Tampa is close enough to Cincinnati

I ventured out of my Cincinnati/Tristate area roots to go spring breaking in Tampa, Florida. While I know that this blog is about Cincinnati bars, I will say that there were enough Cincinnatians with me to dilute the unique Florida experience.

The bar isn’t advertised. There is not a billboard to attract tourists. This place is tucked away underneath a bunch of condominiums and hard to get into without a reservation or a bit of name dropping. Luckily for my group we had both means of entry.

Or at least I thought…

Unluckily for me, I am easily thrown for loops and I have friends who can’t help but mess with my head. When we walked up to the man standing at the valet stand next to the small sign that read Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club and told him we had a reservation he asked us for a password. My group had plotted against me and made the password ‘OUT OF SEASON PEACHES’ as a way to make fun of me for demanding a detour to a peach farm that did not have any peaches…because while the sun was shining and the temperatures were high, it was still March.

The makeshift bouncer told us that password would work if we would have shown up five minutes earlier, but that, unfortunately, that specific password had already expired. Our eyes widened as I checked my phone for another password and my friend pulled out his phone to call his sister, head chef of the restaurant. After a good five to seven minutes of ridicule from the bouncer, he finally cracked a smile and told us he was informed to not let us in just to get our heart rates up before we were wined and dined by one of the finest restaurants around.

Heart rates up, stomachs empty and hope high for a decadent meal, it was apparent that we all needed a drink. We were given one of the larger rooms with couch seating and pillows all around. Tiny square tables adorned the room as the waiter explained the unique drink menus. Our friend insulted the waiter by thoughtlessly ordering a ‘Jack n coke.’ The waiter closed his eyes in agony and we explained to our dear friend that this is not a bar, but rather a unique experience where they concoct their own creations rather than a two-ingredient drink. She informed the waiter she would accept anything with Whiskey and he went off to place the order.

The drinks while unique happened to be a bit strong for our tastes. Few of us were able to handle more than one, but with the exceptional food we all kept shoveling into our mouths, we didn’t have much room for intoxicating concoctions anyway.

The food at this place screams anything BUT ‘hole-in-the-wall’, and rightfully so. This place is by far the best kept secret I have ever experienced. I’ll take chicken fingers and a Bud Light at a dreary bar any night of the week, but on our March spring break 2012, this place could very well have made my year.

Our friend’s sister, as I mentioned who is top chef of Ciro’s, aided us in ordering nearly every tempting dish on the menu from scallops to quail egg atop a raw dish all the way to my favorite dish, baked oysters. Having never heard of half the foods we were to be subjected to, I was a bit weary of them. I was surprised to have discovered, though, that my friends and I could very well have a taste for high-class food!

Every plate brought out is meant to share among the group, and there was not  a dish that did not leave our room empty. ‘Mmm’s’ and ‘yums’ filled our dark-lit room until the final desert dishes of fruit with a chocolate dip and a waffle adorned with bacon was brought out and instantly devoured. We all wished we were able to indulge in more of the savory drink creations, but after our 14-hour drive from Cincinnati that day, we accepted defeat from the seemingly never-ending decadent dishes.

Nearly two hours of indulgence and casually hanging out with the waiters and bus boys later, we all had to head back to our friend’s sister’s place for the night. We were greeted in the parking lot by the truck pulled right to the door by the valet before we even stepped foot outside. Leaving more stuffed than drunk ,we knew that this hidden treasure of Tampa had been well worth the find.

Ciros Speakeasy and Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Couldn’t find Highway House again if I tried

The night began at Quaker Steak and Lube in Colerain. A tall Budlight later the place emptied out and we needed another place to spend our Thursday night.

Down the road, over the bridge and behind the woods lives a bar called Highway House. Still technically on Colerain Avenue, I could not find this bar again without a GPS.

The parking lot does not hold more than about 20 cars. Inside there place couldn’t hold more than 60 people. Typical, however, is the low-lit scene with an old pin ball machine and a pool table in the corner. Also, seemingly placed in every hole-in-the-wall bar is a boxing game which tests the strength of one punch for the cost of about a dollar. Guys, don’t try it, the results will be different at every bar you go to and it will only make you mad.

