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Locals Know Best: Cincinnati

By Liza Weisstuch
January 27, 2022
Two men walking through park
Nat693/Dreamstime
There's no better guide to a city than someone who lives there, so we asked local bar-owner and seventh-generation Cincy resident Molly Wellmann for her take on culture, food, and drink in the city she calls home.

About three minutes into conversation with Molly Wellmann you fall under the spell of her enthusiasm for Cincinnati. Her lineage here goes back seven generations, so it makes sense that after 12 years working as a bartender in San Francisco, she couldn’t justify staying away any longer, so she went back home and opened a bar. Then another bar. Then another. And she cannot imagine doing that anywhere else. “There’s magic in Cincinnati. I’ve traveled quite a bit, but I never found the je ne sais quois we have here. There’s something about its heritage or history. It doesn’t matter who you are or what background you’re from. I think it feels welcoming to everyone.”

We checked in with her to get the inside scoop on where anyone visiting the Queen City should eat, drink, hangout, and shop. Just one word of advice: arrive hungry. Very hungry.

Eat Your Heart Out

Cincinnati was once an enclave of German immigrants, and their legacy endures in some of the city’s longstanding eateries. Molly is particularly fond of Arnold’s (arnoldsbarandgrill.com), one of the city’s oldest bar that dates back to the 1860s. “You walk in and you feel like you’ve gone back in history,” she says. The gorgeous slab of mahogany, wooden booths, and vintage booths are only the start of it. It’s the lack of TVs that really makes her a fan. And the world-class bourbon selection. And the year-round outdoor patio that regularly hosts bands. And the blueberry chicken dish. And their spaghetti. And a few other things on the menu of eclectic comfort food.

She’s also a regular at Salazar (salazarcincinnati.com) which features exposed brick walls and tiled floors, remnants of its storied past, and turns out very modern fare. “I’m enamored by what Chef Jose Salazar does in the kitchen,” she gushes. “He’s inspired by old recipes, and he brings them into a modern way of eating—but it’s never too far off the map. It’s just always something lovely.” And, as per her usual preference: there aren’t any televisions. Situated in a unique cross-section of alleys, it’s located one block from Washington Park, one of the city’s biggest public spaces.

When an occasion calls for a splurge, her choice is Please, a nod to the term the local German immigrants use with a quizzical tone to mean everything from “what did you say?” to “what do you mean?” to “are you for real?” “He thinks completely outside the box,” Molly says of Chef Ryan Santos. “His food isn’t molecular, but it’s close. He’s worked in kitchens all over the world, and he’s taken bits of what learned and put them together in a really cool way.”

Molly couldn’t consider herself a true Cincinnatian if she didn’t recommend Ruby’s Steakhouse (jeffruby.com/Cincinnati), which dates back to the 1980s and now has five outposts across the region. It is “a force to be reckoned with,” Molly says. “I hold all steaks up to Ruby’s steaks. Everything here is just over the top—from décor to food to staff uniforms. There’s never a time when someone says no. they always say ‘always ‘We’ll work it out for you.’”

Experience Regional Flavor

Philly has cheesesteaks, NYC has pizza, and Cincinnati has whippy dips. And you shouldn’t leave Cincinnati without eating one. Or three. Whippy dips are the Midwest’s seasonal fix to soft-serve ice cream cravings. Sold mostly out from nostalgic little stands all over town and pretty much every local has a favorite that they frequent. Molly’s is Putz’s Creamy Whip (putzscreamywhip.com), which greets guests with a hand-written menu. Don’t bother reading it, though. Chocolate/vanilla swirl with chocolate sprinkles is the only thing that’ll do the trick, Molly insists. But the city’s ice cream obsession doesn’t end there. Another one of Cincinnati’s culinary signatures is French-style copper-pot-made ice cream, and Graeter’s (graeters.com), which started in the early 1900s and now has 16 soda-fountain-style parlors around town, makes some of the best. You’d be remiss if you didn’t try the chocolate chip, made with big chunks of chocolate. (“Not chips,” Molly clarifies. “Chunks of chocolate!”) Grippos is another brand that’s inextricably linked to Cincinnati. A bag of the hometown potato chips is a must if you’re at any of the number of low-key neighborhood bars with a burger and a beer, and if you are anywhere that you spot a menu item with Grippos in the description, take note that it may come crushed up and used as seasoning. It’s how locals like theirs.

