2015 Urban Life Staff Picks

Cincinnati's best urban life destinations as selected by CityBeat staff.

Mar 29, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Cincinnati's best urban life destinations as selected by CityBeat staff. 


With a mission to collect, preserve and display historical scientific artifacts, Lloyd Library and Museum has an awesome collection of pharmacy and medical equipment from yesteryear. John Uri Lloyd, who grew up in Northern Kentucky, was an early and influential American pharmacist. Along with his two brothers, John formed Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists, Inc. in the late 19th century. Visitors to the library/museum can look through a number of medical bottles from the 1930s and earlier. The space’s newest acquisition: a freaky Civil War pocket-sized field surgical kit. Lloyd Library and Museum, 917 Plum St., Downtown, 513-721-3707, lloydlibrary.org.  

Mercantile Library’s first Wednesday book discussion and other groups offer a refreshing take on the traditional casual book club. Active conversation is encouraged, space is limited and reservations are required, ensuring an intimate gathering for serious participants and great discussion. Groups form throughout the year, but current offerings include Jonathan Kamholtz’s Hard-Boiled America, a 20th century mystery novel group; the Canon Club, which looks at Shakespeare works; and a monthly rotating book discussion the first Wednesday of each month. Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., Downtown. 513-621-0717, mercantilelibrary.com

Though you can still find them, unfortunately drive-in movies are largely going the way of the payphone. But there are still plenty of opportunities to catch a flick in the great outdoors, even right in the heart of the city’s coolest neighborhood. Washington Park’s movie nights were expanded in 2014, showing classic films on select Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout late spring and most of the summer. The free movies — which last year ranged from Jumanji and The NeverEnding Story to Gone with the Wind and Singin’ in the Rain — attracted diverse crowds of people (families, date-nighters, seniors and beyond), who brought their own chairs and blankets to enjoy some vintage celluloid under the stars and in the shadow of Music Hall. You can bring your own picnic or grab some concessions (including beer) on-site. Keep an eye on washingtonpark.org for 2015’s offerings. Washington Park, 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, washingtonpark.org

Stricker's Grove
Photo: Donna Hacker
If you’re old enough to remember childhood visits to Monroe, Ohio’s now shuttered Americana/LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park and still pine to share that cozy, old-fashioned amusement park experience with the next generation without the crowds and costs of that other big area park with an Eiffel Tower replica, Stricker’s Grove should be on your summertime to-do list. The private indie park (which has origins dating back to 1924) has a ton of diverse classic rides that younger children will love (including the mini helicopter ride that looks a lot like an old Hanna-Barbera Land attraction at King’s Island), as well as a pair of hand-built wooden roller coasters: The Tornado and The Teddy Bear, both built by late owner Ralph Stricker. (The Teddy Bear was built based on the blueprints for the original coaster at Cincinnati’s Coney Island.) The park is only open to the public a handful of days per year, including Fourth of July and Labor Day, but that limited access makes the experience even more special and unique. (It is available to rent for picnics, wedding receptions and other occasions.) Stricker’s Grove, 11490 Hamilton Cleves Road, Hamilton, 513-521-9747, strickersgrove.com

While you might not technically be able to bring alcohol into Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, with more than 773 sprawling acres, it’s relatively easy to avoid detection. The National Historic Landmark is the final resting place of many famous (and not-so-famous) Cincinnatians, from Salmon P. Chase and Skip Prosser to William Procter and James Gamble. But for local ale fanatics, it’s worth making a pilgrimage to the cemetery just for one of their Beer Baron tours, where guides lead you on a walk to visit the graves and ornate mausoleums of the likes of Christian Moerlein, John Kauffman of the Kauffman Brewing Company and more, frequently accompanied by cemetery-sanctioned beer tastings. (If you want to go solo, head to section 37, lot 24 for the Moerlein plot.) And if Civil War generals are more your thing, they have a tour for that, too (there are more than 40 interred on the grounds). Just don’t bring your musket. Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Winton Place, 513-681-7526, springgrove.org

