Best Of 2016

2016 Urban Life Staff Picks: Cincinnati's best urban life destinations as selected by CityBeat staff.

Charley Harper's "Space Walk" Mural at the Convention Center

BEST CHARLEY HARPER REDISCOVERY
In 1987, someone dry-walled over a 1970s tile mural by famous Cincinnati artist Charley Harper at the Duke Energy Convention Center. Why someone would do that will likely remain a mystery. But thanks to renovations at the convention center in 2014, the colorful mural titled “Space Walk” was re-discovered. The 30,000-tile mural, valued at more than $1 million, breaks the wildlife mold of most of Harper’s work — it was inspired by Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Its restoration was completed last November. Another public Harper mural, “Space for all Species,” is on display in the John Weld Peck Federal Building, also downtown. Duke Energy Convention Center, 525 Elm St., Downtown, 513-419-7300, duke-energycenter.com.


BEST THING NOT TO FORGET YOU RENTED
Now with 50 locations ranging from Northside to Newport, the Red Bike program is available mostly where you need it. At just $8 a day or $80 annually, it’s a very affordable way to have access to a bike at all times — just don’t forget to check it in every 60 minutes, or the late fees start piling up fast. You’ll shell out $4 for each additional 30 minutes past the check-in mark, up to $20 a day. If you somehow lose the bike entirely, it will set you back $1,200. Red Bike, 513-621-2453, cincyredbike.org.

BEST WAY TO DRINK WITH WILD ANIMALS

Open since 1875, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is one of the top zoos in the nation, and it’s not just because we have cute baby gorillas. The zoo has a specific focus on education, sustainability and preservation. In fact, the team at the zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Animals (CREW), founded in 1986, birthed the first Sumatran rhino calf bred in captivity in 112 years (there are only about 100 left in the wild). They also work to protect polar bears, small cats, rare plants and other endangered and threatened wildlife. And all that takes money, which is why the zoo’s cleverly titled and sometimes painfully punny fundraising events are some of the best and most exclusive parties in town. You can’t go wrong with the fun of mixing wild animal encounters and alcohol at the almost-always-sold-out Toast to the Wild events like Zootini, Wild About Wine and Zoo Brew. Each features themed drinks, behind-the-scenes tours, lite bites, music and special animal guests, all while raising funds for CREW and other zoo efforts. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, 3400 Vine St., Avondale, 513-281-4700, cincinnatizoo.org/events.

BEST REASON TO UNPLUG AND SHUT UP FOR A SECOND
In a world where it’s not uncommon to be staring at some type of screen — computer, TV or phone — for at least three-quarters of your waking hours, constantly bombarded by a rapid succession of audio-visual stimuli, it’s easy to forget the universe exists outside of your iPhone. City Silence, a locally based international network, hopes to reconnect people to themselves and their community through barrier-free introductions to meditation and mindfulness practices. The free events have taken place locally at public spaces like Washington Park, the downtown library and the Contemporary Arts Center and ask that people sit for a few minutes (or more) in silence, unplugged from all digital devices. The goal is to notice what you smell, hear, taste and feel and become present in the moment, turning on your human capacity for stillness, wonder, focus, creativity, compassion and awe. City Silence, citysilence.org.

BEST NEW BACKYARD BAR
Last summer, before the All-Star Game, Washington Park opened a new feature: an awesome elevated bar and deck, nestled underneath some shady trees between the dog park and spray ground. The 3,000-square-foot space features comfortable and colorful Adirondack chairs and other lounge seating, plus a full bar: beer, wine, liquor and local drafts, including MadTree, Moerlein, Taft’s Ale House and Rhinegeist. It’s an excellent addition to OTR’s “backyard,” and a great space to grab a beer on weekends. Deck opens April 1. Washington Park, 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, washingtonpark.org.

BEST INTERACTIVE QUEEN CITY RADIO HOUR
At 1 p.m. every weekday, Mark Heyne takes over 91.7 WVXU to bring you Cincinnati Edition, an hour-long radio show that covers relevant regional topics ranging from arts and culture to technology, start-ups, health, business and politics. The interviews are more than just sound bites and go in depth on recent topics including the revitalization of Price Hill, water pollution, child sex trafficking, homesteading and more — things relevant to our life here and the world abroad. The show also invites you to join the discussion by calling in or via Facebook and Twitter. WVXU, wvxu.org.

