Symposium’s Three Bars Nestle into East Walnut Hills With Avian-Inspired Cocktails and 'American Tapas'

“We aspire to be an all-day destination for the neighborhood," owner J. Matt Nickels says.

click to enlarge Inside Symposium - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Inside Symposium

A new wine bar and cafe has entered the East Walnut Hills culinary scene, albeit with a tricky start.

Symposium had a soft opening May 6 only to be closed down days later due to a leaky sink. The wine bar and cafe finally hosted its grand opening on May 11, and as co-owner J. Matt Nickels tells CityBeat in an email, the business has been going strong ever since. 

Nickels knows his way around Cincinnati dining, especially when it comes to drinks. After all, he worked in food and beverage service at Metropole for years, moving on to become the general manager of Boca Group. Then, he was a local wine and sake wholesale importer, and, most recently, the beverage director for E+O Restaurant Group. 

His newest venture, Symposium, sports a relaxed Hemingway cafe-style atmosphere. He says of the space, “We [Nickels and Owen] have always romanticized cafes in literature, Hemingway for example, and stories from the old country [Italy] (Aaron's nonna and my great grandmother). We love the Impressionist examples of cafe life as well.”

The space features a main dining room with a lounge known as The Nest, a private dining and event space called the Rumpus Room, an outdoor patio that currently seats 10 (weather permitting) and Symposium’s three bars. 

Nickels says that the business also has added two church pews that are orientated towards the St. Francis de Sales church at the corner of Madison Road and Woodburn Avenue – “a little homage to our tall neighbor across the street,” he says.

Each bar offers something different — one serves coffee, the other has drinks and the last, food. 

The coffee bar presents classic espresso drinks – including lattes, cortados, macchiatos and cappuccinos – all at a very reasonable cost, priced between $3-4. The bar also has drip coffee and cold brew. 

An abundance of drink options at Symposium can be attributed to the establishment’s full-service bar that has 16 beers on tap, wine, sake, root beer and more. Cocktails known as “Birdtails” are delicious, imaginative and avian-inspired and include the Magpie Gin and Tonic, Macaw Mojito and Bird on a Wire espresso martini.

Chef Aaron Owen, who previously was the executive chef of Nicola’s Restaurant and sous chef of fine dining establishments Boca and Salazar, has created a menu that serves breakfast, dinner and – soon – lunch, Nickles says. 

Breakfast items include croissants, overnight oats and ricotta toast made with sourdough from local Allez Bakery and topped with fresh strawberry jam. There also is a rotation of pastries and doughnuts. 

For dinner, Owen offers small plates, canapés, charcuterie and cheese boards, all of which are collected as “American tapas.”

The canapés, including the truffled grilled cheese with fontina and an onion doughnut with caviar, crema and chives, are unique and delectable. The cheese and charcuterie boards feature ingredients that range from aged ham to marinated melon. 

Symposium has set up shop in a neighborhood bustling with many new and exciting establishments from hip bars to cafes and salons. East Walnut Hills has been welcoming, Nickels tells CityBeat.

“To date, folks have been wonderful,” he says

Nickels adds that he and Owen have become close with staff from neighborhood establishments like Branch, Anjoy, Solstice and Mochiko – they’ve even gotten tattoos by artist Stephanie Merrill at Lumen Ink, just a few blocks south on Woodburn Avenue. They’ve also enjoyed meeting folks from Woodburn Brewing, Growler House and HeyDay, who have all offered them a warm welcome, Nickels says. 

Nickels says he is thrilled to be a part of this community. “We aspire to be an all-day destination for the neighborhood.”

Symposium is located at 2835 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills. Info:

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