Make an Afternoon of It

Cincinnati is a city of neighborhoods—52 neighborhoods, to be exact. And with its location so close to Kentucky, there are several Bluegrass State areas that are included in that count, including Covington, a hip Kentucky enclave that Budget Travel named a Best Affordable Discovery in 2017, and Newport. It’s hard for Molly to pick favorites, of course, as each neighborhood has its own things to love about it, but whenever a visitor is in town, she recommends Mount Adams, a neighborhood on to of a hill (Cincinnati has seven of them) on the east side of the city. The bucolic Eden Park lives up to its name, she assures. It’s anchored by the Krohn Conservatory (cincinnatiparks.com/krohn/), a magnificent paradise with bonsai trees, a desert garden, orchards and more, and is home to the Cincinnati Art Museum. There’s no shortage of choices where food and drink go, so spend the day and explore the diverse bars and restaurants. For something offbeat, check out the Vent Haven Museum (venthaven.org), the world's largest--rather, only--ventriloquist museum, displaying 900 ventriloquist figures from 20 countries and lots of oddball memorabilia that's sure to, well, get you talking.

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Inspiration

Historic Wineries Near You: From Napa to New York

Thomas Jefferson, America’s founding oenophile, was onto something when he tried to plant vitis vinifera—the European grape vines of which he was so fond—in Virginia. But he wasn’t the only one to make a go of grape-growing in the United States. While today, you can find producers growing grapes and making vino in every single state of the union, there are a few that have been doing it as far back as the early 19th century. Next time you’re thirsty for a little history, pop into one of these seven wineries where they pour out the past as well as the pinot. 1. Brotherhood Winery: Washingtonville, New York Although it didn’t start labeling wines under the Brotherhood name until the 1890s, original owner, Jean Jacques, first began producing wine from vines on his duo of Hudson Valley estates in 1839. Brotherhood marks that date as its launch into the world, making it the oldest continuously operating winery in the U.S., a designation that earned it a spot on the National Register of Historical Places. Book a tour through the hand-excavated cellars—some of the largest and most elaborate in the country—to hear about all the underground secrets stashed away here. Learn more about Jacques and the second owners, the Emersons, who kept the winery alive during Prohibition via sacramental wine. Or simply sip a glass of Brotherhood bubbly on the stone patio and take in the stately old stone buildings and beauty of the Hudson Valley. 2. Wente Vineyards: Livermore, California If Brotherhood gets the nod for oldest continuously operated winery, Wente wins for being the oldest continuously operated winery owned by the same family, now in its 5th generation. Carl Heinrich Wente came to America seeking his fortune in 1880, got a job working for another vine-minded German immigrant, Charles Krug (see below), and by 1883 bought land in Livermore, establishing the Wente Bros. Winery. Like Brotherhood, the family kept the operation going with sacramental wine during Prohibition. But what you really need to know about Wente is that they make spectacular chardonnay—so good that in the early 20th century, the vineyard cultivated its own award-winning clone (that is, a vine re-created over and over from the cuttings of grapevines that have particularly alluring qualities, be they anything from hardiness to aromatics). In 1936, Wente became the first winery in the United States to put the name of a grape variety on its labels—meaning that today, when you buy a bottle of sauvignon blanc or cabernet at your local store, you have Wente to thank because before that, it was just “wine”—which is not so conducive to figuring out what goes best with your wild-caught salmon or Tomahawk steak. 3. Charles Krug, St. Helena, California (Courtesy Charles Krug) Napa Valley is famed for its highfalutin wineries (and equally nose-bleed inducing prices), but once upon a time it was just lots of land and acres upon acres of pioneering spirit. Like that of Charles Krug, a German-born newspaper man who became so entranced by California’s “purple gold” (you know, grapes) that he founded his eponymous winery here in 1861 on land from the dowry of his American wife, Carolina Bale. His much-renowned Bordeaux-inspired reds earned him an unofficial but well-deserved title, the Father of Napa Wine, and he was a marketing visionary as well, establishing the first tasting room in California wine country. Today, Charles Krug is owned by the Napa wine giant, C. Mondavi & Family, and it’s become a posh and popular stop on the Napa wine circuit. The original buildings that Charles Krug constructed are listed with the National Register of Historical Places, and well worth a visit. 