Connoisseurs, Novices Can Start Getting ‘Half Cut’ at OTR’s New Beer Cafe Today

Tom O'Brien and Jack HeekinOver-the-Rhine will welcome another craft beer establishment when HalfCut Beer Cafe opens at southeast corner of Twelfth and Walnut Streets today.

In what seems to be a trend in the competitive OTR beer marketplace, HalfCut will attempt to distinguish itself from the rest with a unique twist – it is a beer café where their “beeristas” will help recommend beer choices and get to know their customers in a relaxed setting much like a coffee shop.

“When someone walks up to the counter, you’ll get to learn and sample different beers in a way that’s different than other bars,” Jack Heekin, HalfCut co-owner, told UrbanCincy. “We’ll learn where each customer is in their journey, and we’ll work with them.”

Heekin says that the important thing is understanding and getting to know each customer’s palate; saying that not everyone wants to try every beer, but that HalfCut will aim to inform them about the particular brewery and process used to make each particular beer.

To that end, the owners say that while they will have 16 taps at first, they will all be styled the same as to avoid people choosing a beer based on their familiarity with it or their fondness for its tap design. Later they will have the ability to expand to 32 taps.

The philosophy is one that was not crafted overnight. Instead, it came about during a more than 6,000-mile road trip in the name of beer education.

“What we’re really trying to do is add something that’s unique to Cincinnati,” Heekin explained. “When we were on our road trip we came up with this linear process of learning and wanted to bring it back to Cincinnati.”

This will not be the first attempt, for this group, to bring something new to Cincinnati. Several years ago the same team launched the now seemingly omnipresent Pedal Wagon, which is a 14-seat bike that can be reserved for special events and pub crawls. After starting with just one wagon in 2012, they now have three on Cincinnati’s streets and one in Columbus, with several more to be added later this year.

“Pedal Wagon helped us learn how to make something from nothing,” Heekin noted. “It made us realize how important it is to focus on both the customers and workers, and also how important it is to differentiate your idea.”

The group immediately differentiated HalfCut by launching a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo. While the campaign had aimed to raise $5,000 to help with build out costs of the 800-square-foot establishment, they ultimately raised nearly double that.

Heekin says that HalfCut also received some financial assistance from the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative’s Microcity Loan.

The cozy HalfCut interior seats about 30 people and features tables and seating that are much lower to the ground than most bars. In an effort to keep the atmosphere relaxed, the owners also say that music will be set at a low volume and that they will close at 10:30pm during the week, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6pm on Sundays.

To the owners, HalfCut, which is a 1920s slang term for the perfect state of mind after a couple of beers, is not the kind of place to go out and get hammered, but rather the type of place where you might go for some good conversation.

While they are unable to brew their own beer on site, HalfCut will offer a number of locally brewed beers as well as an extensive collection of craft beers from around the country that Heekin says are difficult to find elsewhere in the region.

Customers are able to choose from both an in-house and a to-go selection of beers. Those looking to take some beer home with them, either from the counter or HalfCut’s walk-up window on Twelfth Street, can choose between 32- or 64-ounce growlers, 22-ounce bombers (similar to a wine glass look), and standard or mixed six-packs.

Gomez Salsa will also soon be operating out of the walk-up window, selling tacos, burritos, taco salads and other items. This walk-up window along Twelfth Street was previously home to Lucy Blue Pizza, which relocated two blocks away on Main Street in March 2013.

Those who decide to stay inside and linger, perhaps to enjoy the 20-foot mural from Neltner Small Batch, will be able to order flights, pints, or 22-ounce bombers of any beer on tap, and also choose from 20 to 25 rotating bottle selections.

Heekin and co-owner Tom O’Brien said they signed a nine-year lease on the space and have hired eight employees. They will start serving customers today at 4pm.

All photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building

Pi Pizzeria is set to open its seventh location, and only its second outside of St. Louis. The Cincinnati location will be in the AT580 building at 6th and Main Streets, one block from the Contemporary Arts Center, 21c Museum Hotel, and Aronoff Center, near several major corporate headquarters, including Procter & Gamble, and within walking distance of the riverfront and sports stadiums. The restaurant will seat approximately 125 and is being designed by SPACE Architecture of St. Louis.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OH

“We’ve been admiring the Cincinnati market for a few years now, but just started our search about a year ago,” Pi Co-owner Chris Sommers told nextSTL. “We are amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR, and had to be a part of it.” Sommers has had his eye on Cincinnati for some time before finally signing a lease. Chris’s wife Anne Schuermann Sommers is from Cincinnati and the couple visits frequently.

AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHGoogle Streetview of 6th and Main in Cincinnati.

