Long gone are the days when bars served only cold potato skins and limp french fries. Today, “pub grub” doesn’t have to be a dirty word (or two). Local drinking establishments are applying a craft cocktail mentality to their kitchens and kitchenettes, offering streamlined menus that play with bold flavor combinations, add swagger to comfort food dishes and upend the expectations for what you’re likely to eat when you’re drunk and your defenses are down. Please, step away from the pizza rolls and toward the truffled popcorn…
East End | 3229 Riverside Drive, thehimark.com
Brought to you by the owners of Eli’s BBQ and the Lang Thang Group (Quan Hapa, Pho Lang Thang), Hi-Mark’s sports bar decor balances perfectly with its Asian-fusion soul food. And after trying anything on the menu, you’ll wonder why a barbecue/Asian/sports bar wasn’t done in Cincinnati sooner. The most unique dishes are the smoked pork bánh mì, Lang Thang chili fries and a Southern-fried chicken thigh sandwich. Each sandwich is served on a huge garlic bread-like bun and loaded with flavor. The smoked pork bánh mì, slathered in Eli’s BBQ sauce, will make you shed a tear of joy — it’s everything there is to love about Eli’s pulled pork sandwich with a Vietnamese twist: do chua, cucumber and cilantro. And if you’re looking for classic Americana flavors, opt for the Psychobeer Cheese, made with MadTree Psychopathy IPA and served with local Hen of the Woods potato chips.
OTR | 1233 Clay St., longfellowbar.com
While a bar first, it’s impossible to ignore the divinity that is Longfellow’s menu. The bar itself, loosely designed after a Japanese izakaya, is home to Evan Wallis, previoulsy a cook at OTR eateries Please and Salazar. “Izakayas are little neighborhood spots — long, with a couple seats on the side where you’re surrounding the bartender,” says proprietor Mike Stankovich. “It’s usually sake and beer with whatever food they’re offering that day.” With Wallis’ experience and Stankovich’s vision, Longfellow just had their first pop-up dinner in early September featuring a menu of Japanese-inspired dishes like squash blossom stuffed with homemade silken tofu. This autumn will usher in another flavor to the rotating Longfellow menu: curry. Aiming for Wednesday and Thursday releases, Wallis has been crafting new curries from scratch weekly. They recently featured a Thai- and Indian-style red curry paste with beef and pumpkin, though Longfellow doesn’t just focus on the meats. “We try to rotate between having vegan, vegetarian and meat curries,” Stankovich says. Outside the various culinary happenings, Longfellow’s menu features cheese and charcuterie, European-style bar snacks like radishes and butter or boquerones and throw-backs like liverwurst with saltines.
Nine Giant Brewing
Pleasant Ridge | 6095 Montgomery Road, ninegiant.com
Nine Giant Brewing's gourmet beers and comfortable taproom might be the reason you haven't caught wind of their extensive, scratch kitchen-made fare. If you haven't stopped into the brewery for dinner, you've been missing out — the food is so fresh they don’t even own a freezer. With offerings ranging from fried housemade pickles to a creamy falafel and kale salad, Nine Giant caters to a palate range as wide as its craft beer variety. The extremely juicy house cheeseburger — made with grass-fed beef and topped with secret sauce, beer cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, pickles and tomato jam — is rivaled only by the Tuesday Burger Night special. It rotates each week, but burger preparations include everything from a ground beef patty topped with pickled red onions, pork belly, cheddar and sambal aioli to a fried jalapeno burger, topped with local pepperjack cheese and secret-recipe guacamole on a Sixteen Bricks challah bun. Ask for extra napkins when you get any of their burgers though — the meat is so tender you're going to need them.
Downtown | 10 W. Seventh St., 513-621-1000
With painfully hip bars cropping up downtown daily, sometimes all you want to do is go to a place where everybody knows your name. Enter Knockback Nat’s. This in the ninth year that Natalie Zelina-Lay (the bar’s namesake Nat) has owned the bar and the ninth year they’ve offered wings so good the Travel Channel included the sports bar on 101 More Amazing Places to Chow Down. “We started out basically with trial and error,” says Zelina-Lay. After seeing a smoker at a Las Vegas convention, she decided to go for it. Back in the early days, Zelina-Lay didn’t know her wings would get her national fame. “We started smoking brisket, pork and rib specials over the years and people were coming to eat through word of mouth,” she says. “Then we were on the Travel Channel and things exploded.” The Knockback Burger is another must-try: The cheeseburger is topped with barbecue pulled pork, pickle chips, grilled onions and a fried egg. And vegetarians, fear not: Their house salads are just as delicious as any chicken wing (though you’ll have to ask to skip the bacon). “There’s great smoked wings out there, but it’s cool people keep coming back to ours,” Zelina-Lay says. “We still consider ourselves a neighborhood bar. That’s what we always are, always have been.”