Because of pet overpopulation and overcrowded shelters, more than 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in the U.S. each year. Locally, the United Coalition for Animals (UCAN) is on a crusade to end the practice in Greater Cincinnati. And one of the best ways to stop euthanasia is to stop accidental or unintended litters. The low-cost, nonprofit spay and neuter clinic ($20 cats; $65-$75 for normal-sized dogs) has more than 68,000 surgeries under its belt, servicing family pets throughout the Tristate as well as rescue groups and feral cat trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs. The professional surgeries are performed by a team of veterinarians and passionate staff, and while you can’t request anything like “Mom” in a heart tattooed on their little bellies, your pets will walk away with a teal-green tattooed line on their stomachs indicating they’ve been fixed. (It helps avoid future unnecessary surgeries, especially for TNR cats.) And if you were a cool mom, you’d get a matching one. UCAN, 2830 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, ucancincinnati.org

The initiative to renovate Covington’s 106-year-old Goebel Park began when 11-year-old twin boys asked city leaders to make the park a priority at a public forum in February 2014. They said yes and now the boys’ mom co-chairs the Make Goebel Great committee, a grassroots group within the MainStrasse Village Association Foundation looking to raise funds to better the park, which is generally only used for special events or when people want to watch mechanized figures act out the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin around the Carroll Chimes Bell Tower glockenspiel. The group hopes to raise $250,000 to purchase new playground equipment, install a bicycle “pump track,” plant a Monarch Recovery Garden and start a pilot program that uses goats (yes, goats) as a way to maintain the park’s landscaping. The goal is to make the park a safe and fun environment for families to socialize and play. It’s also a great employment opportunity for local goats; generally we only use them to pull beer kegs. Goebel Park, Philadelphia Street, Covington, Ky., makegoebelgreat.com

After some assholes burned the beloved Little Free Library — a glorified mailbox/birdhouse that offered a tiny selection of curated books for free pick-up and drop-off — in Covington last summer, the community quickly committed to rebuilding it. A mere six days after the book drop-off was destroyed, the original builder Jeff Pelini began its reconstruction at the corner of Sixth and Craig streets. It was completed within a week. Little Free Library is a nationwide nonprofit initiative in urban communities to promote literacy, civic engagement and neighborhood aesthetic with its “take a book, return a book” mentality. Today, there are more than 7,000 Little Free Libraries in the world, including Pelini’s restored one. It’s like the tiny house movement, but for books. Little Free Library, Sixth and Craig streets, Covington, Ky., littlefreelibrary.org

Members of the downtown YWCA had major reason to celebrate this past summer when the organization switched its pool from chlorine to salt water. Salt water is easier on your skin, hair and respiratory system, according to YWCA Health & Wellness Director Ami Brown. And it doesn’t smell as harsh. Those with allergies or sensitivity to chlorine benefit the most from a salt water pool. The switch is part of the YWCA’s ongoing commitment to health and fitness programming, which has served the Cincinnati area for nearly 90 years. YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, 898 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-361-2116, ywca.org

Locals have been utilizing the historic Anderson Ferry since long before Cincinnati had an international airport located in Northern Kentucky. To this day it’s easier to skip traffic on I-275 and traverse the river the “Oregon Trail” way: by taking a quick and scenic trip on a boat. The ferry, which runs between Anderson Ferry Road in Delhi and Hebron, Ky., just three miles north of the airport, has been in continuous operation since 1817 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Due to high gas prices in recent years and its proximity to CVG, the ferry has become a popular, fun and hassle-free way for commuters (particularly West Siders) to get the airport. And unless the weather is especially bad, it operates seven days a week. Anderson Ferry, 4030 River Road, Hebron, Ky., 859-586-5007, andersonferryofficial.com

Fun fact: The world’s largest manufacturer of wooden carousels, Carousel Works, is located in Mansfield, Ohio, and the company is building a one-of-a-kind carousel for Cincinnati’s very own Smale Riverfront Park: Carol Ann’s Carousel. The $5 million carousel is set to open before the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and it will be housed in an all-glass building at the end of Vine Street at The Banks. Each of the carousel’s 42 hand-carved animals and two benches will represent Cincinnati’s rich history and culture: There’s the Oktoberfest Horse decked out in lederhosen, the Mt. Airy Forest Bat, the Queen Bee adorned with flowers and a crown and the Cincinnati Baseball Horse in a Reds hat. With all of its whimsical figurines and beautiful features, the carousel is sure to live to up its designated theme: The Crown Jewel of the City. Carol Ann’s Carousel, Smale Riverfront Park, Downtown, mysmaleriverfrontpark.org