In addition to serving award-winning thin crust and deep dish pizzas with a signature corn meal crust, the restaurant focuses on local brews and plans to serve only St. Louis and Cincinnati beers. “We are also very excited to partner with our hometown St. Louis’ largest local brewer Schlafly, featuring their beers for the first time ever in Ohio,” Sommers shared. The St. Louis Brewery, maker of Schlafly beers, is the largest craft brewer in St. Louis at 60,000 barrels per year. Schlafly produces Pi Common, a take on the Anchor Steam beer that started the craft brewing revolution.

A variety of beers from the burgeoning brewery scene in Cincinnati will be featured. “The brewing scene has exploded in Cincinnati and we can’t wait to pour as many local craft beers as possible,” stated Sommers. Pi Partners with local breweries in St. Louis and Washington D.C., hosting events, tap takeovers and offering custom brews, available exclusively at Pi. They plan to do the same in Cincinnati. Sommers also envisions a streetcar beer crawl once the line is running. The Cincinnati Streetcar will run on Main street past Pi.

Although created for internal design purposes, Pi agreed to share this video exclusively with nextSTL and UrbanCincy:

Sommers waited out the streetcar debate before committing to a Cincinnati location. “We choose our locations based on major transit lines, and feel the streetcar will be game-changing for Cincinnati,” Sommers told nextSTL. Pi’s original St. Louis location is located in the transit-rich Delmar Loop, the downtown St. Louis Pi sits atop a MetroLink station, and the D.C. restaurant is near both Metro Center and Chinatown Stations.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis Pi location.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis and Cincinnati Pi restaurant locations share many similarities (via Google Streetview).

The original Pi location opened in the City of Louis on Delmar Boulevard in 2008. Later that year, then Senator Obama visited St. Louis, speaking to an estimated 100,000 people at the Arch. An aide from Obama’s campaign was sent to get pizza and chose his favorite new pizzeria, Pi. The President became a fan and Sommers and Co-owner Frank Uible personally delivered Pi pizza to the White House for a 2009 dinner.

Capitalizing on the publicity, Pi opened a location in D.C.’s Penn Quarter in 2011. There are now four locations in the St. Louis area, including the Delmar Loop, Downtown St. Louis, Kirkwood, and Chesterfield. A Pi Truck also roams the roads and was used extensively to test the market in both downtown St. Louis and D.C. before opening brick and mortar locations. Sommers and Uible recently opened Gringo, a Mexican restaurant, in St. Louis’ Central West End, and have explored other restaurant concepts.

Pi was recently back in the Presidential spotlight, as it was recognized during the President’s weekly radio address for increasing employee minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Pi mention is at 1:31 in the video below. The current minimum wage in Missouri is $7.50 an hour, and $7.95 in Ohio. Pi employees in Ohio will make a minimum wage of $10.10.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHA screen grab from above video shows street level design.

The AT580 building has been largely vacant since 2011 when Great American Insurance Company moved a couple blocks to Queen City Square, a building that happens to have been designed by Gyo Obata of the St. Louis architecture firm HOK. The 17-story tower was designed by RTKL Associates and Harry Hake & Partners for Southern Ohio Bank. Construction was completed in 1974.

The building sold in 2012 for $16M, the minimum bid allowed as a sheriff’s sale, after the owner had defaulted on its loan. The tower was again sold in early 2013 to Anderson Birkla Investment Partners of Indianapolis for $13.7 million. The new owner has proposed 179 apartments, 48,000 sf of retail space on two levels and 181,000 sf of office space, expected to be anchored by Fifth Third Bank. Last year, the Cincinnati city council approved of a 12-year property tax exemption valued at $4.8M.

If all goes according to plan, build out will begin in the coming weeks and a grand opening could be held in August.

This article is cross-posted at nextSTL.com

Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

New Workshops Hope to Assist Homebuyers Looking to Rehab in Over-the-Rhine

Aside from buying the latest condominiums available through 3CDC, owning a home in historic Over-the-Rhine can be a challenge. Many buildings that are not already occupied are typically abandoned and some are in dire condition of falling apart.

There have been plenty of people who have taken on the task to rehab abandoned buildings only to find that they may have taken on too much. The Over-the-Rhine Foundation is hoping that a new workshop will help those interested in rehabbing historic buildings make the connections, get the information and understand the potential challenges involved with such a process.

Beginning in April, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation is launching a series of three workshops geared towards addressing these challenges. Organizers say that boosting home ownership rates is one of the major goals of the foundation.

“We as a foundation are committed to revitalizing the diverse OTR neighborhood, and a key objective is building community by encouraging and promoting owner-occupied development,” Kevin Pape, President of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

Pape says that the three-part series will begin with an overview of the scope of rehabbing property in the 19th century neighborhood. That first session will end with an optional walking tour of rehabbed properties, while the second and third sessions will provide a more in-depth look at the process of rehab and financing.

