Five great places for beer & bites in Cincinnati’s The Banks

There are a lot of restaurant and bar options around downtown Cincinnati stretching from The Banks development on the Ohio River north through downtown and across the proverbial “Rhine” Canal into the Over-the-Rhine District.  However, instead of diving into a long-form piece exploring every intricate detail of the Queen City’s beer and culinary scene, I am going to focus on The Banks development along the Ohio River.

For a handful of years, downtown Cincinnati and its surrounding environs have been undergoing a revitalization.  It started in the early-2000s when the local football (the Bengals opened Paul Brown Stadium in 2000) and baseball (the Reds opened Great American Ball Park in 2004) teams opened new stadiums.  However, it has been within the past five years that the area between the two stadiums has been especially attractive for people to visit even without the draw of a sporting event.  Over my seven years exploring Cincinnati here are my five favorite places to get a beer or a bite of food at The Banks area.

Moerlein Lager House (115 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Christian Moerlein Brewing Company dates back to the 1800s, but shutdown during prohibition.  In 1981, the brand was revived, and eventually bought by local resident Gregory Hardman.  More details about the company’s history can be found on its website.  Following years of growth and a return to brewing in its historic home of Over-the-Rhine District, Christian Moerlein Brewing opened the Lager House across from Great American Ball Park and adjacent to The Banks in 2012.

Obviously owned by a brewery in town, the bulk of the beer selection is brewed by Christian Moerlein.  However, there are “guest” taps from regional and national craft beer brands with many of those brands available in cans and bottles as well.  As an homage to Cincinnati’s beer history there is also a selection of “heritage” beers available.  These “heritage” beers are brands with a long history in Cincinnati, such as Hudepohl Pure Lager, Hudy Delight, or Little Kings Cream Ale.  All of these brands now belong to Christian Moerlein Brewing, which brews them using the original recipes.

There’s a lot to like about the Lager House, but perhaps one of the coolest perks of dining or just having a beer there is the view.  The building sits right across from the Ohio River, so guests are often afforded a view of Northern Kentucky.  If you’re lucky you may get a really scenic view of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that connects Cincinnati with Covington, Ky.

View of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge from Christian Moerlein Lager House. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau)

In addition to the beer, the Moerlein Lager House has an extensive food menu.  I’ve eaten the hamburgers on a few occasions, and the onion rings are gigantic.  So if you opt for them with a burger or perhaps as a starter be prepared for a LOT of food.  You can also put together your own meat and cheese board if you’d like to pair your beer with some traditional options.

Yard House (95 E. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Craft beer lovers should know the chain Yard House, which has nearly 70 locations throughout the United States.  If you don’t know the chain, what you need to know is that it carries nearly 150 different craft beers and ciders.  If that’s not enough to get you through the door, then I’m not sure what else to tell you.

Naturally, there is an extensive food menu.  I’ve dined at this location multiple times, and typically order a hamburger.  I have also had the street tacos, which are excellent if you want a lighter option.  You can order the tacos as a set or pick and choose what you want.  The vampire taco is a delicious mix of flavors, and one of my favorites.

Regardless of what you choose, you cannot go wrong with any of the food or beer choices at Yard House.

Taste of Belgium (16 W. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Taste of Belgium is a local chain that began in 2007 serving what you would expect: Belgian waffles.  What started as one shop has grown into five in the Cincinnati area plus one in Columbus.  Around town you can find a location in the heart of Over-the-Rhine (1133 Vine St.), but if you’re attending a sporting event you can check out this location in The Banks area.

With a wide selection of delicious toppings for their Belgian waffles, there is sure to be something you want with yours.  The menu also includes crepes, sandwiches, omelets, and perhaps most notable a wide selection of genuine Belgian beer and Belgian-influenced brews.

Taste of Belgium
The chicken and waffles goes well with a wide selection of beers. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau)

It’s easy to think about only eating waffles for breakfast, but Taste of Belgium seeks to defy that stereotype.  Even if you’re not willing to try waffles for dinner, you are sure to find a great beer among the nearly 100 brews on the menu.

Jefferson Social (101 E. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
Proof that The Banks is becoming more attractive for visitors lies in the history of Jefferson Social.  Owner Tony Cafeo closed his Jefferson Hall establishment across the river at Newport on the Levee in 2013, and ultimately opened this establishment the same year.  Newport on the Levee offers similar options to The Banks, but its major drawback is the walk across the river to the stadiums.  So if you’re already on the north side of the Ohio River, it’s easier for visitors to check out the restaurants at The Banks.

Jefferson Social provides approachable Mexican street food.  There is a wide variety of street tacos that you can order as a platter or pick-and-choose by going the à la carte route.  You can also build your own nachos or opt for Asian-Mexican fusion choices likes the Southwest chicken egg roll like I did.  There are also about 50 beers available from an extensive list that features some of the staples, but also a great selection of local and regional craft beers with beers from Braxton, Fifty West, MadTree, and Rivertown among others.

Holy Grail Tavern & Grille (161 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202)
The entire development of The Banks is walking distance to Great American Ball Park, but Holy Grail Tavern & Grille proudly boasts that it is 100 yards from home plate.  So you can’t get any closer to the stadium than visiting this establishment.  Additionally, in 2015 The Sporting News named Holy Grail the best bar to visit near Great American Ball Park.

A waitress at Holy Grail, which is filled with Reds and Bengals memorabilia. (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Holy Grail has a good beer selection, but does not have an extensive craft list featuring just two local selections plus two Christian Moerlein “heritage” beers (Hudy Pure Lager and Hudy Delight).  They do have an extensive list of macrobrews if that is what you prefer (and I’m not here to judge anybody’s beer preferences).

The food menu is likely where you will get the best bang for your buck.  There are pizzas, wraps, salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, and a limited kids menu.  Most items on the menu max out around $9, so it’s an excellent option for bit to eat before attending a Reds game.

The Banks features more restaurants and bars than I’ve detailed, but these five are my favorites.  Each place has its own vibe and offers something that the others do not.  If you want truly local beers, Moerlein Lager House is the place for you.  If you want a beer list that features over 150 brews, then Yard House is the spot.  If the kid in you wants breakfast for dinner while quaffing down a Belgian ale, then you should dine at Taste of Belgium.  If you want Mexican street fare with a smattering of craft beers, Jefferson Social is calling your name.  If you want to socialize with die-hard Reds fans and watch fans file into the ballpark just yards away, Holy Grail is your jam.  Whatever you like to eat or drink or whether you’re traveling solo, with a group, or with kids in tow there is a place for you at The Banks.

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