Taft's Ale House Opens Today

The 19th-century Protestant church is now a three-level bar and restaurant

click to enlarge Taft's Ale House
Taft's Ale House

Over-the-Rhine's new three-level bar and restaurant, Taft’s Ale House — named for William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, former Supreme Court Justice and native Cincinnatian — opens on Monday, Red’s Opening Day, and will feature a variety of specialty beers, as well as an emphasis on tri-tip beef (cut from the bottom sirloin). Helmed by Cincinnati local Kevin Moreland, former brewer at Listermann/Triple Digit, and partners Dave Kassling, a New York restauranteur, and Dave Williams, a UC grad, the bar, which is located at 1429 Race St., inhabits a building that formerly housed the 19th-century St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant Church.


Moreland describes his first experience in the building as walking into complete disarray. He had to use the side doors on Fifth Street to get in and, after entering, he walked into “straight dirt” and looked up to see holes the size of office spaces in the ceiling. To save the church, which was on the verge of destruction, he contacted 3CDC. Through their partnership — 3CDC helped stabilize the building, which had been abandoned for almost 50 years — they were able to restore the building, emphasizing it's historical appeal and architecture. The structure still retains it's dramatically high 40-plus-foot ceilings, large, Gothic-style arch windows and former bell tower. But now, instead of parishioners, it can hold more than 200 patrons.


“Part of what’s going on in OTR is saving something that used to be there,” says Taft’s Ale House General Manager Keith Maloy. “It would have been easier for us to start from scratch and build a new place. It would have been easier to construct and less expensive, but we would have lost a lot of the charm that’s in this building.”


The building’s three levels essentially create three different environments depending on an individual’s mood. There is the main beer hall level, with picnic tables, bar games and TVs; a mezzanine level for casual dining; and then Nellie’s Tap Room on the lower level. Nellie's, named after William Howard Taft's wife, is more of a cocktail bar than a beer hall, though the drink menu is still beer-centric; Nellie's serves Taft brews with eight guest taps from local and regional brewers, plus wine and cocktails. 


The entirety of the building's décor, with Rookwood tiles and assorted antique ephemera, is inspired by the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Mount Auburn, Taft's boyhood home. 


“As soon as you walk in Taft’s home, you see this kind of laid-out pattern of multiple colors," Moreland says. "I wanted that to be something as a key feature in our place, so we did it. We had some hand-cut tile made to match that pattern. … A lot of the furniture matches and the color of the wood as well.”


Moreland considers Taft’s Ale House to be a gift to the city, specifically to OTR.  “I wanted to keep things here in the heart of OTR and try to work with our neighbors because they’re going to be our patrons as much as we’re going to be their patrons,” he says. And in terms of patronage, Moreland started by working with other local vendors, linking local products and businesses to his passion for creating unique and innovative craft beers. 


Taft’s partnered with Maverick Chocolate in Findlay Market to create their Maverick Chocolate Porter, featuring Maverick's cacao nibs and roasted cacao husks. Moreland also incorporated Findlay vendor Dean’s Mediterranean's products into the Culebra Cut Coconut Brown, an American brown ale infused with toasted coconuts. And Taft’s Mooly Wooly Coffee Milk Stout is made with oatmeal, lactose and coffee that comes straight from Coffee Emporium. 


“You can classify it however you want, but I classify beer by what it is," Moreland says. "There are these style guidelines that people like to follow, but I’m not that person. You can only brew so much IPA that tastes like everyone else’s IPA, so we have that but we wanted to spin it around.”


Other favorite brews include a Caribbean style ale — Nellie's Keylime Caribbean Ale —that focuses on key lime and coriander, and an IPA called Rookwood Mosaic, with mosaic hops. 


With creative beer, comes a creative menu, so don't expect pizza or burgers at Taft’s Ale House. During his time studying breweries and pubs around the country, Moreland saw different variations of the same menu time and time again, but his discovery of tri-tip beef changed the game. And General Manager Maloy could not agree more. The restaurant trims and ages the steak for 21 days, massages it with a dry rub, chars it, smokes it over hickory chips and then bakes it. 


“The tri-tip beef is great," Maloy says. "It’s a great cut of beef — we char it, smoke it. You can slice it thin and make a sandwich or cut it bigger like a traditional steak. We have interesting sides too: roasted vegetables, tater tots instead of french fries and sweet potato fries.”


Moreland and Maloy’s main focus is “marrying the [tri-tip] beef with the beer” while still making it affordable. They understand the importance of serving customers at a rate where it's cost-effective to come back. Sandwiches, like the Alehouse (tri-tip steak, onions, blue cheese and red ranch sauce) run between $7.50 and $10, while platters, which are served with mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted veggies and cornbread, are $17 (for grilled chicken breast) to $20 (for 12-ounces of tri-tip steak). A small kids menu features little steak and chicken sandwiches and chicken wings, served with tots. For vegetarians, there's a large selection of salads with housemade dressing. 


The experience of the customer is an ongoing theme in the vision of Taft’s Ale House. Many restaurants could say the same, but Taft’s physical setup lends itself to attaining customer satisfaction. Quality, an experience, and being passionate about what you do is how Moreland describes their mentality.


“Sometimes I have to pinch myself," he says. "I don’t feel like it’s real yet. I’ve learned a lot. I can tell you it’s been an awesome experience. Passion breeds success. The passion we’re putting into crafting great beers is incredible.”


Taft’s Ale House opens Monday, on Moreland’s birthday. The first 100 people to arrive receive a free Red’s-Cincy-W.H.Taft-inspired T-shirt along with a glass of First Pitch Pale Ale. As for the future, Moreland is already thinking about taking the brand national, hoping to bring “big dollars” back to the city’s hotels, bars, eateries and more. “That is my focus: putting Cincinnati on the map for great craft beers,” he says.


Taft's Ale House is located at 1429 Race St., Over-the-Rhine. More info at taftsalehouse.comfacebook.com/taftsalehouse, @taftsalehouse on Instagram and @bigbillytaft on twitter.


 

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