4. Val Verde Winery, Del Rio, Texas (Courtesy Val Verde Winery) Frank Qualia didn’t mean to stay in Del Rio, Texas, a few miles from the border of Mexico. But in 1881, as he made his way from Milan, Italy, he happened upon a plot of land where some Lenoir grapes were growing by the San Felipe Springs-fed creek. By 1883, Qualia officially established his 14-acre Val Verde Winery, marked by its foot-deep adobe walls and strong Italian winemaking traditions. Now, some 130 years later, his original plot of land is still the site of Val Verde’s Texas-grown (they never substitute grapes from out-of-state places) winery and tasting room. Today, the spot is run by Frank’s grandson, Thomas, whose own son, Michael, has learned the trade himself, and is primed to take on the family mantel. Be sure to pay close attention to the cool photos and heirlooms, like Frank’s passport and naturalization papers, and even some old winemaking gear. (Serious wine geeks will want to pop into to the nearby Whitehead Memorial Museum to see some of Qualia’s original equipment). For a taste of the past, check out the Val Verde Sweet Red, a blend similar to the sacramental wine that got the company through Prohibition. 5. Renault Winery: Egg Harbor City, New Jersey Necessity is the mother of invention, or certainly the father of New Jersey “champagne.” Hailing from the famed Reims area of the Champagne region of France, Joseph Renault fled the storied home of bubbly in the mid-19th century after a nasty little aphid known as phylloxera wiped out almost all of Europe’s vineyards. Precious vine clippings in tow, he sought out the warm, sunny growing conditions of California, but phylloxera was there, too. Word of problem-resistant native vines on the East Coast lured him 3,000 miles back to the Garden State, where the winery he established in 1864 would go on to become the largest distributor of American sparkling wine in the country. Although it’s remained in business continuously, Renault has been bought and sold numerous times over the years, and now the winery has become a resort destination complete with a hotel, spa, 18-hole golf course, and 5-mile hiking trail through the New Jersey Pine Barrens. 6. Buena Vista, Sonoma, California (Courtesy Buena Vista) If you can make it in Sonoma, you can make it anywhere—even if you have to embellish your family's ties to aristocracy to do so. “Count” Agoston Haraszthy immigrated from Hungary in the 1840s, seeking thrills and fortune in the great American West, and though he had no real claims to royalty, his fake-it-‘til-you-make-it attitude landed him a multitude of diverse roles, among them: self-titled Count (he actually had no ties to royalty); founder of Wisconsin’s Sauk City, the state’s first official town; sheriff of San Diego; ore analyst for the U.S. Mint. He also pioneered Sonoma winemaking with the establishment of Buena Vista Winery in 1857, which quickly became one of California’s largest land-owning wineries. But grander and grander ambitions, trouble with the law, money-making schemes, and financial issues infused Haraszthy’s life in Sonoma with such turmoil, that he left (some say fled) to Nicaragua with his family in tow, apparently in search of prosperity in the rum business, before disappearing without a trace. The mark he left on Buena Vista, one of California’s most important wineries, however, endures. And what a tour it makes for. 7. Adam Puchta Winery: Hermann, Missouri Hailing from the Bavarian city of Oberkotzau, Adam Puchta was only 7-years-old when he and his family emigrated to Missouri in 1839, dreaming of fertile lands and Gold Rush riches. Fourteen years later, thanks to a stint in California, the latter helped Adam earn enough to get serious about winemaking. He returned to Missouri and bought a portion of the family’s then 80-acre farm and get serious about winemaking, establishing his namesake winery in 1855, and growing wine grapes and other crops to keep the money flowing. His kids managed to keep the winery in the black after Puchta died in 1904, but they couldn’t withstand the pressures of Prohibition, which put the Show Me State’s prolific producer out of business—but not for good. In 1990, Adam’s grandson and great-grandson re-established the Adam Putcha Winery, adding a tasting room for visitors, and realizing Puchta’s dream of becoming one of the most important wineries in Missouri. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

