I came to fall in love with Cincinnati, Ohio, almost by chance. An unexpected cancelled flight led me to a city that even Charles Dickens boasted about saying, “It’s a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving and animated.” I soon discovered that I could not agree more. Perhaps it was the meandering Ohio River that divides Cincinnati from Covington in Northern Kentucky. Or the magnificent Roebling Bridge lit up at night, which was at one time touted as the longest suspension bridge in the world designed by John A Roebling, the mastermind behind the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.
Yet there I was on a year-round indoor carousal ride at lovely Smale Riverfront Park, anxious to explore more of the city’s magic. Back in the mid-eighteenth century Cincinnati had a very strong German history. Over 60% of the population was German, with many of the immigrants arriving during the revolution. They ended up cultivating the ‘Over the Rhine’ neighbourhood. The distinctive area reminded many of the Rhine River in Germany, with Cincinnati’s Miami and Erie canals flowing through the city having long since drained.
With the Germans came a booming brewing industry. Cincinnati was at one time deemed the beer capital of the world. However with World War II came major set backs, and the once bustling community declined. It has stayed that way for many years, until now. The historic area of Over the Rhine, or OTR, as the locals refer to it, is home to the largest set of historical landmarks in America. This part of town is going through a major renaissance, filling up with funky boutiques, cafes and superb culinary finds. As I strolled along Vine Street I caught glimpses of dilapidated buildings, beckoning to be restored, and from the looks of it, it won’t be long.
I soon found myself heading underground through a narrow, somewhat precarious staircase with American Legacy tours. What lay below the old vacant tenement building was an amazing part of Cincinnati’s brew heritage. With dust on my fingertips from touching the old growlers and beer bottles, I journeyed into the tunnels of what was once Kauffman Brewery (1863). My guide revelled in tales of a bygone era, recreating the space with his animated verbal imagery.
Vine Street Shopping & Tasting Musts
Holtman’s Donuts: You will never look at a donut the same way after you take a bite into a Holtman’s donut. Family owned and serving up an old fashioned recipe made from scratch since the 1960’s, there is an irrefutable magic to the glaze, especially when it comes to the maple syrup and bacon donuts, complete with real bacon bits. The apple fritter was by far the best donut I have ever had, so much so that I went back across town the next day to indulge again. Get there early while they are still warm!
Light It Up, Cincinnati
The Candle Lab’s concept is a fabulous one – it’s all about making your own soy candle from over 120 varieties of scents to choose from. The best part is that you can customize; pour and blend your own scent with 60 hours of burning time. The Candle Lab has such distinctive categories it’s hard to decide what fusion to create. From bacon to basmati rice, or “day at the spa” and Champagne, it’s all there. You will never find a candle anywhere that captures the true scent essence that way. If you have a favourite, you can also pick it off the shelf and take it home, but the fun part is playing the role of “mad scientist”. I settled on “campfire”. It took me right back to sitting by the fire as a kid roasting a s’more. The candle making process takes about two hours from start to finish.
Hi-Bred is a vintage clothing lovers dream! The shop is located in East Walnut Hills, another one of Cincinnati’s neighbourhoods on the verge of a major renaissance. Here in a beautifully restored old building you will find the most fabulous collection of vintage/contemporary clothing finds in top-notch condition. The shop itself unfolds before you. Be sure to peruse the drawers and drawers of jewelry finds tucked away inside an old letter cabinet to reveal a sparkly find. I scored a pair of white crystal studs for a steal. Owner Shawna Maria Guip curates her shop with such detail. From the gorgeous front window displays enticing you to pop inside to her unique hat collection, whatever you are after, it’s there.
Sotto Italian Restaurant is not so easy to spot, but worth it’s the hunt. This local favourite is housed in a historic building offering “underground dining” at it’s finest. The ambiance is a touch of romance and class rolled into one, with the candlelit brick walls and intimate seating. The idea here is rustic Italian cuisine, and it does not disappoint. I indulged in the Authentic Bavette con Bottarga. pasta, made fresh in-house. A unique feature at Sotto is that you can actually see the pasta being made seamlessly behind a glass window in the restaurant. For your sweet tooth, finish off with an order of the warm ricotta doughnuts with three sauces to dip them into.
After dinner grab the Southbank Shuttle Trolley from downtown Cincinnati and head to the newly opened Hotel Covington in Kentucky. Kentucky, with its rich hospitality is a ten-minute ride away, and it’s only a dollar to ride the trolley. I loved the wooden seats and rickety ride over the bridge. It’s such a fun-must when there.
The Hotel Covington is staying true to its roots, built in what was formerly Coppins Department Store, circa 1910. The department store past is reflected in each chic room. Don’t expect a closet, but rather a clothing rack. Even the trash bin is in the shape of a gold shopping bag. The stunning main lobby is a great spot to mingle in the evening and enjoy a signature cocktail at Coppins bar. You can’t miss noticing the 22 vintage oak barrels proudly standing tall, an homage to Kentucky’s bourbon roots.
Ready to retire for the night? Be sure to cozy up in the “Fabulous Furs” throw you can’t help but notice on the hotel bed. Don’t fret – it’s not real fur – but you would never know it. Made right in Covington Kentucky by hotel owner Donna Salyer’s team. I found it really hard to part with mine. If that’s the case you need not worry as the gift shop in the main lobby carries the elegant throws. It’s safe to say I was smitten with Cincinnati and Covington Kentucky. I will most certainly be back for those donuts soon.