Whirlygig: 71: Out on the Town

CityBeat celebrates the best at SSNOVA

Dale M. Johnson

Artist Thomas Condon (center) is flanked by his wife, Kelly Blank, and CityBeat's Steve Ramos

Early last week, I received an invitation to CityBeat's "Best of Cincinnati" party March 27 for a date and myself. Even with the promise of free beer and food, I couldn't find a date for the party. The excuses ranged between "I'm going to watch the UK basketball game," "The Detroit Cobras are playing at the Madison Theater" and, my personal favorite, "I'll never go to a party where I know Mike Breen will be there."

Maybe I'm just cheap, but even if I knew that the Tonya Harding to my Nancy Kerrigan was going to be a party with free beer, I'd still show up.

When I drove by SSNOVA at 7 p.m., I was stunned by the number of cars already lined up and down both sides of Central Parkway. I'm apprehensive of valet parking ever since the first time I saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I decided to bypass the valets and park my car myself about a block away from the gallery and walk. Plus, I just don't feel comfortable about having to pay someone to park my car when I have two good legs.

The first two floors of SSNOVA used to be storage rooms for beer and wine in the building's previous life before it became an art gallery. Because of that it's always naturally 10 to 20 degrees colder than it is outside.

I knew this before I went to the party and dressed in layers.

Luckily for me, most of the women at the party didn't know this, or they just didn't care. On my way to the free beer upstairs I must have seen three or four women dressed like Christina Aguilera or Brittany Spears. I'm not complaining. It's been a really long winter and it's nice seeing skin on women again.

Not only was there free beer in the room upstairs, but there was also great Soul music being spun by DJ Grover. Every time I see Grover spin, he plays a song I've never heard the original version of but have heard bits of it sampled in a Rap song. It's almost like a musical history lesson.

After I got my first of many beers for the evening, I saw this girl Leigh that I've been trying to ask out for the past couple of weeks. I've run into her at least once a week for the past month just out on the town, but weird things keep happening every time I see her. This time was a little different, but with similar results. After talking to her for a couple of minutes, a friend of mine came up and joined our conversation. I have a fear about being turned down within earshot of other people, so I decided to give up asking her out until later in the evening.

When I finally worked up the courage to ask Leigh out, I couldn't find her. I went to have another free beer to console myself, only to find out that they were no longer giving out free beer after 9 o'clock.

As I walked back to my car, a valet driver was bringing back a boxy monstrosity of an SUV to the front of SSNOVA by making a U-turn from the right hand lane. She nearly got T-boned by a mini-van that was trying to pass her at the same time. It was one of those moments where time moves really slowly. I was so close to the near-accident that I could actually see the panicked looks on both drivers' faces as the mini-van came within inches of hitting the SUV.

It's safe to say that I won't be using valet parking any time in the near future.

— R.L. Newman

A Load of Bull
Cincinnati loves its favorites. Nothing pleases us more than our hometown chili, ice cream and teams. Well, at least, we hope our teams please us — starting with the Reds in the new Great American Ball Park — but let's stay focused on CityBeat's "Best of Cincinnati" 2003 for just a moment.

A celebration took place March 27 to honor the Best of Cincinnati recipients at SSNOVA. I'd never been to SSNOVA but had heard about the recent art openings and band events being held there, so it was a good excuse to check it out.

With directions in hand, I wandered along Central Parkway thinking it had to be somewhere in the darkness. Indeed, I rounded the bend just back of the Harrison Avenue turn-off and started to see a plethora of cars parked on either side of the road. Feeling lazy I decided to valet park my wheels. Imagine my delight when I tried to pay the guy and he informed me it was tips only.

There were a few people hanging around at the entrance and someone was manning the door with clipboard in hand. She found my name and told me that there was a bar to the right serving complimentary BarrelHouse beer or a cash bar for mixed drinks. Another bar was upstairs as well. Hmm, I think I'll have a blonde brew, thank you very much.