Walking up to the bar I start to pull out my ID just because I know I do not look anywhere near legal. The bartender is polite, anyway. “Can I see your ID, hun?” I hand it over and can already hear the next comment in my head. “Aw, a Christmas birthday,” she says.

We put money in the jukebox, but don’t dare play anything but a little Jason Aldean and Charlie Daniels. Lil’ Wayne does not live in this music player, regardless of whether you can find his picture in the list. With a crowd of less than 10 people in the bar, all in cowboy boots or construction attire, no one is up for listening to any “6 foot 7 foot” beat dropping. No, it is apparent that this is a type of ‘wind-down-after-work” bar. The crowd is older but the feel is still welcoming.

I did not throw out any mysterious drink orders, but I do know they are very capable of serving the easiest thing; beer.

The bar called last call by 2am and we were out by about 230am to venture home over the bridge, out of the woods and through the wonders which make up Colerain.

Bobby Macke’s as old fashioned as can be

Now, I know I said I went to a country bar when I went to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, but this downtown dweller is nothing compared to Bobby Mackey’s Bar in Covington, Kentucky. First off, the bar is in Kentucky, so that plays into it’s country roots credibility a bit. Second off, I’ve never been to a bar where more people line dance than they do here.

Bobby Mackey’s bar is located at 44 Licking Pike in Covington, Kentucky. Once you get past the rough road over the bridge and can see the people waiting outside the door you have been warned, you will be forced to do some off-road driving. The parking lot is unpaved and evened out with gravel, but the guests at this bar have no sympathy for tiny sports cars and chances are you will have to maneuver between trucks who’ve made their own parking spot and SUV’s who’ve taken up what could’ve been three spots. Having been to this bar a few times previously, I was ready to take my Mitsubishi Lancer for a drive on the gravel lot.

I had asked my Facebook friends for help on ordering simple shot(but not straight liquor) from the bartenders. The reason? The women who serve at this bar tend to be older than the line-dancing guests and don’t have a knack for knowing the most popular shots. If you’re not ordering a Southern brewed or distilled libation then you may have to walk them through the process of making your fancy-smancy shot.

After hearing that the bar is haunted Jeff suggested I order one of two shots, as well as listed the recipe for both.

  • Well if it is haunted… then I suggest
    Ghostbuster
    1 part Vodka
    1 part Melon Liqueur
    1 part Pineapple Juice
    1 part Orange Juice
    or
    Blood of Satan
    1 part Jagermeister
    1 part Goldschlager
    1 part Irish Whiskey
    1 part Jack Daniel’s

Jagermeister and I are not friends. End of story. I figured the Ghostbuster was a safe bet. Once at the bar I didn’t see any liquors besides the original stuff and no puckers other than the couple making out in the corner. When I asked for a Mind Eraser, suggested by my friend Adam, the bartender searched the small bar until she came to us with the bad news. How could a bar not have Kahlua? Doesn’t Kentucky drink anything but…oh well, I resorted to ordering a Jack ‘n’ Coke after being informed by Brian by facebook comment that “They have jack on tap… Seriously.” Before the waitress went back to serving guests more beers and whiskey’s my friend Nina and I ordered a Washington Apple. The bartender immediately turned around and began making it. What we got, however, was no Washington Apple. My friend and I swore there had to be tequila in it as we both blew out air as if to release the fire from our throats.

The bar is a great place to go for dancing (line and slow, that is), beers with buddies and for a whole different crowd of people. It lives up to the hole-in-the-wall standard and stays classy as Kentucky can be.

Who loves this bar??

While the class does believe that the Cincinnati Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill will be successful, they don’t admit to being big country fans who would give up a Saturday night to suit up in their best cowboy boots.

Marion blatantly confesses “I’m not a fan of country music,” but also “I don’t prefer dance clubs though either.” Perhaps Marion isn’t suited for this bar though, seeing Marion admits to being a self-proclaimed beer snob. I don’t drink much outside of my Bud Light, but I know that you don’t serve Killian’s beer in a mason jar. Also, you shouldn’t go to this bar without enjoying the brewed beverage in the famous mason jars. The bar, on their website, claims three popular attractions: Live Music, Whiskey Girls, Beer in Mason Jars.  The first two guests are subjected to despite personal desires, but the third is a commodity which guests must choose to order. Personally, the beer didn’t taste any different, but it just felt country to be drinking out of the classic mason jar.
Steph comments and seems to be on my side with having long awaited this bar’s opening saying “Glad it’s finally open.” She admits that the prices are over the top as Marion said but gives in saying her friends will probably want her to go sooner or later. I promise, Steph, you’ll enjoy yourself !

