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Anyone who knows the least little thing about me knows this: I love me some Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s my hometown. It’s where my family is and the reason why I have such a good sense of humor (hell, you try growing up in Ohio and not having a sense of humor — it’s hard!). But while we have the Cincinnati Reds, the Bengals, and a horde of college teams that rock the NCAA, we’ve never been what you might call a celebrity hot spot. Until now.
I went home a few weeks ago for the annual Redneck Roadtrip I do with my family and promptly ran into Ewan McGregor and Don Cheadle [record scratch].
Don Cheadle (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Turns out, they were in town filming the Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead.” A day later, a friend of mine told me about running into Cate Blanchett and Ryan Gosling, who’d been in Cincinnati filming as well.
“Just what the hell is going on here?” I thought. So I turned to my high school friend Kristen Erwin Schlotman, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Film Commission, who helped pass the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit several years ago. Since then, Cincinnati has turned into a veritable Hollywood on the Ohio (River).
Ryan Gosling (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
“The first film to take advantage of this program was the ‘Ides of March’ starring George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei,” Kristen said. “A smaller film followed called ‘Seven Below,’ starring Val Kilmer. The end of last year we had ‘The Christmas Spirit’ with Olympia Dukakis and Nicolette Sheridan. It was quickly followed by ‘Carol,’ directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.”
A movie poster for “The Ides of March” (Photo: Everett Collection)
The attraction to filming in Ohio? “We have buildings here that look like New York in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s,” “Miles Ahead producer Daniel Wagner said. “New York is so built up right now that it doesn’t look like New York anymore. It’s too gentrified.”
Another bonus? The people. “People are so friendly here,” Wagner said. “They actually want us to come in and film.”
But while the celebrities come for business, many stay for the city.
The retro John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge (Photo: Thinkstock)
“While Cincinnati is experiencing a renaissance downtown, I think it is also experiencing it with the next generation of people who love their hometown and want others to discover and grow this city with us,” Kristen said. “I’m so proud to be from Cincinnati — I love its history and I love its future — and I love every minute I get to share it with the rest of the world on the big screen. It’s like no place else in the world. And the people are nice.”
Willie Nelson (Photo: David Buchan/Getty Images)
And it’s not just stars of the big screen that are hitting the Queen City. This summer, Cincinnati held its first major country music festival, the Buckle Up Festival, which attracted Willie Nelson, Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Kristian Bush, Emmylou Harris, Alabama, and the Band Perry.
So come for the ribs, beer, sports, and ice cream, and catch a few stars along the way. Because we all love a little eye candy.
21c Museum Hotel (Photo: 21c Museum Hotel/Facebook)
Where the Stars Stay
The chic modern 21c Museum Hotel is where the younger stars prefer to stay. Located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, the 156-room boutique hotel is adjacent to the Contemporary Arts Center down the street from the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Sporting a rooftop bar and the Metropole restaurant, the hotel also has a museum inside the foyer.
The Cincinnatian Hotel (Photo: The Concinnatian Hotel/Facebook)
The grande dame of the area, the historic Cincinnatian Hotel built in 1882, underwent a $25 million renovation to bring it up to date. Blocks away from the riverfront, the Cincinnatian oozes luxury and boasts the Palace Restaurant and the Cricket Lounge — a favorite of the city’s elite.
Pasta at Sotto (Photo: Sotto/Facebook)
Where the Stars Eat
For traditional Italian in the heart of downtown, you can’t go wrong with Sotto. Owned by former Maisonette chef David Falk, the brick-walled restaurant has refined the concept of “casual intimacy,” and the review in Cincinnati magazine gushed over the food, saying: “To call the food simple is not to slight it, grounded as it is in the Italian tradition of relative modesty and few frills. … A selection of bruschetta ranges from the bare bones (rubbed with garlic) to uncomplicated but savory (porchetta and pickled shallots; chicken liver mousse and pistachios) to the show-offy (buffalo mozzarella, anchovy, and tomato tucked into lemon halves and roasted). You could make an entire meal of the antipasti — a variety of cured meats, baby kale Caesar, cannellini beans with poached tuna and soffritto, or a bowl of sturdy polenta voluptuous with browned butter, lomo, parmigiano, and a fried egg.”
Sweet corn cappellacci at Bocca (Photo: Bocca/Facebook)
Another of Falk’s eateries, Boca is an ode to Europe with its Italian and French cuisine and is so good it garnered a full-page review from the local glossy, Cincinnati, which noted, “It is a restaurant that could get by on looks alone. Though Boca’s chefs remain (mostly) true to the mission of simplicity, the menu does two things differently: it lowers the overall prices (even offering half portions of entrées) and takes a step away from its Italian roots, moving forward by reaching back. The haricot vert salad is reminiscent of the classic Lyonnaise; both the pastry-wrapped beef Wellington with foie gras mushroom duxelle and pommes soufflé are a nod to Maisonette. The hamachi crudo is among the best I’ve ever eaten, its marbled richness a perfect foil to the avocado, grapefruit, shishito pepper, and ponzu sauce. A few signature dishes remain, including those crazy little caramelized Brussels sprouts, grilled romaine, and the Amish chicken with wild mushrooms, truffle-laced risotto, and a silky chicken jus that, bottled, could bring about world peace.”
Fried chicken at the Eagle (Photo: The Eagle/Facebook)
Fried chicken lovers won’t find a more perfect spot than The Eagle, and a bonus — it’s cheap. For $9, two people can split half of a fried, free-range Ohio Amish chicken, served with spicy hot honey. A whole chicken is $18. Get there early: The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and wait times can top three hours. But it’s worth the wait. According to the AP, “The chicken is crunchy, juicy, simple and pretty much perfect.”
Lobster at the Anchor (Photo: The Anchor/Facebook)
Anyone who has ever been to Mary’s Fish Camp in New York City will appreciate the seafood eatery, the Anchor. The chef was a co-owner of the famed NYC restaurant before moving to the Over-the-Rhine district in Cincinnati and starting his own fresh seafood joint. Across the street from Music Hall, the Anchor is the perfect place to sit outside, sip Bloody Marys, and chow down on chowder, an oyster poboy, shrimp and grits, and the amazing shellfish bouillabaisse. It’s the best seafood in town. Period.
Eli’s BBQ pulled pork (Photo: Travis Estell/Flickr)
Ever since Walt’s Hitching Post in Northern Kentucky closed down a few years back, I’ve been on the lookout for great BBQ in my hometown. There’s the overhyped Montgomery Ribs, which has never really done it for me, and a handful of other places, but it wasn’t until I had the pulled pork at Eli’s BBQ that I actually cried with joy. Don’t get me started on the hysterics I went into over the ribs. Just go. Now. You’re welcome.
Taco at Bakersfield (Photo: Bakersfield/Facebook)
Another Over-the-Rhine star, Bakersfield brags about its tacos, tequila, and whiskey. And with good reason. The fish tacos are talked about all over town, and you won’t get better guacamole north of the Rio Grande.
O’Malley’s in the Alley (Photo: O’Malley’s in the Alley/Facebook)
Where the Stars Play
Cincinnati’s second oldest bar, Omalley’s in the Alley, is a haven for Reds fans. An old-school Irish dive bar, it’s packed during game days and has cheap beer. What’s better than that?
And because you’re not really having a good night out if it doesn’t end in karaoke and salsa. Tostado’s, located in the Colombia-Tusculum section of town near Eli’s, is the perfect place to perfect your power ballad stance.