Located at 4831 Spring Grove Avenue in Spring Grove Village, Taft’s Brewing Company had absolutely perfect weather for its grand opening last weekend. The event drew a large crowd that including children eager to show their strength at the high striker. The 50,000-square foot space includes a brewery as well as a tap room (“brewporium”) with a wide assortment of beer. Taft’s Brewing Company also serves a New Haven coal-fired, crispy Neopolitan-style pizza and sandwiches. The building benefits from some glass garage doors, which look great and gives the brewporium an indoor/outdoor feel. While there I ran into friends from Spring Grove, Clifton, and Northside, which makes sense as Taft’s is within a stone’s throw of two of those neighborhoods and is part of Spring Grove Village, where new stores keep popping up lately, including Sally’s Treats & Treasures and Flamingo Haven—and I should mention that Flamingo Haven is hosting a community yard sale this Saturday. Taft’s Brewing Company is located near the intersection of Spring Grove Avenue and Mitchell Avenue. Regular hours for Taft’s will be 3pm to 10pm Wednesday; noon to midnight Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; and noon to 9pm Sunday.
You may recall certain pundits proclaiming that books were dead – and by “books” we mean the actual three-dimensional objects with a spine and a cover and actual pages as opposed to words that appear on a computer screen. Turns out lots of people – way more than predicted, and not just the old-timey traditionalists – like the experience of reading an actual book, and now the online juggernauts are opening (whodathunkit) good old-fashioned bookstores around the country.
That’s all good and well, but that doesn’t wipe away that fact that the small independent (but infinitely resourceful) bookstore that used to be on Ludlow Avenue (New World Bookshop) is now gone. So if someone who lived ’round here wanted to purchase a book in an actual store nearby opposed to ordering it online (what fun is that?), aren’t they up a crick?
Well, no – but books aren’t always in the obvious places. One store that has expanded its book section considerably is Shake-It Records in Northside. And while you might expect music books (and Shake-It has ’em), the record store sells more books in other categories, including lots and lots of classic literature (including poetry and drama), plus philosophy and other liberal arts staples. Although Shake-It sells new books, it has greatly increased the number of used books it sells. It sells them cheap, and they have actually been surprised at how quickly they fly off the shelves, which is why their book selection and will only get larger. Here’s some photos I snapped at Shake-It a couple weeks ago, but I know for a fact that their selection has increased a lot (and sold) since then – but this’ll give you a taste:
Many people miss New World Bookshop, which only sold new books, but there is one place nearby that has lots of new books and is well curated. I’m talking here of the bookstore at UC’s university center, which along with a substantial local section had a lot of fiction, including lots of new novels, such as Sarah Domet’s The Guineveres – a humorous and intriguing debut novel by an author who grew up in Cincinnati and studied at UC.
And don’t forget Duttenhoffer’s, a used bookstore which has been around Clifton forever and is doing “extremely well,” according to the employee I talked to this morning. In fact, he said, other than December, which benefits from the Christmas rush, June of this year was the best month they’ve had since he started there five years ago. That’s good to hear. It seems like people are falling in love with books again. They’ve been referred to as “the new vinyl,” and like vinyl records books seemed passé for a minute but turned out to be timeless.
Herzog Music opened last weekend in downtown Cincinnati, 811 Race Street to be exact. Walking around the three stories devoted to celebrating Cincinnati’s musical heritage…and providing a bridge to the future, I thought that downtown Cinci just got a little more colorful and music-friendly. Herzog Music is a lot of different things at once, and I won’t pretend that this blog entry captures everything going on at the location, which feels like a combination of a retail store, museum, and performance space – but even an incomplete report should be enough to be of interest to any music lover.
On the first floor the main attraction is a huge selection of musical instruments, with many dating back so far that they predate some of the historic recording sessions that took place in that same building. In a room where guitars, basses, mandolins, dobros, and other instruments hung on the wall, a left-handed girl strummed skillfully on a right-handed ukulele (“You just do it in reverse,” she explained).
