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The Drinking Issue: 25 Greater Cincinnati Bars We’re Loving Right Now and What to Order There | Food & Drink Features | Cincinnati

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Photo: Catie Viox for Zest Cincy

BarBar OTR

The joke is that “it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.” That’s certainly true in this Drinking Issue, dedicated to appreciating Cincinnati’s bar scene.

Below, CityBeat staffers have compiled 25 places they’re drinking right now, from hot spots to favorite dives, and what to order there. You don’t need to consume alcohol to have fun — that’s not what this list is about. Instead, this collection recognizes those third places, separate from work or home, where people come together to socialize, celebrate and commiserate, all while enjoying the atmosphere and, yes, the libations.

And if you need more recommendations, we also asked some of our favorite local bar owners where they drink if they aren’t drinking at their own establishments. See what they said.

Alcove
MadTree’s renovation of the historic Wielert’s Café in Over-the-Rhine — where legendary Boss Cox once manipulated local politics in the 19th century — takes a step beyond the Oakley brewery’s crowd-drawing beers with some great specialty cocktails as well as smashes and sangrias. Alcove offers three distinct spaces: an indoor bar and lounge with a phenomenal wall of living foliage; an outdoor patio with trees, string lights and widely-spaced tables; and a glassed-over, year-round Greenhouse Bar. In addition to drinks, the food menu has lots of shareables and snacks. What to order: You can’t go wrong with a negroni — gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, with an orange peel garnish. 1410 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, madtreebrewing.com/alcove.  (Rick Pender)

Alice
If Somerset and Mecca had a baby who was always grounded for sneaking out, her name would be Alice. While Alice is new to the scene, the bar is already cemented on my rotation. Rarely do true craft cocktails and dancing fall under the same roof, let alone in such an artfully designed space. The environment casts a happy-go-lucky vibe that makes it easier to bond with strangers. What to order: I’m always looking for some kind of Last Word variation, so I’m in love with Death of a Clown. It’s Chartreuse-forward with Vinho Verde, fennel, lemon and Ango, garnished with red bell pepper. Refreshing and fancy at just $10, so it doesn’t break the bank the way Chartreuse cocktails often can. 1432 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, aliceotr.com.  (Madeline Fening)

BarBar OTR
As the name suggests, this bar is just a bar bar. It’s small and dive-y, but it’s not exactly a hole in the wall. The beautiful mirrored bar is illuminated by bright pink lights, while a whole canoe and giant moose head mounted on the wall give a mountain lodge feel. What to order: Lean into the dive-bar vibe and go with a Boilermaker: a shot and a beer. Wild Delight is very Cincinnati — a shot of Wild Turkey 101 and a can of Hudy Delight. 1709 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, barbarotr.com. (Brian Cross)

Bar at Palm Court
It’s no secret that the Bar at Palm Court is one of the best places in the city to grab a cocktail, blending artful alcohol creations with awe-inspiring Art Deco décor. Sidle up to the bar — if you’re lucky enough to find a stool — and enjoy some live jazz while you drink. What to order: The NP is a best-of-both-worlds cocktail that pairs bourbon with something bubbly. Named after the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (the hotel which houses the bar), the cocktail features Four Roses bourbon, lemon, ginger, bitters and sparkling wine. It’s light, refreshing and still packs a boozy kick. Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, 35 W. Fifth St., Downtown, orchidsatpalmcourt.com. (Maija Zummo)

click to enlarge The Condesa at Bar Saeso - Photo: Catie Viox for Zest Cincy

Photo: Catie Viox for Zest Cincy

The Condesa at Bar Saeso

Bar Saeso
Bar Saeso offers a transportive experience in Pendleton. Stepping through the skinny front doors into the petite space feels a bit like you’re stepping into a different city — a different country — entirely. Replete with flickering candles, exposed brick, plenty of plants and a terracotta color palette, it very much gives an old-world Barcelona vibe. Co-owner Christy Wulfson once told CityBeat, “Everyone who walks in here [says] it reminds them of somewhere they’ve been, and no one ever says the same place — Argentina, Mexico City, Lisbon, Rome, all across the globe.” What to order: The Condesa. Named after the hip La Condesa neighborhood in Mexico City, this drink is smoky, spicy and sweet featuring mezcal, lemon, hot honey and a Tajin-dusted orange slice. 1208 Sycamore St., Pendleton, barsaeso.com. (MZ)

