Cincinnati Area Cafe and Lounge Culture

Cafe Culture. As a certified member of the Petite Bourgeoisie, I enjoy Coffeehouses, Cafes, and lounges with character. Therein I can mix with folk and socialize. My handy guide provides a small personal tour of a small but interesting segment of Cincinnati’s social and night life. Reviewed are mostly Coffeehouses, and small intimate lounges, particularly those with little exposure. This is by no means exhaustive.

I’ve included as few corporate chain places as possible, my aim is to review places with less exposure. Starbucks Branches, and Chain Bookstore Cafes in notable and active neighborhoods were briefly reviewed in previous incarnations of the page. I may review a few Starbucks and Caribou Coffee places where I have personal connections with the scene, or that distinguish themselves. A few historical entries lurk from when I started this list in the early 90’s because, well, I’m nostalgic.

If you manage or own a coffeehouse and want it included on the list then email me, I will add a link, at least, check it out, and if I like it write a review. If I don’t, well I’ll at least leave it’s contact info below and refrain from a write-up 🙂

Section One: Coffeehouses and Cafes

Section Two: Lounges


| Awakenings Coffee and Tea. 2734 Erie Ave. Hyde Park. Not so bad, quiet, with an affluent and preppie set. A good pick-up spot for YP Young Professional types and anyone wearing pastel colors. The staff are great, and the place often features very good local art and sometime Sunday night jazz concerts. Recently Awakenings has devolved into a pretentious Wine bar, with coffee on the side, under new ownership. The social scene ranges from 20-30 something Hyde Park natives, young professionals, trophy girlfriends and wives, and lots of High school age trust fund babies. They are jail-bait, but attractively so. Light food, the Menu is limited, the Pastry selection is good but overpriced, the Coffee is great.

| Baba Budan’s Espresso Bar. 243 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights. Friendly and cool establishment with great staff. Baba Budan’s is located across the street from the University of Cincinnati, has very good coffee, and sells some of Cincinnati’s best beans. The place features nice art showings, open Mic Poetry Readings and Slams, and Live Acoustic Music. The owner’s family has been in Cincinnati’s Coffee Business for decades. (2012 Update, the place has taken a dive since 2009, it is now more of a college Dive Bar, someone drove a car through the window and it is being rebuilt)

(Update – cafe is Dead as of 2010) | Brutopia. 278 Ludlow, Clifton. The place is run by a former Barista at the Pleasant Perk. He is cool, his cafe is very small, but friendly, with a pleasant mix of people. It is rapidly becoming as much of a Clifton community cafe as Sitwell’s is.

| Cafe de Paris. 17 Garfield Pl. Downtown. French Style Cafe, bright and sunny, vaguely chipper. Run by my very favorite Algerian expatriates. (some of whom are Sitwell’s regulars) good food, limited hours, Khalid is a good man, and a nice person to talk to. I miss Nuruddin…

| Highland Coffee House. 2839 Highland Ave. Coryville. Great place. The staff are cool, Jay the Barkeep is cooler than cool, used to play Keyboards with Burning Spear, and has seen quite a bit of the world, the owner Mike Connors reminds me of a quiet, and wiser, George Carlin. Highland has a thriving and eclectic social scene, and is located in a nice comfy (but quite dusty) old house in Coryville, off from University Ave. The fact that it’s almost in the ghetto does not seem to turn away most of the affluent suburban college kids who seem to flock here (ok, I’m being slightly snarky).

I’ve met many interesting people, and a few very good friends here. Blundar turned me onto this place almost 12 years ago.

|HD Beans Coffee and Sports Bar. On Montgomery Road, Silverton/Pleasant Ridge. A pleasant place during the daytime it has a coffeehouse feel, after dark more of a Sports Bar feel. Great coffee and Pastry but limited hours. Friendly Barista. I recommend the place.

|Rohs Street Cafe. On Roh Street and W. McMillan, Clifton Heights. A community coffeehouse, associated with the Church whose space it shares. Often features live Jazz or acoustic music, and occasional poetry recitals. Friendly volunteer staff. A quiet place to study, a good place to take mousy and intellectual dates.