BEST SIGN THAT DOGS ARE NOT SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS

Emotional Support Animal truthers everywhere are up in arms about the lack of organization and federal regulation necessary to turn Chihuahuas into therapy dogs — just because they look cute in a harness with official-looking patches and can fit in a plane seat with you doesn’t necessarily mean they are in any way qualified to offer medical support. But the good news is that local businesses are starting to catch on to the fact that people want to take their dogs everywhere with them. Plenty of bar and restaurant patios are already pup-friendly, including those at MadTree, Braxton, The Littlefield, Dutch’s, Cock & Bull, Keystone Bar & Grill, Hang Over Easy, BrewRiver GastroPub and more. If you have a dog that’s well behaved and on a leash, and the place has a patio, you can probably bring it — just call first to make sure. And many urban boutiques are now OK with canine companions, too. Heck, some, like Article, Hi-Bred Vintage and Grainwell, even have shop dogs.

BEST NEW WAY TO LOVE AN OLD BUILDING
Armed with a grant from People’s Liberty and inspired by their own projects, Cincinnatians John Blatchford (general contractor and board member of the Over the Rhine Museum) and Alyssa McClanahan (a PhD candidate in history at the University of Cincinnati) launched KUNST Magazine, a quarterly print and online publication, last summer. Taking its name from the German word for “art,” KUNST specializes in long-form stories about renovations of the city’s historic buildings, as well as the people who love them, featuring how-to tips from developers, artists, designers and preservationists that are as high-quality as its pages. The magazine also details some of KUNST’s own management and renovation projects, like the Tailor Shop OTR, a three-apartment restoration of a former 1870s tailor shop. The magazine’s April edition will be available at 21c Museum Hotel, Findlay Market’s DIRT, GOODS on Main and the Taft Museum of Art. Kunst, kunst.us.

BEST PEOPLE HELPING EVERYDAY PEOPLE MAKE A CHANGE
Philanthropic lab People’s Liberty is a sort of positive creative urban hub throwing out dollars at everyday people with great ideas to change the city through art, tech, science, history, music and even tiny houses. Their three levels of funding — the Haile Fellowship, two one-year $100,000 civic sabbatical grants; Project Grants, eight bi-annual $10,000 grants for innovative community development projects; and Globe Grants, three $15,000 grants to transform PL’s storefront Globe Gallery into a pop-up exhibit — are improving the city by making funding available to all people, not just nonprofits or established organizations. So far, they’ve funded local music licensing companies, public dance projects, interactive urban history exhibits, mobile art experiences, app developers and everything in between. Powered by a blend of the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation and the Johnson Foundation, they have five years of funding to change the state of the city and empower you to be part of it. The fall Project Grant application dates will be announced soon. People’s Liberty, 1805 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-492-2659, peoplesliberty.org.

BEST WAY TO PRETEND YOU’RE RIDING A STREETCAR

While we wait for the streetcar to officially open in September, we can still enjoy its 3.6-mile loop by walking it. Stops on the route, which connects The Banks to northern OTR, include popular attractions and a bevy of bars and restaurants; one could even make a Saturday of it, pretending to be a streetcar by embarking on the following quest:

  • 10 a.m. Start your morning with a cup of coffee at the Collective CAC Café inside the Contemporary Arts Center and explore Passage, Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s delicate fabric installation exhibit (museum admission is now free!).
  • 11:30 a.m. Stop for brunch at Taste of Belgium on the corner of 12th and Vine streets — a McWaffle and frites?
  • 12:30 p.m. Check out the action at Washington Park. Maybe there’s a City Flea or other festival, or grab a MadTree on the new concessions deck.
  • 1:30 p.m. Head to Findlay Market to pick up some late-afternoon picnic supplies. Blue Oven bread, cheese from Gibb’s, cold cuts from Silverglades and deli salads from Fresh Table.
  • 2:30 p.m. Continue down Elm Street to Rhinegeist. Climb up to the new rooftop deck and grab a Cougar from one of the 64 taps.
  • 4 p.m. If there’s a Reds game tonight, you could walk your ass all the way down to Smale Riverfront Park at The Banks and enjoy your packed picnic and swing on the riverfront Rosenberg Swings.
  • 6 p.m. Stop into the Moerlein Lager House for some pre-game tailgating and brews.
  • 7:10 p.m. Reds.
  • 10 p.m. Uber.

BEST WAY TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR WILD SIDE
The Wolf Creek Habitat and Rescue in Brookville, Ind. can fulfill your desires of hanging out up close and personal with wolves. The sanctuary, which is only open on weekends, allows visitors to roam and pet all the wolves they want for a suggested donation of $30. If you’re feeling like more of an extended stay, there’s also the option to camp or rent a tipi on the property. Yes, that’s right. You can stay in a tipi on the same grounds as a pack of wolves. Also, if you’re short on engagement photo ideas or just looking to update your LinkedIn profile pic, Wolf Creek offers the option of scheduling a photo op with a wolf. Just throwing it out there. Wolf Creek Habitat and Rescue, 14099 Wolf Creek Road, Brookville, Ind., 513-312-9143, wolfcreekhabitat.org.

