Queer Girl City Guide: Cincinnati, Ohio

Where Can a Gal Get Her Groove On?

Below Zero_01

Below Zero Lounge (1120 Walnut Street)
Cincinnati’s favorite “cool hotspot” is located right in the heart of OTR. Caroline: When I first moved to Cincinnati and asked where the gay bars were, almost everyone told me to check out Below Zero. Open seven days a week, and home to the Cabaret, it’s a pretty good spot with great drink specials. Though it might not be the best place to meet the lady love of your life, it’s a great spot if you want to dance the night away to your favorite gay anthems.


The Cabaret (1122 Walnut Street)
If you have an unhealthy obsession with Rupaul’s Drag Race like I do, then the Cabaret will be your favorite spot in town. The Cabaret is the home club for two of the drag race queens: Mystique Summers Madison, and the MC herself, Penny Tration. Located on the second floor of Below Zero, the Cabaret fills up quickly for its late night shows. On Thursday nights The Cabaret hosts a weekly amatuer night for Cincinnati kings and queens offering cash prizes for various categories.


Neon’s Unplugged (208 E 12th St)
Tucked away on 12th Street you’ll find Famous Neon’s Unplugged, or simply Neon’s to anyone who actually goes there. This bar is definitely a local favorite, and has a lot of good things going for it. Its biggest draw is a large dog-friendly patio, which includes a bocce court, grillin’ man making delicious food (on most nights), and giant jenga. Neon’s is also where I like to play the game “hipster, queer girl, or hipster queer girl?” With a pretty awesome beer selection, and specialty-infused cocktails, Neon’s should definitely be on everyone’s list. A plus is that Neon’s (as well as the other bars in OTR) are extremely accessible by multiple Cincinnati Metro bus routes. Beware, however: as OTR has gotten more popular, Neons has gotten to be super busy on nice-weather weekend nights. If crowds are not your fav thing, maybe stop by on a weeknight.


MOTR (1345 Main Street)
MOTR (Pronounced Motor) is one of OTR’s best bars to hear some up-and-coming indie and rock-and-roll bands. The combination of a great atmosphere, good drinks, good food, and rarely a cover at the door make MOTR another great spot in the OTR area. Another awesome aspect of MOTR is their promotion of local artists — each month they feature the work of a single local artist on their walls. MOTR also has an outdoor patio, and a basement party room that is free and reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis. Note that the party room includes awesome things: pinball machines, medieval swords on the walls, and drink specials.


Japps 1879 (1134 Main St)
Owned by the same wonderful people who own Neon’s, I present to you Japps 1879. Located in one of OTR’s many historic buildings, Japps is the bar you go to for the perfect old-timey environment, specializing in cocktails from the 1700’s to the 1950’s. A thing to note for the vegan galz out there — though they usually ask, make sure to tell the bartender if you’re vegan, as many old-timey cocktails contain egg whites. My favorite part about Japps is the Annex. With it’s old school dance hall feel, the Annex is home to Friday and Saturday night dance parties playing hits from the 1940’s to today. By far one of the best places in town to dance the night away.


Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave)
With free live music almost every night of the week, and a good beer selection, Northside Tavern is one of the best spots in the Northside Neighborhood. As mentioned earlier, Northside is the unofficial gayborhood of Cincinnati, making it an extremely LGBT-friendly bar. You can sit at a typical bar table, hang out on the patio, play pool, or dance in the back by the second bar, depending on your mood. The Tavern draws a diverse crowd and plenty of hipsters, and is an extremely LGBT-friendly bar.

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The Blind Lemon (938 Hatch Street)
Tucked away in the Mount Adams area, The Blind Lemon has probably the most delicious Amaretto Sour I’ve ever had in my life. Opened in 1963 the Blind Lemon was named after late Texas Bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson. It’s one of the best bars in town during the fall and winter months with warm alcoholic drinks, a cozy beautiful bonfire, and relaxing live music nightly. Located within walking distance from the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Blind Lemon is a great way to end an evening after seeing a show. (Shall we continue to plan all of your dates for you?)

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Home Base Tavern (2401 Vine St.)
Another one of the only specifically lesbian-owned, LGBTQ-catering businesses around, Home Base is a small bar close to UC’s campus in Clifton. With a pool table, free beer pong, a jukebox and sports tv, it’s got a college-bar vibe to it, but it’s definitely flavored with plenty of gay too.


Rosie’s Tavern (643 Bakewell St., Covington, KY)
Just across the river in Covington (and for those of you wondering…Northern Kentucky is culturally distinct from the rest of the state) is a great little dive bar where my friends and I have hung out a number of times. The clientele is very friendly, tends to include a fair number of queers (Britney Spears has been heard recently on this jukebox), and the pool table is free on Mondays. A great place to hang out for an evening with a beer – but for those of you used to smoke-free bars in Ohio, be prepared to have your clothes smell like smoke afterward.