Inspiration

5 Things You Don’t Know About… Notre-Dame de Paris

The April 15, 2019, fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris kept people around the world riveted, mourning the loss of the church’s 19th-century spire and medieval roof and the damage from smoke and flames to the interior. But the world was also relieved that the structure was ultimately spared, important works of art and religious relics (including what many worshippers revere as the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion) were heroically rescued from the fire, and there was no loss of life. Although some people were surprised to find themselves so captivated by the crisis in the City of Light, in many respects, the worldwide focus on the cathedral was actually just a larger-scale version of the veneration the architectural wonder has enjoyed through most of its existence. After all, during the Middle Ages, cathedrals were specifically built to serve as the center of a community, drawing people not only for religious services but also for news, art, and music. Since its first stone was laid, in 1163, Notre-Dame has been doing just that, playing host to coronations (most famously that of Napoleon Bonaparte, who crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I in 1804), royal weddings (including that of Mary, Queen of Scots to her first husband, Francis, the Dauphin of France), and funeral masses for French leaders such as Charles de Gaulle and François Mitterand. Notre-Dame has also seen its share of mayhem and destruction, some of it brought about by its own king in the early 18th century (more about that below), some the result of anti-monarchy and anti-church rabble-rousing during the French Revolution, and some due to enemy shelling during World War I. We decided to take a deep dive into the history of Notre-Dame de Paris. Here, five lesser-known pieces of the cathedral’s history we hope will increase your fascination with and appreciation of what some have called the “beating heart of Paris.” 1. The Paris of 1163 Was a Very Different Kind of Town (Msalena/Dreamstime) Notre-Dame’s first stone was laid in 1163. Louis VII was king of France, and Pope Alexander III was believed to have been in attendance. (By some accounts, the Pontiff himself laid the first stone, though we suspect that tale is perhaps discounting how heavy a cathedral stone can be.) For some historical perspective: Across the English Channel, Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury and would soon find himself in conflict with England’s King Henry II and eventually lose his life. Although it’s not possible to know what the population of Paris was in 1163, an official census of households in 1328 suggests that the population when the original cathedral structure was completed in 1345 (yes, it took a long time to build a cathedral back then) may have been somewhere around 250,000. Today, the population of Paris is around 2,152,000. 2. The Sun King May Have Been Notre-Dame’s Public Enemy No. 1 Although war, plague, and revolution took their toll on Notre-Dame, the most destructive force in its history up until the fire of April 15 may have been King Louis XIV (1638-1715), the self-described Sun King whom Beatles fans may recognize as the inspiration for the inscrutably gorgeous song that appears on side two of Abbey Road. Louis XIV mandated what he termed a “restoration” of the cathedral to bring it in line with changing tastes (“taste” here being, unfortunately, only a figure of speech). What ensued was pretty much an act of vandalism, pulling down sculptures, replacing 12th- and 13th-century stained glass windows with clear glass, and demolishing a pillar in order to allow carriages to pass through the central doorway. In short, the Sun King needed a "no" man. 3. The Cathedral Was Ransacked During the French Revolution (Ivan Soto/Dreamstime) Sure, some good things resulted from the French Revolution (1787-99), including the eventual abolition of a tyrannical monarchy. But in addition to a period during which beheadings were all the rage, remembered affectionately as the Reign of Terror, some of the hiccups along the way included a ransacking of Notre-Dame, which was considered a symbol of the Ancien Régime. Sculptures were destroyed, lead was taken to make bullets, and many of the cathedral’s bronze bells were melted down to make cannons. 4. It’s Totally Okay That When You Think “Notre-Dame” You Think “Quasimodo” As we followed the news of the Notre-Dame fire, most of us couldn’t help recalling images and incidents from the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and its many stage and film adaptations. And that’s totally fine: Originally published in 1831 as Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo’s novel about the hunchback bell-ringer Quasimodo and his love for the gypsy Esmeralda was such a hit with readers that it actually inspired a fundraising campaign to repair the damage wrought by the Revolution and years of wear and tear. The restoration officially began in 1844 and took nearly 20 years. One could make the case that Hugo’s novel is responsible for the modern-day cathedral that so captivates us. 5. Most of Notre-Dame’s Bells Are New If you’ve read The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, you’ll recall that the cathedral bells deafen young Quasimodo. It so happens that the 1856 bells that replaced the ones melted down during the French Revolution were considered quite noisy in their own right—discordant and substandard. As the cathedral’s 850th anniversary, in 2013, approached, new bells were commissioned and artisans studied church archives in an attempt to replicate the size and pitch of the originals. The new set of bells was installed in early 2013 and first rang out on Palm Sunday, in perfect harmony with the biggest, and only remaining original, the 1686 bell nicknamed Emmanuel.