Ryan follows the trend of believing the bar will do “alright,” but also seems to not be the biggest fan country music. With the band playing only country and the bar playing today’s country hits on the radio in between acts, I have a feeling Ryan may get sick of hearing that twang all night. However, being a Cincinnatian, he is interested in this new place in the city and says “I might go once just to see what it’s like and all.”
Charlie fesses up to thinking the bar will do well, also, saying that it is “a nice change of pace from the usual bass-pounding club music in Cincinnati.” Seeing as how a few of those “bass-pounding clubs” which have resided on the streets of downtown have shut down operation in the last year (Passage, Black Fin, Lodge Bar), I agree with Charlie.

The bar continues to book acts to play on the stage and seems to be making money off the high-priced beers and cover charge on nights when the band is bigger. It is still open, and that is always a good sign for a new bar. The Banks in general is bringing in large numbers of new customers so there is hope that Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar will have a long-lasting stay in their spot downtown. I hate to see bars fail, because that means loss of jobs and money for our city. I hope this new country bar is a “change of pace” enough to intrigue more and more patrons every night.

A new kind of hole-in-the-wall..location: Tampa

I am straying away from the Cincinnati scene to visit a “best-kept secret” of Tampa, Florida. The place is called Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club, but you didn’t hear about it from me.

The term speakeasy derives from the Prohibition era.
One myth of the term I pulled from Wikipedia. I know as a journalist I am not supposed to trust Wikipedia, but for this tale I chose to reference it.

  • “The term “speakeasy” might have originated in Pennsylvania in 1888, when the Brooks High-License Act raised the state’s fee for a saloon license from $50 to $500. The number of licensed bars promptly plummeted, but some bars continued to operate illegally. Kate Hester had run a saloon for years in McKeesport, just outside of Pittsburgh. She refused to pay the new license fee and wanted to keep from drawing attention to her illegal business. When her customers got too rowdy, she would hush them by whispering, “Speak easy, boys! Speak easy!” This expression became common in McKeesport and spread to Pittsburgh.”

Intrigued? I know I am! Supposedly at this little speakeasy and supper club, the waitresses dress as flappers and the waiters and bartenders dress as gangsters. The food and appetizers are a bit pricey and the drink prices seem outrageous, but rumor has it that the bartenders earn every penny with their creative and surprising concoctions.

I am excited to report about this hidden treasure of Tampa, Florida.

Durbin bowl(s)

Ever get a shot and think “there’s no way I can do that!” or a mug at a bar and tell your friend “I’ll be drunk if I finish this!” ? Can you imagine drinking a fishbowl of alcohol? We’re not talking a won-a-goldfish-at-a-fair-and-bought-a-bowl fishbowl.

No, this is an adult sized fishbowl, enough for a dozen of those little prized gold fish to have a blast in. 

Wondering where you would find a place which would serve you so much alcohol at once?  Well, just outside Cincinnati is a bar and bowling alley called Durbin Bowl. My friends and I went for a drink before a house party one night but after half a fish bowl and one beer each, my friend and I weren’t exactly thirsty when we got to the house.

We chose the place because of the fishbowls, we stayed for the party. As soon as we walked in, it was as if we had busted in on a private Indiana-style party! It seemed every guest was good friends with everyone from the bartender to the biker chick which her crack showing. Girls were dancing, guys were hollering and everyone seemed carefree.

The whole bar couldn’t have been bigger than the dinning area of a McDonald’s, a jukebox played nothing but country music and the hyped up fish bowl tasted like grape Kool-Aid.

Seeing as the bartender seemed to know everyone in the bar but myself and my friends and we all looked less than legal, he was a bit pushy about seeing our ID’s, but mellowed out once he was sure we wouldn’t be the cause of his place being shut down.

We didn’t bowl, but we made a few friends at this little bar as well as got our money’s worth in fishbowls. The place is not somewhere I would travel alone but it is a nice little get away from the usual dance clubs. Hey, that’s what hole-in-the-wall bars are for!

