Brew River Gastropub brings craft beer, gourmet pub food to East End

Brew River Gastropub. The name alone prompts stirrings in the hearts and bellies of Cincinnati foodies.

Joby Bowman, Christian Babani and chef Michael Shields, along with a silent partner, have been developing their casual-meets-gourmet concept for more than two years, while their combined experience spans decades, numerous cuisine styles and geographical locations, from NYC to NOLA.

Brew River soft-opened in July and plans a series of grand opening events later this month. So far, the response from the community has been enthusiastic, a testament to the collaborators’ passion.

“We’re all extremely particular and detail-oriented,” says Bowman. “It shows in everything from the décor, which we’ve done entirely ourselves, to the atmosphere and recipes. People have told us it’s clear there’s a lot of love in every detail.”

When it come to the menus, it’s like Brew River’s answering machine claims: “Local is our focus; libations are our passion.”

Chief among the local ingredients used in their cooking are their house brews—the products of an exclusive partnership with Great Crescent Brewery in Aurora, IN.

“We had all been [home brewing] for quite a while,” says Bowman.

That’s why early in their quest for the perfect location, the group toured—or, as she puts it, “spelunked”—many of the storied former breweries on McMicken Ave.

Soon after, they learned that Maribelle’s would not be renewing their East End lease, and, says Bowman, “Everything just sort of came together from there.”

Well, almost everything.

The Riverside Drive location allows the partners—who Bowman describes as “sort of obsessed with water”—to weave in Cincinnati’s rivertown history. One upside to the building’s non-conforming use zoning? You won’t see copycat bars and restaurants cropping up nearby.  

The lease, however, does not allow for on-site brewing—a minor setback that Bowman and crew hope to eventually remedy by housing that part of the operation in a vacant church just across the street.

In the meantime, the pub’s entrepreneurs are more than happy with their Great Crescent partnership. Patrons seem content, too, imbibing specialty blends like Island Queen Blonde Ale and Ubiquitous Coconut Porter by the pint.

By Hannah Purnell
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