| Roxx Coffeehouse and Games . 6745 Cornell Rd., Blue Ash. I didn’t even know this place existed until the manager of the Reed-Hartman Caribou pointed it out to me. Small, local, it’s been around for a year or so. It does feature computer games, sort of like the old Cody’s Cafe. It seems to be somewhat of a Gamer hangout, the scene is young. There are comfy Beanbags and Sofas here. Free wifi, and very fresh coffee beans. (UpdateRoxx moved to Calhoun Ave in Clifton but just closed down two months ago)
| Sidewinder Coffeehouse. Hamilton Ave. in Northside. Northside / Cumminsville’s only surviving Coffeehouse. It features many live events, some quite avant garde. It is a generally good and relaxing place to sit, and people watch, or interact with Northside’s quite (self-consciously so) diverse community. The lovely Jenn Shepherd, who sings with The Flock, works here. She has a voice like a bird, and is cool. There are a couple of other cool Baristas, and the owner is really dynamic. She’s made Sidewinder into a very nice place. My only complaint lies in some of the staff.. most of the people working here are great people, but there are a couple of the Baristas who often seem to have a massive chip on their shoulders, at least when it comes to dealing with.. certain type of people. To be honest it’s caused me to go there far less. Overall, however, it is a great place.

| Sitwells Coffee House. 404 Ludlow Ave, in Clifton. European Style Coffeehouse, dark, artsy and Bohemianish with a vibe that swings between intense mania and, well, lethargy. The owner Lisa is a very interesting woman, with a dramatic flair and an abundance of energy. Her daughter Sybilka helps run the place, and is really cool, with a great personality. The staff is better than it used to be. Previously half the staff seemed perpetually pissed off… in an artistic sort of way. Recently this has improved. An interesting atmosphere, a very strange vibe or energy goes through the place. The social scene ranges from Artists, Musicians, Algerian and Arab expatriates, members of Cincinnati’s LGBT Community. Local art showings, craft nights, music, and even movies, have been showcased here. Some love the place, some hate it, the place has been known to depress some sensitive souls, and energize others. Give it a try, see if you like it. Monday nights, Mike McIntire plays there.

| Kaffee Klatsch/Mount Adams Coffeehouse. 1101 St. Gregory Mt. Adams, and 120 E. Fourth St., Mercantile Arcade Downtown. Upscale, much like Awakenings. The food is expensive but tasty, the Coffee is good. The menu features soups, protein and energy bars, expensive but tasty cakes and pastries. The social scene is

| Zen & Now Coffee House 4453 Bridgetown Road (take Glenway North to Bridgetown, right) 513-598-8999 It used to be the only Coffeehouse on the Westside that I knew of. The old 1950’s Paradise Coffeehouse on 8th and State was half demolished even while open. New Agey, supports organic coffee and Tibetan relief projects, and local artists. They have a bookstore with essential oils and stuff.

| Taza Coffee House. 2900 Jefferson Ave Coryville. Located where Buzz used to be. Taza is a Community Coffeehouse, vaguely associated with some local churches, and run by dynamic volunteers. Great staff. Taza features lots of neat events, and a scene mainly full of UC students, and the volunteers who work there. It is very much a college coffeehouse, some of the Baristas are adorable and make my heart beat like a butterfly (awww). Good coffee, fair trade, etc. Ask for a Wookie Cookie or “Crack” – tastes good. Trust me. All in all, a friendly place.

| Tazza Mia. 9216 Allen Road, West Chester, also located downtown. Tazza Mia is quite professional, located in the middle of a West Chester strip mall. Built from the ground up by a local entrepreneur, it has a smooth corporate cafe feel, but at the same time is quite local. Great for businesspeople on lunch break, or local teens after school. They do feature local music from time to time. The coffee is of a very high quality, and the staff are very professional.
| La Tea Room Cafe. 151 W. Fourth St. – No Review

Corporate Chain Coffeehouses

| Caribou Coffee. 11257 Reed Hartman Hwy, Blue Ash. (513) 469-154. The manager, April, is awesome. She runs a tight shop. It is a great place to study at, and socialize.

| Starbucks. 6800 Wooster Pike. Mariemont. Rob Kaiser is cooler than cool. One ounce of his snarky wit will obviate your need to ever watch Talk Soup again. Erin is an adorable ingénue with an intense knowledge of alternative bands. She really is heartbreakingly adorable. Beyond these two fine individuals the place is cool.

| Starbucks. 3786 Paxton Ave. Hyde Park Plaza. The meeting place of the fine and distinguished gentlemen philosopher kings about town. We sit outside on the plaza and think profound thoughts, we are like rock stars of the intellect. Join us, if you like.

| Starbucks. 202 W. McMillan Ave. Clifton Heights.

Lounges and Pubs.

I’ve included as few corporate establishments as possible, my aim is to review places with less exposure.

| Blind Lemon. 936 Hatch Street, Mt. Adams. Very small, very intimate, little lounge in a 200 year old basement. It feels like a hobbit hole. Often features live acoustic music. The scene is very relaxed, in the winter the back yard is open with a fire pit. A very nice, upscale, but still down-home place to take a date, wife, or cool buddies to.

| Boulevard., 328 Northland Blvd # B Hamilton-Fairfield Area. Oh god.. this is possibly Cincinnati’s worst Karaoke bar. Period. Boulevards is a place to go if one is feeling horny, and utterly lacks discernment and good taste regarding one’s choices in picking up carnal relief; or if you are really into People watching (and I am). A nightclub and lounge with the personality of a hung-over Rottweiler with Blueballs. Three pool tables, perpetually staffed by Creatine popping pool sharks and their temporary girlfriends. The Coffee sucks. Some appreciate the low liqueur prices. One bar-fight, yahoo puking in the middle of the doorway per night, I guarantee ! A great place for servers to go after work and blow all of their tips.

| Boswell Alley, Bluerock Rd., Northside. Small Neighborhood dive. Friendly staff, sexy barkeeps, typical bar-menu but the food is better than average Dive food. Features regular shows by local musicians, no cover charges!

| The Comet. Hamilton Ave., Northside. The Comet reminds me of a scaled down incarnation of Washington DC’s old 9:30 Club. Small, intimate, music venue and lounge. Music shows have no cover charges. A nightclub with personality. In this case, a quirky personality, Rockabilly cum Aging Punk with a Banjo riding around on a polished Vespa Scooter. The Comet has two pool tables, one scruffy, and one Tournament size, freshly felted, beauty. It had Cincinnati’s last $0.50 Pool table, but is now a dollar. Solid Jukebox tunes. Social scene features local artists, musicians, and aging hipster types. Cincinnati’s older alt-rock scene hangs around here, from members of the Fairmount Girls, Afghan Whigs, The Ass Ponys, Rottwilers/Buckra. The Menu is limited to very yummy Burritos and Quesadillas and chips. The Coffee is decent. Full liqueur bar.

|Clique Lounge. 6-8 W Pike Street, Covington Kentucky. Small, and somewhat cliquish. An intimate venue beloved by hipsters. Frequently features some good DJ’s.

|The MIXX Ultralounge. 1203 Main Street. One of the few surviving night spots on Main street, since the suburban kids who tend to frequent such spots are frequently intimidated by Main Street’s… urban environment. Mixx is chill, has two levels, the bottom is louder, features a bar, kitchen, and Sushi stand. The dance floor is small, which doesn’t bother me because I don’t dance. The top floor is super-fly, spotless gleaming techno-white in decor, ultra modern looking. The scene is a good mix of whites and blacks, over 25, with a more sophisticated feel. It’s upscale urban and about as sophisto as Cincinnati gets. Excluding Mt. Adam’s Pavilion, which I don’t really like, anyway.

| The Northside Tavern. 4163 Hamilton Ave # A, Northside. It has recently evolved into a larger music venue, the Northside Tavern features a dynamic wide range of local musicians on an almost nightly basis. In a renovated but charming row building. Northside Tavern features two decent pool tables. Sort of like a 21st century grown-up, clean, incarnation of Covington’s old Jockey Club. The social scene is mid 20’s to early 40’s, fashionably Punkish, alt-rockish, Rockabilly, Bluegrass types. Plenty of fey Coke thin waifs women who vaguely resemble Asia Argento. A good cross-section of Northside can be found here on any given night, there is a somewhat pretentious air but it’s grounded with a sort of down home sensibility. Not very preppie. At all. The menu is limited to liquid refreshments of the alcoholic variety. The Coffee is decent.

| The Southgate House, 24 East Third Street, Newport, Kentucky. 859.431.2201. Over the Ohio river, in Newport Kentucky, a 2 minute drive from Downtown Cincinnati. Similar observations as the Northside Tavern. Unique features are three concert halls (the place is a mansion), a few pool tables, a large bar, and a really diverse scene ranging from Rockabilly boys, to punks, to hardened criminals and drug dealers, to suburban kids. The music ranges from Country, to Bluegrass, to Folk, to Metal, to Punk, to Industrial Noise, to.. Hipster bands who I scorn.

