Soapdish: King of Beers

If you're reading this column, that means it must be Tuesday (or beyond), and Opening Day has once again come and gone in the great city of Cincinnati. Ah yes, Opening Day…that grand old tradition…the prime opportunity for media scriveners young and old, from the littlest blogger to the mightiest editor, to indulge in their penchant for hackneyed clichés and middling mixed metaphors.  Untold "Odes to the Big Red Machine" will have no doubt flowed from the printing cartridges of these virtual-ink-stained wretches.  Yet hope springs eternal at the dawn of a new baseball season, as the Genius of Water is once again flowing in Fountain Square, and the winter of our collective discontent is quickly sent downstream with the rest of the snow melt and winter detritus.

Where else but Cincinnati can we witness the grand spectacle that is the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, befitting for a city that lays claim to the world's oldest professional baseball club.  The parade inevitably carries vestiges of deep nostalgia to Cincinnati's past, from Grand Marshall Johnny Bench, to its anachronistic (and decidedly questionable) use of zoo elephants outfitted with custom Reds caps and bats to swing in their trunks (note: the Bataan-style elephant march was reportedly a demand of the chain-smoking former Reds uber-lord and noted Zoo benefactress Marge Schott, who, not coincidentally enough, has an elephant house named after her at the zoo). 

Visitors to Great American Ball Park, however, will encounter quite a different landscape this Spring from when they last trudged out of yet another mediocre baseball experience.  No, not the actual team on the field, and not the sale of sushi inside the stadium, but rather that of the neighboring blocks outside the ballpark.  From the towering Great American Tower at Queen City Square, to the astonishing and speedy rise of vertical construction on the Banks, the changes are real and palpable (and all this no matter what some closeted, knuckle-dragging, WLW-dialing klavern member at the Enquirer online message board would have you believe).

More than just the Banks, however, the real jewel in this whole area is the $140 million Central Riverfront Park.  As this video update makes clear (and, perhaps, in spite of the ultra-cheesy music soundtrack), construction at the CRP is proceeding at a rapid clip.  The current timetable calls for Phase I of the park, including the Walnut Street Event Lawn, the Walnut Street Fountain, the Visitor's Center/Bike Mobility Center and the Moerlein Lager House to all be open in the Spring of 2011 (hopefully for Opening Day 2011).

Last Friday night, in yet another opportunity to wax nostalgic, I had the opportunity to attend the grand opening of the new Neon's Unplugged in Over-the-Rhine.  Although decidedly different then the old Neon's (hint: the old neon is all located at Terry's Turf Club now), the new Neon's grand opening offered the perfect and fortuitous confluence of an 80 degree, early April Friday evening at an outdoor bar.  While there, I was able to share a few OTR's with Greg Hardman, CEO of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company.  The gregarious Hardman was eager to chat about almost everything going on in the burgeoning Moerlein brewing empire, from the new Hall of Fame cans to a new IPA introduction to the Moerlein Lager House plans.  (Note: one thing he did NOT want to talk about oft-gossiped plans for a future brewing site in Over-the-Rhine).

Moerlein, as many are aware, seems to relish taking advantage of Cincinnatians' innate retro-beer nostalgia.  Its acquisition of the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary, has lead to a reintroduction of Hudy Delight and 14K, the resurrection of Little Kings, and a re-launch of the retro-can styled Burger brand last May.  Now, in a nod to yet another Hudepohl tradition, they've introduced the Reds Hall of Fame cans, specially coordinated with the Reds Hall of Fame ceremonies on July 17.  The special Hudy Delight and 14K cans, featuring 2010 inductees Chris Sabo, Pedro Borbon, and Tony Mullane, have apparently been selling like the proverbial 12 pack o'hotcakes, and Hardman seemingly could not contain his enthusiasm over the product.  2010, curiously enough, is the 75th anniversary of the beer can, for those of you that actually keep track of such things.

On another front, May 6 at Rookwood Pottery in Over-the-Rhine has been pegged as the keg tapping for Christian Moerlein's newest offering, the 'Northern Liberties IPA'.  Word on the street following a sneak preview tapping several weeks ago at the Senate has been overwhelmingly positive.  For the May 6 event, Rookwood Pottery will unveil a new special edition, third-in-a-series beer stein depicting scenes from Over-the-Rhine. As with past Moerlein beer introductions, the actual bottle will feature yet another typically "whimsical" design by noted local artist Jim Effler, replete with loose references to the Statue of Liberty, immigration, Ellis Island, Liberty Street, the 1849 annexation by Cincinnati of the "Northern Liberties" (i.e. the free-wheeling section of OTR North of Liberty), and, well, as Hardman sums it up, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 

Finally, the topic of discussion turned to the Moerlein Lager House, which will occupy what is currently the Southeast corner of the park platform currently under construction, slightly lower then the Southern platform pf the Banks Project just immediately to the North.  The beginning elements of the Lager House are clearly visible from the street, and the brewpub will lie directly East of the elevated Walnut Street Events Lawn of the park.  Hardman indicated that they have selected the architect to begin the designs for the restaurant, which he thinks (with typically hyperbolic glee) will be "spectacular…and unlike anything seen in any brewhouse in the world."  The actual brewing operation layout has been designed and is in place, and financing is "very close," and well in excess of the 50% level reported last month.  All in, the brewpub will seat 600 outside in the biergarten (which will also feature a "hopsgarden"), with an additional 500 indoors, and will clearly, as Hardman notes repeatedly, almost mantra-like, "be an economic driver for our city." 

All in all, it's evident that Hardman has cannily mined Cincinnati's rich nostalgia for its brewing heritage, and it's also apparent that he immensely enjoys what he's doing.  As he notes, "we're all about the Cincinnati brewing experience…and the Lager House will provide a direct link from the riverfront to Over the Rhine," two of Cincinnati's most unique assets.  (for an even more direct link, I suggest we get the streetcar in place as soon as possible….but alas, that's a column for yet another time….)  The City of Cincinnati, moreover, should be applauded for eschewing the typically pre-packaged TGI - O'Dooleys style eatertainment chain operations, instead partnering with a company and a CEO who understands what makes Cincinnati unique - it's heritage, its history, its future. 
Photography by Scott Besleer and Tiffani Fisher
Grand opening beers at Neons
Great American Ballpark
Greg Hardman and Casey Coston
Hudepohl stein at Grammer's
Future site of Moerlein Lager House on the Banks
Bocci ball at Neons

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Read more articles by Casey Coston.

Soapbox columnist Casey Coston, a former corporate bankruptcy and restructuring attorney, is now involved in real estate development and construction in and around Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton as Vice President at Urban Expansion. He's also a civic activist and founder of a number of local groups, including the Urban Basin Bicycle Club, the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network, the World Famous OTR Ping Pong League and LosantiTours: An Urban Exploration Company.