I asked her father if this was family where everyone played, and he said no, that was all her. And it’s funny: after the family disappeared for a few minutes, she slipped back in and grabbed a left-handed guitar off the wall and strummed some more. I believe she’s found her calling!
And there were some other strummers.
The second floor had lots of used LPs, and many more will be put out in upcoming weeks.
And here’s a nice touch: you can play the records that you’re curious about. I threw on Maxayn, an old funk album on Capricorn.
After pawing through some records, I noted to Little Billy Catfish, seen here with Bonnie Speeg, that this particular Three Sounds LP was recorded at a club in downtown Cincinnati. Remember the Living Room?
Herzog Music is also a good place to shop for stereo equipment, including speakers, amps, receivers, equalizers, cassette decks, and turntables.
And don’t forget PA speakers, mixing boards, mics, and all that other stuff you need to perform live:
Speaking of live, when I walked up to the third floor I witnessed a live performance from the same gentleman I saw strumming an acoustic guitar on the first floor. His name is Andrew Hibbert, and he recently recorded an album (some or all of it at Herzog) that will be coming out pretty soon – we’ll have to keep track of that, as he’s a very talented musician whose skills include some first-rate yodeling a la Jimmie Rodgers.
There will be other musical performances at Herzog Music, and there will also be music lessons. So far I’ve only scratched the surface, but that’s okay – you can get a fuller picture by visiting yourself. As I left the building, it struck me that, as much as I enjoyed looking at records and vintage guitars and historical photos, what I liked best about Herzog Music was the way it brought people together. There’s a lot of history in that building, but there’s more to come.
This summer It’s Yoga, located at 346 Ludlow Avenue in the Gaslight District, is offering a deal for brand new students to the yoga studio. Their five-class pass for $25 is good for two weeks after purchase.
The yoga studio, which is located above Ace Hardware, has been an active yoga studio and yoga teacher training school since 2000. All instructors have a minimum of 200 hours of certified teacher training and several have 500 hours.
Whatever your interest and experience level, It’s Yoga has a class that will match your needs. The types of yoga It’s Yoga offers include:
Beginner’s Yoga for those curious about yoga and brand new to it. Beginner’s Yoga explores the different styles of yoga, proper alignment, and will build one’s confidence to move on to some of the other classes offered at It’s Yoga.
Yoga for 50+ classes are offered several times a week, morning, and evening, and have become increasingly popular with older and wiser adults looking to maintain or add flexibility and strength for aging gracefully.
More athletic forms such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow and Core Power Yoga that incorporates some Pilates and Yoga moves to create a stronger abdomen and back muscles.
Yin Yoga is a very popular Thursday evening class that uses long deep seated postures and stretches to release deep fascia and promote physical flexibility and emotional stillness and relaxation.
So get in some comfortable clothing, grab your water bottle, and join It’s Yoga on the mat. Good stuff for the body, mind, and soul.
Since the beginning, one of the consistent themes of this blog has been this: The Gaslight District is a great place to live because there’s lots to do AND it’s super convenient. Well, it just got a little more convenient. Clifton Market continues to add more and more new features, and now the deli makes pizza that’s modestly priced and immodestly yummy. Let’s take a look at the menu:
You’ll note that there’s a gluten-free option, and you’ll also notice some veggie options. Note also that you can customize your pizza to your heart’s content – and again, you can’t beat the prices. A couple days ago, based on a rave review from a friend of mine, I visited the deli and ordered a pizza. I got the lowdown on all things pizza-related from Ray and Anthony:
Our conversation ended up drawing a crowd that included Jeremy (“Tell everybody he’s the reason this deli is so good,” one of his co-workers said), Sharon, and Brandy, and they were up for a picture as well:
Our banter as we discussed the pizza (“You better make this good! This guy’s writing a blog!”) and the sense the employees really cared about their customers points to one of the best things about Clifton Market: its friendly and personable employees. Okay, so I ordered a Groovy Pizza, and while I was waiting for it I visited the beer selection, as one needs to wash down the pizza with something.
