Cincinnati’s 21st-Century Renaissance

The Queen City gets a modern makeover, emphasizing time-tested bones.

Thanks to revitalization initiatives begun in the late '90s and early aughts, plus two colossal restoration projects completed in 2017 and 2018, the Queen City has more to offer than soft wieners and spaghetti with tepid chili on top.

It is a city of contrasts and contradictions: delicacy and brawn, vitality and torpor, vintage charm, and modern edge.

But the once-blazing downtown lights had grown dim for a half-century snooze. Now emerging from hibernation, Porkopolis hopes to dish out some primo prosciutto for a long while, if the price tags are any indication. The newly revealed Music Hall and Union Terminal both join an already dazzling roster of improvements to entertainment, infrastructure, and transportation.

Cincinnati has had a particular allure for centuries, notable for its position on the Ohio River, making it a point of passage for the western frontier. Its penchant for urbane culture started as long ago as the late 18th century when its first French pastry chef moved in to serve what was then the densest population in the country.

Developing as a vibrant publishing center, the Blue Chip City also came to possess its own symphony, opera, ballet, theaters, art museums, and respected institutions of higher learning, all of which put it on track with New York City as a burgeoning high-culture metropolis. That started to shift in the 1950s when businesses moved to the suburbs, and the city went into cardiac arrest.

A Double Grand Finale

Slowly the energy cranked up again. Tripping the light to spectacular effect were the renovations of two crown jewels that had fallen into disrepair. In 2017, after an expenditure of $143 million and following a two-year closure, the Cincinnati Music Hall reopened with improved acoustics and facilities to present the myriad delights of a symphony pops orchestra, ballet, opera, and choir.

In late 2018, the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal was ready not only for visitors to the various science and history museums therein but also for Amtrak. The $228 million job included cleaning and restoring what seemed like miles of Winold Reiss's "Worker Murals," depicting Cincinnati industry—iron, meatpacking, soap, textiles, pottery, pianos, airplanes, publishing, and printing—bringing the mammoth airplane hangar/Art Deco gem back to its 1930s splendor.

Cincinnati Ferris and BridgeRoxane Assaf-Lynn

Sightlines in Downtown Cincy: Contrasts in Old and New

There's something big and bold looming at the end of every downtown street in Cincinnati: two 21st-century sports stadiums (Reds and Bengals, $290 million and $455 million); a 19th-century suspension bridge; a Ferris wheel; a freeway system; an antique mansion-turned-art-museum.

Getting Around Cincinnati: Recent Upgrades

The shows, jazz clubs, storied bars, and museums are all clustered a Lyft ride from the river, making Cincinnati a veritable carnival. A downtown streetcar system opened to the public in 2016 at a cost of $148 million, but, curiously, most attractions can be reached by a more recent arrival: the self-propelled scooter. Since 2018, Cincy has had two scooter-sharing companies competing for untrained riders. Simply install the app on your phone, give it your credit card number, scan in your driver's license, and you're off. Leave the skinny two-wheeler anywhere deemed courteous. (Protocols become obvious after several rides.) There are also plenty of bikeshare stations around town – old school, by Cincinnati standards (introduced way back in 2014).

Contradictions and Contrasts in Cincinnati Culture: The Chili

Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse and Jean-Robert's Table have set the bar high, but the concoction of soft spaghetti with thin chili under an airy haystack of cheddar is still the city's crowning cultural achievement. Onto a base of obedient noodles, liquid chili is ladled, producing the two most consequential layers of a "five-way." More alternative components include beans, onions, and mounded tendrils of mild cheddar cheese. Subtract an ingredient or two, and you're eating a "four-way" or a "three-way," bearing no resemblance in any case to the "Five Ways" of Thomas Aquinas.

In a stroke of irony, the town credited as the "original American city" for eschewing reliance on immigration, has as its most culture-defining chili chains shops that were created by Greeks and Jordanians.

