A holiday tour of Over-the-Rhine

Winter in Cincinnati is always fun, festive, and offers plenty of opportunities to celebrate with friends and loved ones. No matter what holidays you’ll observe, it’s a great place to be this holiday season. 

Julie Clayton is executive director of the OTR Chamber. It is, literally, her job to keep on top of everything going on in the neighborhood. Whether you’re looking for a new place to have your holiday party or want a one-stop shopping destination, she hopes you’ll consider a visit to Over-the-Rhine (OTR) this season.

Before calendars fill up, she suggests making space for a few local holiday events.

Small Business Saturday is November 25th. This nationwide campaign encourages supporting local retailers during the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Retailers across OTR will be open and offering their own unique twists on the day and, with so many small businesses in one neighborhood, shopping there is an easy way to support many of them in one fell swoop.

“Every business here is a small business,” Clayton says.

“We don’t have large chain retailers or large chain restaurants or anything like that, so this is the epitome of shopping small and staying local.”

Throughout the entire Christmas season, the neighborhood will feature carolers in various spots on the weekends and 30 businesses will be participating in the Chamber’s “mistletoe stops” program. The OTR Glow event will bring festive decorations to many storefronts across the neighborhood during this time, as well.

Over-the-Rhine is home to the Cincinnati Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker at Music Hall. There are other events at the iconic venue this season, as well, featuring the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Next door, Memorial Hall offers its own calendar of events. Don’t miss local gem Over the Rhine (the band) in their annual Christmas acoustic show on December 15th, 16th, and 17th.

The City Flea will host its annual holiday market during the evenings of December 16th and 17th in Washington Park. Shoppers can find everything from homemade beauty products and antiques to handmade Christmas decorations and stocking stuffers. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and check it out.

Plan your visit

Clayton says one thing that makes OTR a real treasure is that it’s a truly one-stop destination neighborhood.

Visitors can spend an entire day within its dense, walkable districts. They can get breakfast, tackle their Christmas shopping, get their nails done or get a haircut, eat a great lunch, take a walk in the park, buy groceries, try a new cocktail, catch a ballet performance, and do it all on foot or by streetcar.

This holiday season is a great time to try Over-the-Rhine and, while in no way exhaustive, consider these suggestions if you’re getting to know the neighborhood again, or for the first time.

Rhinegeist offers their own beers on tap and much more, including cornhole.

Caffeine and snacks to fuel the day

First things first—when it’s time to fuel up for a walk around the neighborhood, a quick snack will be easy to find. There are plenty of options for drinks and snacks scattered across the neighborhood.

Coffia Coffee Shop is a great first stop for a dose of caffeine. Located on Thirteenth Street, just off Vine, Coffia offers a warm, colorful taste of Columbian coffee, food, and hospitality. This recent addition to the neighborhood joins popular coffee stops Coffee Emporium, Collective Espresso, and Urbana (in nearby Pendleton) in maintaining Over-the-Rhine’s reputation as a true coffee destination.

Non-coffee drinkers looking to fuel their day of shopping can try bubble tea at either Boba Cha or Qlicious or stop in at OTR Bagelry, Graeter’s Ice Cream, or Simply Rolled for a different kind of pick-me-up.

A gift for everyone

When it’s time for buying gifts, OTR has something for everyone on your list.

For a local sports fan, stop in at the FC Cincinnati Team Store on Vine Street. It’s one of only two official team stores in town and the only one open on non-match days. They offer everything from hoodies, jackets, and jerseys to FCC trademarked slippers and scarves.

Main Street Shop + Studio, located at 1342 Main Street, is a small boutique of goods from local artists and small business owners. They offer a curated selection of vintage and handmade items. In addition to their usual inventory, the shop is presenting a Market on Main on December 3rd from 11am-4pm at the Woodward Theater, featuring over 30 local vendors.

Other shops and boutiques scatter the neighborhood, mostly along Vine Street and Main Street. It would be hard to pick favorites but, for a little bit of everything, plan a stop at Mica 12/V, Pet Wants, The Candle Lab OTR, The Native One, Idlewild, Tim’s Picks, Go(o)d Co. Apparel, Hutch Baby, Homage, AM/PM Exchange, Junebug’s Jewelry Boutique, and Simply Zero. Don’t be surprised if you’re distracted by something else along the way!

If you want to buy someone an edible gift, stop in at Al’s Delicious Popcorn, Taste of Belgium’s bakery case, Brown Bear Bakery, or Macaron Bar to grab something truly “made in Over-the-Rhine.”

