Cincinnati: So Much To See…

27 Jan

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We are in the Queen City, Cincinnati Ohio, she is like an old friend to us. Each time we visit we make time to get re-acquainted; we walk her streets, take in her charm and southern ways. We go back to favorite districts, restaurants and a cozy bar called the Blind Lemon, inevitably we discover something we haven’t done before. The Taft Museum of Art is a perfect example. Built on this spot in 1820 and a stone’s throw from our hotel, somehow we have never managed to check it out, today is the day we change that. Martin Baum, Cincinnati’s first millionaire built the home, Arts patron Nicholas Longworth lived here from 1829 until his death in 1863, he was responsible for some big changes, more on that later….Iron magnate David Sinton purchased the home in 1871 and lived there with his daughter Anna and her husband Charles Phelps Taft, older half-brother of William Howard Taft. The younger Taft accepted his party’s nomination for the U.S. Presidency from the portico of this house in 1908 and went on to become President. Upon Sintons death Anna became one of the wealthiest women in the country, Charles was wealthy in his own right. Through the years the couple amassed one of the most impressive private collections of fine and decorative arts in America. The Tafts signed papers bequeathing their home and collection to the people of Cincinnati. The Taft Museum opened to the public in 1932. After a major expansion and renovation the museum re-opened in 2004. Let’s take a look.

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I read an article that called the home “The Other Mr. Taft’s White House”, the house is indeed white, one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the Palladian style, today the exterior is draped in holiday garlands, wreaths and bright red bows–it really is quite lovely. We enter on the side, the new section, hang our coats and have a look around. The current exhibitions are Jacob Lawrence: Heroism In Paint and Antique Christmas; there are a lot of people checking them out today. We make our way to the hallway that leads to the historic house, here walls are covered with text and photographs featuring the history of the house and its residents. I am pleasantly surprised that the house still resembles a home, sure the family furnishings have been removed, but important American furniture remains, the museum is a combination of historic home and art museum, it’s intimate, elegant and comfortable. Rooms have been turned into galleries, soothing fern green paint covers the walls, trim is accented in white, arched doorways lead us from one area to another. There’s something special about going to a museum during the holidays, extra effort has been put forth to ‘deck the halls’ as they say. Miniature Christmas trees are enclosed in glass cases, each with its own unique-themed decorations, glass ornaments, whimsical figures. One display is filled with Christmas-themed advertisements, cards, porcelain figures, teeny trees and assorted collectibles, pretty cool!

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 As we wander from gallery to gallery we notice much of the home’s integrity remains; fireplaces, ceiling medallions, crystal chandeliers; the dining room’s ornate plaster ceiling is outstanding, the table is set for Christmas dinner. The music room is bright yellow, a portrait hangs above the fireplace, the room is illuminated by stunning chandeliers. Landscapes and people are surrounded by ornate frames, masterpiece-quality paintings by Rembrandt, Joshua Reynolds, John Singer Sargent and Frans Hals can be found throughout. Decorative arts include European candlesticks and boxes covered in gilt metal, an extensive enamel collection including snuff boxes, portraits, enamel and gold watches and Chinese porcelain from the Tang and Qing Dynasty. Nicholas Longworth extensively redecorated the home, in 1851 he brought Robert S Duncanson in to paint a series of 8 landscape murals, each 9′ tall and 6.5′ wide, they are absolutely gorgeous. At one time they were actually covered by wallpaper–yeah, I know, crazy! It’s possible the wallpaper actually protected the murals, they are as lovely today as when they were painted before the Civil War. Not sure what to expect when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

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The Over-The-Rhine (OTR) district is the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the country. Built in the mid-19th Century it was the heart of the German community in Cincinnati. At that time the Miami and Erie Canal divided the district from downtown, Germans affectionately referred to it as the “Rhine”, reminding them of the river back home, thus deeming the area north of downtown OTR. Eventually the canal was capped, plans to use the underground tunnel for a subway system never came to fruition; today Central Parkway takes the place of the canal. There’s a lot of walking to do in this 360 acre neighborhood, we park the Jeep in the underground lot at the recently revamped Washington Park, grab the umbrellas and go… 

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Streets are packed with beautifully ornate buildings built from 1865 through the 1880’s; Italianate, Queen Anne, Greek Revival and even a few Art Deco structures sit side by side. After years if neglect and decay, a pile of money and sweat equity is being poured into the neighborhood. Three to Five-story brick buildings are now home to restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries; places to live, work and play. Main Street is the main thoroughfare, here you will find trendy restaurants, coffee houses and one-of-a-kind shops. Vine is also dense with new businesses, it’s on this street we find a place to have lunch. Krueger’s Tavern is housed in a single-story white terracotta building with large front windows. The interior is sort of modern-industrial, wood floor, metal tables and bar, exposed pipes, the artwork is framed Moss, yes, I did say moss–it looks good!  We are enjoying the Tuscan kale salad with Parmigiano Reggiano, breadcrumbs and a tasty lemon vinaigrette along with the Cuban sandwich. The braised pork shoulder is so tender it falls apart, topped with ham, Gruyère, homemade pickles, Dijon mustard and black bean puree stuffed inside a house made Cuban roll, absolutely delicious!

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Back outside we stroll from storefront to storefront wandering in and out of shops, Homage, an Ohio-centric shop sells clothing and accessories representing Cincinnati’s professional and college sports teams, music and pop culture.Wait, does that sign say Macaron Bar? Indeed it does. An entire shop dedicated to those little French meringue delicacies…. I think we should try a few. The space is cute, white Tulip chairs with Red cushions, dangling globe lights and rows of Macarons in 12 flavors. We pick Pistachio, Blackcurrant and Salted Caramel, my favorite is the Pistachio, Kris votes for the Salted Caramel, all are yummy.

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We make our way up to Mt Adams, the Krohn Conservatory at Christmas time is a sight to behold! I can tell by the number of cars parked nearby it’s crowded inside. This is the kind of place people come to with their whole family: mom, dad, grandma, the kids and they’ve been doing it for generations. Inside these glass and aluminum walls a Christmas wonderland awaits; a train runs on elevated tracks winding through a city of Poinsettia, ferns and arborvitae, crossing ponds and mingling with tropical foliage. 3-story townhouses and iconic Cincinnati buildings create a miniature version of the city, there’s even a recreation of the Roebling Bridge. The Rainforest Waterfall is quite popular for photos. Built in 1933 the building has great Art Deco details, I love the railings. The conservatory is one of our favorite places in Cincy.

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While in this neck of the woods Kris drives around to see what else is going on in the area. It looks as though new development is going on in E Walnut Hills, a diverse and historic Cincinnati neighborhood. We drive down Woodburn Ave and see a couple of Vintage/Antique shops, so we check them out. Unfortunately Leftcoast Modern is closed today, but Hi-Bred is open. It’s a great shop with a nice selection of vintage clothing, shoes, hats and accessories in addition to funky items like lamps, drinking glasses, housewares and the like. We turn left off of Woodburn Ave onto Madison Rd and there it is, a gorgeous stone building with a sign that reads O Pie O. Can’t resist. Inside, the space looks like an old-fashioned diner; white subway tiles, hanging lamps, counter seating, charming. The menu offers a selection of sweet and savory handcrafted pies, a wine list, local beers and food (the Guatemalan Empanadas look amazing). Varieties change with the season, we’re told the Honey Vinegar is the biggest seller, but it’s the Malted Chocolate Pecan that gets our attention. We sit at the counter and eat our tasty piece of pie, happy to have discovered yet another trendy, up-and-coming Cincy neighborhood.

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