Although revitalization and development in Over-the-Rhine finally seem to be making significant progress, some things will never change. In the case of the reopening of Grammer's, this is a good thing.
While new condos, schools, shopping and dining flock to historic Over-the-Rhine, Grammer's remains persistently rooted to the past. Owners Martin and Marilyn Wade hope that Grammer's will, like a family patriarch, help to anchor, guide and develop the surrounding neighborhood in its new phase of development.
The story of this restored Cincinnati landmark begins in 1872, when German baker Anton Grammer opened a saloon/café on 15th Street. The establishment moved to one other site, which is now Grammer's parking lot, before settling into its current location in 1911, which was previously — according to General Manager Ryan Breen — a store front church. When I say that the bar area looks exactly as it did back then, I'm not exaggerating.
I definitely had the sense that I was stepping back in time on a recent visit to Grammer's, but it was only after viewing an old photograph on the Greater Cincinnati Memory Project's Web site that this sensation started to feel creepy. Substitute the turn-of-the-century attire, add a little color and this picture could have been taken yesterday.
But let's return to that bar area for a second, and discuss what has to be Grammer's most impressive and memorable element: the leaded glass entryway.
Custom-made in Germany, this leaded, or beveled, glass composition takes up virtually the entire western wall, bathing patrons in light as sunset approaches.
There's definitely something about that all-glass rounded arch entryway which gives the sensation of being transported to somewhere exotic and vaguely European. Prague, maybe? Perhaps a Parisian café? Either way, you have to appreciate that German craftsmanship.
But this impressive space has even more custom-made features. The original, copper-topped bar with stained glass and decorative lights, tin roof and ornately tiled floors all date to 1911. All likewise remain in immaculate condition, for which Breen gives much credit to Jim Tarbell, who owned Grammer's from the early 1980s until recently selling to the Wades. Tarbell is also the man who uncovered the bar's unique mural.
Painted in 1940 by an unknown artist, the only two walls not consumed by bar or glass depict a lovely scene of the Rhine Valley in Germany. It was, however, painted over in 1942 due to anti-German sentiment during the war, and remained hidden until the 1980s. The vista, which depicts rolling hills dotted with stately manors and a grouping of well-dressed gentlemen dining, visualizes the original purpose of Rathskellers and Grammer's to serve as a place for "important people" to conduct their unofficial business and enjoy a nice brew or two.
Grammer's does, in fact, have their own Rathskeller adjacent to the bar space. Added in the 1970s, it's connected by a hallway that was originally the alley between the two buildings. The bi-level Rathskeller and basement seating areas feature carved wooden benches adorned with yet more decorative glass dividers, this time salvaged from the original Conservatory of Music and Shillito's.
Whether you're seated in an upper-level wooden booth or at one of the semi-circular tables nestled beneath the brick barrel vaulted ceilings, either place makes for an excellent setting to take on your friends at one of the provided board games.
And just when you think Grammer's can't get any more charming and, well, German, word on the street is that a beer garden is in the works and will hopefully be in place just in time for the summer. Prost, anyone?
GRAMMER'S is located at 1442 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine.