The long-delayed Banks project has been the City of Atlantis for Cincinnatians. We’ve long heard rumors of the riverfront retail and entertainment development’s imminent existence and continually wonder if it’s even real.
A decade and a half after planning began, we finally have evidence of its existence with the opening of the Holy Grail Tavern and Grille. Located directly across from Great American Ball Park, this spot is guaranteed to be packed for our boys of summer and will be a hotspot to root on our beloved and beleaguered Bengals in the fall and winter.
A two-hour wait on a Saturday night is a good problem to have for a new restaurant. I have never seen an establishment so crowded. It was 7 p.m., there were “Elite Eight” NCAA tourney games being played all around us and people were packed in like sardines and loving it. Holy Grail is a wet dream for sports lovers, with over 15 high-definition televisions strategically placed throughout so all patrons can cheer on their favorite team, a plethora of beers on tap and great pub grub. I can already imagine enjoying the summer breeze and sipping a beer while awaiting gate entry to see the ever-handsome Joey Votto hit a few home runs. One of the cooler features of the Grail’s new space are the garage doors that form the exterior walls when it’s cold and can be raised when it’s warm (putting you even closer to Votto while you drink and chow down).
Holy Grail is one of the only locally owned restaurants opening at the Banks and it is the third Grail location. The talk around town regarding the Grail seems to be about the tap tables. Waiting for a drink at a bar can be frustrating, especially if you only have a specified amount of time (or if you’re on a mission, if you know what I mean). The Grail has solved that for a few lucky guests who might find a seat at the tap tables open (reservations are available).
Guests estimate the amount of pints they will drink, pre-pay and then are free to pour their own draft at their own pace. It wasn’t busy on our second visit, so I didn’t see a tap table as necessary. We began with a pint of Blueberry Grail Ale and a Bass ($5.75). The Blueberry Grail Ale is served with a handful of blueberries in the bottom of the glass and is refreshing and surprisingly not very sweet; the Bass was delicious (as always).
The menu offerings seem designed for an affordable bite to eat before heading to the game or some other local attraction, not necessarily as a dinner destination. They offer appetizers like the Holy Grail of Nachos ($7.50) and Saratoga Chips with Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce ($3.99), a few salads, a Club Sandwich ($7.99) and a Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($8.99), just to name a few. There are also different types of Angus burgers and a couple different wraps. There aren’t many options for those who don’t like to eat a lot of meat, but I was told a black bean burger is soon to come.
We started with the Ball Park Pretzels ($5.99) and a few Buffalo Wings with Wicked Hot Sauce ($4.99 for six). The wings were tender and tasty, though not especially jumbo, as the menu stated, and not especially “wicked hot” — my companion was not sweating, but they satisfied the wing cravings. The Ball Park Pretzels were far better than any I’ve had at the ballpark. Served hot and salted with a tasty side of spicy nacho cheese sauce, the two large pretzels were actually moist and not as overly doughy as pretzels can often be.
Our server suggested two dinner items: ‘Reagan’s’ Salad ($8.99 for a large) and Jake’s Black and Bleu Burger ($9.49) with one of their famous Goebel’s Rueben Wontons for just $2.99. We took her advice.
The burger is a great deal. Tons of bleu cheese tops a charbroiled Cajun-seasoned Angus patty and a pile of shoestring fries is always a good thing. The burger was well-seasoned and the bleu cheese was not very powerful (we would have welcomed a stronger variety).
The Goebel’s Rueben Wonton is stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese and topped with a drizzle of Thousand Island dressing. It is what it is and tasted like a Rueben — not an Izzy’s Rueben, but a Rueben nonetheless.
While the burger is a good value, the salad is not. A spring mix topped with a scarcity of pine nuts, a handful of dried cranberries and a smattering of goat cheese, I’m don’t think it was worth $8.99, though I would have happily paid more for the addition of a nice piece of blackened fish. Maybe it will be a summer special.
It’s exciting to see our lost city surface, and it is especially exciting to see a hometown business christen the development. The Holy Grail will serve Reds fans and the downtown happy hour crowd well. And, hey, maybe Joey V. will pop over after a hard day hitting homers and I can mop his sweaty brow.
Go: 161 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m. daily
Entrée Prices: $6.99-$9.49
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads and a few sandwiches
Accessibility: Fully accessible