ADVERTISEMENT

Locals Know Best: Cincinnati

By Liza Weisstuch
May 30, 2019
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.

Keep reading
Inspiration

New TWA Hotel at JFK Airport: What It Feels Like to Visit

I was standing, suspended in midair on a red-carpeted gangplank in the dead center of the new TWA Hotel’s cavernous hub, the newly reanimated version of architect Eero Saarinen’s 1962 midcentury aeronautic wonderland, when the full force of his design hit me: The vertigo kicked in. The sensation of peering down from the uppermost peak of the catwalk, high above other travelers relaxing in the glamorous, oft-photographed rouge-carpeted Sunken Lounge, transmits a godlike feeling to anyone who dares perch there. It’s best described as a cross between “I can’t believe they let me up here” awe and healthy “I should come down now” fear. It’s dizzying. And therein lies the genius of Eero Saarinen. What Was the TWA Hotel Originally? Designed to resemble a winged bird, Saarinen’s majestic, blinding-white, red-accented, super-’60s love letter to aviation wasn’t just for show: From 1962 to 2001, this modernist palace was wholly functional, as an airport terminal for Trans World Airlines at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport (originally called Idlewild Airport until it was renamed in 1963). After TWA shuttered the building in 2001, the whole cantilevered clamshell-like landmark structure was in danger of falling into neglect, but a series of preservation and repair measures prevented that from happening. Almost two decades later, after a joint Herculean effort from MCR/Morse Development hotel owner/operators, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, JetBlue, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, the Gerber Group, and many others, Saarinen’s Jet Age masterpiece has been brought back to life—this time as an airport hotel, with a rooftop infinity pool and a mall-like, commerce-and-cocktails-heavy “hub” in place of a working airline terminal. To the left of the entrance, former TWA ticket counters now function as hotel reservation desks, with several of them dedicated to renting out Blade helicopter rides to Manhattan. To the right, the ticket counters are food hall stands. Restaurants, sleek shops, coffee bars, and cocktail lounges—along with several amusing touches, such as replicas of Howard Hughes’ and Saarinen’s offices—populate the rest of the structure. Courtesy TWA Hotel Eero Saarinen’s Original TWA Design Say what you will about the changes, but the new TWA Hotel’s near-slavish deference to the past is alive and well. So evident is the painstaking restoration of Saarinen’s boundary-pushing architecture that you can feel the Jet Age energy in your bones. On opening day, I certainly did. Making your way through the flight tubes and mezzanine landings of Saarinen’s designs involves letting your body rise and fall, dip and soar. The low ceilings of the Saarinen and Hughes wings to the left and right of the entrance give way to the main cavernous, skylit hub with multiple sinewy levels connected by grand staircases. A catwalk slashes precariously through the center, the whole beautiful architecture sundae topped with an analog clock as the cherry. Ascending a flight of stairs next to a constantly chattering wooden split-flap departures board — housed in a Jetsons-style oval, flashing red and green, and flip-flip-flipping to dream destinations like Basel and Nairobi — brings you closer to descending into the famous Sunken Lounge, where a sheet of towering black-framed windows leans away from the iconic curvy red banquettes. Ducking into eggshell-textured tunnels and following the smooth perimeter of the massive structure can induce nerve-jangling disequilibrium. There are no right angles in this space, which makes every vignette look as though it was shot through a fish-eye lens. In other words, skyscrapers, in all their cloud-busting glass-and-steel pomposity, have nothing on Eero Saarinen’s vision of flight. Courtesy TWA Hotel Who Can Go Inside the TWA Building? Everyone, Basically. Despite the not-exactly-cheap hotel rooms, from which one can see planes taking off through soundproof windows; the prices of the TWA swizzle stick–festooned cocktails, which include riffs on oldies but goodies, including a classic Aviation; and the numerous shops, which hawk everything from Shinola watches to Warby Parker glasses to TWA-branded merch, the best part about the newly refurbished TWA Hotel is how egalitarian the structure itself is. Anyone who flies into New York City’s JFK Airport or hops on the subway and forks over the mere $5 for an Airtrain ticket can go up and stand at the very point that I did and play god—or Saarinen, as it were. But if you’re an aviation geek or if you really like being on time for your flights, staying in the hotel couldn’t be more convenient to JFK, and the allure of watching the planes ascend from the comfort of your room is a draw that might be worth the price. Viewing the vintage TWA air hostess uniforms displayed on mannequins on the mezzanine level costs nothing. Making a call on the throwback rotary pay phones will run you a dime (if that). Unabashedly geeking out about aviation, design, or how the space compares with Mad Men’s Season 7 TWA-themed promo images is always free of charge. Are there $16 cocktails? Yes. Is the Jean-Georges Paris Café guarded by three employees ready to bounce you out if you don’t have a reservation, like they did me? Yes. But the travelers sitting on tulip stools and banquettes in the Sunken Lounge and above it, on the balconies, aren’t all partaking in witty repartee over $20 Sunken Lounge Martinis (served with TWA flight wings). Some are eating plastic-bagged halal food they bought in the Hughes Wing, which is really just a long tunnel filled with decent takeout. Some are JetBlue customers killing time in Terminal 5. Technically, as with every airport terminal, everyone is just waiting. What Will Aviation Geeks Like About the TWA Hotel? Before the original TWA Flight Center was built, Saarinen and one of his employees, architect Kevin Roche, made a 3-D model out of cardboard and tape — a structure fashioned after extensive, meticulous research on airports and airplanes. “He was interested in the pragmatic aspects: how long it took a plane to taxi; where passengers arrived; how long they spent at the ticket counter,” Roche told Metropolis magazine. “When we traveled, Eero went around with a stopwatch, measuring everything: ‘This took four seconds more than last time.’ Of course, I was just waiting for the goddamn plane to take off so I could get a martini.” There is perhaps no better metaphor for the new TWA Hotel, an oasis of majestic design with an ocean of booze lapping at its edges. A total of five bars are on property. There’s even a wet bar retrofitted into the back of a (stationary) 1958 Lockheed Constellation L-1649A directly outside, the cockpit left intact so you can “fly” the plane tipsy. As viewed from the mezzanine balconies, two circular bars rising up from the floor look like life preservers. Depending on one’s perspective, the hotel’s entire concept could be art or commerce: an ode to architecture and a great excuse to make a Don Draper reference (yes, there are old fashioneds on the menu, but the ashtrays of yore are long gone), or a bastardization of the space’s intended utility—a ghost in the shell. But, as a wise person on the internet once wrote: Why can’t we have both? The evening that the TWA Hotel opened, I spoke to Roxane Hartfield, a former TWA flight attendant and gate agent who worked at the company for 33 years, from 1988 to the day the Flight Center closed in 2001, when the employees were told to leave the building. “It’s like coming to see an old friend,” she said of the newly refurbished space while gazing at a vintage TWA photograph and holding a full martini with lemon twist. “It’s like coming to a part of life that’s in a particular corner that you never thought you’d see again, and here I am.” Whatever this place is — or is not — walking through the white space and feeling the Saarinen design close in, open up, shrink, and expand again is worth a visit all on its own. And if the vertigo or the waiting gets to be too much, well, there’s a deluge of booze to quell the sensation. But I recommend feeling your feelings instead. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

