Best Of 2023

  1. New Riff Distilling

  2. OTR StillHouse

  3. Second Sight Spirits

  4. Northside Distilling Co.

  5. Cincinnati Distilling

  6. Northern Row

  7. Augusta Distillery

  8. Karrikin Spirits

  9. RJ Cinema Distillery and Taproom

  10. Sons of Toil Brewing

Music & Nightlife

Music & Nightlife
Here are the 2023 Best Of Cincinnati® Reader and Staff Pick winners for Music & Nightlife.
The Bootsy Collins action figure
Photo: Super7Com
The Bootsy Collins action figure

Need an unusual gift for a music lover or Cincinnati fanatic? Legendary funkateer Bootsy Collins is forever immortalized as a super-cool action figure. Created by collector toy company Super7, the figure features the famous bassist wearing his jumpsuit and funky glasses, SpaceBass in hand. Bonus: You can cut out your own Bootsy-esque glasses from the packaging.

13 Below Brewery doesn’t just brew excellent beer; this micro craft brewery also has an extensive list of fruity, hazy hard seltzers. Starting with just five flavors, the list has now grown to 14, including one of the brewery’s favorites, orange cream. The citrus and vanilla in the drink blend together to make it taste like a grownup creamsicle — perfect for summertime and nostalgic feelings. And if the other 13 hard-seltzer flavors intrigue you, you can try them in a flight of four.

Dubbed a “wizard speakeasy,” Pennifold’s Pub is a Quidditch-themed bar near Findlay Market that is everything a Harry Potter fan could ever ask for. The bar offers up wizarding-world-themed cocktails and mocktails in a warm and inviting atmosphere. The bar holds no official affiliation with a certain author, either, so you don’t have to worry about your money landing in the hands of anyone practicing the dark art of hatred.

Admit it, a first birthday party is more for the parents than the kid. It’s like a second baby shower, except Mom can actually drink this time, so why not have the party at a bar? Enter Queen City Radio. The sprawling Over-the-Rhine bar has a private room you can rent for just about anything, including a cake smash. Parents will love the frozen bourbon slushies, and babies will love the white noise of bar chatter and DJ-spun beats. Pro tip: Ask your guests to take the streetcar or park in the nearby Washington Park garage; both are just a skip away from QCR.

Public House embraces both the German and Irish roots of Cincinnati’s heritage, but its Irish side holds a claim to fame in the Queen City: It’s the only bar in the city certified to pour the perfect Guinness pint by Guinness brewmaster Fergal Murray. The two-part pour is an art form that requires precision in angles and timing, and once you have a perfect pour, you won’t want a Guinness any other way. Savor the drink with some delicious pub fare off Public House’s menu on their patio to complete the experience.

Northside Yacht Club
Photo: Provided by Northside Yacht Club
Northside Yacht Club

Northside Yacht Club
got a bit of a naughty holiday makeover as the mermaid mascot donned a pair of sparkling red pasties and a Santa-beard merkin over the holiday season. Next holiday season, keep an eye out for colored lights, a giant mounted fish in St. Nick cosplay and Santa beards on almost every item in the establishment.

The immersive Christmas experience at Overlook Lodge Miracle Pop-Up gets top billing on Santa’s Nice List for its over-the-top holiday decor, which spans every inch of the space. Fully decorated Christmas trees — big and small — dot the room, and wrapping paper covers the windows to give you the feeling of being inside a gift box. Tinsel, ribbons, lights, ornaments, wreaths and more fill every nook and cranny, leaving no inch untouched from the festivity. The event is ticketed, but for the price you get two holiday-themed drinks, a shot and a holiday clip show.

There’s exposed brick, then the exposed brick at Milton’s The Prospect Hill Tavern. Warm brick adorns this old-as-hell beer-and-shot bar from all sides, making you feel like you’re in a true-blue Midwestern dive. You can’t help but feel like you’re in a movie when playing pool surrounded by brick and branded neon — it’s downright cinematic. The backdrop makes Milton’s perfect for meeting an old friend for drinks or even sipping alone with a book (or a CityBeat).

If your interest in music is so expansive it takes in every genre from art rock to hip hop, and you like reading about them from a local source, then the blog on the website of Clifton’s adventurous Torn Light Records is for you. It features deeply researched posts, written by blog creator Hannah Blanchette, that include a deep dive into Japanese musician Toshimaru Nakamura’s use of a no-input mixing board, which — according to the story — “forgoes any external audio input, instead feeding a mixing board’s output back into its input in defiance of the owner’s manual.” (Feedback is a risk.) For those interested in something less sonically experimental but still offbeat, there’s a story about the “whimsical, heartfelt folk of Norma Tanega,” who had a long if under-the-radar career after her 1966 hit “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” and until her death in 2019. Torn Light also has an email newsletter listing its recent arrivals of new and used records.