Since opening in Lower Manhattan in 2001, Edward’s Tribeca has served as a home away from home for Cincinnatians living (or, let’s be real, even just visiting) the Big Apple and craving Cincy’s quintessential foods. Owned and operated by proud Cincinnati-native Edward Youkilis, the bar hosts a Cincinnati Night the final Monday of every month with a menu that boasts all of the Queen City’s delicious foods: Skyline Chili, Montgomery Inn ribs, LaRosa’s pizza and even Graeter’s ice cream. Because of the demand, reservations are strongly suggested. It stands as a reminder that there is truly is no place like home, even in “the greatest city on earth.” Edward’s Tribeca, 136 W. Broadway, New York, N.Y., edwardsnyc.com. 

There’s a unique place where Cincinnati’s bright and ambitious young people come together to tackle the city’s most pressing urban issues: the University of Cincinnati’s Niehoff Studio in Corryville. Students in architecture, engineering, business, urban planning and more have used the 13-year-old studio to partner with dozens of community-based organizations on projects that aim to make Cincinnati a more sustainable, vibrant place. Neihoff students have dreamed up plans for the Wasson Way bike trail, retirement housing in Uptown, development in Over-the-Rhine and sustainability projects for the Cincinnati Museum Center. All of the work is intended to have a tangible impact on Cincinnati’s urban issues. The off-campus studio also frequently holds public presentations and exhibits on its projects. It’s one of the city’s most innovative places for the community to discuss quality-of-life issues. Niehoff Studio, 2728 Vine St., Corryville, uc.edu/cdc

In early February, the city of Covington celebrated a major and historic milestone: its bicentennial. And COV200, the local group behind the city’s three-day birthday bash, pulled out all the stops: the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, a Bicentennial Gala with an after party complete with magicians and a documentary release, all celebrating the people and places and things that have made Covington cool enough to consider itself “the new Brooklyn.” We might not go quite that far (plus screw Brooklyn), but the city has seen an increased energy in recent years, especially from active arts organizations and institutions like BLDG, The Carnegie and Covington Arts. If you missed February’s big bash, no fear: COV200 plans to celebrate the bicentennial all year long, with the Largest Neighborhood Cookout in June and All-Star Week Activities in July. If you’re not already lovin’ the Cov, what are you waiting for? cov200.org

Completed last summer, designer Keith Nelter’s mural “Revival” on East McMicken Street celebrates not only the rich history of beer-making in Cincinnati but its thrilling resurgence in the region. The mural was chosen by the nonprofit ArtWorks to be a part of its Mural Project, a program dedicated to creating a mural in each of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. (All ArtWorks murals are painted by local teens and artists; to date, 90 public murals have been painted in 36 Cincinnati neighborhoods.) The mural depicts two workers, one from the past and one from the present, placing a crown on a giant, frothy beer that represents the pride of Cincinnati. It’s inscribed with the words: “Beer is proof that the Earth rewards the industrious.” The mural marks the portal to Cincinnati’s rejuvenated Brewery District, where we can expect even more breweries to open in 2015. Revival, 131 E. McMicken St., Over-the-Rhine, artworkscincinnati.org. 

The Cincinnati Strong Man: Henry Holtgrewe
We’d be remiss not to mention designer Jason Snell’s colorful mural on Vine Street, “The Cincinnati Strong Man,” as the city’s other best new public mural. The ArtWorks mural celebrates the life and feats of Henry Holtgrewe, a German immigrant and local entrepreneur who was touted as the world’s strongest man in the late 19th century. The red, green and blue mural depicts Holtgrewe lifting barbells, flexing his muscles and lifting the Cincinnati Reds team on his back, a feat legend suggests occurred in 1904. Boxes of text describe the folklore surrounding the strongman and his Over-the-Rhine community. It’s a bold honor to one of Cincinnati’s most colorful historic characters. The Cincinnati Strong Man, 1215 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, artworkscincinnati.org/mural/the-cincinnati-strong-man-henry-holtgrewe

