Soapdish: Dog About Town

Ah, faithful Fido.  Man and woman's best friend, loyal companion, faithful accomplice and furry stick fetcher who...well…let's be honest, requires considerably more effort than your average housecat as far as downtown apartment or condo dwelling is concerned. 

While downtown's residential core continues to grow, one of the simpler and more visible signs of that resurgence is the presence of our four legged canine friends taking their morning constitutional on the landscaped median of Central Parkway.  As more residents populate downtown, the morning dog walk, be it on Central Parkway. Lytle Park or wherever, increases accordingly.  That said, downtown Cincinnati is not exactly blessed with a plethora of easy access parks to quickly run the dog out before work or before going to bed. 

That's not to say there are no urban options for taking Lassie for a romp.

The aforementioned Central Parkway's newly landscaped median is a popular spot for those in the Gateway Quarter and Over the Rhine. Ditto for Lytle and Piatt Parks and the respective residents in those areas.  For those near the riverfront, Yeatman's Cove allows leashed dogs, and it's generally fine to have dogs in Sawyer Point as long as there's no event in progress.  Others, however, are somewhat left to fend for themselves on the sidewalks of downtown, and this is certainly an area which requires improvement if Cincinnati intends to continue the expansion of residents in the urban core.  As it currently stands, if you want to "unleash the hounds," as it were, you would have to hop in your vehicle and motor out to either Mount Airy (to the West) or Armleder Park (to the East).

Discussions on new city parks have also brought the needs of downtown dog owners into focus.  In August of 2007, City Manager Milton Dohoney opined on the need for downtown Cincinnati to get a dog park or two.  The city formed a committee consisting of city staffers, downtown residents, the SPCA, the Park Board and others.  As recently as a year ago, talks centered on a dog run in a grassy expanse over near Eggleston on the east side of downtown, as well as incorporating a run into the rebuilt Washington Park. Unfortunately, however, something called the "Great Recession" intervened. 

According to City spokesperson Meg Olberding, "the designs that came in were more expensive than the city could spend. As our budget deficit has worsened, this project has been placed on hold.  The idea of an outdoor area where dogs can run is still important in creating a vibrant, welcoming, livable downtown.  We hope that as the city's finances improve, this can once again be revisited." 

Expensive designs?  Given the needs of your basic dog run:  chain link fence, a bench or two, a grassy expanse, one has to wonder what type of dog park they were designing.  In any event, until things turn around, dog owners will continue to make do with what is readily available.   Mic Foster, owner of downtown's Pet Athletic Club ("PAC") notes: "Considering 50+% of the population own dogs, I would like to see Cincinnati continue to make efforts to become more dog friendly, but at this time we are doing what we can, with the resources we have."

While there may not be a plethora of accessible nature-based settings, there are a few other ways to work Rover into your recreational activities downtown. 

Although Fountain Square's "no dog" policy puts that area off limits, Findlay Market is always a popular gathering spot for patrons and their dogs (although obviously not in the main building).  Dogs can often be found lounging at Market Wines, lapping up attention and waiting patiently while their owners imbibe in the weekly wine tastings.  In addition, venerable OTR watering hole and renewed hipster hangout Grammer's has become a very popular spot for dogs to hang and hoover "floor popcorn" while their owner enjoys a pint or two.  Milton's in Prospect Hill is also popular with urban canine dwellers and their suds loving masters.  Another perhaps overlooked site downtown is City Cellars at Race and 9th, which provides yet another forum for human-dog happy hour-style bonding (it should be noted that City Cellars offers not just wine but also several quality beers on tap such as Dogfish Head and Brooklyn Lager).

When happy hour ends, however, and your urban dog-owning resident needs a bit of sustenance, things can get a bit trickier.  On a recent Sunday after Findlay Market had closed its doors, I found myself wandering through downtown looking for a place to grab a bite and drink while also affording a space for my pup to hang out.  If it were any day but Sunday, and were I in search of more intellectual canine-human pursuits, I would've grabbed some carryout and headed to the Mercantile Library (established 1835), the oldest dog-friendly membership library West of the Alleghenies. Fortunately, to the rescue, comes Covington, Kentucky. 

Both Chalk and Greenup Cafe (both on Greenup Street), as well as the Keystone Bar & Grill across the street, offer outdoor seating, where canines can anxiously await any errant table scraps that may come their way.  Moreover, as I have experienced firsthand, the staff at Chalk and Greenup will bring out, without prodding, a water bowl as well as a plate of house made dog treats - for my dog, not me - which are also available for sale behind the deli counter at Greenup.  If I were to resort to cornball shtick clichés, based on the speed of consumption of said treats and the unbridled eagerness for more, I would say that my dog rated the Greenup treats "4 paws up."  But I'm not one to resort to cornball shtick clichés, so there'll be none of that here today.  Suffice to say that the Roebling District of Covington has become a veritable dog owner's al fresco dining destination for those so inclined.

So while Cincinnati's downtown has become a growing bastion of dog-owning downtown dwellers, it has a ways to go before truly achieving dog friendly status.  A dog run in Washington Park and/or off of Eggleston would go a long way toward achieving that status.   According to Steve Schuckman of the Park Board, a dog park is still planned for Washington Park, "one for small dogs and one for larger dogs."  In addition, "the current target is to start construction on the renovation and expansion of the park, and construction of the parking garage below part of the park, by the early second quarter of next year," he says.

Until then, we'll have to be content with a City Cellars to Grammer's to Milton's pub crawl, weekend trips to Findlay Market, and a walk across the Roebling Bridge for brunch in Covington.

Photography by Scott Beseler, for more pup crawl photos click here
Great Danes at Mt. Airy dog park
Buddy the Basset Hound at Grammer's
Max, the big tipper

Rupert the greyhound and Zoe the Chocolate Lab
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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.