48 Hours in Oakley

A thriving town reflects the ideals and principles of the community that lives and works within its borders. Its businesses are vibrant and varied, from diverse cuisine to services that cater to the desires of the young and old, and in Oakley's case, those that enjoy both their inner child and sense of adventure.

In 1911, Oakley began to grow at a rapid pace with the development of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and large industrial complexes such as the Cincinnati Milling Company. Businesses and residences sprung up around the up-and-coming industrial center. Nowadays many of these buildings are home to a variety of unexpected businesses that work in tandem to give Oakley its unique flavor.

A trip to this intriguing corner of Cincinnati offers a blend of community pride and a sense of wry humor, whimsy, and a twist of sophistication. The following is but a mere suggestion of how to spend some time in Oakley. We'd be remiss if we didn't suggest sampling Cincinnati's best banana split for breakfast or lingering over dinner at one of the city's top ten restaurants. 

Friday Afternoon:
Stop into Habits Café at 3036 Madison Road for a quick lunch. Creative menu options abound in this comfortable and stylish eatery with a diverse array of burger options for the meat fiend. And when we say diverse, we mean it. Ever consider an Ostrich burger? Vegetarian entrées are available for non-carnivorous companions. Hankering for dessert? Forget the traditional chocolate cake -- crisp sweet potato fries accompanied by apple butter are a popular favorite. The café overlooks Oakley Square and the spiraling 20th Century Theatre, which has been renovated to host everything from concerts to weddings and benefits. The marquee proudly announces upcoming events.

Continue across and up the street to Significant Books, 3053 Madison Road. Dealing in hard-to-find and out-of-print selections, one is sure to find hidden treasures among the endless stacks.  

Walk next door into Flaggs USA at 3075 Madison Road. Warmer months are approaching, bringing balmy, breezy days to the Cincinnati area. This local flag shop has been in business for over 10 years and specializes not only in custom banners and flags for various teams, countries or causes, but a variety of kites to take for a test run at the nearby Oakley Playground or Ault Park, which sits just outside of Oakley's borders.

Behind the storefronts, the Oakley Goodwill, 3080 Markbreit Avenue, resides quietly like a well-kept secret. It's here that Oakley's proximity to affluent Hyde Park works to great advantage. Let loose your inner bargain hunter and walk out with a designer purse or leather jacket for under $25.

Friday Evening:
Keep it simple for dinner and stop in at Fatburger, 3158 Madison Road, for a retro experience. Inexpensive, quality burgers and two types of fries -- fat and skinny -- await your selection.

End your evening and unwind at the local pub, Animations, at 3059 Madison Road. Locals chat on barstools over bottled brews, play pool and select their favorite tunes from the well-stocked jukebox in this unpretentious and beloved local bar.

Saturday Morning:
Start your morning off with bright colors, cheerful faces and maybe an adorable but oh-so-delicious manatee cookie at 3054 Madison Road. The Blue Manatee Decafé is an expansion of the Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore, decorated with vibrant, fanciful murals. Playfully naming all of the drinks served after beloved children's books with alphabet refrigerator magnets, the café features drinks from the Lorax Latte, to the Little Engine That Could -- three shots of espresso and Aglamesis' mocha syrup -- and enough caffeinated beverages to provide energy for a full day in Oakley shopping or chasing after an enthusiastic young one.   

Wander next door to the Manatee's bookshop for a shot of fond nostalgia rediscovering childhood favorites. Visitors' attention is immediately drawn to the canvas "wall" which contains well wishes and illustrations from dozens of children's book authors who have visited the store in the past.

John Hutton and Sandra Gross, the innovative power couple behind the Blue Manatee, have set out to make books a healthy way of life for young and old alike. Saturday mornings feature story time in French, German and Spanish. Parents read to their children in various cozy corners, and youngsters zoom around at near warp speed, all under the watchful eyes of assistant manager, Gail Bloom.

"All the staff here are teachers and work here part time," she remarks, watching her companions Jen and Melissa ringing customers' purchases and carefully repairing a pop-up book that had a little "accident" with craft glue.