Inspiration

Tap Into Your Creative Side at the Columbus Arts Festival

Ohio’s state capital might have a serious case of college-football fever, but thanks to a deep-rooted artistic community, it’s also home to a thriving creative scene. From art schools and museums to galleries, collectives, and events galore, the city offers a warm welcome to artistically inclined visitors—especially during the annual Columbus Arts Festival (columbusartsfestival.org), when the downtown riverfront becomes a beacon for hundreds of artists and the crowds that follow. Now in its 58th year, 2019's celebration runs June 7 to 9 and features a full slate of activities, demonstrations, performances, and more. Here’s what to see and do during the city’s premiere summer event. Augment Your Reality Ever wanted to jump right into a work of art, a la Dick Van Dyke’s chalk-wielding chimney sweep in Mary Poppins? Well, now’s your chance. Making its debut this year, the White Castle presents VR at the Fest tent will allow curious onlookers to step into paintings and check out venues on the opposite side of the globe, via multiple virtual and augmented reality experiences. Meet and Greet In the Big Local Art Tent, Columbus artists and collectives sell their works, demonstrate techniques, and lead workshops where budding creatives can make their own masterpieces—and take them home with them. Look for booths from emerging central-Ohio artists, selected by the festival’s jury and given an extra hand with marketing and presentation to help them launch their careers. Festival mascot the Art Shark will also be on hand to say hello to his adoring young fans. Get Your Groove On This year's entertainment takes place on five stages boasting local and regional talent—musicians, dancers, thespians, poets, and storytellers among them. Columbus troupe BalletMet kicks things off on Friday night, and a huge array of acts are on deck to keep the party rolling. The Big Local Music Stage hosts everything from hip hop and R&B to folk, rock, and Americana, while Sunday’s main stage features an a capella performance by the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, the big-band stylings of the Capital Pride Band of Columbus, and a drag show starring Virginia West with Flaggots Ohio, a LGBTA colorguard. Check out the flamenco ensemble, watch the clog dancers go at it, or take in the Celtic steppers; there’s also spoken-word, comedy, and an acoustic lounge. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

