POP Bar — or Post Office Place — is Columbia Tusculum’s newest bar and grill to call Eastern Avenue home, alongside the nearby Pearl’s and Streetside Brewery. The name is a direct homage to the 1930s building in which it’s housed, once a local post office.
POP’s reincarnation has capitalized on as much building history as possible, with exposed original brick and reclaimed wood as the general aesthetic. To play on the name, there are also bright Pop art images hung sporadically about.
While the inside is modern and cool with openings visible to the soon-to-be functional lower level, the building itself can be hard to find because there’s no overt signage. However, I have a feeling that come summer, POP will be hard to miss — the crowds should be signage enough. Garage-door windows can be pulled open to create an indoor/outdoor feel, and the back patio was designed to host musicians on weekend nights.
As someone who lives just off Eastern Avenue, I make a point to visit and support any local establishment. Beginning with Pearl’s, one of the first to acquire the new liquor licenses being offered in the freshly minted community entertainment district, it has been my hope to see new business burgeon on Eastern. My fingers have been — and will continue to be — crossed for all that could come to this super sweet strip of a street. POP, a 4EG-managed bar and grill, is just the most recent to see the promise and vision of the area.
POP has only been open since the end of February but I’ve been able to bounce in a couple of times with my tiny family of three, which includes a squirly 20-month-old. Once was a spur-of-the-moment decision made while taking a walk. The second visit, we made a point to head back again with a small group of friends, all of whom were also interested in checking out the bar.
It was on that trip that we really took notice of the menu, created by in-house eatery Tusculum Grille, and indulged in the opportunity to do some edible research. We tried two appetizers — cilantro lime hummus ($8) and goat cheese dip ($9) — and both were impressive and surprisingly flavorful. The hummus tasted fresh, served with hot, soft pita triangles. But the goat cheese dip was better. I kept referring to it as dessert because it was whippy and sweet, but really I think it was the added peach preserves and pistachios that sealed the deal. Also served with warm pita bread, it didn’t last long among the group.
After apps, we sampled four pizzas: the Buffalo Chicken, BBQ Chicken, the Works and the Veggie ($11-$16 for a 14-inch). While POP also offers a selection of Americana sandwiches, like a burger, grilled cheese and BLT, we wanted to keep it in the pizza pie wheelhouse to achieve some semblance of sharing. Of all the pizzas, the Buffalo Chicken was the only one that was polished off by the entire gang.
Speaking as someone who really doesn’t like the flavor of buffalo sauce, I found the ratio of hot sauce to ranch sauce (you can also opt for blue cheese) to be balanced. It wasn’t overwhelming, so the whole combination just hit the spot.
Likewise, the BBQ Chicken pizza was both similar in assembly and consumption. It ranked just under the Buffalo on the leaderboard with its combo of blackened chicken, Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce and red onion.
The other two — the Works and Veggie — were both simply... fine. The Works, with pepperoni and sausage, was good when it came to having a number of different toppings, both meat and veggies. The same could be said for the veggie, which had a variety of color and crunch with banana peppers, black olives, mushroom and red onion, but it really was just OK.
I can’t say that either of these pizzas were disappointing or strikingly “bad,” but they just weren’t all that special. I can’t imagine myself craving them and seeking them out.
One thing I did like about all four pizzas was that they were served on thin crust and cut into bite-able squares, which made eating while chatting and catching up easy and comfortable — something worth considering when meeting friends for dinner and drinks.
On the whole, POP is a totally promising bar that also happens to offer pizza (and other eats) versus being a totally promising pizza parlor that also happens to be a bar. It’s my impression that they are trying to be the former instead of the latter, but I don’t think this is a place to seek out food first and drinks second; I think it will almost always be the other way around.
They have 10 beers on tap, plus about 40 bottles and cans, with a focus on locals like MadTree, Urban Artifact and Rhinegeist, and more for-the-masses selections like Corona, Bud and Miller. There’s also a small selection of wines (red, white, rosé) by the bottle or glass, bubbles by the bottle and mainstream cocktails like a Manhattan or margarita. Nothing revolutionary or super creative, but they seem to have their bases covered.
It’s to POP’s advantage that it’s a bar with a full menu. Its neighbors and competitors on that stretch of Eastern Avenue, like the aforementioned Pearl’s and Streetside, are bars before bites. So if you were looking for a casual bar atmosphere where you could eat and not just to snack in the Columbia Tusculum area, POP right now would be the option of choice.
GO: 3923 Eastern Ave., Columbia Tusculum; CALL: 513-371-5858; INTERNET: facebook.com/popbarcincy; HOURS: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Wednesday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday; 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 3 p.m.-midnight Sunday; kitchen open until 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.