Travel Thursday: Cincinnati Calls Us Back And We Found More To Love About This Queen City

The Cincinnati skyline – COURTESY OF RACHEL HOWARD

There have been some great cities that I have visited and fell in love with during the initial trip, just to come back a second time to have myself questioning what I ever saw in the destination. One of my first trips while writing for Instinct was to explore Cincinnati (Travel Thursday – Cincinnati Offers More Than Expected) as well as to be there when ‘Fellow Travelers’ Had World Premiere In Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a great journey, made some life-long friends, and this East Coast boy fell in love with a Midwest City.

But would Cincinnati be a city I would still be in love with for round two, over three years later? One thing that pulled me back to Cincinnati was a Facebook page. The Cincinnati Experience has been one of the Facebook pages I look forward to seeing a post from on my feed. I recommend following @cincyexperience and be inspired to visit. 


Where to Stay

Arriving into Cincinnati, it just feels amazingly comfortable.  You get the vibe that it’s a big little city or is it a little big city?  It’s perched position on the shores of the Ohio River give it a feeling of an industrial city, but it’s architecture, amazing people, and modernization give the Queen City a current vibe that keeps you on your toes. 

Photo from Cincinnati Renaissance website

Downtown Cincinnati Renaissance Hotel
36 E 4th St, Cincinnati, OH


The Central Business District has some of the best hotels in the city. One of those, the Renaissance Hotel, is set in the heart of downtown, just minutes away from Fountain Square, and the riverfront entertainment district. Stepping out of its front door, you are in the heart of it all. There was only one time when I needed to get an Uber anywhere as everything was within walking distance making exploring the city so enjoyable. 

Dinner and Drinks

Yes, my pic was dark, but I wasn’t about to turn the flash on. The design, hardware, and layout of Mita’s pulled you into the warm and masculine space.

501 Race Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202


One of my quick walks from the Renaissance was to Mita’s. As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I was pulled in multiple directions as the bar, restaurant, and even the receptionist desk was a place I wanted to explore more. 

James Beard-nominated Chef-Owner Jose Salazar is behind Mita’s, an eclectic, farm-inspired menu focusing on both the traditional and modern foods and beverages of Spain and Latin America, with tapas, ceviches, cured hams, cheeses, and large plates. This high-end, culturally significant family table restaurant features Moorish-patterned metal screens, an open kitchen, and Spanish tile. Salazar named the restaurant after his grandmother, his “Mita,” who nurtured his passion for cooking.

Scallops as a special? Oh yes.

The beverages and the food were stupendous for my first meal back in the city. Mita’s gets my recommendation and will have my business again. 


Gay Bars 

One of the two large spots in the building, this is the downstairs bar at Below Zero.

After dinner it was time to wet the whistle even more. So let’s do a recap of what gay bars Cincinnati has offered to the cosmos. 

Looking at what locals may label the bars we first have the Hip nightclub: Below Zero Lounge(1120 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine). I’ve been here before and I enjoyed my time once again.  The drag shows are held upstairs and are full of energy from both the queens and the audience.  There’s really not a bad seat in the house to enjoy and/or to tip. Give the girls your lettuce, chat with the great bar tenders and staff.  We can see why this place seems always busy for drag or its “Sundays Show Tunes” featuring video clips from Broadway, musicals, and comedies. Below Zero is known to have one of the area’s largest vodka collections with more than 100 varieties. 

We visited The Birdcage the day of the Cincinnati SantaCon

Not your cup of gay? Well, there’s what locals call an upscale bar and lounge: The Birdcage (927 Race St).  We stumbled into the Birdcage and met Stephanie at the door.  Meeting the heart and smile of Stephanie, Stephanie has to be the most lovely person I met last year, hands down.  Thank you for checking my ID and having a conversation or two. Cities are buildings, but the people make the city what it is and Stephanie adds a great deal to Cincinnati. 

And that’s the fun I had a The Birdcage. The space was a great open space with a more private lounge area to the rear. We did see some cute intoxicated guys come in, but the crowd was mainly lesbians and we were not looking for that.  They were having fun, but we were looking for some fun with the boys. In talking with others, The Birdcage does rival Below Zero in crowds and drag performers, but I think the day drinking Santas may have limited the night time activities at most bars around town. 

Facebook photo of 901 Bar at the Brittany

A third bar is apparently known by the locals for its good cocktails: 901 Bar at the Brittany (901 Race St). Probably the simplest and most down to earth bar in the city, 901 was comfy, small, and full of a variety of people from young dancer boys from the Cincinnati ballet to 30, 40, 50, 60-year old men. Such a care-free spot to just enjoy a chat, a game on tv, a beverage or three.

So those are the bars.  All of three different in their own way. There may have been one or more I missed. If so, let us know! But now for some breakfast.

Start the Day Right with Breakfast 


Sleepy Bee Café
8 E 4th St, Cincinnati, OH

Asking multiple people in the Central Business District, the hotel, and around town for breakfast recommendations, everyone said Sleepy Bee Café.

