Archive for November, 2009

The Coffee Emporium @ The Emery on Central Parkway

I call it my Branch Office. I join the mutitude with laptops taking advantage of the ample work space, numerous electrical outlets and the free WiFi.

The Emery Coffee Emporium is an enormous industrial style space with concrete floors and exposed ductwork. They even have room for their own coffee bean roastery (is that what it’s called?). Plenty of windows and natural light. Eclectic music (a refuge from classic rock) competes with the thump and hiss of the cappucino-espresso process. There is a single uni-sex bathroom accessible with a key attached to a giant spoon hanging on the wall next to the serving station. Don’t let yourself get caught with a full bladder before you go for the spoon.

I lived upstairs in the newly renovated Emery apartments for a couple of years before the Emporium moved in downstairs. Had I know they were coming I would never have moved.

The coffee is much better than Starbuck’s, which I find too acidic. I’m limited to mostly decaf these days (Doctor’s orders) but I’ll cheat on occasion, even going so far as a Doppia Espresso if I feel like rolling the dice.

Coffee House staff, unless they are of the artificially cheerful, Employee Handbook driven, chain store variety can be dark and brooding  but the Emporium staff are universally pleasant and accomodating. The Baristas are, of course, very young and I’ve witnessed some turnover over the months. It comes naturally with a restless young workforce.

The morning crowd is a mixture of stop-overs on their way to work, policemen, self-employed entrepreneurs  having meetings, writers and other creatives. Roxanne Qualls is a regular, one of the in and out in a flash group. Lunch is busy with local office workers. The Emporium has a full lunch menu with delicious sandwiches and a really terrific Central Parkway salad of field greens, raisins, apples, walnuts, feta and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My friend Janice hikes all the way over from Directions Research in the flat iron building for the salad.

The Emporium closes at 6:oo p.m. A travesty. They have plenty of space for acoustic music or even a jazz combo. All they need is a liquor license and late night hours. Ah. Nirvana, that would be.


Burnett Ridge Wines @ Market Wines

Notes from a tasting of Burnett Ridge wines at Market Wines with Burnett Ridge owner and wine maker Chip Emmerich on November 14th 2009.

 A taste of 5 wines for $5.00.

Burnett Ridge Sauvignon Blanc from Patianna Vineyard                                           $16.99

I’m a Marlborough Man when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, as in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. I’m hooked on that aggressive mineral-grapefruit thing. Chip’s California version is softer and much less assertive. A little more apple and melon than grapefruit and a lot less citrus-astringent character.   People being weaned off Chardonnay will like this version. Muted and quaffable. Just enough acidity.

Russian River Dry Rose (Rose of Pinot Noir)                                                                   $17.99

Pretty, blush color. Very dry and crisp. A little tart. Subtle berry (strawberry, cherry and raspberry) notes. Nicely acidic. An option to serve with the Thanksgiving turkey.

Forchini (that’s pronounced fork-eeny, people) Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 $25.99

Classic Pinot floral and ripe cherry aromas. Light and quaffable. Serve it just a little chilled on a hot day if you like. A bit of pleasant tannins. Nicely acidic. Throw all that white vs. red wine food pairing nonsense out of the window. This is a very good acidic red that will pair nicely with the rich, white meat of a Thanksgiving turkey without overpowering the meal. Or just drink it as an aperitif before the meal.

Purple Trillium 2007? (I forgot to note the vintage)                         $25.99

All of the Bordeaux blending grapes are here (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) instead of the Trillium of earlier expressions. Pretty dark ruby red in the glass. A little earthy and leathery on the nose but with plenty of fruit. Big, deep flavor. Nicely tannic and mouth filling. Trilliums are cellar worthy so put it down for a while if you can defer gratification. I can’t. This remains my favorite Burnett Ridge wine but I like the Super Tuscan and the Three Kings almost as well.

