CityBeat launched its inaugural Best of Cincinnati issue in 1997 with only 41 pages,120 reader ballot categories and a stated mission to identify “Greater Cincinnati’s best food, night spots, arts, media, politicians, community activists, sports figures, products and services.” Back then, we had readers fill out hard-copy surveys from the paper and mail them in (better or worse than our current online ballot system?).
Since then, we’ve spent two decades celebrating Cincinnati through reader- and staff-selected winners, while simultaneously making numerous bad jokes about political figures, Marge Schott and the lack of downtown parking.
This year, we flipped through all the dusty past issues to reminisce, commemorate and eulogize the people and places that we’ve loved, kept loving and those we lost. So, as a salute to each of our 20 years of putting this humble collection of wonderful things about Cincinnati together, we’re listing 20 of our favorite archived finds, in no particular order.
NO. 01 //
For two decades, these four spots have continuously been voted as the best in the city by readers in their respective categories.
Best Chili: Skyline
Best Liquor Store: The Party Source
Best Ice Cream: Graeter’s
Best Breakfast: First Watch
NO. 02 // REMEMBER WHEN…
...regular people used personal ads?
Best Place to Meet Your Personal Ads Date (Reader Pick, 1997): Carol’s Corner Café. Think online dating is bad? In the ’90s, people would take out personal ads in a damn paper with the hope of meeting someone. Today, all you need to do is download an app to your phone and your GPS will lead you directly to your potential hookup. The Main Street location that used to be Carol’s is now home to Lusain Memorial — probably not the best date spot, unless you’re looking for widows. Should we add “Best Tinder Date Spot” to the Best of Cincinnati ballot?
NO. 03 // SORRY, BRO
Our fair city’s fearless leader, Mayor John Cranley, has been in politics long enough to face the wrath of a CityBeat staff pick on multiple occasions. In 2002, he received “Best Immature Acts by a Councilman,” wherein he was compared to a school kid sleeping in class for “flipping off the mayor or reading his Christmas cards when he should be paying attention.” In 2007, Cranley ran for Congress against West Side stalwart Steve Chabot, only to lose and receive a write-up titled “Best Place to Buck a Trend,” largely because, we thought, he could never quite bring himself to say the war in Iraq was a bad idea. During his mayoral run in 2013, we made the remark that Cranley’s victory was driven largely by low voter turnout: “The situation later inspired some streetcar supporters to admit they didn’t vote because they didn’t think Cranley would really try to cancel the streetcar project. Well, he did.” (To be fair, we did praise Cranley, along with the late David Crowley, in a 2003 pick titled “Best Backbone” for introducing a motion to expand the city’s hate crime laws to protect more individuals.)
Looking through the concerts readers of CityBeat have deemed “the best” of any particular year offers a fairly accurate snapshot of what was big in music at the time. Here’s a look at readers’ best concerts for the first three and most recent three years of Best of Cincinnati. 1997: Smashing Pumpkins at Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena). The Pumpkins were still touring behind their 1995 hit double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness when they played the Coliseum in January of ’97. It was the tail-end of the “Grunge” era and near the end of the original incarnation of the Pumpkins (Billy Corgan soldiered on with different lineups, including one that played Riverbend last summer with Marilyn Manson and featured a bass player who was probably in kindergarten in 1997). 1998: Lilith Fair at Riverbend Music Center. Musically, perhaps the only thing more “’90s” than Grunge was the traveling, multi-act festival phenomenon, with tours like Lollapalooza, the “Jam band”-oriented H.O.R.D.E. and Lilith Fair, featuring some of the top female music-makers of the time and headed up by Sarah McLachlan. The tour returned to River-bend in its second year in 1998. (Fun fact: A young singer named Idina Menzel played the fest’s “third stage” a decade and a half before John Travolta introduced her as Adele Dazeem at the Oscars.) 1999: Barenaked Ladies at The Crown (now U.S. Bank Arena). In the early years, Barenaked Ladies were second only to Jimmy Buffett when it came to musicians we mocked mercilessly in CityBeat ’s pages. So our readers were clearly trolling us when they voted the band’s show at the riverfront arena the best of 1998’s concerts. 2014: Dave Matthews Band at Riverbend Music Center. Dave Matthews and Co. have seemingly played Riverbend 150 times, but the band’s 2013 concert there was apparently exceptional. Hey, look — Dave’s playing there again on May 20 this year!
NO. 05 // THIS AD THO
We’re guessing this “house ad” — an advertisement for CityBeat inside a CityBeat — was supposed to seem a little weird: It blatantly defies the accepted punctuation methods of 1998 or any other year. But we’re also not too proud to admit that there might have just been an open ad slot on deadline, and someone had to fill it with something quickly. Either way, everyone still uses computers and bestofcincinnati.com (no hyphens) is a real thing. Also worth noting: Two decades later, Henke Winery and Mecklenburg Gardens are still going strong.
