By Patti Nickell
Cincinnati is a city that often fails to get its proper due. Along with fellow Midwestern stalwarts St. Louis, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Kansas City, Mo., it’s often overlooked in favour of other metropolises perceived as being more glamorous.
In a classic case of substance over style, the Queen City shrugs its shoulders and soldiers on - re-vamping, re-inventing and re-energising itself - which ironically, adds style to its substance.
One Cincinnati institution in need of no re-vamping, re-inventing or re-energising is its terrific art museum, picturesquely situated in Eden Park and home to some 60,000 works spanning 6,000 years. Founded in 1881, it was the first museum west of the Alleghenies built specifically to showcase art.
The collection includes the usual suspects - from Peter Paul Rubens to Pablo Picasso, but if you pay a visit before August 12, you can take in one of the most eagerly anticipated exhibitions in recent years. ‘The Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China’ illustrates the First Dynasty’s formation and vast influence over the rest of China. The exhibition features 120 objects, including 40 that have not previously been seen in the US.
While the Cincinnati Art Museum is a cultural beacon, it is far from the only cultural jewel in the city’s crown. Celebrated for its acclaimed ballet, opera and symphony, Cincinnati is also a centre of attraction for those interested in regional theatre.
I had a chance to visit the newly renovated Ensemble Theatre, located in a former bank building in the Over-the-Rhine neighbourhood, to catch a performance of His Eye is on the Sparrow. The one-woman musical about the ground-breaking African-American performer Ethel Waters, whose career took her from vaudeville and Harlem’s Cotton Club to Hollywood, was as good as anything I’ve seen Off-Broadway.
If Cincinnati’s cultural scene is famously robust and firmly entrenched, a new wrinkle on the tourism horizon is happening just across the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky.
Our intro to the B-Line began with lunch at Tousey House, an 1822 Federal-style house in the historic district of Burlington, Ky. It began as a tavern and after functioning as a livery, hotel, boarding house and consignment store, has come full circle and is once again a tavern/restaurant serving Southern comfort food at its best (the salmon croquette sliders with fried green tomatoes and house-made remoulade were delicious.)
If you’ve filled up your Kentucky Trail Passport and are itching for some more trails to travel, this is the one for you.
The Cincinnati area’s ever-evolving food scene is as creative as its arts scene. Boomtown Biscuits gets its name from the westward expansion where intrepid pioneers struggled for every acre of ground, often fortified by ... biscuits.
They’ll likely fortify you as well, but there is a caveat. This place is a popular brunch spot, with a wait for a table often being 90 minutes on weekends. Do wait ... it’s worth it.
It’s a bit of a stretch from hardy pioneers to French existentialists, where at Sartre in Over-the-Rhine the menu is light on biscuits and heavy (but not too) on contemporary French cuisine. You might feel a philosophical bent coming on as you tuck into dishes such as country pate with fermented pickles, griddled bread and mustard and steak frites with peppercorn sauce and lollipop kale.
If you need a Southern soul food fix, book a table at Purple Poulet, a mix of culinary styles from Charleston, New Orleans and points beyond. You can’t say this place doesn’t have a sense of humour, with dishes named Redneck Rockefellers (oysters) and Swamp Critters Provencale (skillet frog legs, shrimp and crawfish with garlic, tomatoes and capers).
If you’re not feeling too experimental, you can always go with their claim to fame - the fried chicken dinner (four pieces with green beans, buttermilk-potatoes and black pepper gravy).
Artistic touches abound as well at one of the area’s newest places to spend the night. Hotel Covington is a funky fixture in what was formerly that city’s Coppins Department Store. Masterfully repurposed, it offers guests local delicacies such as Maverick chocolates and Newport’s Carabello coffee.
In addition, each room features a fur throw from the faux fur collection of local icon Donna Salyers. The colourful lobby is a buzzy meeting place.
Hotel Covington serves as a microcosm of The Queen City itself - with its mix of working-class unselfconsciousness and trendy bravado - a place I never tire of visiting. – Lexington-Herald Leader/TNS
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