The Cincinnati kid
It’s earthy America... beer, bourbon and bites. Ohio and Kentucky are the real deal
EVERYBODY remembers that first special encounter, and my own love affair with the US of A began just two months ago. And no, it wasn’t New York, Boston, Washington DC or Las Vegas.
I was left swooning by an altogether less celebrated city – at least these days, although it was once known as the Paris of America and the Queen City. I refer to Cincinnati in Ohio in the Mid-West.
On what was the inaugural Wow Air flight to Cincinnati, I was struck by that tremulous mix of nervousness and excitement, a bit like a first date.
Touching down on the tarmac of Kentucky CVG Airport, with butterflies in my tummy following a seven-hour WOW air flight from Reykjavik, we were greeted with a water hose salute from a ground staff vehicle.
And it wasn’t long before I was christening my maiden Stateside sojourn properly with some of the finest local bourbon and beer in both states. An ideal way to settle the first-time flutters for a new kid on the block.
Worth mentioning from the off is the big bonus of this very much wow new WOW air flight: you get two cities for the price of one!
Newport in Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, are only separated by the ‘Singing Bridge’, over the Ohio River.In fact, you get three cities if you include the stopover in Reykjavik (more of that later). Ohio is not what I expected
America to be. Yes, there are brightly lit tall buildings, but the streets are wide and the bridges are stunning. In fact, it has a European feel and look to it.
While the modern infrastructure is ‘bigly’ American, as The Donald might say, the older architecture of Cincinnati is very much what you might see on the Continent.
The art-deco Music Hall downtown is particularly striking.
Cincinnati has an uber-Teutonic influence, on account of the Germans who settled there in the mid-19th century, followed closely by the Irish and English.
The Germans brought their famous beer with them, but alas out of the 30 breweries that once thrived here none have survived, the last one closing at the end of the last century.
Fear not, they have been replaced by craft brewers.
TAFT’S Ale House, named after the roly-poly local boyturned-President, William Howard Taft, is a converted 18th-century church. It stocks only local produce and jeez, is it tasty! I’d especially recommend trying the tater tots, a soft deep-fried type of grated potato, with chipotle sauce and wash it down with Growler beer.
The most famous local dish, however, is Skyline Chilli... that’ll be Skyline chilli sauce over spaghetti topped with cheese and an array of optional extras. Tastier than its sounds.
Another Cincinnati staple is goetta, a meaty German sausage blended with oats and spices. For dessert, Cincinnati’s yummy Graeter’s ice cream, a 145year-old recipe, is a must.
You’ll be getting the picture, Cincinnatians love their comfort food.
If you’re still not sated, then head for the Rhinegeist Brewery, a micro-brewery with a cool rooftop bar, located in the old German brewing district, Over-the-Rhine.
Findlay Market is where you’ll find the artisans selling their wares. There are local honey stalls, Cincinnati’s Maverick’s chocolate shop, melt-in-the-mouth Taste Of Belgium waffles, homemade lemonade, burritos, Lebanese cuisine… almost every type of food imaginable (I even spotted apple pie-flavoured bacon!).
Plenty of arts and crafts stands are also dotted around this buzzing indoor thoroughfare which is like an American version of Cork’s English Market.
Across the Ohio River in Kentucky, there is also plenty for food lovers... and for those who fancy a tipple, it’s heaven.
Kentuckians, with their relaxed perhaps bourbon-tinged drawl, are very proud of their local tipple.
And it’s more than just Jack Daniel’s stomping ground.
Smaller bourbon distilleries are also making a name for themselves; the good folk of New Riff in Kentucky’s Newport city are producing some especially delicious sweet and textured bourbon and, to my surprise, gin, with some special local ingredients.
For an authentic olde-worlde experience visit Mainstrasse Village in Covington, Kentucky, for a taste of American surbubia, ‘bourbon, beer and bites’ and Commonwealth Bistro on Main Street.
In between the swilling and the savouring, there are plenty of stunning sights to behold in Cincinnati. Beside the Singing Bridge (the Roebling Suspension Bridge, to be precise), which whistles
rather than sings, is Smale River- ront Park. This is perfect for a sunny stroll by the banks of the Ohio River, and young families will be enterained by the park’s array of interactive features, including a foot piano like the one featured in the ilm Big and multi-person swings. And if you haven’t had enough of beer, there is an Underground Beer Tunnel Tour, led by American Legacy Tours, which is a fascinating trip back in time.
A jaunt to the top of Carew Tower, a 49-storey skyscraper in Cincinnati that was a prototype for the Empire State Building, will give you an eagle-eyed view of the entire city and its surroundings.
Sporty types will spot the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball stadium, The Great American Ball Park, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ American football arena, while shoppers will immediately pick out Macy’s HQ, A different world: Mainstrasse Village in Covington, Kentucky. Clockwise, hear about Rosa Parks at the National Underground Freedom Center, Cincinnati, and eat and drink well at Taft’s Ale House, and Findlay Market
For the culture vultures, there is plenty to experience in the Queen City with The Contemporary Art Center, opened in 1939, and Cincinnati Art Museum – where a plethora of paintings, from Picasso to Chagall, are on display – particularly worthwhile.
The stand-out experience though is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. There you can learn all about the abolitionist movement and the struggle of black slaves, many of whom risked their lives crossing the Ohio River to gain freedom as they moved north.
STANDING in an original slave house, re-assembled inside the museum, was a haunting reminder of just how low the human race can go.
Another moving experience here is the Rosa Parks virtual headset section.
This puts you right in the shoes of the freedom fighter on that historic day she refused to move to the back of the bus.
Essentially, you are Rosa and are stared and shouted at by those on the bus with you. Chilling but unforgettable.
So whether you’re a culture vulture, a beer hound or a foodie, Cincinnati, which is small enough to see by foot or tram if you’re on a tight schedule, is a new destination accessible from Dublin that is definitely worth exploring.
That great American writer Mark Twain is purported to have quipped: ‘When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.’
Well now it’s a thriving tourist destination… and I wouldn’t mind raising a glass there to the stunning Queen City if the end is anytime nigh.
Bridge of highs: The singing bridge in Cincinnati