While there I remembered a conversation I’d overheard recently where someone standing in front of these doors was surprised to learn that the Brewery District also sells beers behind them. I can understand his confusion, as the wording is a little ambiguous, right?
After I took the pizza home I allowed the pizza to cool down a little…or long enough, at least, to snap a photo of it. Like my friend Suzanne, who recommended I try the pizza in the first place, I loved the crust, I thought the proportions were just right, everything tasted fresh, and it was one hot pizza. And somehow the personal touch added that extra something to it. Grab one the next time you visit Clifton Market!
Mediterranean King has been in Clifton for almost five years now, serving its tasty blend of Authentic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cuisine at 3307 Clifton Ave. for both dine-in and carry-out. Recently the restaurant came under new ownership. It’s very much a family operation, as the new owners and most of the staff are a Syrian family. Also, the Manager and familiar face, Kerry Ann McGrath, has been with Mediterranean King since the beginning, behind the scenes and in front. The restaurant also does a lot of catering, and interested parties should call (513) 221-7222 to arrange the perfect, custom spread for their event. The classic, original menu items customers expect and love remain, but there are some new items as well. One new item is the Cheese Boat (Fatayir bi Jebneh), “a Syrian savory pastry filled with a mix of herbs and cheese inside our handmade dough, baked to golden perfection.” I happened to stroll into the kitchen right after these Cheese Boats were baked, and I think you can tell just by looking at this picture, just how succulent they were.
Another new goodie is the Samboosa, “a savory Cheese or Meat filled dumpling in a handmade flaky, golden shell.”
And what about Qatayaf, which are “light, fluffy pancakes filled with “Ishta”(Cream cooked with half and half & cheese) topped with simple syrup.”
And there’s Fatayar Asafiri, “little fluffy pancakes filled with cream and cheese, topped with crushed pistachio and simple syrup!”
And don’t forget Baklava!
Here’s another dessert dish, Kunafa, “a pastry made of shredded Filo dough, filled with Ricotta Cheese & cream, topped with simple syrup.”
Other new dishes and exciting renovations are on their way, along with, as I said before, the original menu. To find out what else Mediterranean King is cooking up, like and follow their Facebook page. And if you have any questions or want to order carryout, call (513) 221-7222. We’re glad to have Mediterranean King in the neighborhood, cooking delicious, authentic food and offering a calm, peaceful atmosphere. I always found the previous owner and his staff to be warm and welcoming and personable, and I got the exact same vibe when I walked in today and met Hanan, the mother in the family (she’s the woman on the right).
This restaurant has long been a dream of Hanan’s, and one the owners, her family, have made a reality. Mediterranean King encourages everyone to stop in and meet the new family, as they love to welcome and personally chat with patrons. That was also the case with the previous owner, and he searched a long time for the right family to take over the business. Fortunately, he found them.
Bruegger’s reopened today, and it’s better than ever, with streamlined service and an even cozier atmosphere (I like the dark walls and soft lighting). A place to grab a quick bite to go or a place to linger for whatever length of time with a laptop or book – or friends. Seems like the Gaslight District just keeps getting better, with our new grocery store, Clifton Market, now up and running, a new barbershop, the Whole Bowl an instant hit – and the Clifton Plaza music series back in action (it’s every Friday and Saturday night), along with the long-established businesses and the real sense of neighborhood. Welcome back, Bruegger’s – we missed ya!
This Thursday a free concert will take place at the Burnet Woods Bandstand. The event, titled An Evening In Paris, will be a celebration of French music. From 6-7:30pm on June 1 the versatile Faux Frenchmen will perform their mix of gypsy jazz and other genres. They’ve been a favorite around Clifton for quite some time, combining their high level of musicianship with wit and camaraderie. Here’s the Faux Frenchmen a song Fletcher Allen wrote and that Django Reinhardt recorded, “Viper’s Dream.”