The Birdcage
Downtown LGBTQ+ nightclub The Birdcage is one of the best places to be yourself, sing or dance your heart out and, of course, drink. This spot is always a good time, with weekly events like karaoke night, DJ dance parties and tons of drag performances. If you’re broke (like me), the bar offers drink specials including $3 White Claw Wednesdays, $5 Absolut Vodka on Thirsty Thursdays and $5 Screwballs on Screwball Sundays — the perfect way to finish off brunch. What to order: Obviously try any of the drinks on special, but the bar is also known for its bird-themed cocktails. My favorite is the Orange Sparrow Spritzer, made with Jameson Orange and Sprite and topped with an orange wedge. 927 Race St., Downtown, thebirdcagecincinnati.com. (Maggy McDonel)

Bromwell’s Härth Lounge
This jazz-club-turned-coffee-lounge is only open for boozing on Friday and Saturday nights for now but remains committed to quality classic cocktails. The newly redesigned space brings the attached, historic Bromwell’s retail fireplace brand to life, immersing you in cozy, dark hues accented by charred wood installations and working fireplaces. What to order: An Old Fashioned, made the right way — stirred and strained, not shaken. Great coffee and mocktails top off the menu for non-drinkers. 125 W. Fourth St., Downtown, facebook.com/harthloungecinci. (BC)

click to enlarge A bartender making the Monmouth Mango - Photo: Katie Griffith

Photo: Katie Griffith

A bartender making the Monmouth Mango

Coppin’s Restaurant & Bar
Coppin’s, located in the boutique Hotel Covington, has a glamorous, modern bar that manages to boast an approachable vibe with serious mixology flair. The seasonal drink menu is always distinctive and innovative. This summer, the bar staff picked five ingredients out of a hat and each employee had to use the spontaneous list and an assigned spirit to craft a one-of-a-kind cocktail. Every drink name is locally inspired, a complement to the locally-sourced ingredients. What to order: The Monmouth Mango is a refreshing lavender- and nectarine-infused gin concoction with a lavender-sugar rim. A bite from the mango skewer finishes the crisp and fruity but not-too-sweet drink. Hotel Covington, 638 Madison Ave., Covington, hotelcovington.com. (Katie Griffith)

Dee Felice Cafe
Dee Felice Cafe is Covington’s understated jazz speakeasy with New Orleans-inspired cuisine. Behind the bar is an elevated stage with a piano and drum kit; some days, a three-piece band booms, other days, it’s a solo pianist. Something about the ambiance makes you want to sip a martini in a sequined dress, mysterious and alone at the bar, tapping your foot to the music while the hum of conversation buzzes in the background. What to order: An Orange Creamsicle Martini. The drink is smooth and sweet with a simple orange slice garnish. Every Friday, martinis are $5 and as long as the doors are open, live music is playing. 529 Main St., Covington, deefelicecafe.com. (KG)

Gaslight Bar & Grill
Clifton’s nicest restaurant also has the neighborhood’s most welcoming bar. With more than a dozen bar stools and a few high-top tables, it has happy hour discounts ($4 off everything on the cocktail list) from 2-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In good weather, you can imbibe upstairs on the comfortable rooftop patio. What to order: Puck’s Fizz is a refreshing summer drink with Ketel One peach and orange blossom vodkas, white wine and “seasonal fruit” — most likely peach puree. Or try Holly Golightly — a mint and cucumber martini. But the hidden gem on this drinks list is a glass of the dessert wine, Boston Bual Madeira: subtly sweet with cinnamon-clove spice and an enticing orange-scented bouquet.351 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, gaslightbarandgrillclifton.com. (Pama Mitchell)

click to enlarge A frozen booze slushie at Holiday Spirits - Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Photo: Hailey Bollinger

A frozen booze slushie at Holiday Spirits

Holiday Spirits
This hip and unpretentious spot offers a variety of activities. Have Zoltar tell your fortune, play Skee-Ball or pinball, nuzzle up to your sweetie in the photobooth or shoot a game of pool, or you can enjoy delicious Middle Eastern delights from the on-site food window, Forty Thieves. What to order: On a hot summer day, the frozen concoction that helps me beat the heat is the Frozé (frozen rosé). The pink slushy wine cocktail is tart, sweet and refreshing. 1538 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, holidayliquorbar.com. (BC)

Junker’s Tavern
Junker’s is the center of the universe, or at least the center of the Cincinnati rock-and-roll universe. Luckily, it is mostly untouched by time and trends. It is also one of the best live-music venues in the city and has one of the best jukeboxes. What to order: Anything — it’s all cheap; cash only with heavy pours and cheaper prices. A classic lager will work nicely, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a Stella Artois or Grolsch. Anything will complement a re-listen of The Stooges’ Fun House on the jukebox. 4156 Langland St., Northside, facebook.com/northsidecincy. (Brent Stroud)