The benefits of mediation are manifold: It lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and muscle tension, increases energy levels and more. And there’s hardly a better place in Cincinnati to explore the art of Zen and rejuvenate than at the volunteer-run Cincinnati Zen Center, which practices walking, chanting and sitting meditation for participants at all levels and experience. Founded in 1994, the center also offers weekend retreats and yoga classes, discussion groups on the Buddhist Sutras and Intro to Zen workshops. The nonprofit survives solely on the generosity of its visitors and members; most classes have a suggested donation. Cincinnati Zen Center, 3647 W. 8th St., Downtown, 513-684-4216, cincinnatizencenter.org

On Saturdays and Sundays in September and running through October, the annual Old West Festival in Williamsburg, Ohio, is every bit a John Wayne movie as patrons stroll through an authentic Wild West Town complete with a saloon, gunfight re-enactments, period actors, rodeo stunts and more. And each weekend, there’s a different theme, from Steampunk to Halloween to the Civil War. Guests are encouraged to don their best period attire for costume contests, do-si-do to the live Bluegrass music or partake in any number of the festival’s historically accurate shows. Old West Festival, 1449 Greenbush Cobb Road, Williamsburg, oldwestfestival.com

The Cincinnati Art Museum’s Art After Dark series on the final Friday of every month offers the best way to explore artistic masterpieces: dressed to the nines and holding a cocktail. Every month features a different theme (and sometimes costumes!) along with live music. Guests can enjoy full access to the galleries after hours and docent-led tours. Best of all, Art After Dark is free, with drinks and appetizers for purchase. If you think art is a bore, this is anything but. Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, 513-721-2787, cincinnatiartmuseum.org

There’s no better way to raise money for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (and have a blast with your kiddos while doing it) than at Bluegrass for Babies, a one-of-a-kind benefit concert. Since its start in 2009, Bluegrass for Babies has raised nearly $100,00 for Children’s Prenatal Institute. Last year’s September benefit at Sawyer Point featured hours of live music with food and drinks, art projects and other “movement activities” for kids, a farmers market with craft beer and vendors showcasing home and baby care products. Major perk: Kids 12 and under were free and adult tickets were only $20 at the gate. Bluegrass for Babies, healthyrootsfoundation.org/bluegrass-for-babies

A few years ago, the esteemed, 100-year-old Rothenberg Preparatory Academy on Clifton Avenue in Over-the-Rhine was nearly demolished as part of Cincinnati Public Schools’ initiative to rebuild or renovate outdated schools to meet state standards. But community advocates stepped in and saved the iconic building from being razed. Today, the school sports a new rooftop learning garden with 32 raised beds and an outdoor classroom. Each student has a space to get up close and personal with nature and learn how to grow and care for flowers, vegetables and other plants, helping students learn the ins and outs of sustainability, responsibility and even biology. The garden was made possible by $300,000 in donations and took six years to complete. It’s a beloved (and very green) addition to the Over-the-Rhine community. Rothenburg Academy, 241 E. Clifton Ave., Over-the-Rhine, rothenberg.cps-k12.org

The Contemporary Arts Center had a pretty spectacular 75th birthday. Along with the return of Metrobot, the giant robot sculpture by Nam June Paik that now greets visitors outside the CAC, the museum gave its lobby a makeover as well. Opened in March, the new CAC lobby features a cafe (finally!) by Collective Espresso, serving coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner items — plus a bar. Other smaller changes include a more accessible front desk and a gathering space with communal tables and ample seating. The renovations come from local design and architecture firm FRCH Design Worldwide. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-345-8400, contemporaryartscenter.org

21c Museum Hotel Rooftop Bar
Photo: Jillian Tellep
Open seasonally (weather permitting), the Cocktail Terrace at 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati offers a beautiful view of the surrounding city. Located on the artsy hotel’s 11th floor rooftop, the Cocktail Terrace features a menu of inventive cocktails, wine, beer and snacks. Come for a unique happy hour experience, then grab dinner downstairs at Metropole or browse 21c’s latest art exhibit. For an equally panoramic but greener view, Top of the Park at the Marriott Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown looks over the historic Lytle Park. The rooftop space is available for rent for private events and open to the public most evenings. Fun fact: Lytle Park has a rare beardless statue of Abraham Lincoln at its entrance. 21c Museum Hotel, 609 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-578-6600, 21ccocktailterrace.com; Top of the Park - Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown, 506 E. Fourth St., Downtown, topoftheparkcincinnati.com.