Zinfandel North Coast   2006     $18.99

I love big, jammy Zins. This one isn’t huge but there is a lot of plum and spice here. Fruit forward enough but nicely balanced. A little musty in the nose. The problem with a 5 wine tasting, where you actually drink the wines instead of chewing and swishing them and spitting them out, is that your palette is pretty much shot by the fifth tasting. I like this wine but I probably didn’t fully appreciate it in this setting.

 Chip has a dilemma. He does not have a vineyard so he sources all of his grapes from California and has the juice shipped here to Ohio. This puts him at a considerable cost disadvantage over the estate wineries on the coast. Burnett Ridge wines are good and sometimes excellent but they are not value buys. You can usually find a comparable California wine for a few dollars less. You should buy Burnett Ridge wines anyway and support a quality, local business.

Market Wines at Findlay Market on Elder Street conducts wine and beer tastings every Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Saturdays are hectic so if you like to have more room and fewer competing elbows at the bar go on Sunday. I rather like the hustle and bustle and sociability of the Saturday tastings so I make sure I arrive early to get a seat. Typically you taste four wines (two white and two red) for three dollars. It’s a steal so buy a bottle on your way out.

Market Wines is a small wine and beer shop with loads of character. It’s in the old Elder Café and has the original bar and non-functional telephone booth. Mike Maxwell, the proprietor, knows his stuff and loves to talk wine and beer.

 See you there.


November 2009

Categories: Bottoms Up


November 16, 2009 1 comment

Arnold’s Bar and Grill has been at 210 E. 8th St. between Main and Sycamore since 1861. Jack, the bartender who works Friday nights and only Friday nights has been here almost that long. Jack gets my award for most pleasant human being in Cincinnati. Anyone who is this consistently amiable can’t be quite right in the head. This is meant to be a compliment, Jack. I want a little of whatever Jack’s smoking to re-set my attitude.

 In a landscape increasingly dominated by cookie cutter corporate chains, Arnold’s is refreshingly unique and stubbornly old fashioned. Arnold’s might be the last place in America without air-conditioning and despite Cincinnati’s notoriously hot and humid summers the dimly lit bar and restaurant is never uncomfortable. A welcome departure from the “sealed-box-meat-locker” climate you endure in the pre-fabricated, formulaic chains. The bathrooms are not handicap accessible, unfortunate for handicapped customers, and another example of Arnold’s dated quirkiness. You couldn’t get a wheel chair into the men’s room (I can’t speak for the ladies) if you took it apart and threw it in piece by piece. I’ve been in bigger showers. The linoleum tile floor is worn and grungy where it isn’t absent altogether. The walls are lined with old photos, advertising signs and objects like a vintage radio and an oar. Everything looks like it belongs exactly where it is. It looks like Friday’s consulted this place for their décor but couldn’t quite pull it off. There are no televisions mounted on the walls with the sound turned off and that stupid indecipherable scrolling across the bottom of the screen. You’d think that to be an American requires a daily bath in the cold blue flickering light of the boob tube.

The draft beer line up is good. One tap is devoted to Barrel House beer (usually the Cumberland Pale Ale), another to Guinness, two Moerlein’s O.T.R. and Lager House Helles, one for Great Lakes (currently the Ed Fitz Porter), one for Smithwick’s (pronounced Smiddicks) and one for Stella (Euro-Bud we call it). I’ve petitioned for a revolving tap that features a wide range of great American craft beer offerings from the likes of Bell’s, Stone, Victory, Rogue, etc. So far my pleas have been ignored. So far. I’ll wear ‘em down, I swear. The bottled selections have too many industrial lagers eating up too much precious shelf space but you can find Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute and the Great Lakes Commodore Perry. If you want to go nostalgic, drink a Burger in the can, which tastes just as crappy in its reincarnation as it did in the olden days. Moerlein is resurrecting the old Schoenling-Hudepohl labels (Burger, Little Kings, Hudy 14K) though I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

The food is usually good and occasionally exceptional. The menu is extensive, maybe a little too extensive. I’d like a little more focus on fresh, locally produced ingredients, what I’d really like is to graft Mullane’s old menu onto my Arnold’s favorites, but I’ll take it for what it is. Owner and Chef Ronda Androski is prone to experimentation causing her to offer an occasional dish that is a little too haute cuisine for her regular clientele (I have on one occasion been a co-conspirator). The staples: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, TAB salad, etc. are affordable and date back to the Jim Tarbell days. Thursday lunch features the Turkey Feast, a Thanksgiving like plate of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and gravy. It’s my favorite lunch in all of Cincinnati.

