A ‘public comfort station’ gets a 21st century makeover as a cocktail lounge

More than 100 years ago, the squat, brick structure on McMillan Street was a “public comfort station,” a place to tend to nature’s call and freshen up a bit.

Today, this throwback to another era will be providing comfort of another sort — exotic cocktails and inviting spaces in which to enjoy them.

The grand opening of Comfort Station took place June 21st with a formal ribbon cutting performed by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, the latest development in the ongoing transformation of Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills neighborhood.

Mayor John Cranley performed the ribbon cutting.
The Comfort Station once served as a washroom at the busy Peebles Corner intersection, which was, at the time, a major bus and streetcar transfer point.

When the facility was opened in 1914, an observer wrote, “The women’s retiring room ... enables women waiting for cars to freshen and rest themselves after a long trip from the suburbs ... before completing their journey.”

There were separate entrances and facilities for men and women.

The 21st century Comfort Station also has two distinct spaces. The upper level is a light-filled space that serves as an all-day cocktail and daytime coffee bar. It transitions into a backyard patio.

A dimly-lit cocktail bar occupies the basement. Guests enter the upper level through the building’s original women’s room entrance and the basement through the original men’s room door.

The lounge is operated by the same team that opened Sundry and Vice bar in Over-the-Rhine in 2015.

It’s the latest development in a resurgent Walnut Hills. A block or two west on McMillan is Fireside Pizza, a Walnut Hills pioneer that opened in 2014 with craft beer and wood-fired pizza.

A block to the east, the historic Paramount building, an anchor of Peebles Corner that had been deteriorating for decades, is undergoing renovation as a microbrewery and other businesses.

In that same block, Trevarren Flats opened with market-rate housing, Just Q’in offers barbecue, the Video Archive is a speakeasy-type bar, and Caffe Vivace offers a regular jazz lineup along with coffee and cocktails.

Hundreds of housing units are underway in the rest of the neighborhood, which is just a couple of minutes from downtown Cincinnati. And an abandoned Kroger store on McMillan will see life as the first site for CoMade, a manufacturing accelerator.

Although it’s a project years in the making, Comfort Station’s timing coincides well with Walnut Hills’ booming development.

“The vision of Comfort Station began almost five years ago. It could have fallen by the wayside many times along the way, through the determination of our partners, community stakeholders, and many committed individuals we’re so proud of the outcome,” says owner Stuart King. “The reception has been incredible, almost everyone who walks in the door is surprised by the interior and patio — it’s like an urban oasis, hidden from view.

Peebles’ Corner Historic District is a registered historic district surrounding the intersection of East McMillan Street and Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist, Cincinnati native and father of three. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.
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