“These workshops will help individuals gain access to the resources, expertise, and development tools needed to ensure the success of their community investments,” Pape continued.

Registration for all three workshops is $35 until April 4, when the registration fee will then increase to $50. The sessions will take place at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (map) and will occur on Saturday, April 12, May 10 and June 14. Those interested can currently register on the Over-the-Rhine Foundation’s website.

All photographs by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Cincinnati Preservation Collective Draws from Different Backgrounds to Save Buildings

Cincinnati Preservation Collective (CPC) is a new group of preservationists who are passionate about taking action to save historic buildings.

Founded in late 2013, CPC acts as an open forum for conversation around historic preservation. The group is made up of organizations and individuals bonded by a common passion: their love of historic structures and the belief that the benefits of saving these buildings often outweigh the costs.

“I think the word collective is important in the name because it indicates that we are a diverse group of people open to anybody which can hope to influence preservation in the city,” said co-founder John Blatchford in an email interview with UrbanCincy.

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Led by Blatchford and co-founder Diana Tisue, meetings are held about once a month, and at any given meeting you will find a mix of graduate students, architects, urban planners and former city employees, not to mention members of other preservation groups like Cincinnati Preservation Association and UC’s Preservation Action Network.

Though the group is relatively young, CPC has a lofty mission: to proactively save buildings. This year CPC says they are channeling their efforts around five “impact buildings” that have been chosen by the group and are either in danger of demolition, or are considered in need of awareness, stabilization or mediation.

CPC’s 2014 Impact Buildings
900 E. McMillan (The Paramount Building), Walnut Hills
2012-2014 Vine Street, Over-the-Rhine
1606-1608 Walnut Street, Over-the-Rhine
1706 Lang Street, Over-the-Rhine
1119-1123 Main Street (Davis Furniture Building), Over-the-Rhine

The group hopes to positively impact these buildings in 2014, whether it is simply by drawing attention to a neglected building or ultimately connecting the property with a buyer or a renovator.

“We understand that saving a building or respecting its history is not easy for a building owner, but we, as a group, have the knowledge and resources to help out,” Blatchford said. “The dream is that everybody would look for all alternatives to demolition first and that we could be a key resource to make that viable. We want demolition to be reserved for select and very extreme cases.”

While the group’s primary focus is centered around these five impact buildings, CPC says that they are looking to also build awareness for the organization and attract new members through regular meetings, educational events and fundraising.

So far the group has organized a handful of community outreach events. In February, for example, CPC deployed a guerilla-style “heart bombing” where they covered the impact buildings with valentines.

“We did that to bring up advocacy for the building and show that somebody loved it,” Tisue said. The group also had a float in Friday’s Bockfest Parade, complete with a Chinese Dragon-style goat and a New Orleans jazz band.

While the heart bombing and the Bockfest Parade aimed to get the word out about CPC, their next event will focus on connecting the community to other preservation projects.

This Thursday CPC will host a “Pitch Party” that will put 10 presenters on a stage to pitch their preservation-related project in five minutes or less. The best idea will be chosen by audience vote and the winner will receive $500 donated by the Cincinnati Preservation Association.

“Part of what CPC is doing is trying to build community and show that preservation and community go hand-in-hand,” Tisue explained. While $500 in seed funding can certainly get a project off the ground, they say that the primary goal of the Pitch Party is to share projects with an audience that is interested in getting involved with preservation.

“Pretty much any preservation project needs the manual labor and the volunteer hours from the community, but they also need support from the community,” Tisue said. “[Pitch Party] is a night of sharing projects with people and people with projects, connecting and building a bridge between community organizations and community.”

The Cincinnati Preservation Collective Pitch Party will take place on Thursday, March 13 at Venue 222. Doors open at 6pm and the event will begin at 7:30pm. Tickets are free but organizers do request those attending to RSVP through EventBrite.

Building illustrations by Derek Scacchetti.

PHOTOS: Record Crowds Pack Over-the-Rhine for 22nd Bockfest Celebration

It is estimated that well over 30,000 people attended this year’s Bockfest celebrations in historic Over-the-Rhine – shattering previous attendance records.

Cincinnati’s Bockfest is the largest and longest running such festival in the world. Its history, however, is rooted in Bavaria. It is traditionally understood that Bavarian monks would brew bock beer and consume it and it only during times of fasting – typically around Easter or Lent.

As is custom, this year’s festivities were kicked off with The Bockfest Parade and the ceremonious delivery of the first keg of bock beer to be tapped at Bockfest Hall. The following 21 photos are a sampling of the opening parade that took place late Friday afternoon.

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Check out 5chw4r7z’s photos for even more views from around Bockfest this weekend.