For years, back during the Tarbell era, I pretty much had my own little two-top table back by the door in the small dining area behind the bar, across from the old upright piano. Fred would often tickle the ivories, occasionaly accompanied by Dottie’s vocals. The door by my table was thrown open with the screen door locked in warmer weather, frustrating novice customers who sometimes took it for the main entrance. The little table, my table, shoved up against the steam heat radiator was especially cozy and toasty during the winter months. Jim Tarbell, a born impresario if ever there was one, would work the crowd like the politician he was about to become without so much as a whiff of the obligatory or manipulative. I was always there in my spot for my Friday lunch of fried cod and macaroni and cheese. The cod, I’m afraid to say, isn’t quite the same these days but neither am I.

The second floor dining room (I haven’t been up there in years) was originally living quarters for the Elmer Arnold household. During the Depression when the bar became a restaurant, the Arnold family moved to the third floor. The bathtub was left in the second floor space, legend holds, for the making of illegal gin. The bathtub is now motorized and parked out front and immortalized on Arnold’s t-shirts. The outdoor courtyard, the most pleasant dining space in Arnold’s, is open air in summer and closed and heated in the winter. There is a small stage for music and sometimes they will roll Fred’s old piano outside. The perfect way to while away an evening is in Arnold’s courtyard sipping a drink and listening to the Flying Pigs, a jug band comprised of Arnold’s regulars, or a Blue Grass band.

Laura, a cute little blonde (she can barely reach the top liquor shelf) with glasses tends bar Tuesday or Wednesday through Saturday. I remember her from her waitress days at Mullane’s on Race Street. She remembers me as the customer who usually ordered the KC salad. Laura has become a good friend. She’s well read and we talk books and movies, usually but not always agreeing, while I have one more Cumberland than I had planned. On any given night I’ll run into Keith Baker, a carpenter and a member of the Flying Pigs, Mark the lawyer who is somehow attached to the O.T.R. Brewery District crowd, the girl from Transylvania with her Eva Gabor accent or John Schneider who owns the apartment building across the street and is an activist for bringing streetcars to Cincinnati. Tarbell still shows up on occasion. Among many others. It’s a bar of regulars.

Arnold’s is a special place, in part because it reminds me of how much I, we, all of Cincinnati, have lost over the years. Gone is Mullane’s. Gone is the Reel Movies. Gone is the Barrel House Brew Pub. Gone are Kaldi’s and 1207 and Flanagan’s and Caddy’s and, in fact, the entire Main Street (because of the 2001 riots) and 2nd Street (because of Mike Brown’s unfettered greed) entertainment districts. But Arnold’s persists. It’s an institution and at least a couple of nights a week I find myself happily institutionalized.


November 2009

Categories: Haunts

The Great Railway “Bizarre”

Welcome aboard. I’m your tour guide. We’re going to follow the proposed Phase I Street car route so I can show you some of my favorite places in Cincinnati.

 Where’s the streetcar?

It hasn’t been built yet?

 Why not?

Because there is opposition to it.


Sit down and shut up Billy. We’ll get to that later.

 I know you’re all just in my head but…please be careful…sorry about the clutter…Hey! Put that down…but I’m going to talk through the tour in case you can’t read my mind, feeble as it is.

We’re starting here at Great American Ballpark where Joey Votto plays baseball. I’ll talk about the ballpark when we get back.

 Please remain seated at all times.

On your left, you’ll see Government Square.