The Littlefield
The Littlefield is a Northside bourbon bar and bistro known for seasonal eats, craft cocktails — including a drink of the month to benefit a local cause — and a lovely patio. What to order: The Littlefield’s Mad Anthony now goes by the name Fergus, honoring another one of Northside’s streets, but — thank, Bacchus — it’s still the same fabulous blend of Evan Williams bourbon, basil syrup, homemade ginger beer and balsamic vinegar, topped with basil leaves. That basil fragrance stayed with me during the early days of the pandemic; every time a colleague promised to get together for a drink when it felt safer to go out, there was only one destination for me. Maybe absence made the heart grow fonder, but Fergus has only gotten better. 3934 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, littlefieldns.com. (Anne Arenstein)

Madonna’s Bar & Grill
Open since the mid-1990s, this downtown dive is a Cheers-style antithesis to many of the area’s newer concept-bar destinations. It certainly isn’t fancy, but it’s super fun, extremely laid-back and offers surprisingly delicious food. (Also, full disclosure, my uncle is a bartender here, so that’s a bonus. He’s very funny). What to order: It’s kind of a beer-and-a-shot spot, but you can certainly ask the staff to make you your favorite cocktail. I typically just get a vodka soda. Cheap. Good. 11 E. Seventh St., Downtown, facebook.com/madonnasbarandgrill. (MZ)

click to enlarge The Chunker at Mecca - Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Photo: Hailey Bollinger

The Chunker at Mecca

Mecca
The original OTR garden bar with plants everywhere. Nestled between buildings on 15th Street, you’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s a relaxing, secret hideaway in the early evening hours but comes alive at night, attracting crowds of in-the-know revelers. Staffed by artists and musicians, colorful surrealist art covers the walls inside and the vibes are immaculate. What to order: The signature drink is the Chunker, an airline-sized mini-bottle of liquor inverted in the mouth of a can of fizzy water, served with a straw. Try 1800 Silver Tequila in a can of orange San Pellegrino, or keep it classic with vodka and LaCroix. 1429 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, meccaotr.com. (BC)

Mid-City Restaurant
Mid-City is more of a dining destination than a bar, but it’s from the team behind Over-the-Rhine’s Longfellow, so you know the cocktails and atmosphere are excellent. It’s a perfect spot for older millennials who still enjoy a hip night out, but who also enjoy sitting in chairs and not shouting over loud music/loud humans. What to order:The drink menu is a list of quintessential mixology, with options ranging from a Manhattan made with 120-proof bourbon to a tequila sunrise. I like an ice-cold Gibson, featuring London dry gin, French vermouth and cocktail onions. And the bread with housemade pickle butter. 40 E. Court St., Downtown, midcitycinti.com. (MZ)

Muse Café
Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, Muse Café has received accolades as perhaps the primary catalyst to Westwood’s revival. Owner Shawnteè Stallworth Schramm has created a selection of cocktails named after the nine Greek muses: mythological goddesses considered the source of human creativity, especially poetry and music. You can enjoy cocktails, coffee drinks and a choice of wines by the glass or bottle while listening to acoustic, jazz or blues performances most evenings. What to order:Euterpe (the muse of music and song), with Bulleit bourbon, ginger, pear and orange. Or Clio (the muse of history), a gin or vodka drink with peach, lavender and lime. 3018 Harrison Ave., Westwood, musecafecincy.com. (PM)

click to enlarge Oakley Wines - Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Oakley Wines

Oakley Wines
As the name suggests, Oakley Wines is primarily a wine bar and bottle shop, but it does have a nice, streamlined cocktail menu. Owned by the same people who run The Rhined in Findlay Market, the shop offers small plates, great cheese and frequent food pop-ups. In the colder months, head to the speakeasy-style basement for some raclette — hot cheese scraped over meat, potatoes and vegetables. What to order: An Aperol spritz to enjoy in the outdoor “Alley” patio. Follow that up with a build-your-own wine flight. The expert bartenders will help select the pours. 4011 Allston St., Oakley, oakleywines.com. (MZ)