And we like to drink our beer from a Mason jar. Mmmm, I love this bar…

There is a new bar in town.

Actually, this bar has been in town for nearly five months… it just hasn’t been open.

This wonderful, seemingly small bar is in downtown Cincinnati as part of the Banks Project right near the Red’s stadium.

This bar, however, is not a dance club, it is not a martini bar and it is not a sports bar.

I am not even exactly sure what to classify this bar as. Anyway, it is the new Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and last night was it’s first night open!

Originally the bar was supposed to open in September. My friends and I were so excited because that would mean that after Toby Keith’s concert at Riverbend September 29th we all could have gone to the Toby Keith bar where he would have hopefully made a visit seeing as he was already in town. For some unknown reason, though, it did not open in September when Toby was in town.

Looking back, we wouldn’t/couldn’t have gone downtown after the concert because it happened to pour down rain the entire night at Riverbend.

It was cold, we were all covered in mud and I was losing my flip flops in the puddles. There was no way we were going anywhere but home to shower.

This is my friend Sami. She obtained a poncho from our friend Brad in order to attempt to stay clean and dry. As you can see, this did not help.

Next time we heard of the bar opening was when my friends and I were downtown at Mynt Martini. One of the bus boys told us that tonight was the opening night for Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar. The date was December 15 and it was cold enough that we could all see our breath. Excited to be one of the first hundred Cincinnati-ans to see the new bar, half of us rode in my friend Jon’s truck and half walked to the new bar just a few blocks from Mynt. When we got there, no lights were on and no person was to be seen.

Luckily, we had all gotten our hands stamps and simply returned to Mynt.

Fast-forward to yesterday, February 8, 2012… My aunt (who works with me at the car dealership) comes to my desk and informs me that Chelsey(of Big Dave and Chelsey- disc jockeys for B105) put up on her facebook that Toby’s bar was opening at 7pm!

My friend Jon and I had already planned to go out for a beer after we got off work. So, he calls me at about 7:15pm and tells me he just heard the news. Naturally we didn’t want to miss the not-so-grand opening, so the two of us and our friend Eric hopped in Jon’s truck and got lost downtown…I mean went to the bar.

Parking close enough to walk considering the chilly weather cost us $4 for three hours, not horrible. We were greeted outside by a guy who checked our ID’s and upon entering two girls in the bar “uniform” welcomed us in.

My friend leaned into me and said “I think we may be the youngest people in this place.”

There were probably about 50 people in the bar, mostly all sitting down talking with friends. Adorned with neon signs and photos of Toby Keith at his concerts plastered on the walls, the bar definitely had a sports bar/honky-tonk feel. With all sorts of seating from high-tops tables to booths and regular tables toward the back, it was obvious that it was trying to be restaurant more than a bar. Unluckily for us, however, they did not actually have any food to serve on this oh grand of opening nights.

Instead we ordered three bottled beers($4 per Bud-light) and then two Mason jar beers($8 per jar of Bud-light). We determined the Mason jar holds just about 30oz of beer, so it was not a complete rip off. 

We asked for a menu to glance over, anyway, and found everything from Southern dishes to Cincinnati-inspired meals. The entire back of the menu lists mixed drinks and beers. This seems appropriate not only being in Cincinnati, but also because in nearly every song he sings Toby Keith manages to throw a drink into the lyrics.

The new bar is a real sight to see and brings a new spin to the downtown bar scene of Cincinnati. The waitresses are all dressed in plaid shirts, jean shorts with a wide belt and cowboy boots. Makes you wonder if they had to audition for their waitress position. There is also a  stage for live bands which play country music all night, and in between bands you’ll hear everything from Taylor Swift to Alan Jackson. The new bar is a real sight to see and brings a new spin to the downtown bar scene of Cincinnati.

I know there is Bobby Mackey’s just across the river, and we used to have Cadillac Ranch just a block away from Fountain Square, but do you think a country bar will have much success in downtown? Do you prefer dance clubs like the much-loved Lodge Bar we lost last year?  Think you will visit Toby Keith’s new bar? I do recommend it!

PS. The bar mirrors this song exactly.

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