At 8pm the CCO (Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra) Wind Quintet will launch their set of French music, with compositions by Milhaud, Rameau, Tambourin, Bizet, Debussy, and Ibert. These are great composers who wrote beautiful music that’s quintessentially French. To whet your appetite, here’s a wind quintet performing Debussy’s Reverie.
On the day our family left Des Moines, Iowa—this happened in August of 1972—my self-image changed completely. Whoever I thought I was before vanished, and the city where I was born and where I lived until we headed upstate also underwent a mental revision. School would start in about a week, and I planned to make sure that my fellow eighth-graders understood right away that the new kid from the cosmopolitan epicenter of Des Moines (population 250,000) had a thing or two on folks from Storm Lake, which only 10,000 people called home. As I walked around downtown—or “uptown,” as the locals called it for some upside-down reason—before classes started I assumed culture shock would soon overwhelm me. Although Storm Lake had its charms, with wide, tree-lined streets, and a picturesque downtown, when I saw farmers driving pickup trucks and walking around in overalls I pictured myself starring in a TV show that was basically the Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. I was prepared, when I met my future classmates, to convey all kinds of attitude.
That plan, it turns out, dissolved almost instantly. As dumb as I was, I soon realized that I was very lucky. Both in and out of the classroom, my grade school years were wonderful—lots of friends, endless fun and laughter—but the junior high I attended, larger and more impersonal than Perkins, was about as laid back as a prison. It was a dangerous school where students were afraid of other students and where law and order came hard and fast, much more so than at Perkins, although at Perkins you got a better education. When our parents announced that, in Storm Lake, their six children would be attending a Catholic school once again after a long hiatus, I thought oh no, here it comes, my assumption being that nuns were even meaner in small towns than in booming metropolises like the one where I grew up.
But the eighth-graders at St. Mary’s were the rowdiest classmates I would ever have, and no teacher could hold us back. I remember a day when maybe half the class stayed after school. At some point the teacher left; I can’t remember if she planned to return or if we were simply supposed to remain there on the honor system. We responded by tipping over desks and throwing books on the floor and basically wrecking the room. No one said anything to us the next day. Now that was my kind of school. I remember wondering if the public school, which was right across the street, was even rowdier. All of my guy friends that year were from St. Mary’s, but the girls I cavorted with were all from the public school; therein lies everything I know about the public schools of Storm Lake between 1972 and 1973 (or at any time, for that matter).
That only begins to tell you what was good about Storm Lake. The house we moved to was bigger and older than the one in Des Moines and had beautiful woodwork inside. It was located across the street from a park, and beyond that was the lake. Lakeshore Drive was part of the route that all the teenagers made as they scooped the loop, and in my mind Storm Lake was one big circle where all the fun people passed our house at least once a day. The soda fountain at Ben Franklin’s, the grain silo on the main drag, the huge motorcycles that all the St. Mary’s student kept crashing, wide alleys, and even, strangely enough, the squealing pigs at Hygrade, all those things and countless more contributed to Storm Lake’s charm. To me it was like a countrified and modernized version of American Graffiti, with nature hippies instead of guys with short, slicked-back hair. When John Fogerty sings “We could make music at the Greasy King” during “Sweet Hitchhiker,” my mind flashes immediately to the burger joint—can’t tell you the name, can’t tell you the street—where we went after the football and basketball games (unless, that is, we were roaming the railroad tracks with the public school girls).
Clearly we had found the Promised Land, but after a year we he headed east, to Ohio. Since then I’ve only been back to Storm Lake a few times. Even though the houses aren’t as big as they were in my memory (how could they be?) and I lost track of my old buddies and your perspective tends to change as you grow older, I still think Storm Lake was the right place and the right time for me.