From Gravy to Gravitas

The city's reputation for right-wing conservatism is challenged by the front-and-center riverside presence of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The modern, multi-level complex highlights the city's strategic location in U.S. history across the river from a slave state. It is also dedicated to raising consciousness on the legacy of racism in the United States. One exhibit offers a virtual reality experience of sitting in Rosa Parks's infamous 1955 bus seat.

Cincinnati Fountain SquareRoxane Assaf-Lynn

Music, Art, and Post-Prohibition Refreshment

In 2017, Cincinnati's fabled Bay Horse Café opened doors to its latest iteration right on Main Street, having made it through the 1920s with its 1879 name intact. The neon sign pressed tin ceiling, and mirrored bar mean you can absolutely order a gin Rickey and the barkeep will understand.

The controversially gentrified Over-the-Rhine corridor pays homage to its origins in the beer business with lovingly presented heritage brewfests amidst restored Victorian, Italianate, Greek Revival, and Germanic structures. Whatever commercial influx had begun in Over-the-Rhine in the '90s was halted when an off-duty police officer shot an African-American teenager in the chest, killing him. Riots ensued. It was considered the most dangerous neighborhood in the U.S. But in time (and with a half-billion dollars from the project's principal developer), the subdivided area has become a draw for lovers of beer, music in a park, dog-walking, small plates, high rent.

Blind LemonRoxane Assaf-Lynn

The Cincinnati You May Remember

If escaping the Cincinnati renaissance is desired, head up one of the city's seven hills, Mount Adams, and find a bar and a theater that have both been there since the 1960s, an art museum constructed in 1886, and a plant conservatory finished in 1933. Ask around for the Blind Lemon to enjoy live music and drinks in a warmly wacky space. Then head up the hill for a show at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, or save the drinks for after a day at the Cincinnati Art Museum and Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park.

If you're looking for a better-known music act, it's possibly taking place at Bogart's next to the University of Cincinnati, an appropriate neighbor to a school so known for its programs in music, art, and design.

All dressed up for an opera at Music Hall or a stage show at the modern Aronoff Center? End the night enthroned in 1930s Art Deco glamour in the Bar at Palm Court at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. Enter the iconic Carew Tower by way of this extravagant lobby, and the sound of live jazz will sweep you in like Fred Astaire taking Ginger Rogers by the narrows.

More Contradictions

A city that in the early 19th century self-consciously sought a western regional identity as distinct from eastern states, partially by equating artistic expression with prosperity and sophistication, earned a new image as a town intent on being hostile toward the arts. In 1990, its Mapplethorpe obscenity trial resulted from a number of sexually explicit photographs included among approximately 175 prints exhibited at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center. Both the museum and its director were indicted and put on trial. After several days of testimony, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

By all appearances, that experience may have been the Queen City's ultimate coming of age. But the facelift that followed will make you forget the bumps. The Queen of the West is up from her nap, and she's ready to see you now.

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Distillery tours went on hiatus in 2020, but there are high hopes for 2021. While bourbon leaps immediately to mind when thoughts turn to distillery tours, interest in other spirits and how they're made is increasing. Here are a few of the best tours to thrill tequila lovers.

Tequila Herradura

Ride in style on the Herradura Express, a distillery sponsored train ride that runs from Guadalajara to the town of Amatitán for a distillery tour and tastings, followed by lunch featuring live entertainment. The train then takes visitors back to Guadalajara by evening. Herradura is housed in the last tequila-producing Hacienda in the world, Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. Casa Herradura will be closed for visits and tours until Mexican health officials declare the coronavirus emergency over.

La Rojeña

Producer of Jose Cuervo, La Rojeña has a train of its own called the Jose Cuervo Express (currently on hiatus due to COVID-19) to bring visitors to the oldest distillery in the town of Tequila. Jose Cuervo offers distillery tours, tastings, and tours of the agave fields. Mundo Cuervo (Cuervo world) also has its own hotel, Solar de las Animas. Check for COVID-19 hours and restrictions before booking.