I meandered up the narrow stairs to the second level and wondered exactly where I was in this seemingly historic building with its arched ceilings and long, narrow rooms. Luckily I bumped into a history buff, who obliged me with a tale of days long past when this was a brewery. He wasn't speaking of the new microbrewery houses of recent popularity but back when Germans ruled Cincinnati and beer was made in mass. We both agreed that the building had intrigue built in, and I could almost picture the kegs stacked to the ceiling.

The kegs were missing now, replaced with artwork hung gallery style in both rooms. Down the center of the room were tables featuring some fine examples of Cincinnati's best with plenty of guests happy to partake. J's was featuring salmon-filled endive at one end, with Bonbonerie gourmet cookies at the other end of the gallery to the left. In the right gallery, it was Andy's Mediterranean Grille serving various hummus dips with pita squares and more Bonbonerie delights.

Andy himself, dressed in an outfit that featured a velvet hat and vest, was manning his post. His table sported a large pipe that exuded a slight aroma of tobacco, which he was happy to explain was apple tobacco. It seemed to swirl and mix with the music in the air quite nicely as he told me more about Andy's restaurant on Nassau Street in Wlanut Hills.

Andy told me he's ready to open up the decks as soon as the weather holds. He's also planning to initiate Wednesday nights as amateur belly dancing night in connection with a ladies' night. I think this is just what Cincinnati needs — where else can one practice circling their hips and smoke apple tobacco? Andy assured me that there's only one place for these pleasures — his place.

Not one to argue, I smiled and wandered off to the large room up ahead where I saw a large video screen and '70s-inspired images being projected. The disc jockey was doing a terrific job of keeping the mood festive.

Along with more of Cincinnati's best to nibble on in the corners, including Chipotle Mexican Grill chips and salsa plus BarrelHouse wings, I found a lone person having a cocktail. He introduced himself as Stephan and told me his connection to the event was through the SSNOVA crowd.

I was drawn to the bar, where a huge flying pig ice sculpture featured a funnel and a tube that resembled a beer bong of college-day era. The rep from Red Bull was happy to oblige my new friend Stephan and me when we inquired on how exactly the thing worked. She demonstrated, and then we compared notes on impressions and realities related to Red Bull.

Stephan, having lived in San Diego a while back, said that often Red Bull was sold late nights in carts on the street along with the food vendors. I was just interested to know if indeed it tasted better cold from the bong and that it only contains the amount of caffeine as a Coca-Cola. She told us that many athletes like it before and after races and sporting events, so I vowed I'd give it a shot after the upcoming Humana Mini-Heart Marathon 15K on Sunday.

She ventured off to other guests and Stephan somehow steered the conversation to my pedicured feet, which peeked out of my high-heeled black sandals. As I reflect on the evening, I'm not sure how one goes from Red Bull to foot fetish, but I'm fairly confident Stephan had experience with this. He asked if I'd ever had my feet photographed and would I be open to having them appear in Foot Fetish magazine.

Well, I was amused that there's a periodical for foot fetish types. I did share just one story about a neurosurgeon from my past who seemed more intrigued with my toes that other parts of my body, but I had no plans to start my toe modeling career any time soon.

Instead, I decided to head off into the night convinced that anything can happen in this town given the chance to push the envelope just a little bit.

— Wendy Robinson

Writer's Market
March 27 was the "Best of Cincinnati" soiree at SSNOVA, and we Whirlygig writers were invited to attend. I admit to some apprehension about coming out of the writer's closet, as we're normally safely anonymous on the Web. I brought my boyfriend along as my guest, so I knew the anonymity wouldn't last long.

When we reached Central Parkway and walked along the broken sidewalk, we realized there was valet parking. Oops. Oh, well, we needed the exercise.

