Best Of 2022

Somerset
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Somerset

Something extraordinary has taken root in Over-the-Rhine, but if you’re not looking for it, you just might miss it. Tucked away on McMicken Avenue, Somerset is a sprawling hangout destination. An immersive escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, guests enter the courtyard through utterly massive and ornate over-170-year-old gates imported from India. Somerset features two bar spaces — one in a glass-roofed conservatory and another in a cozy lounge space. The grounds are also home to the pièce de résistance, a large and awe-inspiring patio, loaded with tropical plants, unique seating nooks and imported pieces from co-founder and creative lead James Fisher’s collection, as well as the collections of his friends and family. Fisher, the visionary behind Somerset, was inspired by a destination — also called Somerset — his family would visit on childhood vacations while living in England. “It’s a weird place with druids, huge solstice celebrations, Glastonbury Festival (our Burning Man) and all kinds of general monkey business. We usually went on long trips to Africa or the Middle East, but when we had less time and needed to get away somewhere a little closer to home, it was always Somerset,” Fisher tells CityBeat. “We want our Somerset to be that for our guests; a place that’s just on your doorstep, where you can go to recharge and feel like you are somewhere far away, even if just for a little while.” somersetotr.com.

Foxy Shazam’s “Welcome to the Church of Rock and Roll” sounds like an acid-fueled James Bond theme made by The Stooges and Robert Plant. It caught lots of attention when the song was used in James Gunn’s Peacemaker series on HBO, and Gunn even tweeted a shout-out to Foxy Shazam in response to fans asking who performed their new favorite song. Foxy Shazam is a Cincinnati band that’s gone on to international acclaim and, outside of Skyline Chili, is one of the city’s most cherished recent exports. Peacemaker is a superhero show whose titular protagonist, portrayed by John Cena, blurs the line between hero and villain. And Foxy’s tunes fit perfectly in with the show’s Hair-Metal-meets-Glam-Rock soundtrack.

The Pitch
Photo: Provided by The Pitch
The Pitch

Soccer-themed sports bar The Pitch, located directly across from TQL Stadium, opened before the first home match of FC Cincinnati’s 2021 Major League Soccer season. Housed in the former two-story Metropolitan Baptist Church space, the bar boasts plenty of nods to its sporty namesake (the term for the field upon which soccer is played). There’s a second-floor scarf wall, a 9-foot-tall wall of 4K TVs (there are another 50 TVs spread throughout the bar) and even artificial turf on the ceiling. And while being inside is a transportive experience for FC Cincinnati fans, patrons can almost see into TQL Stadium from the bar’s coveted rooftop patio outdoors. thepitchcincy.com.

Alcove
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Alcove

MadTree Brewing opened a new multi-level bar, restaurant and event space in Over-the-Rhine in early March 2022. Called Alcove, the heavily windowed space features areas to lounge, drink and dine, including inside a greenhouse or on a large outdoor patio. The food is focused on farm-to-table dishes created by chef Stephen Williams of Bouquet Restaurant and Spoon: Kitchen & Market. And the drink menu features housemade cocktails — utilizing herbs grown in that aforementioned greenhouse — and MadTree’s own brews. From a design standpoint, Alcove is stuffed with live greenery from Urban Blooms in every corner, creating a secret-garden-like feeling with living feature walls. In the event “Loft” on the third floor, there’s even a massive and whimsical chandelier made of ferns and macrame. It’s truly a statement piece. Designers also focused on integrating the rich history of the building into its design. Old photos and news clippings sit framed along the walls, telling a story of a building that has seen many lives since its construction in s, a popular Over-the-Rhine biergarten, this historic building was home to many happenings of 19th-century Cincinnati life. For example, members of the original Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra played as the house band before the symphony’s official formation. The front dining area was even home to a favorite booth of politician George “Boss” Cox. And the third-floor event space was once known as the Yokum Athletic Club, where it is thought Ezzard Charles trained. madtreebrewing.com/alcove.

