Summer is coming. And — considering weather has already climbed to 90 degrees in Cincinnati — so is glistening, annoying sweat. Despite the activities often advertised for summer fun (i.e., water parks, public pools, Popsicles, sunbathing, traveling to somewhere even hotter), some of us just want to take advantage of the finest advancement in modern human history: air conditioning.
It may make us spoiled, but it beats sleeping in a pile of your own filth. Stay cool this summer with some top-notch, breezy, indoor activities that stray from the norm.
American Sign Museum
The American Sign Museum — the largest public sign museum in America — “promotes sign preservation and restoration by displaying nearly 100 years of signage.” Get lost in the ads and landmarks of yesteryear. Winding pathways of colorful signage give way to a mocked-up Main Street, with faux storefronts, cobblestone and giant logos from Howard Johnson, McDonald’s and Marshall Field. From roadside nostalgia and a looming Big Boy to pharmacy signs and gas station markers, the flashing lights, buzzing electricity and rotating wonders are almost a sensory overload. Almost. Find neon and hand-painted signs, illuminated clocks, embossed signs and more. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday; guided tours 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. $15 adult; $10 senior/student/youth/military; free children 12 and under. 1330 Monmouth Ave., Camp Washington, americansignmuseum.org.
Queen City Clay
Become one with the earth, not by taking a hike, but by slingin’ clay on wheels. Queen City Clay offers family sessions on the first and third Saturday of every month. Staff will guide kids (if they’re under 12 they must be accompanied by an adult) through the whole process, from shaping clay to glazing it and firing it in the kiln.
The second and fourth Saturday of every month is for the adults. Bring some pals or a date and BYOB. The staff will teach you how to make your own pots — and it’s an excuse to get your hands a little dirty sans the shame. Each class is $30 (keepsake and fond memories included!).
If splatting paint is more your speed, don’t fret — they offer that, too ($7 plus the price of the pottery). Make an already fired piece your own with a splash of color in whatever design you wish. If you’re looking to pick up a cool new hobby this summer, they also offer various classes to hone (or discover) your skill. Check the classes calendar for dates, times and detailed pricing. 3130 Wasson Road, Oakley, queencityclay.com.
Maneki Neko (‘Lucky Cat’) Museum
In Japanese, Maneki Neko literally translates to “beckoning cat.” And, the appearance of these kitty talismans are just that: Typically depicted as a calico Japanese bobtail, if the right paw is raised, expect good fortune; if it’s the left paw, you may see monetary gain. You may have noticed the figurines sitting in the parlors of Japanese restaurants, stores and businesses across the city (and the world). And this museum has over a 1,000 of these little dudes, all waving at onlookers.
The Lucky Cat Museum is located on a first-floor space inside the Essex Studios — glass displays stretch across the walls, containing various styles, colors and sizes of the cats. Some are golden, others white with red ears and a green bib. Some don black fur or are chipped. Some are stuffed, others ceramic and plastic. There are some wacky ones, too. All of them, however, carry a certain charm.
The owner of the unique gem, Micha Robertson, also work a Cappel’s costume shop (a neighbor of CityBeat). Take a stroll on Race Street or visit the museum and you’re likely to stumble upon her car. Fittingly, it’s painted like the Catbus from Studio Ghibli flick My Neighbor Totoro.
Robertson started her collection over a decade ago but opened the now-loved museum (the only one of its kind in America) in 2012.
If you’re into cats (if you’re not — who are you?) or just want some luck thrown your way, visit the thousand Maneki Nekos to ward off the heat. 3-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Donations encouraged. 2511 Essex Place No. 150, Walnut Hills, luckycatmewseum.com.
Learn more about the pale blue dot we live in at the Cincinnati Observatory. As late astronomer Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Get humbled by space with a visit to the observatory, founded in the 19th century. While the center looks to preserve its heritage — it is home to the oldest public telescope in the country — it also promotes “the study and practice of 21st-century astronomy and science.”
Look to the stars no matter your age: they have events for K-12, college and full-fledged adults. Here, the intricacies of the galaxy become a little more tangible, even though the full scope may never be known.
You can sign up for a variety of classes over the summer; in one, uncover the mysteries of the sun; in another, explore our nearest star with safety-approved solar viewing. Go to places not yet known by humankind or take a jaunt around the solar system. Plus, there are multiple events happening nearly every week this summer vacay, from wine tastings to book signings. Space is awesome, and (unlike reruns of ’60s Star Trek) you can view it in high-def. Noon-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday; evenings and weekends by appointment; special times for events. Prices vary depending on program. 3489 Observatory Place, Mount Lookout, cincinnatiobservatory.org.