Inspiration

Look Up: 8 of Canada’s Best Stargazing Destinations

With vast expanses of sky untainted by artificial light, many parts of Canada offer stellar opportunities for stargazing. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (rasc.ca) has recognized nearly two dozen locations as Dark-Sky Preserves—and this year is the 50th anniversary of the July 1969 moon landing, so it’s as fitting a time as any to look up and contemplate the cosmos. As if warm summer nights aren’t reason enough to indulge in an extended gazing session, meteor showers provide even more incentive to head outside. The Perseids are an annual favorite, and this year's celestial show runs July 17 through August 26, peaking August 12 and 13. Check out these eight destinations for unbeatable views of the night sky. 1. Terra Nova National Park: Newfoundland (Courtesy Dave Saunders/Ochre Hill) One of Canada’s newly established Dark-Sky Preserves—just designated in 2018—Terra Nova National Park offers plenty to do from sunup to sundown. By day, wander the park’s trails, take a two-mile stroll around the pond, sign up for a guided hike, or take a dunk in Sandy Pond. Kids will love the visitor center, where they can check out the touch tank and get up close and personal with creatures of the sea. When the sun sets, find a good place to gawk at the constellations. Pack a flashlight and take a hike to Ochre Hill, a fantastic vantage point that was once a fire-watch station. Sandy Point is the darkest place in the park, known for the best views of the night sky. 2. Jasper National Park: Alberta “Power Down. Look Up” is the tagline for Jasper’s annual Dark Sky Festival in October (jasperdarksky.travel), when stargazers can attend photography workshops and talks during the day and gaze into the cosmos at night, with special events such as star sessions atop the Jasper SkyTram. But even if you don’t visit during the festival, there’s plenty to do here: While the sun is out, hike the trails, look for wildlife, or enjoy the region's culinary delights on a Jasper Food Tour (jasperfoodtours.com). Then, turn your attention to the stars at one of this Dark Sky Preserve's scenic spots, like Medicine Lake, Pyramid Lake, Lake Annette, Maligne Canyon, and more. 3. Banff National Park: Alberta Known for its rugged scenery and mountain culture, Banff is paradise for outdoorsy types. Spend the days hiking, biking, and paddle-boarding in Banff National Park, keeping an eye out for some of the park's famous wildlife, including, but not limited to, grizzly bears and bighorn sheep. Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake provide scuba-diving opportunities, and the town of Banff itself has an array of shopping and spa possibilities. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are short scenic getaways, with Lake Louise around 34 miles away, and Moraine Lake about 12 miles further. Hike, paddle-board, or simply soak in the vistas, and at night, sit back and watch the Milky Way’s virtuoso performance. 4. Gros Morne National Park and L'Anse aux Meadows: Newfoundland Active travelers will delight in this national park's bounty of outdoor pursuits, from hikes through the Tablelands and scenic boat tours of the freshwater-glacier-carved fjords to whale-watching excursions through Iceberg Alley to the north. Set out to Trout River's Eastern Point Trail for gorgeous clifftop views or explore L'Anse aux Meadows, the 1,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site where Vikings once lived, then treat yourself to a traditional Jiggs dinner, a classic boiled or Sunday dinner served in some area restaurants, or take the Taste of Gros Morne food tour (tasteofgosmoren.com) to sample the local cuisine before the night's activities. 5. Grasslands National Park: Saskatchewan It may be the country’s darkest preserve, but explore Grasslands National Park by day and you could spot black-footed ferrets, golden eagles, short-horned lizards, and black-tailed prairie dogs, to say nothing of the plains bison, a near-threatened species that was reintroduced in 2005. Soak in the views of badlands and grasslands by car on a cruise along the seasonal Badlands Parkway, or take the Ecotour scenic drive to learn about the heritage and history of the area. Go for a hike, embark on a rugged overnight backpacking adventure, or get in some exercise canoeing, kayaking, or cycling. When you need a rest, be on the lookout for the six “red chair” locations throughout the park. Each of these oversize Adirondack chairs provides a spectacular perch where you can savor the parks' tranquility. When the day’s activities are done, just train your eyes to the sky. 6. Wood Buffalo National Park: Northwest Territories You’d be hard-pressed to find a better destination for stargazing than Wood Buffalo National Park: Clocking in at more than 17,200 square miles, it's Canada's largest national park and the largest Dark Sky Preserve on earth. Each August, the park celebrates its designation with a Dark Sky Festival featuring workshops, guest speakers, and events. The cold, clear winter months frequently deliver spectacular views of the aurora borealis, while fall offers a slightly warmer peek at the Northern Lights. Back on the ground, there's abundant fishing, boating, canoeing, and hiking throughout the park, from the short, easy Karstland loop to rigorous and challenging backcountry routes. 7. Point Pelee National Park: Ontario Looking up is always a good idea in Point Pelee National Park, dubbed a Wetland of International Significance by UNESCO in 1987. Birdwatchers, take note: Some 390 avian species have been spotted here, and spring and fall are the best times to catch a glimpse of the migratory creatures as they travel through the area. Wander along the Centennial Bike and Hike Trail, or hop in a canoe or kayak to paddle among the freshwater marshes that make up two-thirds of the park. At night, of course, you won't want to look anywhere but the sky. The park is open until midnight on certain new moon nights, giving visitors ample time to take in the celestial show. 8. Waterton Lakes National Park: Alberta Hugging the Canadian border north of Montana, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park comprise the first trans-boundary International Dark Sky Park. While you're waiting for nightfall, grab a fishing license and spend some time by the water, or explore the area on foot or by bike. After sunset, lean back and gaze at the stars from locations like Cameron Bay, which is walkable from town, and the Bison Paddock Overlook, where a short walk will bring you to a promontory facing the valley. (Pro tip: Bring your flashlight. Also, be aware that the 2017 Kenow Wildfire affected a large area of the park, so plan ahead and check for closures before you come.)