BEST WAY TO LEGALLY TRESPASS

For one weekend in June, the East Row Garden Club’s garden walk allows participants to snoop though Newport residents’ private gardens. Outsiders are allowed to spend five hours wandering through gardens most likely much more impressive than their own on the grounds of homes in the East Row Historic District, full of Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and American Foursquare architecture from the area’s wealthy 19th-century residents. Visitors can use this special time to collect ideas and inspiration (but not actual flowers) for their own gardens. The walk celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. East Row Garden Club, eastrowgardenclub.org.

BEST EXCUSE TO DRINK BEFORE NOON

For those who excel more at drinking than exercising, an early morning 8-mile run might sound terrible. But put beer at the finish line and, well, that’s another story. The annual Hudepohl 14K Brewery Run weaves past some of the city’s oldest breweries, ending with the kickoff to Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Each participant who crosses the finish line gets two beers, a Skyline cheese coney and the satisfaction of burning some of the mass amount of calories to be consumed during the rest of the day. And if a 14K is really out of reach, there’s also a 7K. Takes place in September. Hudy 14K Brewery Run, hudy14krun.com.

BEST ATTRACTION ANTICIPATED BY EVANGELICALS

Answers in Genesis, the nonprofit group behind the Creation Museum, is building a $34 million dollar ark — Noah-style. The Ark Encounter, located 40 miles south of the controversial museum, will be a 510-foot-long and 50-foot-tall project that is just as much a theme park as it is an attempt by Evangelicals to prove that one man really could build a giant boat and fill it with every type of animal out there. The ark is set to open to the public this coming July. For a sneak peek and details of this odd attraction, check out the ark’s progress through the video updates on its website. Ark Encounter, 1000 Eibeck Lane, Williamstown, Ky., arkencounter.com.

Pieces on display at the Maneki Neko Museum
Photo: Jesse Fox

BEST PLACE TO GET LUCKY
The Lucky Cat Museum, at first glance, looks like paradise for crazy cat ladies. The tiny Walnut Hills museum inside Essex Art Studios is run by Micha Robertson and features nearly a thousand maneki neko cats in all shapes and sizes — traditional Tokoname style, in plush, as Hello Kitty, on key chains, even as nail clippers and telephones. The Japanese beckoning cats or lucky cats, depicted with one paw waving, are symbols of luck in Japan, summoning money and good fortune. Stocking up on a couple of these knick-knacks just in case might not hurt, and there are several available in the gift shop. The museum is open during Essex Art Walks and by appointment. Lucky Cat Museum, 2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills, 513-633-3923, manekinekomuseum.com.

BEST WAY TO SLEEP AT CITY HALL

Here’s an option for history buffs, political junkies or those who like to sleep in buildings that used to be other things: Last summer, the locally based Salyers Group and Chicago’s Aparium Hotel Group announced that they would be transforming Covington’s old city hall (and former Coppin’s Department Store) into Hotel Covington, to be opened in summer 2016. The project came as a victory against naysayers who didn’t think such a big development on Madison Avenue could be done. The boutique hotel will feature 114 rooms as well as a restaurant, bar and patio — all things most current city halls could surely also benefit from. Hotel Covington, 638 Madison Ave. Covington, Ky., aparium.com/hotels/the-hotel-covington.

Ceasar in a Corvette on Carol Ann's Carousel at Smale Riverfront Park
Photo: Jesse Fox

BEST CAROUSEL TO RIDE IN INCELEMENT WEATHER
Carol Ann’s Carousel at Smale Riverfront Park is a 6,300-square-foot carousel with 42 hand-carved Cincy-centric animal characters on which to ride. The glass-enclosed attraction, which opened last summer, is rain- and snow-resistant, making it a whimsical year-round pleasure… because the joy of riding Martha the last passenger pigeon, a queen bee or the Findlay Market pig around in circles diminishes significantly if you’re being pelted in the face with rain. Smale Riverfront Park, 100 W. Mehring Way, Downtown, 513-357-2621, mysmaleriverfrontpark.org.

BEST HIDDEN SPRAYGROUND

With a view of Cincinnati’s famous bridges and the Serpentine Wall, the Armeleder Memorial Sprayground at the mile-long riverfront Sawyer Point Park is a scenic space filled with fountains tall enough to shower any human from head to toe, with additional tiny fountains spurting from the ground for the little ones. It’s a nice alternative to the crowded scene at Washington Park. Plus, when it’s time to dry off, you can rent a four-wheel Surrey bike for a riverfront ride. Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, 513-352-6180, cincinnatiparks.com.

BEST ALTERNATIVE GUIDED CINCINNATI HISTORY TOUR

The Queen City History Saloon Tour series is Cincinnati’s underground underground tour. Its 90-minute walking tours presented by consulting firm Queen City History and Education Ltd. tend to mix a healthy dose of history with facts about booze. Options include Dr. Morgan’s Hangover Relief Tour and Arnold’s Brothels, Bootleggers and Booze Tour. Tours start at Washington Platform and weave through downtown and OTR as groups discuss immigration, ethnic conflicts during the 1800s and Cincinnati’s alcohol history. Some tours also include visits to the city’s old underground lagering tunnels and malt oven cellars. Queen City History, queencityhistory.com.