 Mr. Tour Guide. With all of those buses why do we need streetcars?

That’s a good question Billy…

Voice from the back: “First of all the streetcar is a valuable transportation alternative.  Streetcars are friendlier than buses especially for visitors and newcomers. You don’t have to memorize bus numbers and routes and schedules. If you want to ride the streetcar you just follow the tracks. At the stop you’ll always see the time posted for the next streetcar. They’re also easier to board and exit than buses because they have 6 sets of doors, 3 on each side, so a lot of people can board and exit at the same time. With buses you have to board one at a time single file after people have exited one at a time, single file. Streetcars unlike buses induce new, “choice” riders on public transportation. Streetcars aren’t just for people who can’t afford a car.

 Holy Moses, who’s that guy Mr. Tour Guide?

 He’s one of them Billy. I call them Railheads. They’re always spouting facts and statistics showing how good streetcar systems are for cities like Cincinnati.

 Are they right?

 Sure they are, Billy. But they’re so damn boring.

Railhead: But the most important reason might be because of the economic development streetcars bring with them. They deliver a 2.7:1 benefit to cost ratio and a 14:1 economic impact to cost ratio. The streetcar system would lead to 1600 additional housing units, $7 billion in new investment, $17 million in additional spending from new residents alone and $1.5 billion in additional local and state taxes revenue in Downtown alone…

 Getting drowsy. Must. Remain. Conscious.

 And off to the right on 8th St. just a couple of doors down is Arnold’s, one of my favorite restaurants and bars. Arnold’s has a bathtub on wheels, and Flying Pigs sometimes play in the courtyard and it’s the only place in America without air conditioning.

 I think you’re making this stuff up Mr. Tour Guide.

 Sit down Billy.

We’re crossing Central Parkway into what used to be a thriving Main St. nightlife district in Over-The Rhine. Boy, Mr. Tour Guide had some fun here back in the day. We’ll turn left here on 12th St. past the Art Academy, which used to be Barrel House Brewery. Did I mention how much fun I had around here back in the day? Maybe the Streetcar can bring this district back to life.

 And you wouldn’t have to drive after you’ve had a few, right Mr. Tour Guide?

That’s right Billy.

We’re crossing Vine and the new Gateway District. We’re turning right on Elm and going past beautiful Music Hall and Findlay Market. Findlay Market is among my very favorite places in Cincinnati.  Kroeger and Sons Sausages has about a million kinds of sausage with interesting stuff in them like pine nuts and fennel. They even have a Camel with Moroccan spices sausage. It frightens me but I like to come and look at it anyway.  I buy my cheese at Krause’s. And Silverglade’s. I’m a cheese two-timer. Gouda thing Carol doesn’t know.

 That was really bad, Mr. Tour Guide.

There’s also a wine shop that hosts weekend tastings of wine or beer. The owner Mike Maxwell knows a lot about wine and beer. I buy much more interesting food if I taste wine before I shop. Some of it I don’t recognize when I get it home.

 We’ll loop around McMicken.

 There’s a lady on the sidewalk waving at you Mr. Tour Guide.

Ignore her Billy.

We’re heading down Race St. There’s Findlay Market again from the other side.

We’re on Central parkway now driving past what will be the new S.C.P.A.

Can we stop and get a puppy?

 Not S.P.C.A., Billy. The School for Performing and Creative Arts.

Can we stop and get an actress?

Railhead: Fifty or more cities are currently planning or building streetcar systems. Places like Portland, Oregon, have shown that streetcars can make cites denser, more walk-able, more vibrant and safer.

Give it a rest Railhead.

We’re on Walnut driving past the Hamilton County Public Library, one of the best public libraries in the nation. There’s Jeff Ruby’s and the Aronoff Center. Nada Restaurant. Nicholson’s, which has like a hundred scotches and Shepherd’s pie which isn’t really pie at least not the kind that you put whipped cream on. And the waiters wear kilts.

 What’s a kilt Mr. Tour Guide.

It’s like a skirt Billy.

