Word of mouth: Cincinnati – COOL HUNTING®

Founded in 1788 on the banks of the Ohio River just across from Kentucky, Cincinnati is a city steeped in American history. While its archives are well worth exploring – from his role in German beer brewing to his key position on the underground – this hilly Midwestern metropolis is keeping an eye on the past and the other is fixated on its future.

In October 2017, Queen City presented BLINK, a publicly accessible light art festival that stretched across the greater downtown area and comprised 60 large-format installations and projections. After successfully hosting Lumenocity for four years, an event that combined projection mapping with music from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, they decided to make it big and create a display inspired by Vivid Sydney or London Lumiere. And it was great; Over a million people participated and helped achieve the goal of becoming a regional, if not national, attraction.

We recommend marking your calendar for the next BLINK watch, but while we were in town for the opening festival, we found tons of reasons to visit Cincinnati at any time of the year. Here are some highlights of an inspiring weekend wandering the famous Ohio Harbor.

21c Museum Hotel

If you’ve ever hoped to slumber in a museum, 21c is your chance. This boutique hotel is the brainchild of contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, who commission site-specific installations and curate rotating exhibitions for their growing chain of culturally oriented accommodations. The downtown Cincinnati location is tastefully covered in art, from the lobby to the elevators to the rooms. Even the shower has something to consider; Custom subway tiles from famous ceramic maker Rookwood Pottery are a nod to the human shape, with shapes of ears, noses, breasts, and more subtle protrusions from the walls.

Findlay market

If you’ve never heard of Goetta, you can prepare for it on the Findlay Market. The German-American staple food for breakfast is a slow-cooked patty made from minced pork and beef, combined with onions, steel-cut oatmeal and spices. Eckerlin Meats has served the classic Cincinnati dish since Findlay Market opened in 1855. However, if you’re looking for a sweeter preparation, be sure to try the uniquely fluffy waffles at Taste of Belgium, one of the newer stalls in the market, but just as authentic: they’re created by Belgian-born Jean-Francois Flechet. These two locales were high on our list, but there are over 100 providers you can check out. If that sounds daunting, take a food tour with Barb Cooper, a Findlay Market veteran who ran a merchandise stand for several years before sharing her love for the entire place with that of hungry tourists.

Center for contemporary art

Just around the corner from 21c is Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, a free museum and the first in the US designed by a woman (none other than the legendary Zaha Hadid). The multi-story institution should mean something to any enthusiast – several major surveys have been conducted over the years, from Daniel Arsham to Do Ho Suh to Swoon. The CAC can’t be missed, but those looking for even more art can check out the Cincinnati Art Museum (where Iris Van Herpen is on display until January 7th) or the tiny but impressively packaged Lucky Cat Museum further afield in Eden Park.

Tafts Ale House

If beer is your drink of choice, Cincinnati is your city. In the mid-19th century, Over-the-Rhine (OTR) – an area with German immigrants – had 36 breweries that produced over 30 million gallons of beer. Today attempts are being made to recapture places like Tafts Ale House, a brewery named after one of Ohio’s eight presidents, William Howard Taft. What’s on tap is always TBD, but we enjoyed a flight that spanned an American IPA (the Gavel Banger, in homage to Taft’s time as a Supreme Court Justice) over a toasted, coconut-infused brown ale. Take a tour of the underground beer tunnels, carefully built to keep the kegs cold and ready to roll back onto the road.

American Sign Museum

A larger version of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, the American Sign Museum is a great way to learn about the country’s old and new businesses. Located in the up and coming neighborhood of Camp Washington, home to many of the city’s creatives artistically based, the museum feels right at home as an industrial space dedicated to preserving America’s typographic and technological endeavors. The highlights include examples of gold leaf glass chipped with glue, the abundance of plastic molds and the functioning neon repair workshop on the back.

Sartre

One of the fastest growing breweries in Cincinnati is Rhinegeist, located in the bottling plant of the renowned brewer Christian Moerlein from 1895. Spend some time here sampling the beers while playing a round of corn-hole before dinner. Then move into the newly opened Sartre restaurant next door (reservations recommended). The menu is nuanced from farm to table with French influences and serves dishes such as country pate, falafel with black lentils with raw vegetables, whole roasted chicken and other seasonal dishes. The drinks menu includes the typical beers, of course, but also expertly mixed cocktails and an extensive wine list.

Cincinnati Music Hall

Another proof of Cincinnati’s vision of the future is conservation. The historic Music Hall on the edge of Washington Park by OTR was built in 1878 and just renovated for $ 143 million to restore its original beauty while bringing the acoustics up to date. Both the ambience and the sound are just stunning, as we found out one night when the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra played the music of legendary composer John Williams.

Miscellaneous and Vice

There maybe no better way to spend a Sunday in OTR than relaxing with one of their alcohol-powered ice cream trucks at Sundry and Vice. The pharmacy-inspired cocktail bar is as laid back as anything in Ohio, but the trio of owners are serious about alcohol. Originally conceived in collaboration with LA barman Brandyn Tepper, the menu takes it back to basics with pre-ban classics and contemporary twists. After a few drops, check out the bathroom for more inspiration. The walls are lined with a decoupage treatment of antiquarian recipes, including those for cocaine, opium, and weeds.

BLINK Image courtesy of BLINK, CAC building courtesy of CAC, all others by Karen Day

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