Sleepy Bee is known and loved for their breakfast/lunch menu which focuses on locally sourced comfort food. Here, you will find breakfast foods you love with a healthy twist and plenty of bright and fresh flavors. Don’t forget to order a stack of their “bee cakes,” huge gluten-free pancakes that can be topped with almost anything you can think of.


I so wanted to o back to the Sleep Bee Café for breakfast and lunch every day I was there, but I did not want to put my travel companion through that and wanted to see more. 

Just a Step Away

The dome at the Cincinnati Museum Center

I stayed downtown for most of my trip to Cincinnati, but one afternoon I Uber-ed out to the Cincinnati Museum Center (1301 Western Ave.) and I was blown away as to what was there. 


Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) is a one-of-a-kind, multi-museum complex housed in the Art Deco masterpiece Union Terminal, the largest half-dome structure in the Western Hemisphere. Union Terminal opened in 1933 and the National Historic Landmark later served as the inspiration for the Hall of Justice in the 1970s cartoon, Super Friends.

Super indeed!  Dinosaurs, space ships, trains, an IMax theater, phenomenal interactive opportunities for all ages to enjoy, and so much more. I am not sure if this place is a secret or not, but my afternoon there was a reminder that we need to take some chances and go a little outside the box to see more exciting things. 

There’s also a miniature representation of Cincinnati with active trains moving throughout as the scene flows from day and night times.

Holiday Junction featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains


The Duke Energy Holiday Trains have been a Cincinnati holiday staple since 1946, delighting generations as more than 300 rail cars and 60 locomotives chug through a mini metropolis on 1,000 feet of track. Track-level views reveal the intricate details of the display, from anxious passengers waiting to board, to cars with the perfect tree strapped to their roofs, to a visitor from the North Pole circling the chimney tops.

This big kid loved the lego display. They had Harry Potter, Star Wars, and this display showing most of the prominent Disney movies.


One of the main reasons I was in Cincinnati was to see the New England Patriots play the Cincinnati Bengals. Once again, everything is within walking distance, including Paul Brown Stadium for football and for baseball, the Cincinnati Reds play at the Great American Ballpark, just a short distance away. 


Will there be a Third Visit?

Cincinnati, you sailed through round two with high scores. Your comfortable gay bar scene, the ease of having everything there within walking distance, the cultural opportunities, and your people elevate your city to destination that we desire to explore even more. With great direct flights from all over, it will be easy to take a break and visit again.

As always, I’ll finish off by sharing some more pictures from my visit. 

One of the rooms at the Renaissance (photo from hotel’s website)
D. Burnham’s Bar & Lounge at the Renaissance
T’was the season!  The lobby of the Renaissance.
Downtown district with great architecture and a museum.
Open until 3 AM, this is THE place to get your hang over fix before you’re hung over. Shanghai Mama’s is great any time of day. I should know. I ate here twice in one weekend. A must!
I always get me some Hot and Sour soup. Thanks Shanghai Mama’s!
I spent a good amount of time watching the trains go through the mini Cincinnati as it turned from day to night and back again.
Told you I enjoyed the Lego’s! Harry Potter display.
Fountain Square was a great find to stumble onto
If I was talented,I would have skated in Fountain Square
Standing in the club seat food and beverage section at the stadium we had a great view of the Cincinnati cityscape. here are other recommendations.



For more on Cincinnati, check out our post from the past (Travel Thursday – Cincinnati Offers More Than Expected) as well as these recommendations.


Explore Over-the-Rhine

The historic Over-the-Rhine (“OTR”) downtown neighborhood is one of the largest historic urban districts in the country. With more than 1,100 historic buildings, it is physically and architecturally comparable to New Orleans’ French Quarter and the historic districts in Charleston and Savannah. It is best known for having the largest collection of in-tact Italianate architecture in the country. OTR has undergone a dramatic revitalization over the past decade and is now one of the most diverse and iconic neighborhoods of its kind in the country. It is also Cincinnati’s trendiest neighborhood, with shops, coffee and wine bars and restaurants lining the heart of OTR along Vine Street and now spilling out onto the surrounding streets. 


Explore Findlay Market
1801 Race St, Cincinnati, OH

Opened in 1855, Findlay Market is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market and one of Cincinnati’s most cherished institutions, welcoming more than a million visitors a year. Open Tuesday through Sunday year-round, Findlay Market is home to 40+ indoor merchants selling meat, fish, poultry, produce, flowers, cheese, deli, and ethnic foods. From April to November, the Market also hosts a thriving farmers market, dozens of outdoor vendors, live music and lots of special events on Wednesday evenings and weekends.

Maplewood Kitchen + Bar
525 Race Street, Cincinnati, OH

Walk to one of downtown Cincinnati’s most popular breakfast spots for a delicious breakfast or brunch. Maplewood, is a bright, 150-seat restaurant with white-washed woodwork and expansive windows, featuring fresh food items created with local and seasonal ingredients.

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