There's much more to the Queen City than just the Reds
By Mark Sheldon and Alyson Footer
CINCINNATI -- Seemingly in a renaissance for progress and development, it feels like the perfect summer for Cincinnati to be hosting the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile.
A lot has changed since 1988, when the city last hosted the Midsummer Classic. Cincinnati was known then (and now) for being a baseball town with its own unique style of chili. Today, it has a chance to be recognized for much more.
As thousands descend on Cincy, they will be watching a lot of baseball, and some will even try the chili. But they will also find an urban core with a re-energized Millennial vibe, full of trendy restaurants and nightlife, that mixes seamlessly with the city's great scenery and history.
Here is a glance at some of Cincinnati's top sights, attractions and, of course, food.
1919 Historic Walking Tour
As the home of the first professional baseball team, founded in 1869, Cincinnati is rich with baseball history. One of the most transformative moments in baseball history was the Black Sox scandal and the 1919 World Series, won by the Reds. In a new walking tour, called "1919: The Year That Changed Baseball," fans can see the spots where deals were made to throw the games, and even where double crosses happened.
"The 1919 tour focuses, of course, on the famous Black Sox series. You think Black Sox, you think Chicago. But the Reds were involved as well," said Craig Maness of American Legacy Tours. "And really, the unraveling of the 1919 scandal took place here in Cincinnati. Some of the famous hotels were located down here."
Those who take the walking tour -- which normally runs on Saturdays through October, but will be daily for All-Star Week -- also learn about how the ideas for the World Series and night baseball originated in Cincinnati.
"They're going to see a lot of our beautiful downtown area," Maness said. "They're going to hear things about Cincinnati history, as well as baseball history, that I'm sure they had no idea about. A lot of local Cincinnatians don't even know these stories."
Reds Hall of Fame and Museum
The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see for any visitor planning to attend the All-Star festivities at Great American Ball Park. Many teams house their Halls of Fame in or near their ballparks, but the Reds' is arguably the most impressive. The 16,000-square-foot facility has exhibit galleries located on two floors and details every aspect of the Reds' long history. The Hall also contains hundreds of relics and memorabilia from all eras of Reds baseball.
Among several exhibits currently on display is an homage to Tony Perez, which offers a close up look at the playing career of the Hall of Famer and "Mayor of Riverfront." Complete with numerous artifacts from Perez's playing days, fans will get to see items used by the Big Doggie himself during his 23-year career.
Among the regular Hall of Fame features are the Palace of the Fans Theater, the Kids' Clubhouse, the Glory Days gallery that highlights the championship teams and is dominated by a tribute to the Big Red Machine, and, of course, the room that houses the plaques of all of the Reds Hall of Famers.
Another notable feature is the south end of the museum, which sports large windows that overlook what was left-center field of old Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field. In plain view is the location where Pete Rose's record-breaking 4,192nd hit landed on Sept. 11, 1985. The area is covered by a large rose garden, and the exact spot is marked with a white rose bush amidst a sea of red roses.
T-Mobile All-Star FanFest at the Duke Energy Convention Center
One of the biggest attractions of every All-Star Game is the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest, which begins on the Friday before the game and runs through the Tuesday after. The Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati will be transformed into a one-stop baseball shopping bonanza -- a dream setting for any baseball fan that wants an up-close and personal view of Hall of Famers, exhibits, collectors' items, interactive games for kids and more.
The Reds have been celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 1990 World Series win all season, and you can count on that party trickling down to FanFest, where plenty of players from that season, in addition to many others, will be on hand to mix and mingle.
Other FanFest attractions include The Diamond, presented by T-Mobile, where fans can participate in baseball clinics hosted by coaches, managers, MLB legends and current stars; FanFest Batting Practice, presented by Gillette and Head & Shoulders, where fans can practice like the pros and test out their All-Star swings in state-of-the-art batting cages; and the All-Star Clubhouse, presented by Majestic, which displays the official Majestic game uniforms of the 2015 MLB All-Stars and offers Q&A sessions with MLB legends and Hall of Famers.