You don’t have to own a bootleg booze still to craft a personalized bourbon — just head to Wenzel Whiskey. Located in a historic former pickle factory and one-time soda-pop manufacturer, this drinking experience goes above and beyond cocktail mixology and allows guests to build their own perfect bottle of straight bourbon whiskey via a process called “rectifying,” or “thieving.” Tapping into individual barrels sourced from famous American but not-allowed-to-be-publicly-named distilleries, visitors are able to blend different whiskies into their own superb spirit. Using a pipette, you can drop varying ratios of bourbon from a lineup of four selections to make a unique flavor profile. After playing mad scientist, Wenzel will bottle your favorite, one-of-a-kind creation for you. Visit their website to book your blending experience.

Listen, sometimes you just gotta whip it out, moms. In the warmer months, Fifty West Brewing looks like a summer camp for kids and grownups alike. The family-friendly (yet legitimately cool) atmosphere means most patrons don’t give a shit if you’re feeding your newborn while you keep an eye on your oldest playing in the sand. Plus, that notorious breastfeeding appetite will be more than satisfied by their famous burgers and shakes.

Oh my gourd, Becky, look at her … well, you know the rest. If you love the taste of fall all year ‘round and drinks named after people, Northwood Cider Company’s Becky can be your new best friend and drink of choice. Not your mom’s PSL, Becky is a semi-dry pumpkin spice cider that’s full of autumnal spice like clove and nutmeg and a little bit of sass (although that might just be the cinnamon). Becky’s fun, interesting and 10/10 would be the perfect companion to bring on a hayride and snap a selfie with while colorful leaves rain down on you.

Esoteric Brewing Company takes its Chrysalis American Cream Ale and combines it with a special roasted La Terza coffee blend to create the smooth and refreshing brew Kallima. The Chrysalis brings hints of pear and a “delicate taste of maize and sweet bread,” according to the brewery. But when blended with the coffee, you also get the aroma of a freshly brewed cup combined with the creamy, sweet undertone of the ale for a drink that’s as energizing as it is satisfying.

This ain’t your great-grandma’s bingo-hall bingo — this is magic-marker, packed dive-bar bingo with tallboys and taxidermied goats. The Hub OTR has been hosting bingo for about a year, with Jordan “Jordy” Ellehorst spinning the cage of tiny balls every Tuesday night. Players who are getting close to a win call out ”biscuit!” and the traditional “BINGO!” victory cry is replaced with “kiss me daddy!” You’re not going to walk away rich, but winners can easily cover their bar tab.
If you take your espresso martini seriously, you must start with people who take their coffee seriously. That’s why the best place to order an espresso martini in town is at 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab on Vine Street. Their classic espresso martini uses freshly and expertly pulled espresso, not cold brew like some slackers. And their “Top Model” cocktail is a perfect espresso nightcap, with Baileys, Kahlua, Tito’s and dark chocolate.

Mimosas taste better when they’re free. They taste even better when someone is glamming up your nails while you sip. The talented nail techs at Paint Nail Bar in Florence are masters at keeping your glass full while applying trendy, long-lasting manicure finishes. They even have spooky purple mimosas with edible glitter during Halloween. But be warned: Halloween mimosas (or really any in excess) will make you a lot more spendy at their stocked retail space during checkout.

Chartreuse, the centuries-old herbal spirit made in France by Carthusian monks, leads the way on classics like the Last Word. But Sundry and Vice have added a touch more mystery to the Prohibition-era cocktail in their Green Carnation by subbing Luxardo with absinthe. The rosewater rinse walks your nose through a garden before you taste the little green fairy, so make sure each sip starts with a sniff.

Sudan Archives
Photo: Alex Black
Sudan Archives

Cincinnati native Brittney Parks, better known by her stage name Sudan Archives, performed during the Keep Smiling Festival in Walnut Hills’ Five Points Alley ahead of the release of her critically acclaimed breakout record, Natural Brown Prom Queen. The high-energy performance featured local guest appearances and previewed songs off the then-upcoming album that went on to make multiple year-end best-of lists from the New York Times, Pitchfork and other major outlets.

Blind Lemon
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Blind Lemon

The vibe at the cozy and romantic underground tavern Blind Lemon screams “warmth” with its self-described Old World comforts, soft firelight, colorful Tiffany lamps and the courtyard that’s filled with lush plant life in the spring and summer and a large fire pit in the winter. So, it only makes sense that you would want to warm up with one of their classic hot drinks. For something sweet and buttery, pick their hot buttered rum. The drink is made with dark rum, brown sugar and hot water and topped with a pat of butter, guaranteed to warm you from the inside out.