Mount Airy Forest’s public treehouse
Photo: Stephanie Mathena

BEST PUBLIC TREE HOUSE
For those who strongly believe treehouses aren’t just for kids, there is a place for you in Mount Airy Forest, and it’s called Everybody’s Treehouse. The wheelchair-accessible structure — the only treehouse like it in Ohio — was built in 2006. It was the vision of then-WCPO reporter Michael Flannery, who worked with the Parks Foundation, Cincinnati Rotary and Forever Young Treehouses to build this childhood nook for all. Bring a book or some friends and enjoy this magical public space year-round. Mount Airy Forest, 5083 Colerain Ave., Mount Airy, 513-541-8176, cincinnatiparks.com.

BEST TRAINING GROUND FOR FUTURE IRON CHEFS

If you’re tired of your kids complaining about your cooking, you might want to send them to the Junior Chef Institute at Gabriel’s Place to learn to make their own damn dinner. The program runs for eight weeks in the summer, teaching kids how to cook awesome dishes out of basic stuff they can find in their own cupboards. It was started in 2013 by chef Kristen St. Clair, who was both frustrated with high schoolers’ lack of culinary competence and inspired by her own childhood in the kitchen. The kids learn to plan, prep and execute full healthy dishes that will, hopefully, end up on your kitchen table. Gabriel’s Place, 3618 Reading Road, Avondale, 513-221-2306, gabrielsplace.diosohio.org.

Cincy Summer Streets
Photo: via Facebook

BEST USE OF LARGE PUBLIC SPACES IN THE SUMMER
Cincy Summer Streets encourages Cincinnatians to get out and enjoy the weather by creating car-free city spaces with what feels like every activity under the sun.During three different days in Walnut Hills, Northside and Over-the-Rhine, you can run, stretch, hula hoop, dance, draw on the pavement, climb a wall, ferment vegetables, play Jenga, throw pots, meditate, skate and so, so much more. It’s really many more activities than one could possibly do in three days, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to knock off as many as possible. Cincy Summer Streets, cincysummerstreets.org.

BEST WALK ON WOODBURN

That headline is a misnomer: There’s only one Walk on Woodburn and it happens almost monthly on East Walnut Hills’ Woodburn Avenue (for some reason there currently isn’t one scheduled in June). The Friday night culture fest keeps shops open late and bars hopping. Stop into Hi-Bred Vintage, Leftcoast Modern or Steinkamp Outfitters for some old/new; check out the latest exhibit at Manifest Gallery; grab dinner at O Pie O, Mardi Gras on Madison or Suzie Wong’s; and then stop in for a drink at Myrtle’s Punch House or The Growler House. East Walnut Hills has been touted as the new Over-the-Rhine; come see why and eat, drink and shop in the process. Woodburn Avenue, East Walnut Hills, facebook.com/walkonwoodburn.

BEST LIBRARY FOR BOTANISTS

The exterior of the Lloyd Library & Museum is misleading. The 1970s square brick building looks boring, but inside it holds a wonderland of archival materials and exhibits on science, art and history. Once home to a popular 19th-century pharmacy run by the local Lloyd brothers, the library still features their rare collection of books on pharmacy, botany, pharmacognosy, alternative medicine and horticulture. In 1949, the Library of Congress named it the No. 6 most important private library in the country, and currently, the museum features rotating art and science exhibits, as well as permanent displays of vintage pharmaceutical instruments, medicine bottles, medical office equipment and other mildly morbid-looking historical medical supplies. Lloyd Library & Museum, 917 Plum St., Downtown, 513-721-3707, lloydlibrary.org.

BEST URBAN ALTERNATIVE TO LAWN MOWERS*
Goatscaping” — literally using goats as landscapers — is one of the more adorable ways local parks have been maintaining urban forests and greenspaces recently. Covington’s Goebel Park enlisted 10 goats last year as mobile groundskeepers to trim their grass and eat invasive plants (they’ve become so popular, they even have their own Facebook page: facebook.com/goebelgoats). And now these hungry ruminants are helping clear ivy and weeds at historic Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum. The herd of seven will be grazing in the Northwest corner of Spring Grove’s woodland preserve until they consume an acre of vegetation — an experiment to see how well this type of permaculture works for the cemetery. And they’re being overseen by Permaculture Guru owner Mike Woeste, whose company now offers goat rental services to the public. Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-681-7526, springgrove.orgpermacultureguru.com. *since this pick was written, the goats have been removed from Spring Grove after being injured in a dog attack.