I’m happy to report I was wrong about Cobblestone OTR, a newish bar located at the corner of 12th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The no-frills establishment feels more like hanging out in a friend’s living room than the kind of preening-for-the-popular-crowd posturing that can happen at other drinking destinations. Cobblestone is about chill as they come, and all are welcome to stop by.
“The neighborhood bar is really the feel we try to achieve,” says Mark Farris, Cobblestone managing partner (financial partners are Keyur Joshi and Kidus Tadele.) “Friendly staff, well-priced items.”
There seems to be a predominant kind of pressure for new bars in Over-the-Rhine to fit neatly in some kind of niche: sexy cocktail bar; grungy dive bar; bar-with-a-band. Cobblestone eschews those notions — genuinely.
“We’re not trying to be a sports bar, we’re not trying to be a cocktail bar,” Farris says. (They do have cocktails, but they are very simple.) “It’s a comfortable spot where you can come in after walking your dog in your running shorts. Or you can come in after dinner at Zula and have a nice bourbon. We like the range.”
That range is something I addressed openly with Farris, regarding the location. Its predecessor was also a neighborhood bar, simply called 1132 (the address) but the neighborhood has changed drastically in the last 10 years since 1132 was in operation.
That whole corner of Over-the-Rhine, looking out over Washington Park, has been one of the more slow-moving in terms of the wave of gradual revitalization — or gentrification, depending on how you look at it — the neighborhood has undergone. Directly across from Cobblestone was once an outpost of The Lord’s Gym & Pantry, a nonprofit organization that included a weight-lifting and Christian devotional program designed to meet the needs of neighborhood men and boys. Now, Simply Rolled Thai ice cream is located next to the former Lord’s Gym. The new Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater is just a block away.
“It’s not so we’re appealing to everyone; we just enjoy the range and diversity of it all,” says Farris. “What’s great about our clientele so far is it seems to be later 20s up to mid-60s — we’ve achieved a range of ages as well. I think that’s in some of the small details.”
“Really, it’s about creating comfort, whether it’s price comfort, actual comfort seating, environment or ordering comfort,” he says. “We’re not trying to be overwhelming or pretentious. We want to have a variety of stuff.”
Cobblestone has 15 different bourbons, Weller and Bulleit among them, because Farris is a bourbon guy; two cocktails on draft, including a mightily potent Old Fashioned and Fernet-Branca; and a rotating draft beer list. On tap, Bud Light will remain a constant, and since the bar opened in November, they’ve had Horsecar, a collaboration beer produced by Rhinegeist.
“It’s limited real estate, so to have a little bit of everything is what I try to achieve. You gotta have your IPA, you gotta have some light beer, you gotta have a dark beer,” Farris says.
I stopped by on a recent Friday evening. It’s a tight but inviting space; by the time I left, I could have sworn there were 60 people in the bar, but Farris says capacity tops out at about 40. The warm walnut and pine back bar was preserved in the renovation and restored to its glistening original state. Two TVs mounted above the bar were tuned to sports. A jukebox occupies the front corner, where floor-to-ceiling windows look out on Race Street and the School for Creative and Performing Arts. There are a few long high-tops across from the leather bar seats, exposed brick, and a truly cool light fixture feature that combines exposed Edison bulbs and silver-domed bulbs on a circuit board-like pattern. A square of window faces the Thai ice cream joint, with stools and a stretch of counter space. A built-in long leather seat at the back, nestled next to the restrooms, allows for shoe-shines on certain nights.
I was hesitant when I tried the Horsecar. It’s a lager infused with Churchill’s tea — lemon verbena and lime kefir — and Farris calls it “a builder”; the more you sip it, the more the tea flavor builds. I will keep that in mind next time I go because I only tasted a friend’s glass. I’m a sour beer fan, so I went with Urban Artifact’s Gadget, a purple-hued, bright-tasting raspberry-and-blackberry tart. It’s a winter sour beer winner in my book. I also ordered the Berry Boujee, a creamy gin cocktail that tastes like a raspberry milkshake. It combines egg white, raspberry purée, Watershed Four Peel gin and lemon juice to cut the sweetness.
“Once again, it’s approachability; simple three, four-ingredient cocktails (that are) not taking us 10 minutes to make, and then we wanted the variety,” Farris says. “So we have two vodka cocktails, a gin cocktail, a bourbon cocktail (“Go On, Git!”), and then the big boy, which is the Bring Out Your Dead, which is four liquors, no mixers.”
Bring Out Your Dead combines reposado tequila, sweet vermouth, Aperol and Fernet — proceed with a designated driver. There’s also the Hot & Dirty, a spicy, dirty vodka martini. The latter would be served in a martini glass, but in that effort to maximize efficiency, all drinks are served in either small rocks glasses or pints.
Beyond booze, Farris and Cobblestone are interested in charitable and community-oriented endeavors. Featured during the month of March is a whiskey and blackberry purée cocktail called The Matisse: The Lady in the Purple Coat, from which a dollar for each sold goes to the local Dress For Success.
Cobblestone is also participating in a Where’s Waldo?-themed pub crawl on March 9 called “Lost in the Crowd” that starts at Rhinegeist and benefits Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. Cobblestone will be serving drinks during the Reds Opening Day Parade, too — it passes right in front of the bar.
“Any time I can do an event and give back, I’m all on board,” says Farris. “We’re city-focused. We want to be involved in things going on downtown. Making people love Cincinnati is definitely a passion of ours because we love Cincinnati.”
Cobblestone OTR is located at 1132 Race St., Over-the-Rhine. More info: facebook.com/cobblestoneotr.