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.

UrbanCincy, Niehoff Studio to Host Regional Discussion on Wasson Corridor

In May 2013, UrbanCincy partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio to produce an event that highlighted the final work of engineering and urban planning students studying bus rapid transit and bikeways throughout the region. We then showcased their work and engaged the capacity crowd with a panel discussion between some of the region’s foremost experts on the subjects.

One of the hot topics at that event was the Wasson Corridor, which runs through the heart of Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods.

The Future of the Wasson Way Bike Trail and Light Rail Corridor

The corridor has long been in regional transit plans as the location for a light rail line, but recent advocacy efforts have been working to convert the abandoned freight rail right-of-way into a recreational trail for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Following UrbanCincy’s controversial editorial opposing the corridor’s conversion into a bike/ped trail, the conversation has shifted to one focused on creating a multi-modal corridor that accommodates the long-planned light rail and the newly envisioned recreational trail.

The next stage of that dialogue will occur this Thursday back at the Niehoff’s Community Design Center in Corryville.

Over the past semester, interdisciplinary students from the University of Cincinnati have been studying the Wasson Corridor and will be presenting their work at this event.

Following the open house where guests can view the final projects, UrbanCincy will then host a panel discussion with Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE); Eric Oberg, Manager of the Midwest Rails to Trails Conservancy; Mel McVay, Senior Planner at Cincinnati DOTE; Nern Ostendorf, Executive Director of Queen City Bike. The discussion will be moderated by UrbanCincy’s Jake Mecklenborg.

The event is free and open to the public. The open house portion of the evening will take place from 5pm to 6pm, and the panel discussion will follow immediately at 6pm and go until about 7:30pm.

Light food and refreshments will be provided and a cash bar will be available during the open house. The Niehoff’s Community Design Center can be accessed directly off of Short Vine at the southeast corner of Daniels and Vine Street.

Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens

Ronny Salerno has established himself as one of the region’s best photo journalists. He covers the stories not often given light in the typical news cycle. The stories he publishes on his website, Queen City Discovery, aren’t often current events, but they are always topical.

One of his more recent features that garnered national attention uncovered the history of a ghost ship left stranded downstream from Cincinnati in a small tributary to the Ohio River. Salerno has become well-known for his thoughtful coverage of abandoned buildings and their stories they hold.

The most recent feature of his looks at the now abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). While Concourse C was once a symbol of CVG’s prominence and significance, it is now a visual reminder of how far the airline industry in general, and the airport in specific, have fallen over the past decade.

Regional air travel, which is what Concourse C catered to through its Comair service, is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Throughout Europe, China, Japan and Korea, where inter-city high speed rail is prevalent, regional air travel has already fallen by the wayside. In North America, inter-city bus travel has grown in popularity while Amtrak sets ridership records each year.

But still, no sign of comprehensive inter-city high speed rail seems to be anywhere in the near future for Canada and the United States. What will that mean for metropolitan regions with millions of people, like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, now being left off the map? Smaller regions, like Birmingham, already lack expansive air service and must rely on larger metropolitan regions nearby for service.

Many cities and regions are being left off the map and have fewer and fewer transportation options to get from one city to the next. Who knows what that will mean for these people and regions in the future, but for now please take a look back at the history and stories of CVG’s Concourse C.

The Concourse: Part 1 – Island in a Stream of Runways
The Concourse: Part 2 – Unaccompanied Minor
The Concourse: Part 3 – The Film (embedded above)

The fall of 1994 was a good time for regional airliner Comair, the company had just opened a second hub in its hometown at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Regional Airport (CVG). Dubbed “Concourse C,” the building was an island in a stream of runways, accessible to passengers only via shuttle busses and the flights they arrived on. The concourse was always a center of human activity amongst the tarmac – featuring shops, eateries and over 50 gates to destinations across the continental United States.

It was a place where people reunited, strangers shared drinks between travels and employees fought the daily grind.

Comair was purchased by Delta Airlines in 2000 and both airlines plunged into bankruptcy protection by 2005. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, Delta began to scale back Comair flights and eventually relocated all operations to another section of the airport in 2008. Concourse C was left abandoned. In 2012, Delta completely folded Comair.

Today, Concourse C still remains out in the middle of the runways: no passengers, few visitors and closed off to the general public. It’s eerily quiet state is a stark contrast to the sea of humanity that once flowed through it. On a recent exclusive tour of the facility, I was able to make this short film in addition to several photographs.

