The Banks used to be an empty area on Cincinnati’s riverfront between Great American Ball Park and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Today, it’s home to apartments, bars, lots of parking and several restaurants.They’re a mix of chain and local, fancy and casual, and most of them are bustling, especially on a Reds game day.
Here’s a crib sheet to what you will find in this Cincinnati dining and entertainment area.
What it is: Sports bar with sports bar food.
Atmosphere: Garage doors open up to bring the outside in and accommodate big game-day crowds.
Eat: The Reuben wontons. Or the Holy Grail of Nachos.
Best on the Banks for: Tap tables. Reserve a table with two taps, and pull your own beer. Also for being close to the ballpark: It’s only 100 yards from home plate.
What it is: Nashville-based music venue with casual food.
Atmosphere: Lots of Americana bric-a-brac, TVs with music videos, ’50s-style diner tables, sidewalk patio.
Eat: A pizza-dilla. It’s an obvious, but nevertheless genius, cross between a quesadilla and a pizza, with lots of cheese, other ingredients and tomato sauce in a giant tortilla.
Best on the Banks for: Seeing a band called Barefoot Renegades or Drunk with Guns.
What it is: California-based chain with a huge menu and an epic beer selection.
Atmosphere: Cavernous and bare bones, with the large bar commanding the center. Good views of the river and bridge. There’s no true outdoor area; there’s a covered patio. Classic rock on the sound system.
Eat: The surf and turf burger. Or the orange peel chicken. And samplers of a bunch of beers you’ve never had before.
Best at the Banks for: Vegetarians. They have a large number of dishes made with their Gardein meat substitute. And, along with the Lager House, it’s a great place to try beer – they have 140 on tap in sizes from a sampler to a half-yard that you have to stand up to drink.
What it is: Sub shop.
Atmosphere: Bare bones. Fresh-bread smell. And they deliver – up to Fifth Street.
Eat: Italian Night Club. Turkey Tom. Totally Tuna.
Best on the Banks for: Getting something to take into the ballpark. (Did you know you could do that?) Or to eat by the Smale Riverfront Park fountain, or sitting on one of the riverside swings.
What it is: Not technically part of The Banks, but it’s right there. It’s a brewpub from local beer company Christian Moerlein, serving their beer and others along with a large menu.
Atmosphere: Modern and bright, with a great view of the Roebling Suspension Bridge and river; interesting beer memorabilia.
Eat: Onion rings, hop-smoked pork belly, Moer-burger. And Northern Liberties IPA.
Best on the Banks for: Taking out-of-towners, celebrating Cincinnati’s beer heritage.
What it is: Bar and tacos.
Atmosphere: Laid-back at lunch, crowded bar in evening. Small sidewalk patio.
Eat: Fish tacos and the spicy Mexican street corn.
Best on the Banks for: Learning random bits of trivia from their chalkboard out front.
What it is: Upscale steakhouse.
Atmosphere: Swanky, but a little generic.
Eat: Steak, clearly. Have the ribeye, and try the New Orleans-style gumbo. Get a sophisticated martini.
Best on the Banks for: When you have some time and want to make an occasion of dinner itself.
Written by Polly Campbell, Food & Dining writer at Cincinnati Enquirer.