowl — even though the Bengals finished 7-9. Blake had a decent 1996 season but the Bengals had convinced Boomer Esiason not to retire and he ended up returning to the team and starting in the second half of the season. Esiason quit playing the following year to go into broadcasting because he was offered more money. Blake left in 1999 after doing back-up duties for two more years and his era became one of many bungled and mismanaged moments in the team’s miserable history. 

Ed Stern

In 1994, Ed Stern was just two years into his role as artistic director for the renowned Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Coming aboard during a rough patch for the theater (financially and artistically), Stern ended up guiding the Playhouse through some of the theater’s most successful years. The Playhouse earned national recognition for its productions and premieres and, in the ’00s, it won a pair of Regional Theatre Tony Awards. Stern, who left the Playhouse in 2013, died this year at the age of 72. 

Myra's Dionysus

It’s a damn shame that University of Cincinnati students will never get to experience the glory of Myra’s Dionysus, a small restaurant across from campus that sat on the bottom floor of an apartment building on Calhoun Street. From fantastic coffee and desserts to Mediterranean specialty offerings, homemade soup and many vegan/vegetarian options, the wildly-affordable restaurant had the bohemian ambiance of old Clifton, before the Calhoun/McMicken strip got all slicked up with chain restaurants and a Target. 

WOXY

If they had a decent radio antenna, CityBeat’s founding staffers could listen to WOXY, aka 97X, the beloved Oxford, Ohio-based station that was one of our area’s leading purveyors of Alternative music, years before that style would break big. We didn’t just love WOXY because they were advertisers from the get-go — its playlists mirrored CityBeat’s music coverage, with a dedication to local music and the weird things mainstream stations wouldn’t touch. After being sold in 2004, 97X went internet-only and still maintained a dedicated fanbase (with listeners all over the world), but in 2010, the station went dark. 

Marge Schott

Marge Schott is one of the best-known Cincinnatians of the 20th century — and she often wasn’t such a great representative of the Queen City. By 1994, Schott — part owner, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Reds — was embroiled in one controversy after another. Most of the controversies were centered around racist statements. She seemed to use the N-word a lot, including when talking about “her” players. She also reportedly collected Nazi memorabilia. Not a great mix. In a 1996 interview with Sports Illustrated, Schott praised Hitler and eventually was banned by the MLB from day-to-day operations. She left the team in 1999. 

Kaldi's Coffee House

A year before CityBeat’s debut, Kaldi's Coffee House opened up and became the heart of the arts scene in Over-the-Rhine. Coffee, drinks and a great casual food menu made it a go-to spot for the artsy set, many who lived in OTR. Kaldi’s ambiance was also a big draw — dark, often filled with not-too-loud live music and enclosed by walls of used books (which patrons could buy). The beloved hangout shut down at the end of 2008. 

Main Street 1994

Kaldi's was the anchor of a very odd strip of Main Street in OTR circa 1994. Along with the artists, writers and musicians that frequented were longtime residents, who all peacefully co-existed. When college students and people from the suburbs dared to venture into Over-the-Rhine, Main Street was the only place they felt safe thanks to the two or three popular dance clubs in the area at the time. It made for an odd mix on the weekends, but it was a great people-watching opportunity, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays after closing time. 

This Modern World 

Sadly, CityBeat stopped running the great Tom Tomorrow comic This Modern World a few years back due to belt-tightening budgetary concerns. But there it was on page 4 of Issue 1 of the paper, mocking the far-right with typical altweekly flair. We still miss Sparky the penguin. And Tomorrow’s cutting satire and commentary (though he’s thankfully easy to find elsewhere online).

Bob Huggins

Cincinnati sports legend Bob Huggins was five years into his career as head coach of the University of Cincinnati basketball team in 1994. In the modern era, outside of perhaps Reds icon Sparky Anderson, it’s hard to imagine a more popular coach than Huggy Bear was in Cincinnati. (OK, maybe not among Xavier fans.) Huggins turned the team around and into a national powerhouse, making it to the Final Four and two Elite Eights. Huggins was forced out in 2005 by then-UC President Nancy Zimpher and has continued his Hall of Fame career at his alma mater, West Virginia University. 

The Real Movies 

Before the burgeoning new Cincinnati Shakespeare Company took its place, the theater at 719 Race St. was a repertory cinema. In 1994, it was called The Real Movies, showing the latest indie flicks, classics and “midnight movie” faves. When CityBeat’s first issue dropped, Killing Zoe and the brand new The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert were being shown. The theater closed in 1998. 

Jimmy Buffett as the Biggest Entertainment Event of the Year

In 1994, if you only consumed mainstream local media, you’d think that Jimmy Buffett was the biggest entertainment event of the year, every year. His visits to Cincinnati were treated like Mardi Gras, though if you were reading CityBeat — which offered endless other local arts, cultural and social options (and our occasional anti-Parrothead rants) — you knew better. Buffett is still a big deal when he comes to town, but these days most non-Boomer locals know better than to believe it’s the unequivocal “party of the year.” 

Analog-only CityBeat

An analog-only CityBeat is now — mercifully — a distant memory. When the paper started, there was no citybeat.com and, of course, no social media. We did all of our research physically — press kits for movies and music came in the mail and you’d have to check facts with books and phone calls. For a while we had one “internet computer” we shared in the office. And we meticulously cut and pasted — again, physically — the pages of the paper onto boards that were driven to the printer. It’s easy to take for granted just how much more efficient the publishing/journalism world has become in the digital age. And it’s a weird irony that by the time the industry had endless resources at its fingertips, our digital selves — and digital outside forces — were starting to eat print media out of the marketplace. Nevertheless, we persist.  

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