Best Of 2022

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

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

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"

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

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

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.