Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cincinnati Part Two: The City

We LOVED Cincinnati.  I mean, yes, we loved the Fringe, but we also got a great taste of the city itself and we did not find it wanting.

We loved the people of Cincinnati!  Part of it certainly has to do with the Fringe atmosphere.  I mean, when you're focused on promoting a project and specifically trying to inspire people to go see a random theatrical performance in a cafeteria-turned-theatre, you get used to discussing topics beyond the weather with complete strangers.

Or maybe the people of Cincinnati are just that darn approachable.

For example I was taking this picture:

Another great thing about Cincy are the hilarious street names - it's a little dark, but this alley-street is Wilkymacky.

And a woman came up to us and said "Oh man, if you think that's great, you'll really appreciate this picture I took the other day."  She proceeded to pull out her smart phone and show us an old hotel sign that read something like "182 bedrooms and 67 baths!" like you should be lucky to have access to a bathroom period, nevermind that there isn't even one for every two rooms.  The luxury we have today!  And then we walked together for three blocks talking about the amazing architecture of Over the Rhine and how she wants to purchase one building in particular and renovate it.  We ran into her a couple days later while postering and it was like seeing an old friend.  We had totally connected; besties.

"Over the Rhine?" you ask.  We loved Over the Rhine, or OTR.  OTR is the area of Downtown Cincy where the Fringe Festival took place. It was built in the mid-nineteenth century during a period of extensive German immigration.  The neighborhood was christened Over the Rhine by German residents who walked across bridges over the canal to get to work, and, of course, the canal was nicknamed "the Rhine" after the Rhine River in Germany.  The are area north of the canal thus became known as "Over the Rhine."

By the end of the 20th century, OTR was notorious for its poverty and dilapidated buildings.  In the last decade, the OTR Foundation has been working to restore buildings before they have to be demolished, and get them ready for occupation.  Now, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "in just six years, developers have moved Over-the-Rhine from one of America’s poorest, most run-down neighborhoods to among its most promising," and according to the Urban Land Institute, Over-the-Rhine is "the best development in the country right now."  It has been compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans and the historic districts of Savannah, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Greenwich Village in NYC.  I mean, the architecture is something else.  Having just taken History of Decor, I loved pointing out the various Victorian architectural revivals.  It was a great way to solidify what I had just learned.

Unfortunately, I didn't make a point of taking pictures of too much of the architecture...

So OTR is up-and-coming, and the Cincy Fringe Festival is one thing that helped change the face of the neighborhood when it was founded ten years ago.  The shows are mostly held in empty buildings or store-fronts after hours.  The festival drew people to an area they thought of is decrepit and dangerous and demonstrated the area's potential.  Now, the festival is struggling to find venue locations because the number of empty buildings is decreasing.  What a strange and wonderful dilemma.

We loved the food we ate, and boy, did we eat a lot!  The top three food places we tried and loved are as follows:

Taste of Belgium - Probably our favorite place. We ate there FOUR times!  Now, I have never really considered myself to be a waffle person, but these waffles were truly delicious.  You don't even need to add anything to them; a plain waffle had the perfect vanilla flavor, enhanced by caramelized sugar coating, and was balanced in crunch, softness, and density.  I dream about these waffles.  The crepes were also delicious and we especially enjoyed the lavandar, sugar, lemon crepe.
StreetPops - an adorable and tiny store front that sells ice pops that are "made with fresh fruit and herbs, use local and organic ingredients whenever possible and never include anything you can't pronounce, unless you have trouble with 'cardamom'."  We were only able to make it to streetpops once, but it was memorable.  Just glance over their menu and imagine the delight.  I had Thai Basil Lime and, strange as that may sound, it was one of the best, refreshing pops I've had.  The streetpops team knows what they're doing!  I dream of these pops.

Alfio's - an Italian-Argentine restaurant Ben and I visited for our Anniversary.  It is in the Hyde Park neighborhood, which was fun to stroll through and window shop.  Because we ate before a show on a Tuesday night, we were two of very few people, and, therefore, were able to visit with Alfio himself!  He came over after he learned that Ben had served his mission in Argentina.  They spent a few moments reminiscing over Argentina and remembering the food and the sites.  The food was very good - though Ben thought the chimichurri sauce was not quite as good as it could have been.

Honorable mention to Graeter's.  I dream of Graeter's ice cream and the gigantic chocolate chips.  We may have gone there three or four times...

I almost forgot about the experience of the grilled cheese donut...

 the verdict: surprisingly good, but could be improved with some better quality cheese.

Another thing about Cincinnati we loved and admired was it's entrepreneurial philanthropic people and places.  Two great examples of this are:

Toy Lab - this is a smaller part of Happen, Inc., a nonprofit arts organization.  Happen, Inc. has classes and programs that "build art awareness, basic art skills, and ignite ... creative energy." The Toy Lab specifically, receives donations of old toys and toy parts.  From there, children reuse the parts to create a one-of-a-kind toy of their very own.  Here is a fun image gallery of toy creations.  My initial thought is that they look a little bit like the creations made by the crazy neighbor kid in Toy Story, but ultimately, those toys turned out to be pretty awesome, right?  The day we were there (just stopped briefly during a postering campaign), the Toy Lab was hosting a birthday party - how awesome would that be?!

Venice on Vine Pizza - How do i describe this amazing place?  First of all, the pizza is incredible.  That was our first impression.  Then, as we finished our meal, our server came up to us and asked if it was our first time eating there.  When we replied that it was she asked if she could tell us about it's history (the building once was an old theatre!) and mission.  It turns out that the establishment was founded by two nuns and that all of the employees in red shirts (herself included) have faced "barriers to employment" such as prior drug abuse or incarceration, disability, or having no/poor work history.   Their mantra is "Power Inspires People" and they provide on the job training and support including encouragement and tools to get needed schooling.  Our server, a mother of many children - I forget the exact number - told us her story of over coming drug abuse and working on getting a college degree.  I found it all so moving.  She was amazing!  What a wonderful organization.  They are providing people with opportunities they might not otherwise have.

For many of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you know that Cincinnati is filled with beautiful and fun murals, most of which are painted by the group, ArtWorks.  "Our city is a gallery" they write.  Since it's beginning in 2007, teen and professional artists have worked together to paint 57 murals in 32 neighborhoods in Cincinnati and 6 nearby cities.

I really should stop there.  I mean there are so many things we loved, and so many things we did.  The Fringe staff were able to hook us up with free admission to the Contemporary Art Center, which was having an interactive exhibition with toys and other various play things, as well as the Cincy Zoo, which was super cool and had a better penguin show than the Penguin Pallooza at the Newport Aquarium, which we visited early on in our trip (though that was certainly quite amazing in other regards). We explored and enjoyed other neighborhoods such as Ludlow, Northside, and Washington Park (not a neighborhood, really).  So instead of talking about those, I will close with some choice photos from each of these places.  We can't wait to go back and explore more, and hope that someday you will get to visit there, too.



  1. Lovely pics and descriptive detail! I want to go there now!

  2. It really is an amazing city and I think it's a good example of the best thing about American cities, namely the creativity and empathy and can-do attitude.

  3. These are great photos of a wonderful city! We lived in Cincinnati for many years...when OTR was not a destination. It is a lovely city, so glad you got to spend time there! -Linda ;)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...