Hyde Park | 3378 Erie Ave., dutchscincinnati.com
The East Hyde Park bar, bottle shop and larder can be overwhelming at first. Dutch’s has a backyard-style patio (with bocce ball), a walk-up window with rare craft beers for purchase that are almost impossible to find anywhere else in Cincinnati, a bustling bar and a menu that changes daily. And the flavors on the menu are as rare and exquisite as the beer list: octopus and barley soup, smoked wagyu beef on Japanese milk bread and Brussels sprouts with lamb bacon. This is not just a neighborhood wine shop. After indulging in a luxurious prosciutto and buffalo milk mozzarella sandwich, served with a side of the truffled popcorn, followed by a tomato and sweet red pepper salad with whipped ricotta and mint, you may demand that your boyfriend refer to you as “Marie Antoinette” and carry you back to the car.
Marty’s Hops & Vines
College Hill | 6110 Hamilton Ave., martys-hopsandvines.com
Half bottle shop, half bar and bistro, Marty’s feels like stepping into the living room of an old family friend — one that just so happens to have their walls lined with hundreds of bottles of wine. A knowledgeable staff and detailed menu helps the ship run smoothly. The draft list includes a pairing menu with a twist, recommending which cheesecake or pizza to nibble on with which local beer. I paired my Rhinegeist Fluffberry (which truly is fluffy) with beer cheese, the house salad and a pizza titled The Bad Idea (Or Is It?). This isn’t your run-of-the-mill bar pizza: cheese, ham, pepperoni, salami and prosciutto are sprinkled liberally on top of thick crust. And the beer cheese is made with beer from Brink Brewing Co., another College Hill favorite. I sat at the bar with Marty himself, a vivacious character I highly recommend stopping in to meet. A man dedicated to his establishment, he cheered on the night’s absurdly talented Jazz trio until they finished late in the evening.
Myrtle’s Punch House
East Walnut Hills | 2733 Woodburn Ave., wellmannsbrands.com/myrtles
Myrtle’s is known for its boozy punch — served by the bowl or glass — crafted from recipes dating back to the 1700s. The bar is currently undergoing a modern culinary transformation coinciding its ownership group, Wellmann’s Brands, acquiring and expanding Melt Eclectic Café in Northside. Myrtle’s upcoming menu will showcase more Melt flavors, including three pressed paninis to pair with seasonal punch. The beloved cheese and charcuterie selections are not going away, though. Create your own Share Board by combining snacks like honey-spiced pecans, truffle cauliflower pâté, sopresseta and pimento cheese. “The menu has always been ‘Bites by Melt,’ reflective of the eclectic comfort foods served at Melt, served in a shareable way,” says Lisa Colina of Wellmann’s Brands. “The new fall menu will have even more crossover between items.” The menu is currently in the transition process, so stop by the punch house to see the Northside/East Walnut Hills love affair continue to bloom.
Northside Yacht Club
Northside | 4231 Spring Grove Ave., northsideyachtclub.com
The Northside Yacht Club is its own breed of bar: tattooed ’tenders concoct craft cocktails with fresh ingredients and a nautical lean (like the Kentucky Surfin’ with bourbon, pinapple, lemon, housemade triple sec and mint); the live music leans a little loud; and the full-service food menu goes gourmet with local ingredients, unique preparations and plenty of vegetarian options. Flanked by smoked wings (amish chicken or the breaded cauliflower vegetarian variety), short-rib grilled cheese and a sesame-ginger tofu bánh mì, the culinary delight that stands out at the NSYC is the poutine.The Québécois french fry and cheese curds dish uses duck fat gravy at night and switches to goetta gravy for Sunday mornings. It’s featured on both the dinner and Sunday brunch menus. “I’m a Canadian citizen and an American one, and I love french fries, cheese and gravy,” says co-owner Stuart Mackenzie. “My dad’s from Canada, and I fell in love with the dish on a family trip with my uncle across the Great White North.” Come for the live music and killer tiki drinks, stay for the gravy fries.