Vent Haven Museum
The Vent Haven Museum is the only ventriloquism museum in existence, and there are 900 specimens to marvel at.
Founder W.S. Berger spent 40 years building his massive collection of dummies, puppets, photos, scripts, memorabilia, playbills, posters, recordings and more. His personal amassment went public in 1973 and has been open to explore ever since. The ventriloquism dummies are from the past three centuries, and attract tourists worldwide. Snuggled in suburban Fort Mitchell, it’s an oddity you have to see to fully appreciate and to soak in all the history of a once-popular artform.
And hey, it’s so quirky that it has been featured in The New York Times, Slate and NPR.
They have bulging eyes, painted faces, stretched grins and they’re ready for you. To visit. Yeah, they’re ready for you to visit. And you should, it’s literally one-of-a-kind and right in the Queen City’s backyard. The museum is open by appointment or via their new Tuesday tours. 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. most Tuesdays from May to September; other tours by appointment. $10 per person donation encouraged. 33 W. Maple Ave., Fort Mitchell, Ky., venthaven.org.
The origins of Arcade Legacy’s flagship location feels like imagery derived from a post-apocalyptic video game: To enter, customers must first walk through the nearly-abandoned Forest Fair Mall (now known as Cincinnati Mills). The halls are dimly lit and the footfalls of die-hard mall-walkers can be heard above. Sculptures of fish dangle, and hollowed-out, abandoned storefronts gape at passersby. Outside the empty food court, humanity is found in Arcade Legacy’s 7,600-square-foot shop.
Neon screens greet gamers of all kinds, waiting to delve into the 16-bit haven. There are over 70 arcade games and 20 classic and current gaming consoles (with giant screens to play on). Remember playing Rock Band in the mid-2000s? Revisit that moment. Play a classic, like Pac-Man. Or, become a master at Jubeat, a highly-addictive Japanese rhythm game. Groove to Dance Dance Revolution or beat your foes in a Super Smash Bros tournament. Ten dollars gets you unlimited play, so this virtual world is yours to explore.
If you’re a Northern Kentucky native, a new location in Newport just opened up. Want to drink booze and channel your inner Teenage Mutant Turtle by noshing on a hot dog? Check out the Arcade Legacy: Bar Edition in Northside. Either way, it’s an uber-hip way to serve your inner geek. Hours vary by location. Cincinnati Mall, 662 Cincinnati Mills Drive, Forest Fair; Newport, 1765 Monmouth St., Newport; Bar Edition, 3929 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, arcadelegacyohio.com.
Cincinnati Axe Throwing
Game of Thrones fans and aspiring lumberjacks: There’s finally a place in Cincinnati to let you live all your axe-wielding fantasies. Cincinnati Axe Throwing in West Chester invites anyone 15 years or older to chuck a 1.5-pound wood-and-metal axe at a target.
Axes are sharp, so sessions at this indoor sporting range start with education. The first half-hour of your experience is spent with an expert who will teach you how to handle an axe and the sport’s safety precautions. Then, trained staff are in the arena at all times to monitor you, monitor the safety of your session and make sure you aren’t being a moron.
Sessions are an hour-and-a-half long and you play three team-style games, ending with an individual competition called “Survivor,” where the winner is named the Lumberlord.
You can even bring your own snacks — but alcohol is prohibited. As a bonus, there are themed on-site escape rooms in case throwing an axe doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping. Customer Service Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets start at $28. 4814 Peter Place B., West Chester, cincinnatiaxe.com.
Some of us go on vacation in the summer. Others flock to Lazer Kraze, suit up and run into a black-light lit room armed with a laser gun. Broken into two teams, it’s likely you’ll play a stranger (even if you arrive with a group of friends). Yes, a devious little kid will probably sneak out from behind a wall, point his gun, stick out his tongue and target you for the entirety of the game. And yes, I’m speaking from experience (group specials are also available).
The divvied-up battlefield actually becomes intense; each time you’re shot, your scores gets lower. It’s about the same as playing a round of Splatoon, except one takes place virtually and the other in real life.
Take your kids or feel like a kid again. You deserve to get lost in a world where rooms are swathed in neon and action music makes you feel like Liam Neeson from Taken. 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $8. 1335 Donaldson Road, Erlanger, Ky., lazerkraze.com.