When Dive Bars are the Best Bars

img_4701-1Sometimes, you just want a cold one. Or a quick stop somewhere that isn’t about scene or a fancy drink menu. Sometimes, you’re just looking for a place with no frills.

And the dive bar does the trick.

Down the street and around the bend, we’re lucky to have one such spot. The Vogue has been serving up beers and quenching thirsts in Cincinnati’s Hartwell neighborhood since 1925, and I love it for that. The bar is tiny and spartan, but that’s part of the major appeal. It’s also located in a nondescript part of town anchored by a grocery store and a few other struggling businesses.

 People of all races and classes mix at the bar, and the staff doesn’t overcharge. Recently, my husband and I shared a beer and a margarita while watching March Madness.

We paid $6.50. Total.

The Vogue is fun. Unique. A mainstay. And always a good choice when you just want a change of scene. Bring cash, though, if you go. They don’t accept credit cards for payment.

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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.

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.

Montgomery, Ohio’s Best Kept Secret Is…

The Pacific Kitchen.

Tucked away in a strip mall next to  Camargo Cadillac, The Pacific Kitchen is one of those fantastic, unexpected spots. The restaurant opened at the end of 2015, and so far has gained a following mainly through word of mouth. That means the place is not crowded…yet.

The menu focuses on an eclectic mix of Pacific favorites, and diners can enjoy things like fried rice, crab meat cannoli, chicken satay skewers, bibimbap, grilled Thai herb shrimp, and more.

Cincinnati Bengals player Rey Maualuga loves to eat there, so that should give you an idea of just how great the food tastes.

My husband and I stumbled on The Pacific Kitchen while in search of a different restaurant, and honestly, the clean, crisp look of the exterior drew us toward it. We dined on the patio and enjoyed the fried rice, homemade flatbread, and a dish called “Rey Maualuga’s chicken katsu”, which also featured spam.

Entrees range in price from $16 to $24. We’ll be back… and you should go, too.