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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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).


You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker