Written by Alex Applegate
While Oxford has an assortment of cute shops and restaurants, if you are looking for something unique or different to do one weekend, downtown Cincinnati is only a short drive away and is loaded with culture and history — especially in the unique neighborhood of Over-The-Rhine (OTR).
According to Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, OTR is named after the Rhine River in Germany, where most of the founders of OTR came from. By 1850, Germans actually made up more than 25 percent of the Cincinnati population. During World War II, there was a backlash of hate against OTR, which triggered a slow downfall of the once booming neighborhood. By the beginning of 2000, OTR had become notorious for its poverty and crime with the poverty rate up to a crazy 58 percent.
In 2009, OTR was even ranked as the most dangerous neighborhood in America with drug and gang activity happening within and around Washington Park, the center of OTR.
However, in 2004 a private company called 3CDC made it their personal mission to renovate and beautify OTR back to its original glory. Their first action was to buy over 300 empty buildings in Over-the-Rhine to restore for future apartment dwellers. As of 2013, 100 percent of these restored units were sold. 3CDC has invested over $315 million into this neighborhood, which included a $48 million transformative renovation of Washington Park.
Charming small businesses are opening, delicious restaurants are thriving, and OTR is quickly becoming the place for young professionals. OTR is truly a new neighborhood, practically unrecognizable from just a few years ago. Walking down these colorful streets, you can feel the new energy that has entered this once broken place.
“I really love the unique feel of OTR,” said sophomore Katie Alcox, greater Cincinnati area native. “A few years ago I would have said that all I knew about it was that it’s a sketchy and super unsafe area in Ohio. However, now I have been able to go downtown and really experience all of the culture. OTR has really cleaned up and people have donated a lot of time and money to make it a better place.”
It is definitely worth the less than an hour long trip south to experience the heart of Cincinnati. Here are some of the best spots to check out:
It’s a beautiful park with a beautiful story of redemption. This park was once notorious for drug deals and gang activity and much of the community feared to even go near the park. Now, this park acts as a heartbeat for OTR and at any time of the day, you can see all walks of life taking advantage of this wonderful space they have. Washington Park can be enjoyed in pretty much any way — whether you want to toss a Frisbee, run through the fountains, or go to one of the many movie showings or farmer’s markets that happen weekly. In the summer, an event happens almost everyday. Also, so you won’t go hungry after all that playing and walking, deliciously cheap food and coffee trucks are almost parked there. The park is especially famous for Luminosity — the summer light show the whole city watches projected onto the beautiful Cincinnati Music Hall which is right across the street.
An endearing, reasonably priced, family-owned family donut shop known for its bacon covered donuts and their surprisingly delicious maple glaze. They proudly claim to be the best donuts in Cincinnati and I can not prove them wrong.
Amazing mini street tacos and killer guacamole and queso. This tiny, community style Mexican eatery is authentic and simple. Plus, if it’s your birthday rather than sing some embarrassing song, they give you a shot of tequila (if you’re over 21, of course).
The most adorable farmer’s market with established vendors, tempting pastries, fancy Belgian waffles, gelato, a tea shop, so many cheeses and more. But, like any great farmer’s market, not only is the venue filled with great food, it also features detailed and skillful artists selling their goods. The market is open every day of the week with varying hours and venders. However, if you are wandering around there on a busy Saturday morning, you are 100 percent likely to see at least one cute dog.
Taft’s Ale House
Once St. Paul’s Evangelical Church — the oldest church in Cincinnati — this brewery makes its own beer in the first level of the Ale House. Don’t worry, their sandwiches are still worth the trip if you can’t enjoy a beer.
If you’re looking to chill or get some homework done at a coffee shop, this eccentric one is full of unique coffee imported from several Central American countries (all from family owned farms!) and too many loose leaf teas to only choose one. Make sure you also check out the walls that feature pieces from local artists. If you come in on the right day, you might even stumble upon a live performance. Tip: Visit on a Saturday and order the waffles.
If you want to do something in OTR that doesn’t have to do with food, then check out the local street art. ArtWorks is an organization that hires high school and college students to keep Cincinnati beautiful by painting amazing murals on building walls. They are scattered all over the city, 68 within the area. There are 19 in OTR alone. My personal favorites are The Golden Muse, an 18th century mantel clock on W 13th Street, and Mr. Dynamite, a bright and colorful mural of James Brown on Main Street.
No matter who you are or what you like to eat, exploring the hidden and under-appreciated beauty of OTR will not be a mistake. I hope you will love it as much as I have come to and experience all the sights, tastes, and spectacular history that Over-The-Rhine has to offer.