NO. 06 // STAYING POWER
These reader picks from 1997 are still around:
The Comet: Best Bar, 1997; Best Jukebox, Best Beer Selection (Bottles and Cans) (Top 3), Best No-Frills Watering Hole (Top 3), Overall Bar/Club (Top 10), 2016
Hemptations: Best Store Name, 1997; Best Smoke Shop (Top 3), 2016 — also celebrating 20 years!
Over the Rhine: Best Local Band, 1997; Best Local Band (Originals) (Top 3), 2016
Lemon Grass: Best New Restaurant, Best Asian (Not Chinese), 1997; Best Thai (Top 3), 2016
Paul Daugherty: Best Sportswriter, 1997; Best Blog/Twitter (Sports), Best Journalist (Top 3), 2016
Everybody’s Records: Best Record Store, 1997; Best CD/Record Store (Non-Chain) (Top 3), 2016
The BonBonerie: Best Bakery, 1997; Best Neighborhood Bakery (East Side), Best Desserts (Retail), Best Overall Bakery (Sweets), Best Cupcakes (Top 3), 2016
NO. 07 // WHAT WAS UP WITH WLW IN 2004?
A staff pick from that year titled “Best Unfunny Media Prank” reads: “WLW has long been every rightwinger’s favorite talk show station. This year the kind souls at WLW put together a ‘Derelict Round-Up,’ offering homeless people $20, beer and a ride out of town. Picking on poor people — what fun!” WTF?
NO. 08 // REMEMBER WHEN…
...the Macarena was a popular song and not just an annoying wedding standard?
Best Place to Do the Macarena (Staff Pick, 1997): “You’re asking us?”
Best Place to Not Do the Macarena (Staff Pick, 1997): “Vertigo in Corryville on Industrial Dance Nights.”
We might have played coy with this one (we don’t even know what the Macarena is!) but, in general, it’s best for CityBeat to avoid all references to popular dance trends. Note to self: Jokes about the dab, whip or nae nae will not stand the test of time.
NO. 09 // AND THE WINNER IS...
Best Place for Free Internet Access (Staff Pick, 1997): Sitwells
Loads of students and other Clifton dwellers still spend time at this coffee shop, but they bring their own laptops for the Wi-Fi. What makes this pick stand out is the tip to attend Sitwells’ free Monday Internet courses, where folks in the pre-emoji world could learn how to make those groovy faces at the end of your sentences.
// DINE ALL DAY
An easy-to-follow, excerpted itinerary from Best of Cincinnati staff picks so you can dine with the best of them for 24 hours straight.8:30 a.m.
Best Breakfast Dive (2005): “For a hearty breakfast that doesn’t hurt your wallet, make sure to stop by the Blue Jay Restaurant in Northside. The diner serves cheese coneys and cheeseburger platters, as well as daily breakfast specials that cost around $4.”11 a.m.
Best Neighborhood Taco Joint That Isn’t in Your Neighborhood (2014): “Get the mixed taco taster and sample their beer-battered fish, shredded roast pork and sangria-marinated steak. With an order of guacamole, you are in paradiso, amigo.”1 p.m.
Best Multi-Tasking Cocktail (2015): “Far from your ordinary brunch bevy, (the Longshoreman’s Bloody Mary) is a meal in a glass. It’s chock-full of everything, including the requisite vodka, tomato juice, pickled veggies and a big ol’ lobster claw (or shrimp or an oyster).”6 p.m.
Incline Public House
Best View to Take in While Dining and Drinking (2014): “Nearly everything on the menu is made in-house, from scratch, including their wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches, salads and small bites. Along with the food, top-notch craft beer and cocktail selections are served by a friendly staff.”8 p.m.
Best Waiting Room for the Gateway Quarter (2013): “You can find yourself in a situation willing to wait two hours to mingle with the in-crowd and nibble on small plates... So what to do while you wait? Walk to The Lackman and rub elbows, quite literally, with other soon-to-be diners.”1 a.m.
Best Chinese After Midnight (2005): “Open until 3 a.m. on the weekends, Shanghai Mama’s serves some of the tastiest Chinese this side of the Yangtze. … A drug of choice is the wild mushroom soup with four, count them four, kinds of ’shrooms.”11 a.m.
Sugar N’ Spice
Best Hangover Breakfast (2009): “Sugar ‘N Spice has long been a CityBeat staffer’s prime spot for later-morning night-afters. The bacon and cream cheese omelet is good enough to rouse even the most dedicated partiers.”
NO. 11 // BEST SPORTS BURNS
It has been very easy to complain about local sports over the years.