"We have lots of regulars, which is nice because you get to watch them grow up," she says, watching kids play hide-and-seek among the shelves of books. Going on a road trip soon? Ask to check out the traveling manatee, which has been an extra guest on many vacations. Stopping in to make a purchase as a gift and want to get it right? Check with Melissa, as many patrons do. "Dinosaurs. Yes, absolutely, dinosaurs," she responds confidently to an unsure patron's inquiry.

Continue next door to The Spotted Goose, 3048 Madison Road, to look at children's attire with serious attitude and hand-tooled embroidery for an interesting mix of hipster seam-stitchery.

A few feet down, the purple storefront of King Arthur's Court Toys beckons. Open the door to a menagerie of amusements, including trains, Legos, Brio, board games, slot cars, puzzles and playthings for all ages. Once a Sears store, this toy wonderland is run by the Altman family, who purchased the business in 1995. "We pride ourselves on being toy experts and having something that can appeal to a child with lots of interests," Leah Wiethe, states. "I've worked here for 11 years." She points to several other employees, who have valiantly served the interests of toy seekers for similar spans of time.  

Saturday Afternoon:
Lunch at Oakley Pub and Grill, 3924 Isabella Avenue. Try what locals have claimed is the best burger in Cincinnati. Not a burger fan? The Pub's got you covered, with a variety of pizzas, sandwiches, and crab-stuffed portabella mushrooms.  

Save room for dessert, and walk back across the street to Aglamesis Brothers, 3046 Madison Road. Founded and located in the same building since 1908, this historical sweet spot features an overwhelming selection of sundaes, milkshakes and homemade confections. The multi-page menu lists treats for a multitude of appetites, including handmade ice cream sodas. Stick with a small cone or go big with a colossal banana split.

Take a walk half a mile up the road to the Red Tree Gallery, 4409 Brazee Street, which features sculptures, paintings, and wearable designs from local artists. Also featuring art workshops and a fair trade coffee house, Red Tree might be just the ticket to break you out of your ice cream-induced coma.

Saturday Evening:
Next door to Red Tree, at 3212 Madison Road, Denim offers a high-end shopping experience for those willing to splurge on a pair of the perfect jeans or footwear.  

A block down and a little bit up Brotherton Road sits the Bow-Wow Boutique, containing a wide selection of items for the canine enthusiast.

To the north, the Duck Creek Antique Mall, 3715 Madison Road, showcases historical treasures from lovely but mismatched porcelain to fine china and silver. Stop in and browse among the antiques for baubles such as vintage estate jewelry.

Oakley's culinary scene offers some of Cincinnati's best and unique restaurants, so enjoy a three-course gourmet meal at Boca, rated Cincinnati's #3 Best Restaurant this year by Cincinnati Magazine, or try Hugo for southern style cuisine with a gourmet twist.

Sunday Morning:
Get your morning beverage at the Essencha Tea House, located at 3212 Madison Road. Serving breakfast and multitudes of tea, the knowledgeable staff can help you decide on the perfect blend.

Oakley's more practical side also offers groceries for the fridge and furnishings for the home. Nest, on the corner of Brazee and Madison, showcases unique gifts for friends as well as a unique array of entertainment supplies. Astute Furnishings, at 3052 Madison, may just contain that perfect end table you've been searching for. House of France, next to Hugo on Madison Road, offers stylish elegance in its furniture selection.

To get the Sunday groceries for the week, visit The Fresh Market at 3088 Madison Road for seafood, meats and produce. Don't feel like cooking? A Forkable Feast at 3363 Madison takes care of dinner, providing delicious soups, entrees, sides and even gluten-free dinner options prepared in-house to bring home to your table.

Oakley offers services and goods that appeal to a wide range of interests -- bargain hunters, history buffs, book fanatics, the adventurous eater, art aficionados, dog lovers, sugar addicts and the inner child in all of us.

Photography by Scott Beseler
Essencha Tea House, Macha
Significant Books
Flaggs USA
The Spotted Goose
Essencha Tea House