The main concert hall has two levels, the balcony is great. The bathrooms are filthy. I’ve caught a glimpse of an occasional couple shagging in the shadows. The place is run down and has an air of almost elegant decay. Almost.

| The Warner House, Was somewhere on Warner Street, now around Flora Street, Clifton. Underground Punk music venue, sort of, in the basement of a house on Warner Street, until they moved to a different street, but it’s still called The Warner House. Featuring occasional Punk/Hardcore Indie Rock Shows. Underground, in more ways than the obvious “this place is a basement”. The scene tends to be under-1, DIY alt-rock types. Reminds me of Washington DC’s old Hardcore scene in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s.

| Uncle Woodys. I refuse to review this place, call me a snob.

Dead Coffeehouse Roster:

| Angst Coffeehouse, Highland Avenue. DEAD. It died a long time ago, was very much a scene dominated place, like the Buzz, but for the previous generation. It’s regulars still recall it fondly an

| The Buzz Coffee House and CD-O-Rama. 2900 Jefferson Ave., DEAD – SEE TAZZA Coryville Sort of like an Angst Coffeehouse for a younger generation. The Buzz is across the Street from UC, on the corner of Jefferson Ave. And University Ave. Open to 02:00 am with a VERY nice CD shop upstairs, the Buzz developed an interesting tight little scene. Primarily a younger crowd than other local coffee houses, often displaying a sort of affected “we are so Punkish and have so much angst it hurts” vibe. Michael the proprietor of the CD-Shop is very knowledgeable about the local music scene, is friends with Cosey F. Tutti and Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle, and is a cool guy. (Update – 2004: The Buzz is now closed, for good. Declining CD Sales, Silly Patrons, and pressure from UC seems to have done this place in. A lot of the Buzz’s old regulars now haunt The Highland.)
(Update – 2010 – The former proprietor, Michael, a wonderful man who also frequently haunted Sitwell’s, passed away this year. May he rest in peace)

| Queen City Grind. 2607 Short Vine St., Coryville DEAD

Where Hammerhead Coffeehouse used to be. Not bad. Nice owner, she has cool art showings showcasing a number of local African American artists., I should stop by more often. (Update – 2003: Note: Shutdown in 2003, has not reopened)

| One Mo’ Cup. 4116 Hamilton Ave. Northside, Open Tue-Sat DEAD

Nice owner, strange hours. The social scene seems to be mainly artists and members of Northside’s LGBT Community.

| Caffe Tazza. 2146 Auburn Ave., DEAD Near Christ Hospital A nice Small Coffeehouse with a decent menu, and good quiche. It is quite comfy, has nice artwork and a solid, though somewhat limited, menu. I can’t stand its hours though, it closes well before dark. In fact, it closes a bit after lunchtime :-/. The social scene seems to be mainly doctors in the Coryville area, especially from Christ Hospital.

| Kaldis Coffeehouse. 1204 Main St., Over-the-Rhine DEAD An institution on Main Street. I love this place… good food, books everywhere, cool staff. But its hours kinda stink. In fairness they are downtown, on Main Street, staying open till 2:00am isn’t quite safe on Main St. (Update – 2005: Now the hours really stink, the place closes shortly after nightfall. Gone are the late night Jazz and Bluegrass shows. Great coffee still, great menu)

| The Sunflower Coffee Shop. 2999 W Mcmicken Ave. DEAD More of a bar than a Coffee House, food’s ok, has lots of live music though. Many great local bands play here. The genius loci here’s a bit fell, bad mojo, I think that the house sits on top of a disturbed ley-line or something. (Update 2004: After numerous closings, and reopening’s, due to the owner’s habit of not paying his Baristas/Barkeeps the place is closed. Briefly reopened as The Tilted Kilt Pub, a punk-rock Irish Pub, the building is presently vacant

| The Book Nook Cafe. 800 Vine St. Cincinnati, OH -dead

Links on The history of Coffee, Tea, and Caffe Culture

|The Coffeehouses of London The History of London’s Coffeehouses, and their social and political role. “If you live in chaos and don’t know where you’re going, there are two choices. The first, and by far the easiest, is avoidance – drug yourself up and hope to enjoy the ride through hell. The second is taking advantage of the breakdown in entrenched power to formulate ideas for an alternative future. It was to those who made the second choice that the new cafĂ© system appealed.”

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