Guilded Age Beauty in College Hill

IMG_1570Laurel Court, also known as the Peter G. Thomson house, might be one of the most gorgeous homes in Cincinnati. It also might be one the best kept secrets in the city.

It shouldn’t be.

Built in 1902 as a private residence, this home hearkens back to an era of tremendous Cincinnati growth. Stately mansions, new parks, public transportation, growing suburbs, skyscrapers all cropped up around during the period between 1880 and 1920. In College Hill, then called Pleasant Hill, Peter G. Thompson, founder of The Champion Coated Paper Co, selected a large tract of land for what would become his massive family home.  His architect designed the house with the Grand Trianon in mind.

The home turned out grand, indeed.

Today, guests can enjoy Laurel Court as an event venue, and that’s how I first came to see it. I attended a wedding there, and it was an elegant backdrop for the ceremony and reception. The couple married in the garden, guests drank cocktails on the first floor of the mansion, everyone joined together for a fantastic dinner on the lawn, and we finished up the night with dessert and dancing in the solarium.


You don’t have to be part of a wedding party to visit this fantastic slice of Cincinnati history, though. The homeowners regularly schedule private tours, and keep the house open for guests.

What are you waiting for? Visit!

Sweets and Treats at The Pop Shop

We’re in the middle of the dog days of summer, and for me, that means ice cream. I hardly crave it during any other time of year, but when the temperature is above 90 degrees for days on end, ice cream is all that I want.

My summertime craving led me to try a new spot in Montgomery, OH this week, The Pop Shop. I’ve passed by it many times and never gone inside, and boy am I sorry I haven’t. The Pop Shop takes a childhood standard (popsicles) and raises the bar.

Inside the small storefront, customers will find dozens of homemade popsicles in all ranges of flavors. Like chocolate? No problem. Peanut butter? You bet. Banana? Raspberry? Lemon? Strawberry? Cookies and Cream? Yes to all. Each one sells for $3, and customers can upgrade their ‘sicle with chocolate, caramel, mini chocolate chips, or other toppings.

I had peanut butter with chocolate drizzle. It reminded me of a buckeye and it was delicious. The chocolate hardened on impact across the creamy peanut butter, and the whole thing satisfied my craving without being too filling. Just enough.

Will I be back? Yes! And you should go, too!

Urban Serenity in French Park

It’s no secret that Cincinnati has some amazing parks. In fact, the city has won numerous awards over the years for the high quality parks enjoyed every year by thousands of residents and visitors.

French Park, located in Amberly Village but owned by Cincinnati, is one of the better ones. It’s also one of the more overlooked, with many area residents thinking of Smale, Ault, and Eden Parks ahead of French.

They shouldn’t.

My husband and I spent part of a recent weekend at French Park, and the best part about this park is the open green space. 275 acres of wide lawns, rolling hills, a small trail system, and creek make up the majority of this park. It also has volleyball courts, picnic areas, and the famous French house, which can be rented for special events.

During a time when everyday live can seem so stressful, and we’re bombarded with a lot of sad, terrible news, I’m thankful for the natural serenity that a place like French Park provides. It’s easy to escape the constant whirl of real life with an afternoon at this park. Getting back to nature is a good idea for anyone.

College Hill Coffee Co.: Great Beans, Better Atmosphere

It’s no secret that I love coffee. A lot. I’m a writer by trade, so that’s almost a given. Writers drink coffee by the boatload, and I have an avowed addiction to Starbucks.

But I also appreciate those small little local joints, the places were the beans are handpicked, the décor is unique, and the coffee comes with a certain charm. In College Hill, a Cincinnati suburb, no one does that better than College Hill Coffee Company.

Tucked into the main drag, this café, coffee house, and gift shop delights immediately upon entry. This is the kind of place where a writer (like me) could sit for hours working on a manuscript and be perfectly content. Soft music plays overhead, guests can choose from a variety of seating, and the menu goes far beyond a delicious cup of java. Sandwiches, pastries, wine, beer, and desserts all make the list. To the side of the main checkout desk lies a few rows of off-beat shirts, accessories, jewelry, posters, and small gift items. Many of those have direct connections to Cincinnati.

Never been? Put the place on your list. You won’t be disappointed.

Vino and a Visit to Southeastern Indiana

Most people wouldn’t consider Southern Indiana a hotbed for wineries and vino, but over the last two decades or so, the region has curated a number of vineyards. One of the best examples is Ertel Cellars Winery, located just outside the charming town of Batesville.

The vineyard can be found just short of a hour’s drive away from Cincinnati, and the property stuns immediately. Situated on rolling hills and surrounded by forest, Ertel’s  could easily be found in Sonoma County or Canada’s Niagara Falls region, but it’s not. It’s Indiana. And it’s beautiful.

Walk inside the main structure, and you find an inviting atmosphere. The tasting room offers more than a dozen wines, and tasting are complimentary. Yes, you read that right. Complimentary.

The winery also features a delightful dining room serving gourmet meals. We dined on ribs, French onion soup, salmon, pasta, and fresh bread. Servers suggested wine pairings for dinner, and our table ended up splitting a bottle. The best part, though— the chocolate basket. It’s a beautiful and tasty treat that blends chocolate, whipped cream, and strawberries.

We drove home with full bellies, a new perspective on the region, and several bottles of wine. Perfect!

Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel Stuns

In the world of hotels, some are just simply in a class by themselves. You know it when you find one–lots of classic details, unique decor, understated elegance, fine dining, and world-class service.

The Fairmont Olympic Hotel hits all of these marks and more.

The hotel is one of Seattle’s most celebrated landmarks, and it sits on a prime location in downtown, a short walk away from dozens of sites, Pike Place Market, and the famed Seattle waterfront. Once you step inside the Fairmont, though, you don’t want to leave. The grand lobby instantly invites you to relax.

We visited the Fairmont for a drink at the hotel bar during a recent visit to Seattle, and we didn’t just enjoy the wine, we loved people watching from a small table in the grand lobby. While there, we watched the comings and goings of a wedding party, and got a glimpse of the reason why the hotel is called one of the most romantic in the city.

In other words, if you’re in the PNW, don’t miss it!

Sweet, Savory, and Sophistocated at Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

Last week, downtown Cincinnati got a new offering for the breakfast and lunch crowd. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar officially opened to much anticipation and fanfare.

Located at 5th and Race, the restaurant is uniquely positioned in the middle of a block of prime real estate, right across the street from the downtown Macy’s store. Thunderdome Restaurant Group owns Maplewood, and that rising conglomerate is known around the region for some of the Queen City’s tastiest spots. In case you didn’t know, by the way, Cincinnati is home to a blooming list of fantastic restaurants and bars, and this might well be the time of a culinary Renaissance in the city. Think this is a town only full of Skyline Chili or Greater’s (not that there is anything wrong with that, much love for both)? Think again.

Maplewood Kitchen and Bar is a worthy addition to the dining scene.

The restaurant offers upscale fast-casual, and the spot is more than a deli but less than formal dining. Patrons order at a counter from a selection of sandwiches, salads, breakfast, and brunch staples before taking a seat in the large dining room. Severs then deliver the completed orders a few moments later. Those who want to add some spice to their breakfast or lunch (perhaps making it a three-martini one), can order from a wide selection of alcohol at the bar.

Set against the clean lines, white décor, ferns, and light wood of the décor, the concept works. Maplewood feels crisp, fresh, and cosmopolitan. It helps that the food is great, too, of course.

Time well spent in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.