Mainstay Rock Bar Calls It a Day

Remembering the downtown live music club as it prepares for its final weekend

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Mainstay Rock Bar will be celebrating its final weekend before closing its doors after five and a half years in operation. As I prepared to write about the closure of my favorite local bar, I struggled to figure out just how to voice my sadness. I’m still not entirely sure how but I did think of a ton of stories that exemplify why Mainstay was so special to me.

I started going to Mainstay back in college before it was even Mainstay. It was called The Poison Room and my friends and I used to go to their weekly ’80s dance night. My memories of those nights are fond (if a bit hazy), but I was too new to the scene for the closure to upset me too much. When the location reopened with a new moniker and a makeover, I was happy to have another place that catered to my musical tastes. But it took some time for my love of Mainstay to truly grow.

Looking back, the closures of the original Southgate House and Mad Hatter in Northern Kentucky are what sparked my connection to Mainstay. With two of my normal haunts gone in the space of months, I needed another place to go and Mainstay was at the top of a fairly short list. I started only going for shows, but the bar soon lived up to its name. It transitioned from just a music venue to a reliable fallback to my first choice. Need a good burger? Mainstay. Want to sing some karaoke? Mainstay. Interested in hearing some Rock & Roll? Mainstay. Do you prefer bartenders that actually know what they’re talking about? Mainstay.

Of course, a major part of Mainstay Rock Bar’s appeal to me was that middle word — the “Rock.” Mainstay has been host to some of the best local and regional bands the area has to offer. In recent years, the selection of bands and performances has also become more and more eclectic. There are few bars that can host a Hip Hop show one night, a burlesque performance the next and a Surf Rock show to round out the weekend. Mainstay has proven time and time again that its dedication to the local music scene is genuine by taking the time to champion bands on the rise and hosting all sorts of community events like the ubiquitous Midpoint Music Festival. And they’ve done it all without charging a cover on any shows save the biggest of the big. If you wanted to take a chance on a new band or genre, Mainstay was the place to go. At least you had a fantastic beer selection to console you if you didn’t like what you heard.

For all of my wild and crazy memories, the ones I have of my time with the staff are the fondest. Memories like an interview being derailed when the entire band and I took a minute to stare at the hot new bartender (sorry Becky, hopefully Mangrenade and I tipped you well that night). Or pulling the curtain for Dandelion Death with Scary. Or riding Chris’s knee scooter to the bathroom, weaving in between a busy Friday night crowd. Or the little things, like Lena taking the time to listen to my post-breakup moaning and buying me a “girl’s suck” shot when it was all said and done. The staff (past and present) of Mainstay consists of an insane bunch of people who love the music, love the atmosphere and know how to have a good time. And that attitude coursed through the entire venue night after night. To be a part of it at any point in time was intoxicating. To be welcomed in as a friend and included in the shenanigans was humbling.

As I became more of a fixture of the establishment, the more I grew to know the staff and feel accepted. I’ve frequently called Mainstay my Heavy Metal Cheers; it’s the only bar in Cincinnati where I can walk in and be greeted with a handshake or high five and see my favorite beer and shot sitting on the bar.

As I reach the end of this article, I still don’t know how to say just what Mainstay means to me. It’s where I sang dozens of Danzig songs, watched hundreds of bands take the stage, spent several birthdays and drowned far too many brain cells. There isn’t a place in Cincinnati quite like Mainstay and its closing will leave a pretty big hole in my heart. But I wanted to say thank you for the five and a half years of memories and raise a glass – full of Jameson, of course – to the people that made that place so special. 

For your final weekend, I’ll be sitting at the bar, enjoying a shot and a brew at Mainstay — where everybody knows your name… or at least your favorite drink.


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