The rebirth of Iron Horse Inn poses the question: If you tear down a building, gut the place and completely renovate it inside and out, is it still the same place?
That's exactly what the four Sawyer brothers of Glendale did in 1994 when they bought the ailing restaurant next to the railroad tracks. They scrapped it and started over.
Nearly three years' worth of renovation brought the new Iron Horse to life, on the same spot first operated as the Bracker Tavern in 1856. A series of owners and establishments — from tavern to soda shop to its most recent predecessor, a home-style restaurant — occupied the building over the years. But the current-day Iron Horse has truly made its mark on the city, a restaurant that's become a community treasure.
Outside, the restaurant's stately white clapboard siding and black shutters fit right in with its Victorian-era neighbors. Diners on the "side porch" patio, overlooking the old train depot, have a front-row view of an occasional train chugging by. Inside, folks have a choice to make: upstairs or down. Though the menu is the same for both, the dining rooms have distinct personalities.
Bright red walls with white trim, red-and-white striped chairs and white linen tablecloths declare the formality of the first floor dining room, where folks in business attire fit right in. The upstairs dining room and bar area has a more casual, tavern feel with comfy green painted walls and a warm, honey-colored, tongue-and-groove ceiling that gives the room an aged feel. Though both rooms have their appeal, the upstairs tavern has quickly become one of my favorite spots for a casual dinner with friends and a place to enjoy live Jazz. Currently, the Inn hosts a local trio four nights a week.
I also like the feel of the bar and have often enjoyed lunch there solo during the week, as well as sipped coffee after dinner. Even though I know this isn't the original building, the place still feels familiar, like a beloved, neighborhood gathering place. The Inn has developed quite a following of local regulars in the three years since its rebirth, and many folks have turned dining here into a comfortable habit.
The varied menu (developed by local chef Ron Wise) combines classic choices with creative twists, like the innovative grilled walleye paired with macaroni and cheese, four-onion compote and balsamic-beet splash. I've never ordered that one, but I have had the vegetarian specials, which could be shellacked and displayed in galleries, they're been so damn colorful.
Everything I've sampled from the menu — from the homemade roasted red pepper soup to the "to-die-for" signature bread pudding — has been enjoyable.
So, is it still the same? Yes and no. It seems to have combined the best of the old with the new. By preserving its historical charm and adding an updated, contemporary menu, the Iron Horse Inn has found its place in Cincinnati as a new classic.