If you’re headed to a friend’s house for dinner and hate to go empty-handed, stop in at Allez Bakery for a fresh loaf of bread and grab a bottle of wine from 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab. Hidden treasure Lost & Found OTR offers Booze Bottles and Booze Bags of specialty cocktails to go.

Looking for lunch or dinner?

When you’re ready to take a lunch break, consider a stop at Soul Secrets for a traditional southern meal like fried chicken, fried fish, or a vegan “chick’n” pot pie with sides like collard greens, sweet potatoes, coleslaw, and buttermilk cornbread. (Pro tip: they cater, too!)

For a cold-weather warm-up, visit Iris Bookcafe on Main Street for their daily selection of hearty soups and browse the books while you wait.

Other options for a fast sit down meal or a meal on-the-go include The Pony OTR (for hot wings), City Bird (for chicken tenders and fries), Goodfellas (for a slice of pizza), Gomez (for their signature item—the turtle), Yoli’s (for tacos), Milkman (for burgers and boozy milkshakes), and Lucky Dog OTR (for Cincinnati-style chili dogs).

If you’re going to be in the neighborhood at dinnertime, plan ahead and make a reservation at Goose & Elder, Losanti, Quan Hapa, Sacred Beast, Fillo Greek Bake Shop, or Teak Thai. Especially for foodies in from out of town, each of these restaurants will provide a unique dining experience.

Patrons socialize during happy hour at Nostalgia Wine & Jazz Lounge.

What about a happy hour or late night out?

When it’s date night or you’re headed out for a festive happy hour, Nostalgia Wine & Jazz Lounge is a neighborhood favorite. This intimate lounge in the heart of Over-the-Rhine offers wines and cocktails highlighting minority and women winemakers and producers. Don’t miss the live jazz and soul music every Thursday through Sunday. (Reserve a table online.)

Other great options for a night out include Japp’s, LouVino, and Wodka Bar on Main Street, where you can find cocktails, wine, and vodka all in a row. Or, head over one block west to 13th and Walnut where you'll find the slightly retro HomeMakers Bar.

For something totally different, check in to the Symphony Hotel for a night or for one of their regularly scheduled events. There’s live jazz in their lounge a few times a month and a special murder mystery holiday dinner show is scheduled for December 8th and 9th.

For a late, late night out with friends, consider Alice OTR where the weekend vibe is distinctly “Retro Future Discotheque,” or nearby Somerset whose atmosphere is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else.

Bring the whole family

If you’re looking for a place to bring the whole family for a night out, consider Aladdin’s. One of the only franchise restaurants in the neighborhood, this Lebanese American restaurant is newer to the neighborhood but not new to Cincinnati. (Its West Chester and Hyde Park locations are Cincinnati staples for Mediterranean food.) Aladdin’s is a larger spot than most in OTR, with plenty of tables big enough for a family dinner and large plates and portions for sharing.

The Knox Joseph Distillery at the OTR Stillhouse features occasional live music.

Do you need space for a large group? The OTR Stillhouse now boasts the largest indoor/outdoor bar venue space in the whole neighborhood and is all-ages until 9pm. The home of Knox Joseph Distillery, the Stillhouse is open Wednesday thru Sunday and features a small, tasty food menu alongside cocktails made with their very own award-winning liquors, wine, and beer.

Bourbon lovers take note–on November 24th, the Knox Joseph Distillery will release a rare 5-year-old bourbon, Ohio's first all-female single-barrel bourbon to be released by a female-owned distillery.

Rhinegeist Brewery is a popular spot for casual meetups with friends and larger groups. Their taproom has a beer hall atmosphere, and no one will be surprised if you drag the kids along.

The whole family can play together at Pins Mechanical Company and 16-Bit Bar + Arcade on Main Street until 9pm, when it becomes a 21+ establishment. For something more low-key, kids will love a stop at The Play Library or Indigo Hippo just a bit further up Main Street or a trip to the playgrounds at Washington Park and Ziegler Park.

So, grab your kiddos, your mom, or your co-workers, and spend the day in Over-the-Rhine.

A complete list of holiday events and neighborhood establishments can be found on the OTR Chamber website.

Wait! What about Findlay Market?

It’s impossible to talk about a visit to Over-the-Rhine without mentioning the Findlay Market district, which is a destination in and of itself.

Stay tuned for a feature next month all about New Year’s Eve party planning at Findlay Market.
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Read more articles by Liz McEwan.

Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.