When I gave the girl at the door my name, she replied, "Oh, you're one of our writers," which quelled my nerves about being recognized. She directed us to the food and free beer, so my boyfriend and I ascended the narrow staircase to the second floor. SSNOVA, which I learned, was a barrel storage space for a brewery and still is as cold as a witch's fridge. I was suddenly glad to have brought my leather jacket along.

Once upstairs, I recognized my friend and fellow-writer, R.L. Newman. He was chomping on some pita bread and talking to an attractive woman. I wasn't sure if he was hitting on her or just chatting, so I kept my distance. Turned out she was the third of the trio of Whirlygig writers. For some reason, I started imagining her running in a marathon.

I wanted to talk with them more, but the room was distracting me. There were photographs to be looked at and music was pouring in from the adjoining room. We were told tales of free food, but I looked down to find a mostly empty food tray. We weren't that late, were we? (Note to self: These folks know how to eat.) Luckily, I wasn't very hungry.

My boyfriend had gone off to talk to some friends, so I wandered around to look at the photographs. Eventually, I slipped into the other room. Bonbonerie (winner, "Best Bakery") had set up goodies on one table, but even that was almost all gone. The last time I had anything from the Bonbonerie was on my birthday — opera cream torte. If you've never had it, it's this chocolately affair of a cake that's so rich you feel a need for confession after you eat it.

I struck up a conversation with some guy about a few of the paintings, which he told me were originally band fliers. I wasn't sure I believed him, but we both liked the artist's work. I can't remember the artist's name, but one painting was of an American flag in the shape of West Virginia. I don't know the shape of West Virginia, so I'm just going to assume the guy was right again. (Note to self: Learn the 50 states.) The stranger and I agreed art shouldn't require too much deciphering. Maybe I graduated from the school of Short Attention Spans, but there was definitely something to be said for immediate impact.

Suddenly, my boyfriend reappeared. The two guys knew each other from a makeshift band they formed way back in the day. I might be anonymous, buy my boyfriend should win a Best of Cincinnati award for "Congeniality." It was high time I had some beer, so I went into the larger room in search of it. Grover "the friendly skinhead" was acting as DJ. I didn't recognize the music, but I did recognize the band Buckra and congratulated Jacob on his recent award for Best Local Musician.

"What do you mean award?" he joked. "We won six." Oh, my mistake, I said. Then my friend Heat came over and we decided to get a cigarette, but there was no smoking inside the cavernous space that is SSNOVA.

On the way out, my boyfriend pointed out CityBeat Editor John Fox, so I asked to be introduced. The illustrious editor, decked out in a checked suit jacket, recalled a memorable story my fellow Whirlygiger R.L. had written. Apparently, the story was famous in the paper's office. (Note to self: Write more about bodily functions.)

Nicotine was calling, so we went outside, where someone pointed out Tom Condon nearby. I thought he was still in jail, so I looked around for the artist, who looks like a cross between Morrissey and Elvis Costello. Sure enough, there he was standing on an old loading dock. R.L. joined us and we watched some local politicians enter the building, one of whom he thought was hot.

Figuring I needed to absorb some more art and perhaps meet new people, I went back inside. In an adjacent room on the first floor were provocative mixed-media pieces by Jay Mueller, definitely my favorite artist on display that night. I was surprised the topless women in some of his pieces weren't suffering from Nipplus Erectus. It's cold in that place!

My single cup of beer was catching up with me and I was finding it difficult to focus on any one thing or person at the party. So I figured it was time we made our second stop of the evening, where the rest of Cincinnati was that night — the Detroit Cobras show at the Madison in Covington, of course.

My favorite DC song is "Bad Girl," which pretty much described what I thought of myself at one time when I was in the dating scene. At this point in time, my song would be more like "Can't Hold Her Alcohol." I got so drunk so fast, I had to leave the Madison before the band even played.

I came to one idea for next year's CityBeat judges — Northern Kentucky should get a "Best of" award for having cooler shows than Cincinnati.

— Ilsa Venturini

You read Whirlygig every week, now we want to hear your stories. Send them to whi[email protected].

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