Best Of 2021

Banning living, breathing human fans from stadiums across the country (because of COVID-19) continued into football season, as did the cardboard avatar trend. For the Bengals’ home opener in September, Who Dey Cutouts were available for purchase, with net proceeds benefiting six of the team’s community partners: The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, Freestore Foodbank, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Salvation Army Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky, Good Samaritan Foundation and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. There were strict guidelines on what to wear (or not to wear — no political/offensive/lewd statements, hashtags, social media handles, phone numbers or random branding) in your photo, how high you could hold your arms, how large the photo could be and more. The resulting figures were then placed in random seats in the North and South End Zones. The team also warned that buying a cutout didn’t mean your flat face was guaranteed to appear on TV, just that it could attend the game.

For its 150th anniversary, Graeter’s released a special birthday cake-flavored ice cream. Described as a “blend of cake pieces and sprinkles in cake batter ice cream,” it’s like Funfetti in a cone. Or cup. Or pint.

1. Tiny Needle

2. Caldwell Family Wellness

3. Hamilton Health Associates

Socially-distant bumper cars on ice. Here’s hoping they become an annual attraction.

Since 1998, Rabbit Hash, Kentucky has been electing dogs as mayors of the unincorporated hamlet instead of humans. And on Nov. 3, 2020, a six-month-old French bulldog named Wilbur caused a national stir when he was declared the new ruler, unseating the former mayor: a pitbull named Brynneth Pawltro. Adding to the attraction, Rabbit Hash’s election system is openly corrupt — voters can cast their ballot more than once, and each vote equals a monetary donation to help with the town’s historical upkeep. And while previous elections have attracted news coverage (and even a one-hour TV special on Animal Planet), the 2020 election seemed to be just what people wanted to read while the country tore its collective hair out waiting for the presidential election results. Thankfully, Mayor Wilbur is anything but divisive. And he’s ready to take charge of Rabbit Hash. “The duties of the mayor,” says his owner Amy Noland, “are to show up in town and gnaw on a bone.”

Over-the-Rhine’s Dunlap Cafe started making their own grown-up “happy meals” for carry-out during the pandemic. The perfect lil’ combo pack included an entree with a side of fries, Twizzlers, a Dunlap Koozie as a prize and an adult beverage — a beer, hard seltzer or a cocktail. Entree options included cheeseburgers, chicken tenders or a fried chicken sandwich. And the meals came wrapped and organized in a cute branded box, ready to devour in the car, or at home — if you could wait that long.

1. HUSTLER Hollywood

2. Dusty Flynt Sexy Gifts

3. High on the Hill

The Northside Yacht Club really wasn’t fucking around this year and in February 2021, they brought back their deep-fried cheese coney, also known as the “Cincinnati chimichanga.” The now-annual infamous Midwestern monstrosity features a chili cheese coney topped with more chili and cheese, wrapped in a flour tortilla and then deep-fried (they also make vegetarian and vegan versions). But to really kick things up a notch, and give people a goal to strive for as the pandemic approached the one-year anniversary mark, NSYC invented a coney-eating challenge. The “5 Coney Food Challenge” asked intrepid idiots to scarf down five deep-fried coneys and a basket of fries in 69 minutes. If you triumphed, you got a free T-shirt and your name on the wall of fame. If you failed, you had to pay $69 for your meal and your photo was added to the wall of shame. Only one person — Randy “Rando” Sullivan from Hamilton — was able to do it.

While Cincinnati’s super popular Asian Food Fest was canceled in 2020, fans were still able to enjoy a ton of local Asian eats in the fall. Asian Food Week ran from Nov. 2-8 and more than 20 eateries from across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky offered either a special $20 prix fixe, three-course meal or a secret menu item. As Asia encompasses an extensive collection of cuisines, so too did Asian Food Week with offerings from Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Indian, Chinese restaurants and more. Both Asian Food Fest and Asian Food Week were started by the Asian American Cultural Association of Cincinnati.

Best Amusement Park Accolades

Kings Island’s Orion giga coaster — one of only seven giga coasters in the world — won USA Today’s Best New Amusement Park Attraction in this year’s readers poll, beating out rides at Disney, Six Flags and Universal Studios. To be specified as a “giga coaster,” a ride must have a height or drop of 300 to 399 feet. To put that into perspective, Kings Island’s Eiffel Tower is 315 feet; Orion’s first drop is 300.