What percentage of the population do you think was conceived in a drive-in? While these days it’s more about Netflix and chilling, the drive-in is now a great spot to have an innocent and platonic night out. When you want to achieve a truly perfect summer evening, there’s nothing better than a double feature of Friday the 13th flicks at the drive-in while you chow down on popcorn and soda. Starlite Drive-In, Hollywood Drive-In Theatre and Holiday Auto Theatre are the closest drives from the city, and they all offer a good rotation of classic films and new releases. They became especially popular during the pandemic — for the outdoor-seating aspect — and are experiencing a renaissance among moviegoers. These are seasonal businesses, with frequently rotating movies, so check to see when they open and what they’re playing next. starlitedriveinohio.com; hollywooddriveintheater.com; holidayautotheatre.com.

The Andrew J Brady Music Center, before it dropped the "ICON"
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Andrew J Brady Music Center, before it dropped the "ICON"

Quite a few Cincinnati venues are a mouthful to say, and honestly, nobody needs that when you’re trying to breathlessly gush about your favorite band you’ll soon be seeing there. But at least one now has two fewer syllables. In December, the Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center, received a new name — er, at least a slightly shorter one. The indoor/outdoor space at The Banks now is known as the Andrew J Brady Music Center, dropping the “ICON.” According to Music & Event Management Inc. — the music promotion arm of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that oversees the venue — the change was to further honor the venue’s namesake, who was a 1938 University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduate and went on to become the music director at Western Hills High School. He was also a Jazz musician who worked with various youth programs over the years. Now if we can only get PromoWest Pavilion at OVATION to get onboard… bradymusiccenter.com.

Wondercade arcade in Westwood
Photo: Provided by Wondercade
Wondercade arcade in Westwood

Owned and operated by Leslie and Bill Rich, Wondercade opened its doors in Westwood in 2021 to the delight of gamers across the region. Wondercade aims to be a fun, safe place for all ages to enjoy throughout the day. Many arcades now cater specifically to the drinking-age crowd, widely overlooking those youngsters that arcade games were originally marketed to in their glory days. But at Wondercade, it’s all-ages until 9 p.m., and then it turns 18 and up. You can get beer and more while you play; their game selection is incredibly solid and includes all of the essential cabinets needed for a modern-retro arcade. Book a party, or stop by — no quarters needed. All games are covered by the cost of admission, including pinball machines and the super popular Killer Queen. Party down with old friends like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more. Earn that high score or just enjoy the vibe. wondercadecincy.com.

Ernest Hemingway wrote some incredibly important books in his time and his influence still resonates today. Plenty of folks go through their Hemingway phase: hang out in coffee shops, drink wine with lunch, pout over their worst exes and stare off into blankness any time “The War” comes up. Later in his life, Hemingway’s love for the Florida Keys and the tropics dominated his attention, and Pilar, a new bar on Court Street, transports its visitors to Hemingway’s Havana-bound sailboat — with plenty of daiquiris to pass the time (they make seven different versions of the classic cocktail). His books’ protagonists were always macho yet sensitive, worldly but straightforward; the same could be said about Pilar’s drink menu, like the Moveable Feast, with gin, lemon juice, housemade grenadine and something bubbly. There’s a hedonistic novelist in all of us; let Pilar unlock your own. pilarcincinnati.com.

Some days we just need to get drunk and sing some karaoke — and the best place we’ve found in the city to do that is at the immersive Japanese-inspired bar Tokyo Kitty. If you’re feeling bold, belt it out at the main bar or reserve a private room where you can order specialty cocktails that drop down from the ceiling via a cocktail-carrying robot. thattokyobar.com.

Jeremy Pinnell (center) and band
Photo: IVPR
Jeremy Pinnell (center) and band

Like many young Country converts, Jeremy Pinnell found commonality between his Punk roots and the early flag wavers of down-home music (“Honesty, truth, integrity and outlaws. Good Hardcore and Punk to good Country — they all have those qualities,” Pinnell told CityBeat in 2012, the year he and his band debuted). After two straight Country gems, Pinnell’s 2021 album, Goodbye L.A., finds the former Light Wires guitarist pursuing a more aggressive Americana direction to great effect. “Big Ol’ Good” could earn Pinnell a slot on Dierks Bentley’s tour, “Night Time Eagle” swings and jumps with Dwight Yoakam’s Bakersfield influence, and the title track tips a cowboy hat to Jerry Jeff Walker and Butch Hancock. “I just wanted to make a record that made people happy,” Pinnell says of Goodbye L.A.’s more upbeat nature. “Everybody’s been so miserable for so long. I just wanted people to be OK with themselves, have a good time, enjoy each other’s company, enjoy being with another human being. I really just wanted to make that record where people could just enjoy life.” Pinnell had found acceptance outside of Cincinnati from the start, but Goodbye L.A. could punch his ticket to an even crazier ride. jeremypinnell.com.