Casa Sauza

Founded in 1873, Casa Sauza offers four levels of tours including a visit to the La Perseverancia distillery, a visit to the Quinta Sauza estate, and for those willing to spend more, barrel tastings and a barbeque or a three-course meal. Casa Sauza is on hiatus until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but should go on the distillery tour bucket list.

La Cofradia

The only tequila distillery with a hotel inside, La Cofradia offers many experiences in addition to distillery tours. Choose a hike through natural trails, biking, or horseback riding through the agave fields. Rooms made of giant tequila barrels sit among the agave plants for a unique stay. Visiting La Cofradia is sure to be a tour that thrills tequila lovers. Contact the hotel directly for information about lockdown closures.

A distillery tour offers education about tequila's history and manufacture. Bone up on your tequila terms and tips for choosing quality tequila before you go, so you'll understand what you're tasting.

We don't know how to feel about winter this year. Sure, nobody likes the cold and dreary months, but there's something special about the Holiday season that just seems to be missing. Maybe the thought of staying inside and cozying up to a nice book isn't very enticing given the last few months. The joyful winter wonderland that we usually associate with winter seems to be missing.

That's why our editors decided to take it upon themselves and spread some delight with seasonal meals, courtesy of HelloFresh. For those who don't know what HelloFresh is, it's a meal-kit delivery service with dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes to choose from. Simply select which meals you want as well as how many servings and a neatly organized cardboard box will arrive at your doorstep within the week. Nobody wants to go out in the Winter anyway, and with HelloFresh, you don't have to!

To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

A hearty and warm soup is a Winter staple and this veggie loaded kale and risoni soup from HelloFresh absolutely hits it out of the park. All anybody wants during the colder months is to feel cozy and nurtured--just like the flavorful bowl of nutrients. Warm and creamy risoni compliments the seasonal veggies perfectly and the side of garlic bread is a sure-fire cure for any winter blues. With 22 meals to pick from each week, this one is sure to be a household favorite.

Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

Everyone is familiar with classic green pesto, but have you ever tried red pesto? Red pesto offers way more complexity and oomph than its green counterpart. It is incredibly bright with rich notes of umami, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil and garlic. This rendition also features hits of chargrilled capsicum for a little extra zest. You get the exact amount of each ingredient and seasoning, as well as super detailed recipe cards, that make meal prep a breeze. Spread it over a glistening chicken bread and sprinkle with cheese for delectable chicken melts.

Winter Risotto

Risotto is a great winter warmer. It's packed full of veggies so your body will light up like fire, but it's also silky, sumptuous and a real crowd pleaser. HelloFresh's Winter Risotto features a heart helping of kale that pairs perfectly with nutty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts for a robust taste. Did we mention that it also comes with fennel seeds sprinkled throughout? This unique seasoning adds a distinctive, yet delicious flavor to this classic winter staple. We know these meals are pretty hardy, which is why we love having the option to pause our subscription or cancel a week when need be.

Cheat's Italian Pork & Veggie Bolognese

A bolognese that only takes 30 minutes to make? Sign us up! This one is chock full of all the rich flavors of a classic Italian sauce. In fact, we're getting some serious Italian grandmother vibes with this recipe. Silky baby Spanish and grated carrots melt into a hearty meat sauce, offering a mouth-watering meal for anyone looking for a little zest. It's delivery quality, but much more affordable, plus you get to cook it yourself!

Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

Yet another clever twist on a weekday favorite! The paprika and garlic flavored cured sausage is a staple in our chopping baskets since it goes well with practically anything. Not only is Chorizo loved for its taste, but also for its ability to infuse sauces with its tantalizing flavor. This time around, HelloFresh has decided to spice up a classic bowl of bean chili with Spanish styling of a smokey mild chorizo. The end result? A mix of chorizo, red kidney beans, corn and avocado, and an irresistible flavor that everyone will love. This is just one of dozens of unique HelloFresh recipes you won't find anywhere else!

