What to Do in Cincinnati (Other than WIA, of Course)
If your family is coming along with you to Woodworking in America, there’s plenty for them to do in Cincinnati while you’re at the conference. And there’s plenty of good food.
The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (an impressive Art Deco building just west of downtown Cincinnati) houses three museums (plus an Omnimax Theater): The Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children’s Museum and the Museum of Natural History and Science (it has a special dinosaur exhibit through January) plus Tower A – the original control tower for the train terminal, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the tracks (still in use today) and explore artifacts from Union Terminal’s history.
And of course, the world-renowned Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is always fun to visit (right now, they’ve a “HallZOOween” event on the weekends, with trick-or-treat stations, an illusion show and more).
There’s also the Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park, with more than 60,000 works of art spanning 6,000 years. Of note is the museum’s Cincinnati Wing, comprised of more than 400 objects from artists born in or trained in Cincinnati – including a lovely collection of art-carved furniture (much of which was created by women around the turn of the 20th century) and furniture from the Shop of the Crafters.
Also in Eden Park is Krohn Conservatory, an Art Deco glass structure built in 1933 that houses 3,500 species of plants from around the world. The current special exhibit is “Mitate: A Japanese Garden.” (I think the Conservatory is one of the most delightful places in the city. Disclaimer: my first professional job was in PR with the Cincinnati Park Board, during which I developed some of the signage for Krohn…eons ago.)
In the middle of downtown Cincinnati, you’ll find the Contemporary Arts Center – housed in an impressive structure designed by Zaha Hadid. Current exhibitions include “Patti Smith: The Coral Sea,” which highlights her work as a poet and visual artist, “JR,” which is the renowned French artist’s first solo exhibit and “Joey Versoza: Is This It,” a playful exploration of popular culture as spectacle.
Also downtown, don’t miss the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which celebrates the heroes of the freedom movement from the time of the Underground Railroad to the present, and houses the FamilySearch center, for those interested in discovering their family history.
The Taft Museum of Art, on the east side of downtown Cincinnati, has masterpieces by Rembrandt and Whistler (among others), a delightful cafe and an impressive collection of furniture pieces. Plus it’s in a gorgeous early 1800s Palladian building.
Just up the road in Mt. Auburn is the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, which commemorates the only person to serve as both Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and President of the United States.
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (for which I’ve a lot of love) is performing…not Shakespeare this weekend; instead, they bring you a dramatic rendering of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The theater is in downtown Cincinnati, just a few blocks up from the river.
At the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, you can catch the world premiere of Martin Zimmerman’s “Seven Spots on the Sun” or the Broadway musical sensation “Cabaret.”
I’m not too fond of chain restaurants, so here are some of my favorite local places.
Eli’s Barbeque. We’re supposed to keep this place secret. But that’s a picture up top of the crave-worthy BBQ sandwich. ‘Nuff said. (Oh…and if you go, it’s cash or check only.)
A Tavola. This pizza restaurant is in the “Gateway Quarter” in the hot urban center (as are several of the others on my list), and one of the owners, Jared Wayne, is a woodworker (he built the bar and all the tables in the beautiful space). They make all the pizza components on site, and it’s all delicious.
Senate. Located just a door away from A Tavola, this place specializes in homemade hot dogs/sausages (my favorite dog is the Croque Madame, with bechamel, black forest ham and a poached egg, served on a brioche bun). Oh, and I could eat their poutine every day (but that would be a very bad idea indeed). I am also prodigiously fond of one of their house cocktails, the “Kitten Fizz.”
Dewey’s. OK – this excellent pizza joint is now a chain, with six locations in Cincinnati, and more in Northern Kentucky and other locations. But it started out as a local place, and I’m glad it’s grown (there’s one close to our office and one close to my house – dangerous). All the crust is fresh, and tossed in front of a plate glass window (fun to watch while you’re waiting for a table). My favorite? Pepperoni and goat cheese with red sauce.
Tom+Chee. Best. Grilled. Cheese. Ever. And great tomato soup two ways. But I can’t bring myself to try the grilled cheese donut.
Also in the Gateway Quarter is Abagail Street, a delightful wine bar with tasty Mediterranean food served tapas style. Try the chorizo-stuffed dates and lamb sliders.
And again, in the Gateway Quarter (are you sensing a theme here?) is Tucker’s, a venerable, down-home restaurant with no frills and great cooking. Try it for breakfast, and get the goetta.
In my neighborhood, Northside, you’ll find a gem of a bakery – Take the Cake – that serves up a the best Sunday brunch in town (and I’m not just sayin’ that because my neighbor is a part-owner). The steak and eggs, the shrimp and grits and the bicuits and gravy are not to be missed (though I wouldn’t order them all on one visit).
Also in Northside, Melt is a funky cafe with delicious sandwiches (I’m partial to the “Joan of Arc”) – and I hear the vegetarian and vegan fare is great, too (though I’ve no personal experience with it).
Two of the best meals I’ve ever had have been at David Falk’s Sotto, in downtown Cincinnati. It’s a traditional Italian trattoria that’s out of this world. And upstairs is the same chef’s fancier restaurant, Boca, that serves food inspired by European tradition. Both are in the renovated spaces of two of the most storied restaurants in Cincinnati; the Maisonette boasted the longest-running five-star rating (41 years) of any restaurant on the continent, and downstairs was La Normandie. So, I’m glad to see David Falk continuing the tradition of excellent food in those spaces.
And of course, there’s Cincinnati-style chili (I prefer Skyline to Gold Star…but really, I prefer Texas-style chili – which is darn hard to come by in these-here parts) and Graeter’s Ice Cream (though I also like Aglamesis Bro’s.)
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of things to do and places to eat – but I hope this is a good starting point.
I hope to see you this weekend for Woodworking in America – I likely won’t have time to indulge in any of the above…until after the conference. At which point an adult beverage or two will certainly be in order.