Making it as an a cappella group during the pandemic has been no small feat, but the eight hardy men who constitute the No Promises Vocal Band have found ways to share their vocal talents as a tight-harmony ensemble since 2015, especially with regular holiday performances. During the 2020 pandemic year, they raised nearly $7,000 to cover production expenses and rented a recording venue (Memorial Hall, managed by the band’s leader and arranger, Joshua Steele) to make an on-demand video that delivered their smooth vocalizing to area fans. During the summer of 2021, they joined the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra for “The Boy Band Diaries,” featuring numbers by the likes of the Beach Boys and *NSYNC, on outdoor stages in Covington, Fort Thomas and Middletown. For the 2021 holidays they offered well-received seasonal songfests in Montgomery, Covington, Loveland and East Price Hill. nopromisesvocalband.com.

Since Joe Burrow managed to bring the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time in more than three decades, he can be forgiven for his controversial statement about Cincinnati’s drab nightlife during a press conference: “Fortunately, there’s not a ton to do in Cincinnati. Nobody is going out to clubs and bars and getting COVID every weekend. But we’ve been healthy.” While a lot of Bengals fans felt a little irked by the jab at their city’s lack of highfalutin attractions, there’s one place that any Bengal would receive a warm welcome: Cincinnati’s premier Steelers bar, Martino’s on Vine. This Italian restaurant and sports bar is a Short Vine fixture that caters to Corryville and Clifton residents, along with swarms of University of Cincinnati students who recently turned 21. Burrow could enjoy an eggplant parmesan with a nice chianti while ravenous Steelers fans — likely enjoying any one of the bar’s four different Philly cheesesteak options — decide how to react. martinosonvine.com.

Ghost Baby is a subterranean nightclub/music venue that operates beneath the streets of Over-the-Rhine. The bar is located five stories below Vine Street in a 170-year-old lagering tunnel formerly used by Champion Brewing (beer was aged and cooled in lagering tunnels before the advent of refrigeration). The historic space, which had been vacant since the 1850s, offers an immersive experience full of art, design, cocktails and music. The front bar caters to walk-ins, but the “Den” is a lamplit speakeasy with a domed ceiling and velvet-curtain-lined stage. Reservations are free and it is recommended that you get one to snag a booth or bistro table to enjoy the bar’s live music. ghost-baby.com.

Smoke & Queers has entertained and empowered Cincinnatians since its inception in 2019. Unabashedly weird and fiery, the queer-led, coed burlesque, drag and performance-art troupe hosts shows at bars, restaurants and events throughout Greater Cincinnati. Come for the fun, accepting atmosphere and stay for the experimental expressions of self, gender, identity and sexuality. smokeandqueersburlesque.com.

OTR StillHouse
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
OTR StillHouse

The OTR StillHouse is a distillery, winery and brewery in one. Located in a former 1890s ice manufacturing warehouse, it’s also home to an entertainment venue with indoor and outdoor space. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the outside, which looks a bit more like a shipping container than the entryway to a “half-acre of relaxation within OTR.” From entrepreneur Michele Hobbs (who launched Pet Wants) and partners including Master Distiller Chris Mitchell, a founder and former head brewer of Woodburn Brewing, and Dr. Tom Asquith, who worked as a whiskey scientist for Brown Forman, the in-house Knox Joseph Distillery produces award-winning gin, bourbon and blended whiskey. In addition to cocktails, beer and housemade root beer and cream soda, the kitchen serves a small menu of smoked and grilled food — all of which can be enjoyed in luxuriously appointed inside digs, or outside under string lights. Picnic tables line the artificial lawn, which is eco-friendly and installed by the same company who installed and maintains the pitch at TQL Stadium. The bar even has its own parking. otrstillhouse.com.