Best Hallucination (Staff Pick, 1997): Nick Vehr’s Electric Kook-Aid Olympic Vision. “Get this: He not only believes the Olympics could come to Cincinnati, he actually believes — despite his observation of/participation in the oft-delayed, always perplexed efforts surrounding Fountain Square West, new sports stadium placement, various entertainment districts, etc. — the city could pull it off. Like, you been tokin’ too much Olympic Gold, dude.”
Best Imitation of a Graveyard (Staff Pick, 1998): Cinergy Field During Reds Games. “The team sucked, of course, but was that any reason to punish the few fans who came out to see Reds home games?”
Best Field Games (Staff Pick, 2002): The Bengals. “The Bengals can’t do anything without pissing someone off. Last fall they took on local high school football teams and found tougher opposition than they find most Sundays. When the high school playoff doubleheader on Nov. 10 was moved to Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals officials said the teams’ bands couldn’t march on the field at halftimes. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, a Colerain alum, said he’d order sheriff’s deputies to escort bands from Colerain, Elder, Princeton and St. Xavier onto the field if he had to, since the stadium belonged to county residents. The bands marched, and only a few blades of grass were harmed.”
Best Overrated Event (Staff Pick, 2003): The implosion of Cinergy Field. “They were expecting Riverfest-size crowds, huh? Yea, right!”
Best Way to Ensure You’re the Most Hated College President In Cincinnati (Staff Pick, 2006): Fire Bob Huggins. “The beloved coach didn’t get a pat on the back, a gold watch or even a gift certificate to LaRosa’s for his 15 years of service at UC, where he took the team to the NCAA Tournament 14 consecutive times. Citing ‘character issues,’ new UC Prez Nancy Zimpher showed Huggs the door, inciting a shower of vitriol from fans and bad press from across the country.”
Best Reenactment of Charlie Brown Trying to Kick a Football (Staff Pick, 2015): The Bengals. “Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Is it better to go 4-12 and have Corey Dillon trying to fight Bengals coaches on the sideline, or is it better to make the playoffs every year and then perform like it’s the opposite of Angels in the Outfield? It’s hard to say, and it’s hard to take. All we know for sure is that the Cincinnati Bengals’ trend of acting like the Hindenburg during Wild Card Weekend is most vexing.”
Best Epic Meltdown in the Playoffs (Staff Pick, 2016): See staff pick here.
NO. 12 // VIVA LA RECORD STORE!
In 2006’s 10th-anniversary Best of Cincinnati issue, a feature story about Greater Cincinnati’s “remaining” record stores expressed a lot of that worry. While iTunes’ rise was mentioned as a threat, the other big foe of the indie shop was the big-box store. But the article (“Indies are Still In”) was made less bleak by the optimistic independent shop owners and managers interviewed, all of whom correctly predicted that the product offerings and experience that a “real” record store provides would ensure they’ll always have a place in the community. Places like Shake It and Everybody’s Records are still cornerstones of their respective neighborhoods, while Northside vinyl store Black Plastic opened a second location in Over-the-Rhine last year. Target is still trying retain a foothold in the market by spending millions of dollars for four minutes of airtime (in the form of Gwen Stefani’s “live music video”) during the most recent Grammys, and you can now buy vinyl albums at Best Buy (something unfathomable a decade ago). But Media Play is long gone, Wal-Mart probably sells a few CDs a week to grocery shoppers and mall stores like f.y.e. likely unload a handful of copies of Adele’s latest album to grandmas waiting for their LensCrafters orders.
NO. 13 // BEER HERE
Cincinnati has always been a city in which you can grab an excellent beer. In our first Best of Cincinnati issue in 1997, we ran a story, “Rating the Micros,” about the best locally brewed beer in town: “Seems like every time we turn around these days, somebody is opening a brewpub. At least a hundred beers are being brewed in Greater Cincinnati.” One-hundred beers? More like 100 microbreweries these days. But, believe it or not, even before the advent of Rhinegeist and MadTree (and Taft’s and Mt. Carmel and Listermann and Fifty West and…), we still drank local IPAs. Here are a couple worth remembering:
Best Microbrew Lager: “One of the first Cincinnati microbrews, and still one of the best: The Oldenberg Blonde at Oldenberg Brewery, Fort Mitchell. A light, golden Pilsner, it’s crisp and classic.”
Best Microbrewery Pale Ale: “The Crosley Field Pale Ale at Rock Bottom Restaurant/Brewery.”
Best Microbrew Stout: “The Steamboat Stout at Main Street Brewery (and also served at Watson Bros. Brewhouse).”
Best Oddball Microbrew: “No question, it’s the Mephistopheles’ Metamorphosis at BrewWorks, an unfiltered Belgian.”