Graeter's and Skyline Chili
When Dave Hodge, the manager at the Graeter's Ice Cream store at Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati, said they make their ice cream the same way as they did 145 years ago, he wasn't exaggerating.
Graeter's started that long ago -- in 1870, by Bavarian immigrants Regina and Louis "Charlie" Graeter. Today, it's a regional chain that is known as one of Cincinnati's most famous culinary staples.
The ice cream is made in small batches, 2 1/2 gallons at time, and is so dense that it requires hand-packing. The chocolate chunks infused into the ice cream aren't chips -- they're more like full-on candy bars.
"They pour it in and process it in a French pot and it forms its own chocolate," Hodge said. "Sometimes you'll get a chip [really] big ... it all varies."
According to Hodge, Graeter's most popular ice cream flavor is Black Raspberry Chip, although Oprah Winfrey made Butter Pecan famous by touting it on her talk show.
Graeter's ships nationally to grocery stores throughout the country, but nothing can top an in-person visit in the city where the store originated.
For some, Skyline Chili is an acquired taste. For most others, it's a triple threat of deliciousness. Wherever you stand on the issue, there's no arguing that Skyline Chili is one of the most identifiable Cincinnati culinary traditions, a hotspot that visitors to the Queen City know is part of the experience.
Officially, the ingredients that comprise Skyline Chili are not publicly discussed. They call it a "delicious secret recipe," using a secret blend of spices and "only the highest quality ingredients," according to its website. But it's generally understood that two ingredients not normally tied to chili are in Skyline Chili -- touches of dark chocolate and cinnamon.
The most popular item? A three-way, a combination of spaghetti, chili and cheese. But don't twirl the spaghetti -- Skyline lifers frown upon that.
"We give you a knife," said Dawn, a server at the 7th and Vine location downtown. "You cut it like you cut a slice of pie."
Taft's Ale House
The latest of several craft breweries to open the past couple of years in a city with a storied brewing heritage, Taft's is no ordinary joint. The building was constructed in 1850 and operated for generations as St. Paul's German Evangelical Protestant Church. Today, it's a redesigned three-story, state-of-the-art ale house that opened, appropriately, on Opening Day this year.
Named after President William Howard Taft, a Cincinnati native, Taft's is one of the most aesthetically appealing additions to the craft beer craze that has become a mainstay of Cincinnati nightlife. The high ceilings, arch windows and wood decor add to the ambiance, but it's the beer and food that draws patrons to this jam-packed venue on Race Street in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. The menu is centered around the restaurant's signature dish, the tri-tip steak.
Beer selections are offered on a rotating basis, with a few that don't change.
"A lot of beers rotate," said Kevin Moreland, head brewer and partner. "Only three beers stay on all the time. At any given time, new beers are on tap. We focus on that -- it's a craft. We want things to change. We want to have mainstays, but the mainstays have to be solid beers and the patrons pick the beers."
A couple of baseball-related beers to try out: First Pitch Pale Ale, which was introduced on Opening Day, and For Pete's Sake, an American-Style IPA that was made especially for All-Star Week.
Coming up with a complete list of every famous person who has dined at Montgomery Inn is pretty much impossible, considering it's highly likely that anyone who is anyone has dropped by the restaurant known to serve the best ribs in town.
Montgomery Inn has two Cincinnati locations -- the original in the nearby suburb of Montgomery, Ohio, and the Boathouse, located a stone's throw from Great American Ball Park. The latter is sure to be hopping during All-Star Week.
The menu is extensive, but if you want to try the best of the best, order the Saratoga Chips and a slab of ribs. There's a reason why both menu items are referred to as "famous." Just ask radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman, a longtime endorser of the restaurant chain and a close friend of the family who started the business several generations ago.