The She-Wolf, with Old Tom Gin and pear, ginger and elderflower liqueurs
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The She-Wolf, with Old Tom Gin and pear, ginger and elderflower liqueurs

Anjou cocktail bar in East Walnut Hills takes its name from Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI. The bar is located in The Henry building and plays on the duo’s central role in the Wars of the Roses — an uprising against Henry’s reign in the 15th century. Anjou’s decor subtly plays off a floral motif, as does the cocktail menu. The She-Wolf is a delightful concoction, featuring Old Tom Gin and pear, ginger and elderflower liqueurs. It is a vivid purple color and comes served in a tumbler with a rose-shaped ice cube. Named after a term for Margaret used in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, “the drink features ingredients from England and France, the color is purple, to signify royalty, and it has the rose in there to signify the Wars of the Roses,” says Anjou co-owner Chris Wolfe. anjoucinci.com.

Carrot Moscow Mule: Vodka, ginger beer, carrot juice and lime juice
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Carrot Moscow Mule: Vodka, ginger beer, carrot juice and lime juice

OK, so Gulow Street in Northside no longer has the Carrot Mule — a classic ginger-vodka cocktail with bonus carrot juice — on its menu, but this is a formal plea to bring it back. The cozy bar and kitchen at the corner of Hoffner and Gulow streets is a sophisticated take on the neighborhood dive, complete with sage-green beadboard, vintage-style wallpaper, tawny leather barstools and a garage-turned-patio (for people and pets). The food menu offers a greatest-hits list with a burger, pasta, a breakfast sandwich (almost a replica of what members of the Gulow Street team served at the now-defunct Cheapside Cafe downtown) and a handful of other dishes. The cocktail menu doesn’t disappoint, either. While we miss our veggie vodka, the Spaghett is equally as intriguing with Aperol, lemon juice and Miller High Life. Happy hour runs weekdays with a special burger-and-beer deal on Thursdays. gulowstreet.com.

In retrospect, September may have been a little early for Bryce Dessner’s MusicNOW Festival to return to Cincinnati for the first time since 2018. The pandemic was still with us. That could have been the reason for the small crowds, but great music has a way of rising above adversity. As part of the two-day event, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Louis Langrée accompanied the brilliant Sō Percussion group during an at-times wildly propulsive composition that, at one point, had the hip rhythmists clanging on garbage cans while the orchestra responded with fervor (The piece also had Sō Percussion making music with twigs and wine bottles). The piece was 2013’s “man made” by the esteemed David Lang, and it is increasingly popular with orchestras. Here’s hoping that Sō Percussion returns to bang on our cans every year. Separately, the trio Bonny Light Horseman — featuring Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman and Eric D. Johnson — played hauntingly ruminative songs drawn from traditional folk balladry while accompanied by the CSO’s playing of lovely arrangements written by Dessner. Long applause and standing ovations followed both sets. cincinnatisymphony.org.

Foxy Shazam at the Andrew J Brady Music Center
Photo: Brittany Thornton
Foxy Shazam at the Andrew J Brady Music Center

Cincinnati legends Foxy Shazam went on hiatus in 2014, switched up band members and reunited in 2019 with new music. The band planned to tour then, but alas, COVID-19 had other ideas. But after nearly two years of foiled plans, Foxy Shazam finally roared back with double-barrelled fury in February with a show at the Andrew J Brady Music Center. With new album The Heart Behead You in their pocket and renewed vigor in their veins, the Queen City’s darlings exhibited all the hallmarks of a semi-retired champion ready to take on all challengers. foxyshazam.com.

Mason’s Sonder Brewing teamed up with Kings Island in the summer of 2021 for a boozy collab featuring one of Cincy’s most nostalgic sweet treats. Blue Ice Cream Ale, inspired by the amusement park’s signature blueberry- and vanilla-flavored “blue ice cream,” offers a grown-up version of a childhood classic. Sonder says it was very important to them to capture that essence — and with natural flavors. “We did a lot of research and testing to find a natural product to get the color. Both balancing the ice cream flavor without being overly sweet and achieving the fun blue color were definitely the main challenges,” says Chase Legler, Sonder Brewing’s chief operations officer. The brew team ended up using honey malt to add that punch without making it too cloying. The beer was available at Kings Island, the taproom and distributors around town. sonderbrewing.com.