With a family of eight, it’s hard, after people have moved around the country, to reunite everyone, but recently seven Wilsons were in the same house, including our oldest sister, who’s now the only family member living in Iowa—close to Storm Lake, in fact. She brought to Celina, Ohio (where my parents now live) a copy of the Storm Lake Times that contained the jubilant article its co-owner and editor, Art Cullen, wrote after the Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative reporting. The judges commended the Times for “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.” Along with shedding light on the nitrate pollution caused by bad farming practices, the paper exposed the dark money used to suppress that conclusion. The damage isn’t limited to Buena Vista County, where Storm Lake is located. “It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico,” Cullen wrote in an editorial. “It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes.” If you think about it, the story has parallels to Flint, Michigan—or more directly to Celina, Ohio, where similar shortsightedness has forced officials to post a closed sign for entire summers on a lake that has long been a big tourist draw.
There is a message here. Typically the Pulitzer Prize goes to the big city papers, but not this time. The judges deserve credit for recognizing the value of a twice-a-week newspaper with a circulation of 3,000. And the staff at the Storm Lake Times deserve credit for taking their role as journalists seriously instead of delivering the fluff (or clickbait) so many magazines and papers resort to in a desperate attempt to “build their base.” “We’ve always believed that the Storm Lake Times should be as good at covering Storm Lake as the New York Times is at covering New York,” Cullen has written. Ultimately no matter where you are there’s a story to be told. That’s true if you’re a journalist or a fiction writer or a songwriter—meaning you don’t have to move to Greenwich Village to tap into something vital.
And sometimes the wide-open spaces far from the madding crowd are the best launching pads for progressive ideas. No one thought much of it when, in August of 1973, some folks decided to ride their bikes across Iowa. Since then RAGBRAI has become a huge event that prefigured the ecologically-conscious and fitness-minded bicycle craze. Storm Lake was one of the stopping/starting points for that first ride, and Lakeshore Drive was on the route. As a result I found myself chatting, in my own front yard, with some of the Des Moines crowd, including co-RAGBRAI founder Donald Kaul, whose Over the Coffee column was a highlight of the Des Moines Register, and his son Chris Kaul, one of my grade school buds. Here you see Donald Kaul explaining to some old-school Iowans that highways were built not for cars but for bicycles and tractors.
While preparing this screed I discovered that that, along with growing up in Storm Lake, Art Cullen went to St. Mary’s and was probably (based on our ages) one grade ahead of me. No one in my family seems to know him, myself included. Whatever his school history, I hope his class behaved better than we did, as we gave the nuns more than enough grief. Now, though, he’s raising all kinds of hell. I always thought Storm Lake was a good place—and I’m sticking to that story.
It’s interesting that one of the most popular places in the Gaslight District is also a bit hidden. Because there are no windows at the Bohemian Hookah Café at 340 Ludlow Avenue, you could forget it’s there—except that, once you walk inside, you quickly realize it’s a go-to place for a hip and diverse crowd. In its own unassuming way the café quickly became a fixture in the community, and at the center of it all is the owner, Farah A. Hagar, who we know as “Blackie.” During a recent visit to the café I learned that Blackie had published a book. Often books are kind of a one-on-one between the book and the reader, but Blackie Bohemian: Book of Questions is different. It’s meant to be a group experience. As you may have noticed, people have a tendency these days, when out in public, to ignore everything, including the people they’re with, while they immerse themselves in this little palm-sized objects with a screen on them. Book of Questions consists entirely of questions intended to be read aloud in order to foster discussion between people who are sitting together. Here’s an example: If you had to wear the same outfit the rest of your life, what would you wear? And this: Who is the worst person you have ever met; what made them the worst? These are the types of questions that, by the time everyone jumps into the discussion, offer a long respite from the screen-staring so prevalent these days. That’s part of the attraction, but I have a hunch that its allure also stems from the popularity of the venue and, of course, Blackie, who’s always been a welcoming and cheerful presence on Ludlow Avenue. Stop in the Bohemian Hookah Cafe and try his cardamon ginger chai, which is the real deal as opposed to the prepackaged variety, or his fresh mint tea, which is grown in the back of the building.