Best Of 2019

Monica Williams spent the last six years cooking soul food at her popular West End take-out spot Just Cookin’, often drawing lines of customers eager for her meatloaf, cornbread, ribs, greens, grilled salmon and other home-cooked favorites. Just one problem: Williams’ spot was in the historic State Theater on Central Avenue, which had to come down to make way for FC Cincinnati’s new MLS soccer stadium. The $250 million facility, helped along by $34 million in infrastructure spending from the City of Cincinnati and another $15-$22 million from Hamilton County for a parking garage, signals big changes likely for the historically predominantly black neighborhood with a median household income of just $15,000 a year. FCC and city officials have promised those changes will bring more investment, more jobs and more opportunity, but they also mean a big transition for the businesses that were once in the stadium’s footprint. Williams’ restaurant held its last day on a Friday in November 2018. The atmosphere was festive, but sad, too — the end of an era for the restaurant’s customers and for Williams, as well as for her mother, father, grandmother, nephew and niece, all of whom worked at Just Cookin’. That correlation between food, culture and family is one Williams subscribes to whole-heartedly. “Authentic soul food started in our grandparents’ homes,” she says. “It was the staple that held the family together. The glue. And we’re losing that. We’re losing our way of cooking in our community.” The move left Williams doggedly lobbying City Hall for help and hustling to find ways to keep her business afloat by catering events and cooking from pop-up locations. FC Cincinnati has pledged to continue working with her to get Just Cookin’ back up and running. What is next for Williams is still unclear, but if her grit and tenacity are any indication, you can bet she’ll still be cooking.

City Life

This year, Cincinnati transit activists the Better Bus Coalition took it up a notch, providing free bus benches, pushing successfully for the city’s first bus-only lane during downtown rush hour and introducing a ballot initiative to boost bus funding. The coalition has done tons of social media activism around Metro’s struggles, highlighting aging buses, riders left waiting in the cold and more in daily posts. But the group takes things several steps further, too. They’ve engaged residents to create their own roadmap to a better Metro, for example. It remains to be seen whether voters will approve their proposed Cincinnati payroll tax increase, which the group estimates would cost a person in Cincinnati making $40,000 a year an extra $6.67 a month. Either way, expect the Better Bus Coalition to stay active in pushing for better transit service. Better Bus Coalition,

The renovated Ziegler Park Pool is turning into not only a community hot spot, but also a hip place to see and be seen. Partly because of the location (across from Alumni Lofts in the former School for Creative and Performing Arts), partly because of the cost (daily admission is $4 for adults, with a sliding fee scale for season passes) and partly because of the features. Helmed by 3CDC, this former Cincinnati Recreation Commission pool has undergone a significant makeover to encompass three distinct sections: a zero-depth wheelchair-accessible area, an area with lap lanes and another with a diving board and rock-climbing wall. As a community-first pool, the urban swim club also offers lessons, a swim team and activities like water aerobics. But we’re here for the Adult Swim parties. During these 21-and-up nights held monthly during the summer last year, there were DJs, wine, local craft beers (and Bud Light) and food trucks. In addition, Ziegler also hosted a Dog Swim to close out the season, inviting vaccinated and well-behaved canines into the pool for a dip. Ziegler Park Pool, 1322 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine,

2. American Can Lofts

3. The Boulevard at Oakley Station

4. Aqua on the Levee

5. Harper’s Point Apartments

6. Alumni Lofts

7. Newberry Lofts on 6th

8. Woodbrooke Apartments

9. The Waldo Apartments

10. The Gramercy on Garfield

2. Over-the-Rhine Community Housing

3. Model Group

2. Union Terminal

3. Cincinnati Observatory

2. Northside

3. Clifton

Like a mini version of the iconic London Eye, Skystar is a 15-story “observation wheel” that went up at The Banks downtown at the end of August to celebrate the riverfront development’s 10th anniversary. The Ferris wheel features 36 glass-enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas that take up to six riders on a 12-minute spin for a unique view of the river and Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky skylines. The portable — yes, portable — tourist attraction has been traveling across America, setting up shop in cities including Norfolk, Virginia and Louisville, Kentucky to offer elevated views and a novel pop-up experience. At night, the wheel turns into a glowing orb with more than 1 million colored LED lights and casts a pretty cool neon reflection into the waters of the Ohio River. Skystar became so popular that the company extended its original stay from August to December 2018 through mid-June 2019, which means it will be around for Opening Day, the Taste of Cincinnati and Asian Food Fest. More than 100,000 people have ridden the wheel since its arrival. Skystar, 55 E. Freedom Way, Downtown,

2. Brian Garry

3. Pete Rose

4. Molly Wellmann

5. Tamaya Dennard

6. Bob Herzog

7. Anthony Muñoz

8. Nick Lachey

9. Drew Lachey

10. Cam Hardy (TIE)

10. Chris Seelbach (TIE)

2. Xavier University

3. Northern Kentucky University