Then: In 1997, Jon Hughes did a photo essay of Stenger's Café on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. The café had been serving lunch for more than 63 years thanks to owner Leo Sunderman, who joined the business after returning from a tour of duty in World War II. Sunderman's father-in-law, John Stenger Jr., originally opened the café in 1934. "Stenger's Café continues to be an urban magnet, drawing persons from downtown, uptown and the suburbs," Hughes wrote. "Regulars are not just neighbors. Sunderman says Buddy LaRosa still comes by. Pete Rose used to come in early in his Reds career. And lunch at Stenger's brings persons together like no other eatery in the city, from suits to overalls. There are lawyers, judges, winos, locals, professors, city employees. All types." (Issue of May 15, 1997).
Now: An unfortunate series of events have contributed to Stenger's demise. In 1999, Doug Bootes bought the building that used to house Stenger's Café. Paul Sebron, currently the manager of Mr. Pig in Findlay Market, was hired by Bootes to manage Stenger's. The two disagreed about the direction in which the café should go. Then there were the 2001 riots.
"We couldn't come to an agreement on rental structure," Sebron explains, "so we went our separate ways. I wanted to put a beer garden in on the side of the café. He didn't want to do it." Sebron pauses for a moment. "It's called Blitz Café now or Blitz Sports Bar."
In March 2001, Stenger's was continuing to show signs of life under the new ownership. "We had done some things," Sebron explains. "We had crayfish nights. We had 100 people for that event. There was still some life in the place."
One month later, riots erupted in the streets of Over-the-Rhine.
There are few signs of life in the building that used to house Stenger's. According to the Hamilton County Auditor, the property is zoned for retail, with an apartment over the street level, and Bootes is still the owner.
"It's a piece of history lost," Sebron reflects. "But things do change."
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