Inspiration

Travel News: Teachers Can Apply for Free Caribbean Travel

Over the past few years, teachers have given us a serious lesson about the American education system. We’ve learned that their job is tougher than we know. Between teacher walkouts (400,000 were off the clock because of strikes or walkouts in 2018) and headlines about public school teachers taking second jobs to make ends meet, we’re seeing how tough it is to educate the nation’s children. Teachers Need a Vacation Now More Than Ever According to a report on NPR, 86 percent of teachers say they’ve spent their own money on classroom supplies, and 59 percent work a second job. And according to an Economic Policy Institute study, teachers earn less than workers with comparable experience and education. (In Arizona, teachers make 63 cents on the dollar compared to other college grads; in Oklahoma, it’s 67 cents.) To honor their all-too-often overlooked burdens, CheapCaribbean.com, an online travel agency for beach vacations to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, is celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week with a gift for 50 teachers: six nights for two at a Mexican beachside resort anytime between July 10 and December 31. (Blackout dates apply.) All You Need Is Luck There’s no essay to write or test to take for the chance to win the Mexican escape. Teacher Appreciation week is May 6 through 10, and the only thing an educator has to do is sign up for free to be a member of CheapCaribbean’s Beach4Teach Club (beach4teachclub.com). On May 9th, members will receive an email with instructions on how to register. The first 50 will be on their way, so teachers, make sure you’re at your desk the moment entry opens.

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