Paddy’s on Main
Paddy’s on Main offers the self-proclaimed largest selection of Irish whiskey in the city. Tons of top-shelf, iconic options like Redbreast 27-year whiskey are available, among familiar selections that frequently take a backseat to bourbon in other area drinkeries. Stop by for a cold-brewed Irish coffee and stay for a tall tale about the owner’s great, great, great grandfather’s dog, Paddy Seamus Ryan. What to order: The Pudding Shot is a must-have. It’s a boozy, chocolate pudding boasting a flavor similar to an Irish Car Bomb. A touch of culinary magic infuses different whiskeys into the fluffy mixture. For optimal enjoyment, the shot is served with cookies for dipping, which is the recommended slow-and-steady route of consumption. 520 Main St., Covington, searchable on Facebook. (KG)

Pilar
Need a quick trip down to Key West? This is the cocktail bar for you, complete with theme and décor to evoke Ernest Hemingway, the hard-drinking, tough-talking novelist. In fact, it’s named for his beloved 38-foot fishing boat, and a replica of its stern overhangs the bar. There are pink, yellow and blue picnic tables for outside seating, where you can sip drinks while surveying the renovated Court Street Plaza. What to order: Up in Michigan, named for the first short story that Hemingway published, uses Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime juice and housemade grenadine, garnished with a lime. Plenty of tropical daiquiris support the South Florida vibe, too. 56 E. Court St., Downtown, pilarcincinnati.com. (RP)

click to enlarge Somerset - Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Somerset

Somerset
Somerset is basically a giant urban oasis in Over-the-Rhine. It has two indoor bars — a cozy library-lounge and a large light-filled conservatory — but the main attraction is the back patio, which boasts a collection of the owners’ architectural treasures collected from across the globe. It feels like a Moroccan riad, with unique seating areas like out-of-commission tuk-tuks. What to order:The cocktails are made with house-infused spirits, like peach-Thai basil vodka, and all are delicious. But the mocktail menu is equally unique. The Ziggy Stardust is a favorite, with coconut milk, pineapple, lime and hibiscus. 139 E. McMicken Ave., Over-the-Rhine, somersetotr.com. (MZ)

OTR StillHouse
OTR StillHouse is home to the Knox Joseph Distillery, where gin, bourbon and blended whiskeys are created in a shiny copper still. It opened in 2021 in a century-old structure that once housed an ice manufacturer. Fresh pure groundwater from aqueous underground caverns was frozen for ice back then. Today, it’s used to make award-winning spirits. What to order: The smoky-sweet Ezzard Charles Patio Punch, a blend of James Scott Whiskey, Laphroaig Scotch, spiced cranberry demerara, Montenegro amaro and orange juice. More than a dozen housemade beers and non-alcoholic sodas offer additional options. 2017 Branch St., Over-the-Rhine, otrstillhouse.com. (RP)

Symposium
A new entry in the café-by-day, bar-by-night trend, this East Walnut Hills spot aims to be a neighborhood hangout but is worth the drive from farther away. Though it bills itself as a wine bar, there’s actually only a small selection of glass pours. Instead, go for the fun cocktails. Sit in the pretty corner called The Nest, featuring easy-chairs arranged for conversation with the people you came with, or maybe with a perfect stranger. Small plates include truffled grilled cheese and tiny sweet peppers stuffed with goat cheese or tuna. What to order: Magpie Gin & Tonic combines Empress 908 gin, lime bitters and elderflower tonic over a giant ice cube encasing a colorful flower. The house Old Fashioned has a few captivating grace notes, too. 2835 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, symposiumcincinnati.com. (PM)

click to enlarge Sundry and Vice - Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Sundry and Vice

Sundry and Vice
These bartenders are nothing short of artists working in the medium of booze. Grab a spot at the bar and be mesmerized watching them create drinks with equal parts precision and passion. The cocktail menu organizes your choices as “Fresh & Playful,” “Light & Elegant,” “Lively & Restorative” and “Spirit Forward & Timeless.” Good luck narrowing it down. What to order: I can’t resist a Penicillin; whether or not it’s on the current menu, the bartenders will make a killer version of this classic combo of blended Scotch, ginger, honey and lemon. Night Cure, a bourbon drink, also has been a standout here since day one. 18 W. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, sundryandvice.com. (PM)

Wondercade
While you can absolutely get a few drinks, Wondercade is a pinball and video game arcade more than it is a bar. That’s a good thing if your nightlife needs a change of pace. Wondercade created a neon-bright playspace for all ages in Westwood (though no kids are allowed after 9 p.m.). For a flat fee of $8 you can play all day and even leave and re-enter later if you get your hand stamped. What to order: Keep it simple with canned local beer. Wondercade offers a solid selection from local breweries, including West Side Brewing, which is just down the street. 3143 Harrison Ave., Westwood, wondercadecincy.com. (Sean Peters)

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