VIDEO: Amtrak Sets Its Eyes on the Coveted Millennial Demographic

On the heels of kicking off their new Writers Residency program, where writers can ride intercity passenger rail for free, Amtrak welcomed 30 prominent new media “influencers” on a long-distance train ride from Los Angeles to SXSW in Austin.

The new initiatives are part of a larger effort by Amtrak to connect with a demographic they believe is already open-minded and passionate about intercity train travel.

“There’s a lot of talk about us being the Me Generation or the Do Nothing Generation,” said Charlie Monte Verde, who is a Millennial himself and also Amtrak’s Government Affairs Specialist for the Midwest Region. “The thing we always see about what we do, is that this can be one of those things that we take and run with. That we make our impact on the United States for the rest of our lives in growing this intercity rail network.”

Monte Verde says that the 30 participants had somewhere around 2.5 million followers on social media, and that the group logged their journey by using the #AmtrakLive hashtag.

The major takeaway for many of the participants, however, was the relaxing nature of the ride, and scenic beauty of the trip.

“I think train travel is a bit of a lost art. It was a very amazing thing to do years ago, and it’s still a very amazing thing to do now,” said Matthew Knell, VP of Social and Community Outreach at About.com. “What Amtrak is trying to do with the new generation; with high-speed rail and new technologies and solutions is great.”

Amtrak is currently in the process of upgrading intercity passenger rail service in the Midwest between St. Louis and Chicago and Detroit and Chicago. Segments of those routes are now operating at 110 miles per hour, with additional upgrades underway to bring the entire length of those routes up to higher speeds.

In October 2013, Amtrak officials signed an agreement with the State of Indiana to maintain Hoosier State service, and revisited the idea of improving service between Cincinnati and Chicago.

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.

Uber and Lyft to Soon Enter Cincinnati Market

Cincinnati’s taxicab industry has long been, and continues to be, a total embarrassment. The vehicles are old, rates are high, availability is limited and service is generally poor. That all may be changing in the near future, however, due to the impending arrival of Uber and Lyft – two new innovative ridesharing companies.

One of the long-standing issues with Cincinnati’s various taxicab companies has been the lack of uniformity or use of technology. There are scores of rag-tag taxicab businesses all across the city and region, with different levels of service and expectations to go along with each.

Forget trying to pay with a credit card, or by any sort of 21st century payment mechanism, in Cincinnati today. But both Uber and Lyft started with technology as a foundational element of their companies.

“In cities around the world, especially the major ones, you have a very stagnant transportation ecosystem,” explains Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. “A lot of times they don’t work. Bringing innovation to this world, which in many cases hasn’t been innovated on in decades, can really bring diversity to a system that hasn’t seen a lot of that.”

Lyft, founded in 2012, allows your friends and neighbors to become your taxi drivers while using their own person vehicles. Meanwhile, Uber, founded in 2009, uses the latest technological advances to allow users to book, reserve, pay and coordinate all elements of their trip. And both companies ensure that clean, new vehicles are the standard.

Lyft was the first to make the announcement that they would soon be entering the Cincinnati market. In February, the company posted ads on Craigslist soliciting new drivers in the Cincinnati area. Uber has since followed suit and posted a position for a Cincinnati Community Manager on their website.

Both of the new tech-savvy, ridesharing companies have been operating out of Columbus, and will also both soon be operating in Cleveland. As a result, Uber’s new community manager position is based out of the state’s centrally located capital.

“So much about cities is how you get around them,” Kalanick concludes. “If you can bring real efficiency, real convenience and real comfort to how you move around that city, you can change the way people live in that city.”

In Cincinnati, a city where the transportation has essentially been unchanged for several generations, the changes and new competition could not come soon enough for some.

“Convenience trumps all. Instead of digging around Google for local taxi numbers, both services come to you,” explained Josh Green from Roadtrippers, who had previously lived and worked in the San Francisco area and frequently used both services.

Green says that he never had a bad experience using either Lyft or Uber, and even envisions the tech-savvy employees at Roadtrippers to utilize it.

“Both services always had friendly drivers thanks to the mutual rating system. I particularly liked Lyft’s drivers because they are literally normal people off the street,” said Green. “I’m super pumped they are coming to Cincinnati because taxis, especially on week nights, are hard to come by.”