Inspiration

Taco Bell Is Opening Its Own Hotel and Holy Crap How Soon Can We Check In?

Tacos for breakfast, tacos for lunch, tacos for dinner, and especially tacos for late-night snacks. There’s no bad time to eat tacos and no bad place either. A versatile crowd-pleaser, it can be celebrated anywhere – even at its own hotel. Yes, you can soon live out your delicious little fast food fantasies 24/7 when The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort launches in Palm Springs, CA, on August 9. What to Expect From The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort “Get ready for ‘Bell’ hops and Baja Blasts, fire sauce and sauce packet floaties, because the Taco Bell Hotel is coming and will give fans an unexpected and unforgettable trip of a lifetime,” a Taco Bell spokesperson said. “From check-in to check-out, The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort reimagines what a hotel stay can be, unveiling a destination inspired by tacos and fueled by fans.” Taco-Themed Rooms and Menu Surprises The Bell will open for a limited time of three nights and is an adults-only resort with a minimum age limit of 18. It will feature taco-themed rooms, a poolside cocktail bar and an on-site salon for Taco Bell-inspired nail art and unisex beauty treatments. Naturally, it will feature a Taco Bell restaurant but with some new menu surprises that the restaurant promises you won’t find anywhere else. “It will be fun, colourful, flavorful and filled with more than what our fans might expect,” said Taco Bell’s chief global brand officer Marisa Thalberg. “Also, just like some of our most sought-after food innovation, this hotel brings something entirely new for lucky fans to experience and enjoy.” The exact location is still under wraps but reservations will open in June and you can stay up-to-date with announcements here. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet’s daily newsletter.

Inspiration

Monet in San Francisco: The Best Way to See a Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibit

Looking for a little culture with your breakfast? For a limited time only, visitors to San Francisco can take part in a special hotel package that includes early exclusive access to Monet: The Late Years, the first exhibition in over 20 years dedicated to the final phase of the artist’s career. Book Through the Stanford Court Hotel Available to book through the Stanford Court Hotel, the Monet in the Morning package includes accommodation, two early bird tickets to the exhibition at the de Young Museum’s Herbst gallery, a Claude Monet Water Lilies eco-tote bag, and breakfast for two. Taking place every weekend in May from 8.30am to 9.30am (before the museum has officially opened to the general public), the morning event is capped at just 150, allowing for a more relaxed and intimate experience of the showcase that attracts thousands of people during regular opening hours. Monet's Late Work, in Focus Focusing on the last years of the painter’s life in Giverny, France in the early 1900s, where he produced dozens of works inspired by the landscape of his five-acre property, the exhibition brings together pieces from museums and galleries all over the world. Visitors can see variations of some of his most beautiful and well-known works, including the famous Water Lilies, Weeping Willow, Rose Garden, and The Japanese Footbridge. The exhibition includes several rooms, and after guests have viewed the works, they can take an elevator to the top of the de Young for a 360-degree view of San Francisco. “Guests can expect an illuminating experience. Monet: The Late Years features almost 50 masterpieces, and this exhibition continues to define the artist’s lasting legacy. In the final years of his prolific career, his experimental and creative energies took artistic liberties that reflected a path toward modernism. After Monet, guests have the rare opportunity to see another French master in Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey as well as the renowned permanent collection of the de Young,” Patrick Buijten, Group and Tourism Manager for de Young Museum told Lonely Planet Travel News. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet's daily newsletter.

ADVERTISEMENT