Thank goodness old habits die hard. If not, we just might have seen major changes at Arnold's Bar & Grill when new owners took over a little more than a year ago.
As the city's oldest tap house, Arnold's come-as-you-are attitude has helped it develop a loyal following of drinkers and diners. Its historic charm, lively entertainment and outdoor patio attract newcomers and city visitors, as well.
Having frequented Arnold's many times — including business lunches, an after-work beer or two, and dinner — I was well aware of how busy the establishment can become. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when we were able to get a table right away on a recent Friday evening, just after the happy hour crowd subsided around 8 p.m. Thanks to one of those unpredictable Cincinnati evenings in March when the temperature barely dips below 60 degrees, the patio (though still covered) was open to accommodate diners.
Although we would not have minded if we had had to wait. My husband and I both love to belly up to the bar and imagine the saloon as it was when it originally opened in 1861. Framed memorabilia from past eras and original bar fixtures help us paint the picture.
Previous owner (now City Council member) Jim Tarbell used to greet folks as they entered the bar, just as I imagined a saloon-keeper should. According to the history sketched out on the back of the menu, Tarbell sold the establishment to two long-time employees, Ronda Roell and Sue Brooker, when he decided to devote his efforts to the city in 1998. Fortunately, the new owners have maintained the character and charm that Tarbell preserved.
They also kept the treasured favorites on Arnold's menu, including pastas with fresh sauces and no-nonsense sandwiches. A list of daily dinner specials supplements the menu in the evening, offering diners a large variety.
On this particular evening, our server got off to a slow start. However, once our drinks arrived, our foursome chose a few starters from the specials menu, including Roasted Garlic ($5.25) and Cajun Chicken Wings ($6.25). Unfortunately, the garlic had been overcooked, making it dry and difficult to spread on the pita chips. But the fresh feta and olives added a nice blend of tastes. The wings were average, lacking the Cajun punch our server had promised.
On an earlier visit, I fell in love with the featured soup: a pureed cauliflower and corn chowder that packed just enough garlic to lure me in. I've looked for it on the menu every visit since then, but have yet to see it.
For our entrées, we selected from the variety of pasta and sauces featured as house specialties. My usual Greek Spaghetti Deluxe ($8.95) has never disappointed me. The pasta is topped with olive oil, butter and garlic sauce, and a mix of sautéed olives, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and crisp diced bacon. (I've ordered it both with and without the bacon.) Although it is a rather large portion, I have no trouble cleaning my plate every time. My husband chose the Nona Sauca ($8.75), a sauce of Italian sausage, chicken, bell peppers, garlic and basil on top of mostaciolli. (A footnote on the menu remarks that the Nona Sauca sauce is started by baking whole chickens stuffed with garlic cloves, to infuse the flavor into the meat.) He found his entrée equally delicious.
The Pasta Roelle ($11.95) consisted of bow-tie pasta with Arnold's garlic sauce, and topped with fresh artichoke hearts, yellow peppers, shallots and fresh basil. As a featured entrée, it included a starter of Arnold's Italian slaw and fresh bread. Our guest found it to be not too heavy and very enjoyable. Our other guest also enjoyed her Sicilian Linguine ($7.95), topped with three types of olives, tomatoes, onions garlic, basil and olive oil.
On this occasion, we opted for another round of drinks instead of choosing from the homemade desserts. However, on another cold winter evening, I had devoured the Kahlua cake ($4.50) with a cup of hot coffee.
Arnold's casual atmosphere and central location attracts folks from throughout the city, making it a diverse, unpretentious focal point for gatherings. Its historic charm, good food and friendly service make the landmark establishment a "sure thing" for a pleasant evening for diners and drinkers alike. ©
Arnold's Bar & Grill
Go: 210 E. Eighth St. Downtown
Hours: Lunch: Monday—Friday, 11 a.m.—5 p.m.
Dinner: Monday—Thursday, 5—9 p.m.,
Friday—Saturday, 5—10 p.m.
Bar open until about 1 a.m. Closed Sunday.
Payment: Credit cards accepted.
Vegetarian Friendliness: Greek or veggie salads, spaghetti or mostaciolli, eggplant marinara. Garden burger available at lunch.