"When you come to this town as a newcomer -- which I did 42 years ago -- you learn there are certain culinary locations that stamp this city as something unique," Brennaman said. "Montgomery Inn is right up there with the best of them. The ribs are off the charts. It's hard to describe for people who have never had them before. I think you have to experience the food in order to gain a full appreciation for how iconic Montgomery Inn is."
Part of its charm is the presence of sports memorabilia that adorns every inch of every wall. Every local sports icon is well-represented, in addition to non-Cincinnati sports figures who have found their way there for a meal while in town.
Findlay Market is a public market where the discerning foodie can buy fresh produce, meats and spices. Visitors can also dine at a host of eclectic food stands, grab a local craft beer or get a treat for dessert.
It's also the city's last remaining market of nine, and has been enjoying a significant resurgence over the past decade. Ten years ago, a $3 million renovation of the market house, plus expansion, has brought an influx of customers. Once 50 percent vacant with 200,000 annual visitors, the market has been 100 percent occupied for over two years and attracts 1.1 million visitors annually.
That makes the private nonprofit market the fourth-most-visited place in Cincinnati behind Great American Ball Park, the Museum Center and the Cincinnati Zoo. The rebirth of Over-the-Rhine, plus an influx of Millennials, hasn't hurt business, either.
"It's a perfect storm," said Joe Hansbauer, Findlay Market president and CEO. "The redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine, in particular Washington Park, has played a major role in getting new and longtime Cincinnatians with again being down in the neighborhood. There is a millennial generation that has a deeper interest in urban living and being in urban spaces that buy local, support small, knowing where their food is from, all of those kinds of things support that."
More than 700,000 guests pass through the doors of the Newport Aquarium annually, a number that surely will be surpassed this year with the help of the All-Star Game.
Located at Newport on the Levee, about a mile from Great American Ball Park on the other side of the Ohio River, the Newport Aquarium showcases thousands of animals, including popular attractions Sweet Pea and Scooter from the first shark ray breeding program in the world.
Speaking of sharks, the Aquarium introduced a new attraction in April -- the Shark Bridge. It's the only suspension bridge in North America where guests can walk just inches above two dozen sharks.
"Guests come from all over the world to visit the Newport Aquarium, but we're looking forward to the All-Star Game because it's going to introduce a lot of people to Cincinnati for the first time," said Chad Showalter, the Aquarium's senior marketing manager. "We're right across the river. A lot of people add the Newport Aquarium to their visit when they come to Cincinnati and we're looking forward to a few first-timers to the city to visit us, too."
On a clear, sunny day, there's no better view than the one offered at the top of the Carew Tower in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.
Built in 1930, Carew Tower stands 49 stories tall and contains an Observation Deck at the top for fantastic views of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
From the deck, you can see Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals play, and Great American Ball Park, home of the Reds and site of this year's All-Star Game. And it's affordable, requiring a nominal fee of $2 to enter the top of the tower.
Carew Tower also houses shops, restaurants and offices, as well as the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza.
Over-the-Rhine and Washington Park
One of the most dramatic revitalizations of an historic area occurred right in Cincinnati, where the formerly dilapidated Over-The-Rhine, Cincinnati's oldest neighborhood, transformed into a hotspot for urban living, nightlife and the arts.
Historic buildings have been renovated into single-family homes, condominiums, apartments and commercial spaces, and an influx of new businesses has provided a steady increase in both employment and foot traffic.
The Gateway Quarter, for example, is a prime spot for browsing, strolling and dining at some of the city's most popular restaurants.
The streets are lined with food stops and coffee shops, with several upscale bars offering plenty of nightlife entertainment.
Down the road, Washington Park has also undergone a stunning renovation, which included a 450-space underground parking garage, a performance stage, a civic lawn, an event plaza, an interactive water installation with lights and sound, a children's playground, a dog park, restored historic bandstand and seasonal planting beds.