Gone are the days of trekking through the frigid cold just for a few groceries. Sign-up for HelloFresh today and get your ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. Time to start cozying up the right way, with a delicious meal and a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Update: Our friends at HelloFresh are extending a special Black Friday offer to our readers. Follow this link to get $90 off across 4 boxes including free shipping!

Travel Tips

8 of the Best Donut Spots In the United States

Celebrate National Donut Day with our favorite treats across the country.

November 5th marks one of 2020's two National Donut Days.

Occurring in both June and November, National Donut Day allows fans of those delectable yeasty treats to embrace their sweet tooth. But like any niche food group, people often take their donuts very, very seriously, and there are countless places to get your fix.

Below, we've rounded up some of the best donut spots across the country. From coast to coast, these bakeries are sure to impress even the pickiest donut-heads.

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop – Modesto, CA

Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop

If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's worth taking a short trek out east towards Modesto for some of California's best donuts. Mr. T.'s Delicate Donut Shop has remained family owned since its opening over 30 years ago, providing both tried-and-true classic donuts as well as experimental flavors and holiday specials. Even their 24-hour service doesn't diminish the line that trails out the door most mornings.

Dough — New York, NY

Dough \u2014 New York, NY

Donuts might not be the first circular, doughy treat you think of when it comes to New York City. If you've had your fair share of bagels, the Big Apple also boasts some spectacular donuts at Dough, a go-to spot for both tourists and locals alike. Here, you'll find a host of Latin American-inspired flavors that are hard to come by anywhere else; their Dulce de Leche flavor is a customer favorite, while the tangy Hibiscus donut is just as good for Instagramming as it is for eating.

Blackbird Doughnuts — Boston, MA

Blackbird Doughnuts \u2014 Boston, MA

Boston's Blackbird Doughnuts is a no-frills donut spot specializing in both brioche "raised" donuts and old-fashioned cake donuts. With a small menu of year-round donuts and a rotating cast of seasonal flavors, Blackbird keeps it simple and classic. Why mess around?

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop — Brooklyn, NY

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop \u2014 Brooklyn, NY

For over 60 years, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop has been calling the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint home. Since then, the bakery has remained a popular spot for both regulars and new visitors passing through the area. Here, you won't find uber-trendy decor or gimmicky recipes, just damn good donuts that prove the power of long-standing local businesses.

Pip’s Original — Portland, OR

Pip\u2019s Original \u2014 Portland, OR

In both their mobile catering van and brick-and-mortar locations, Pip's Original is a staple for small, sweet treats in Portland. They're known for their tiny donuts that come in inventive seasonal flavors like marionberry-lavender and mango ghost pepper. But even if you opt for one of the more traditional flavors, Pip's Original proves good things can come in small packages.

Round Rock Donuts — Round Rock, TX

Round Rock Donuts \u2014 Round Rock, TX

Founded in 1926, Round Rock Donuts—located just north of Austin—are impossible to miss. These donuts' distinct yellow-orange color, caused by fresh eggs in the original recipe, make them stand out among the crowd. While this classic outpost can easily churn out hundreds of dozens of donuts a day, they also offer Texas-Sized Donuts, which are just as ginormous as you'd imagine. Round Rock Donuts are not only delicious and easily recognizable, but they're a slice of Lone Star history.

The Holy Donut — Portland, ME

The Holy Donut \u2014 Portland, ME

In Maine's Portland, you might not find tiny donuts or a decked-out catering van, but you will find a slightly healthier alternative. The Holy Donut was founded on the premise of creating tasty donuts that used all-natural ingredients to make a treat you could feel good about eating. The secret ingredient is fresh, mashed Maine potatoes, which make these donuts delectably moist without sacrificing flavor.

Donut Friend — Los Angeles, CA

Donut Friend \u2014 Los Angeles, CA

As expected of a city so focused on entertainment, Los Angeles' Donut Friend puts an edgy spin on their inventive donut flavors. Their year-round menu features donut flavors with names like Green Teagan and Sara, Fudgegazi, and Bacon-182 that are sure to delight the rock music nerds. For everyone else, the delicious donuts speak for themselves.