 There’s the Contemporary Arts Center and Fountain Square just a little ways off to the right.

That lady’s leaking.

That’s the Fountain.

And now we’re heading down to Second St.

Hey Mister Tour Guide. There’s the slave museum. 

That’s the National Underground Railroad Museum.

Bill Cunningham calls it the slave museum. My dad was listening to him on the radio when he said that all the Streetcar would do is go from the slave museum to Over-the-Rhine and back again.

Did he mention all the stuff between the Underground Railroad Museum and Findlay Market?

No he didn’t. He didn’t make it sound like what we’re seeing at all.

Railhead: Maybe Willy Cunningham wants the streetcar to take you to Omaha and just leave your ass there. Especially if you’re from Over-theRhine.

That’s the spirit Railhead. Now you’re getting it.

Gee Mr. Tour Guide, the streetcar sounds great. Why would anybody be against it?

People like Jason Gloyd and Chris Finney from C.O.A.S.T. think it costs too much money even though the Railheads show that it more than pays for itself. I think C,O,A.S.T. has some other objections that we shouldn’t get into in polite company.

What does C.O.A.S.T. mean Mr. Tour Guide?

I don’t know. Conservatives Opposed to Anything relating to Sex or Transportation? Something like that.

Railhead: They just spew propaganda. They don’t want to talk about the facts. They just want to belittle the project by inaccurately referring to the streetcar as a choo choo train or a trolley or a coal burning locomotive in disguise. A streetcar is public transportation that runs on rails and is powered by overhead electricity. A trolley is an electric bus on rubber tires.

I like Choo Choos.

We know you do Billy.

Raihead: C.O.A.S.T. wants to prevent the city from spending money on any rail project including the high-speed passenger rail project that will link Cincinnati and Columbus and Cleveland.

Dad says we don’t need to go to Columbus or Cleveland. We don’t need to go anywhere because we’re living in the best city on earth.

Railhead: And the tinier it gets the more precious it becomes. Maybe we should change our nickname from the Queen City to the Incredible Shrinking City. We could become a theme park, with tiny buildings and tiny people and tiny thoughts. The Queen City nickname has always been a little awkward for Chris Finney and his buddies anyway.

Do you need this paper bag, Railhead? You look like you’re hyperventilating? Coal burning locomotive, huh? Things have been a little tough around the Tour Guide household these days maybe I could get a job shoveling coal into the streetcar furnace.

Railhead: They called it that because the streetcar would get its power from the electrical grid that is supplied by utility plants that burn coal. But that’s like calling all of the office towers downtown coal burning factories which are also powered by the same grid. Besides, for every ton of CO2 that is produced by burning coal to provide electricity for the streetcar two tons of CO2 are removed because people are riding the streetcar instead of driving. The utilities aren’t going to need to generate any more power than what they already do to service the streetcars anyway.

Maybe I could get a job shoveling coal into the furnaces in the basements of the big office towers.

Railhead: Sigh!

Now we’re back to Great American Ballpark. I’d love to take you into a restaurant or pub for lunch but, well, there aren’t any restaurants or pubs around G.A.B.P. because there aren’t any properties for private investors to redevelop. There’s just water and concrete and traffic. Sure they’re building The Banks but it is being done with public money that wouldn’t need to be spent if the ballpark had been put in a location conducive to private development.

Then why did they put the ballpark here, Mr. Tour Guide?

Politics Billy. Some people wanted the ballpark at Broadway Commons where experts told us it would result in the redevelopment of O.T.R. But some powerful people didn’t want the new ballpark at Broadway Commons close to “those people”.

Who are those people, Mr. Tour Guide?

 Ask Bill Cunningham.

Watch your step ladies and gentlemen. It’s a little slippery in here.

This was a lot of fun Mr. Tour Guide can we do it again? Cincinnati sure is an interesting place with guys in skirts and people eating camels. Can you tell me more about the pigs that fly at Arnold’s?


July 2009

Categories: Grump About Town