craft beer,  Ohio

Five great places for beers & bites in Cincinnati’s OTR

There is a lot to say about the Queen City and its beer and culinary scene.  However, instead of trying to cover everything available across the city, let’s focus on the one area at a time.  The hippest, hottest part of Cincinnati is the Over-the-Rhine (OTR) District.  So here are five great places for beers and bites in OTR.

A brief history of OTR

The district earned its name because of the large German population that walked over the Miami and Erie Canal (now Central Parkway) to work in downtown in the mid-1800s.  The canal was jokingly called “the Rhine” in reference to the important river in Germany.  Today, the German population has left, but the name has stuck.  You can read more the district’s history from the Over the Rhine Foundation.

Downtown is about 0.8 miles from downtown to the heart of OTR.  So it is walkable depending upon your definition of walkable.  If you don’t want to walk, the cheapest option to get from downtown to the district is the city’s streetcar (officially called the Cincinnati Bell Connector).  A two-hour pass costs $1 and a day pass costs $2 with discounts for kids.  The quickest way to get to OTR from downtown is taking the streetcar at either the 4th & Main or the 6th & Main stations.

Bakersfield (1213 Vine St.; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine)

In a district formerly heavily populated by German immigrants that is currently undergoing revitalization, you would not expect to find a great Mexican restaurant.  However, that is precisely what you will find at Bakersfield, which has grown from its first location in OTR to include multiple locations throughout the country.

Bakersfield boasts over 100 tequilas and a wide selection of Mexican street food.  My favorites are the street tacos.  You can choose from al pastor (chili marinated pork) to fish to hongos (grilled portabello – for vegetarians).  There are also salads, tostadas, and tortas.

A selection of tacos at Bakersfield OTR (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau).

The restaurant covers the staples of the Mexican beer world (Corona, Modelo Especial, and Pacifico), but also has the elusive Victoria.  If you want local craft beer, you can find selections from MadTree, Rhinegeist, and others.  However, the real treat here is the large selection of tequilas and whiskeys.  I’d have to dedicate an entire post to do them justice, but you can be assured to find something you know and love on the list.

Japp’s Since 1879 (1134 Main St.; Streetcar Stop: Hanke Exchange Station/12th & Main)

A night out on the town isn’t complete with a delectable cocktail.  Whether you start or finish your night with a cocktail, if you’re exploring OTR you must stop at Japp’s Since 1879.  Molly Wellman opened the bar in 2011.  It has grown to be one of the best spots in all of Cincinnati for a cocktail.  There are few craft beers on draft.  Among the local breweries you’ll find beers from MadTree and Fifty West.  However, this is really a cocktail bar with a major dose of kitsch.

The bar used to be a wig shop, but underwent a major renovation to become its current iteration as a cocktail bar.  However, Japp’s isn’t just your regular cocktail bar.  Wellman, a self-taught mixologist, uses classic recipes as the building blocks for her innovative offerings.  Naturally there is a splendid selection of bourbon, whiskey, and other fine spirits.  Japp’s offers a variety of specially themed nights like a monthly Tiki Night with ’80s tunes, tropical drinks, and complimentary bites.

16-Bit Bar+Arcade (1331 Walnut St.; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine)

Is there anybody who doesn’t like drinking beer and playing video games?  I’m sure someone out there dislikes both of those options, so if that applies to you then you should not visit 16-Bit Bar+Arcade.

You must be 21 to enter 16-Bit, so people with kids aren’t able to let them play games while having some drinks.  However, if you’re 21 or older and still a kid at heart who wants to play video games then this is the place for you.  Playing the games is “free” as long as you are purchasing drinks during your stay.  There are over 50 games on the floor including classics like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz 2000, Off Road, Rampage, and plenty of others.  There is also a limited selection of pinball machine, which are the only games that cost money to play.

A row of video games at 16-Bit Bar+Arcade.

There are two dozen craft beers on draft and about 30 craft beers in bottles or cans.  If you prefer the finer things in life, there is a very extensive bourbon and whiskey list available.  Or you can try one of the craft cocktails like Macho Man, which is made with honey bourbon, Coke, and a Slim Jim. Oh yeah!  One thing you will not find at 16-Bit is food, but there are plenty of restaurants nearby.

The Eagle (1342 Vine St.; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine)

One of the restaurants not far from 16-Bit is The Eagle, which emphasizes Southern comfort foods in tandem with craft beers and cocktails.  All of the chicken is sourced from nearby farms, which makes the fried chicken one of the best-known items on the menu.  In addition to the chicken, you can find a selection of sandwiches, soups, and salads.

There are over a dozen draft selections ranging from Miller High Life to Guinness to local brews.  Additionally, there are about 60 beers and ciders available in a bottle or can.  The list covers traditional macrobrews like Coors Light, but also features local craft choices like Rivertown’s Divergent and Mt. Carmel’s Nut Brown Ale.

Rhinegeist Brewery (1910 Elm St.; Streetcar Stop: Brewery District)

Over-the-Rhine once boasted nearly 40 breweries.  However, that changed in the 1920s when the 18th Amendment enacted prohibition across the United States.  Thankfully the breweries did not totally vanish.  So in the mid-2000s when Bob Bonder stumbled upon the old Christian Moerlein Brewing Company’s bottling plant in OTR, he found a gem.

In 2013, Bonder and his team finally opened Rhinegeist Brewery, whose name translates to mean “Ghost of the Rhine.”  Being located in the old Christian Moerlein bottling building provides Rhinegeist with a huge space.  Much of it houses the brewing equipment, but there is ample space for benches and flat-screen TVs.  Perhaps the best part of visiting the brewery is the rooftop, which gives you a view of downtown Cincinnati.

The view of downtown Cincinnati from the rooftop at Rhinegeist Brewery.

The beer selection is large enough that regardless of your tastes you can find a brew that suits your palate.  There are three year-round beers that include an India pale ale, blonde ale, and an imperial India pale ale.  There are numerous seasonal and limited-release beers that change throughout the year.  Rhinegeist also offers ciders for people who dislike the hoppy nature of beers.

Recap

Regardless of the adventure you seek in OTR, you are sure to find a place that leaves you with a night to remember.  Bakersfield hits the mark for you want great Mexican street food with tequila or whiskey.  If you want a traditional cocktail bar setting then Japp’s Since 1879 has your groove.  If vintage video games are your jam, then 16-Bit Bar+Arcade is where you can practice your sharp shooting skills. The Eagle is where you’ll find some delicious Southern comfort food. Rhinegeist Brewery is your watering hole to play cornhole or watch the sunset over downtown Cincinnati while enjoying an award-winning beer.

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