There are a lot of restaurant and bar options around Cincinnati stretching from The Banks area near the Ohio River north through downtown and across the proverbial “Rhine” Canal. I could write a long-form piece about the Queen City and it’s beer and culinary scene, but I’d rather keep my readers’ attention and highlight five of my favorite places for beers and bites in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine District.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OVER-THE-RHINE
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 8/10th of a mile 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 taking 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., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 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 six other locations throughout the country.
Bakersfield boasts over 100 tequilas and a wide selection of Mexican street food. My favorites are the tacos that range from al pastor (chili marinated pork) to fish to hongos (grilled portabello – for vegetarians). There are also salads, tostadas, and tortas.
The restaurant covers the staples of the Mexican beer world (Corona, Modelo Especial, and Pacifico), but also has the elusive Victoria available. 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.
Lachey’s (56 E. 12th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; Streetcar Stop: 12th & Vine or Central Pkwy & Vine)
If you lived through the late-1990s and early-2000s you know that boybands dominated the pop charts. Although 98 Degrees was not as popular at the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC, but Nick Lachey and his brother Drew used the money from their boyband career to open Lachey’s on the southern edge of OTR.
The eponymous bar is one of the few spots in OTR that specifically caters to the sports-watching crowd. So there are plenty of flat-screen TVs. For example, earlier this summer I watched Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a large and vocal contingent of Nashville Predators fans. So while the emphasis is on local teams, you can find nearly anything on TV here. The bar’s website even includes a sports schedule of major events.
Happy hour runs from 4 to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. The food menu features an assortment of appetizers, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, and hamburgers. The drink menu features rotating local craft beers, but you can find Queen City staples like Christian Moerlein and Rhinegeist on draft here. The bottle and can list is more extensive, and includes your macrobrew staples. The craft cocktail list includes some unique items like The Nick boilermaker, which is made with Rhinegeist’s Cidergeist Semi-Dry Cider and Fireball.
16-Bit Bar+Arcade (1331 Walnut St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 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.
In order to enter 16-Bit, you must be 21 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.
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., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 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. Specifically, all of the chicken is sourced from nearby farms, which helps 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 from 50 West, Rhinegeist, and others. 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., Cincinnati, OH 45202: Streetcar Stop: Brewery District)
Over-the-Rhine once boasted nearly 40 breweries, but that changed in the 1920s when the 18th Amendment enacted prohibition across the United States. However, the landscape of 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.
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 also more than enough space to provide 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 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 (Truth), blonde ale (Cougar), and an imperial India pale ale (Knowledge). There are numerous seasonal and limited-release beers available that change throughout the year plus some ciders for people who dislike the hoppy nature of beers.
Regardless of the adventure you seek in OTR, you are sure to find a place that leaves you with a night to remember. If you want great Mexican street food with tequila or whiskey, then Bakersfield hits the mark. If you want traditional bar food while watching the big sporting event on a huge flat-screen TV, you need to hit Lachey’s. If vintage video games are your jam, then 16-Bit Bar+Arcade is where you can practice your sharp shooting skills. If you’re in the mood for some Southern comfort food, The Eagle is where you’ll find home cooking like your mom’s. If you want to play cornhole or maybe watch the sunset over downtown Cincinnati while enjoying an award-winning beer, then Rhinegeist Brewery is your watering hole.