NO. 14 // ROMANTIC RUMINATIONS
Today, “Romance” is dead — the Best of Cincinnati section formerly dedicated to all things romance made its final appearance in 2005. But when it began in 1997, it embarked on a mission to identify Cincinnati’s best of the best when it comes to getting it on. Both readers and staff weighed in on topics like blind dates, exotic getaways and romantic rendezvous, but we focused on CityBeat staffers, who had the opportunity to explain their choices in-depth. Among the highlights: a now-defunct masturbation festival at the University of Cincinnati (promoting the “world’s oldest sport”), mildly disturbing PDA and a strange fixation with the Cincinnati Zoo and Ohio Renaissance Festival. Best pick?
Best Place for Public Sex Acts (Staff Pick, 1998): “The abandoned skywalk connecting the Regal Hotel to the old Lazarus department store.”
NO. 15 // CATEGORIES RIP
Things you can no longer vote for (the ’90s were a different time):
Best Topless Bar
Best Condom Selection
Best Post Office Branch
Best Place to Meet Women
Best Cheap Hotel Room
Best Store Name
Best Place to Buy a Macintosh
Best Place to Buy an IBM
Best Place to Make Out
Best Place to Buy Sex Toys
Best Mighty Ducks Player
Best Adult Video Store
Best Reason to Leave Cincinnati
Best Tarot/Palm Reade
No. 16 // ALL ABOARD
In a 1997 staff pick (“Best Evidence the Gene Pool is Awfully Shallow in Kentucky”), CityBeat called out Answers in Genesis, a Boone County-based fundamentalist organization with the “nutty” idea to build a 40-acre museum and amusement park devoted to Young Earth creationism. At the time, the project had been in the works for a year and still didn’t have a zoning permit. Of course, Answers in Genesis was successful, opening the Creation Museum a decade later in 2007. Now, Answers in Genesis is back at it again, and this time it’s taking on Noah. On July 7, the Ark Encounter will open to the public. Located about 40 miles south of the Creation Museum, this “historically authentic” 510-foot-long ark attraction promises Christian evangelistic values, immersive education and good, old family fun. Fun fact: Noah totally brought dinosaurs on the ark!
No. 17 // FAMOUS LOCALS
Celebrities — they’re just like us! They lived in Cincinnati at one point.
Best Evidence that George Clooney Is Way, Way Overexposed (Staff Pick, 1997): Even before Batman & Robin, CityBeat staffers were so over George Clooney. We called out The Enquirer for its 490 mentions of the Maysville, Ky. native during the previous year.
Best Hollywood Celebrity with Local Roots (Staff Pick, 1998): Mr. Clooney tied with Woody Harrelson in this category. Didn’t know Harrelson had Cincinnati ties? While born in Midland, Texas, his family moved to Lebanon — his mother’s hometown — in 1973. He attended Lebanon High School and, like so many local kids, earned cash working at Kings Island.
Best Cincinnati Presence in Hollywood (Staff Pick, 1999): We dropped the reader pick option for this category that year, but still found a way to claim a famous person as our own. “Keep your Carmen Electra,” we said, offering Chicago Hope’s Rocky Carroll instead. Oh, 1999 CityBeat. So quick to dismiss celebrities while at the same time name-dropping an actor. Carroll is a Cincy native and SCPA alum who’s gone on to star in NCIS with more than 200 episodes of the series and its spinoffs under his belt.
NO. 18 // OOPS
In the 2006 Best of Cincinnati issue, we ran a story called “Location, Location” about how “Blockbuster manages to survive in the digital age.” LOL. OK.
No. 19 // THE LIST IS IN THE MAIL
Today, many young musicians take for granted how ridiculously easy it is to reach their (actual or potential) audience. With a tweet, Facebook event notice or Instagram post, local bands can promote a concert in less time than it takes to brush their teeth. And their fans/stalkers can access way more information than they need just by scrolling through a couple month’s worth of social media posts.
But in 1998’s Best of Cincinnati issue, one of the “Out & About” (now Arts & Nightlife) staff picks exemplified the difficulty required to reach music fans on the cusp on the Internet age. It was just as music lovers were figuring out how to use the new technology for their musical needs — local bands were mostly still stapling posters on telephone polls to promote concerts, and even the rise of the message board was several months away. The “Best Online Local Music Mailing List” (pretty sure that was a one-year-and-done category) showed the bumpy road to today’s “full access.” The pick gave props to a Ska lover (another very ’90s attribute) who sent out a “periodic mailer that features fans and musicians expounding on the pros and cons of the local scene.” There was also an aggregate website that had links to local Ska band pages, though if we remember correctly, they were mostly of the ugly, barebones “Geocities” variety. The .edu website itself took up about half of the entire pick that year.
NO. 20 // BYE BYE
The old “kiss of death” pick. These favorites have closed since they won, and we still miss (most of) them.
Best Dance Club
No Anchovies (Clifton)
Best Street Festival
Jammin’ on Main
Best Shoe Store
Best Antique Store
Best Local Actress
Best LGBTQ Bar
Jacob’s on the Avenue