Cover Story: A Key Spot for Summer

Covington bar and grill keeps local ownership group's winning streak alive

May 28, 2008 at 2:06 pm
Raven Bull

Taking their bar and grill success across the river: Bob Deck (left) and Dan Cronican.

When you close your eyes and envision a "bar and grill," odds are you imagine a menu that pairs everything with ketchup, a place where all the food tastes exactly the same. You might expect the décor to be a random assortment of kitschy old advertisements and sleds attached to the walls.

Fortunately, the people behind AliveOne, Mt. Adams Pavilion, The Stand and Sand Bar focused on defying such abrasive stereotypes when they opened Keystone Bar and Grill in Covington (313 Greenup St.).

The business partnership between Dave Halpern and Ben Klopp started 10 years ago, when they opened the first AliveOne in Chicago. Four years later, Dan Cronican and Bob Deck joined them and opened AliveOne in Mount Adams. They haven't looked back since.

Cronican says he's more restaurant oriented, while Deck has a nightclub and bar background. The melding of their differing areas of expertise is apparent throughout their local establishments.

Deck describes their recipe for success simply: "Give people what we think we'd like."

Keystone has quickly become an ideal summer destination through sports ticket giveaways, outdoor seating and free shuttles to and from Great American Ball Park.

Shuttles to Bengals games are offered during football season. On Labor Day the surrounding streets are cordoned off to provide a block party feel, perfect for enjoying the fireworks.

The bar is tastefully decorated with stained glass and black-and-white photos, and since you can still smoke indoors in the Bluegrass State this area serves as the smoking section. There's also an outdoor patio area.

The adjoining smoke-free restaurant area offers brightly painted walls decorated with local artists' paintings. Promoting local artists ties the place in with the community — something the chain-style décor of other restaurants fails miserably at.

Three party rooms can be reserved at no cost, with private bartenders assigned to the rooms. The non-smoking dining area is available for rental, as is a smaller room with leather couches and a way nicer TV than you have at home. The large upstairs bar is also available for groups.

More than 50 craft beers are available, along with an equally impressive assortment of single batch bourbon. Although it's not uncommon to see lawyers and other civilized folk enjoying a glass, Keystone lacks any pretentiousness that can accompany bars stocking more than Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's.

Bloody Mary mixology is taken seriously, resulting in a separate menu solely for Marys. The most popular is the "Angry Bloody," which Cronican says earned its name by being "so hot it will make you angry."

Saturday and Sunday brunches have proven popular, and the highlight item is the resurrected potato crisp recipe formerly served at the late lamented Inn The Wood in Clifton Heights. It's quite therapeutic for those of us still bemoaning the untimely passing of those hangover-alleviating breakfasts.

The regular menu features staples such as wraps and sandwiches, what Cronican calls "approachable, but not average comfort food." Although Keystone has been opened less than a year, the menu has been updated three times.

It's not often you find a Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie at the same place you go for drinks, or a separate menu featuring eight variations of macaroni and cheese. The mac & cheese dishes are named after Rock bands, with the "Buffalo Springfield" (buffalo chicken and bleu cheese) being the most popular and the "Black Sabbath" (topped with steak and mushrooms) running a close second.

The word "unique" might be overused, but it applies to this bar and grill that makes customers feel at home and welcomed.

When asked about any future plans for expansion, Deck says the four owners "are always looking to expand. We hope to grow."

Given their track record of success, they might not have much of a choice. ©