Essential Eating Establishments of the 513

Skyline Chili (multiple locations)
Skyline Chili is one of those things that perhaps only native residents ever understand about a place. It is not an exaggeration to say that Cincinnatians are obsessed with Skyline. This is the restaurant where we go for dates, family nights, drunken munchies, with the whole team after a game, or any other time at all. For those of you not familiar, Cincinnati chili — whether at the chain Skyline or a local chili parlor — is not chili as you know it. It’s soupier and a bit sweeter, and we eat it either over spaghetti with shredded cheddar (a “3-way”) or on a hot dog in a bun topped with cheese (a “cheese coney”). Skyline is cheap and the service is always fast, but don’t think of it as fast food. Every restaurant is a community watering-hole and the best way to experience Skyline is dining in. Be careful: even outsiders who swear they hate it on the first try have ended up hooked and ordering cans of it long-distance after heading home.


Graeter’s Ice Cream (multiple locations)
Known for their friendly service and killer “irresistible” ice creams, Graeter’s is a great stop after your dinner date. Black raspberry chocolate chip is one of their most popular flavors, and Claire personally suggests the seasonal Peach during the summer months. Graeter’s is also a bakery, and they have a glazed croissant (which they call a Danish) that Caroline has been raving about. They also have sorbets, for when your date is dairy-free. Their ice cream is certainly distinguishable enough that it sells well in grocery stores all over Cincinnati as well.


Findlay Market (1801 Race Street)
Caroline: I have a lot of feelings about Findlay Market, Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. Why do I have these feelings you may ask? Bread and Pumpkins. Having grown up in suburban South Florida, farmers’ markets and fall did not really exist in my life until I moved to Cincinnati. Findlay Market is home to multitude of local vendors and farmers-including Blue Oven Bakery, which makes some hardcore delicious breads, including vegan-friendly and gluten-free options. Even if you’re visiting Cincinnati on a trip, it should definitely be on your list to experience the history!

Tom and Chee (420 Walnut St)
There are several locations of Tom and Chee, a new-ish chain known for their crazy varieties of grilled cheese. You can’t really ever go wrong with grilled cheese, especially because Tom and Chee also offers vegan cheese and gluten-free bread as customizable options. They’re most well known for three simple words. Grilled Cheese Donut (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it).


Incline Public House (2601 W 8th Street)
Though we haven’t mentioned much on the West side of town, the Incline Public House is definitely worth talking about. The restaurant sits atop Price Hill in the original historic location of the Price Hill House Restaurant, which was open from the 1840’s to the 1930’s. While the food, and craft beer selections are incredibly delicious, the thing that makes Incline Public House so awesome is their sweet outdoor patio and and by far the BEST view of the Cincinnati skyline.


Bakersfield (1213 Vine St.)
Caroline: One of my priorities when visiting any city is where is the best margarita in town? The answer to this question for Cincinnati is Bakersfield, a Mexican-influenced country-rock n’ roll bar and restaurant in OTR. Available by the glass, or by the pitcher, Bakersfield’s margaritas are the freshest gifts straight from the tequila goddesses. Bakersfield is also known for their delicious tacos, and I will say they have the best fish tacos in Cincinnati.

Melt Eclectic Cafe (4165 Hamilton Ave.)
Melt truly is an eclectic little sandwich shop. Located in Northside right next to Northside Tavern on Hamilton Avenue, it has a quaint sort of hip feel to it: there’s art for sale on the walls much like an indie coffeeshop, and plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. The wraps and sandwiches sure do melt in your mouth – Claire personally loves the A.T.L.T. (avacado, tempeh, arugula, tomato). They also have soups, salad, spaghetti, chili, homemade dressings and condiments, and plenty of other yummy options.

Mecklenburg Gardens (302 East University Ave.)
It would be a crime against the city if we were to write all about the food of Cincinnati and not mention any German food. If you’re in the mood for beer and all the German food your face can handle, Caroline recommends Mecklenburg Gardens. This historic “Bier Garten” which opened in 1865 is also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Mecklenburg Gardens also has a large tent every year at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, the largest Oktoberfest in the United States.

Betta’s Italian Oven (3764 Montgomery Rd.)
Much closer to authentic Italian food than most Italian restaurants in the States, Betta’s is famous for its delicious brick-oven-baked pizza (my go-to choice), and while the pasta may not be anything out-of-the-ordinary, my friends have often made us go there just for their Filo Chicken. Very close to Xavier’s campus in Norwood, the place is decorated in a pleasant style that makes you want to drink wine and look at frescos. They also recently got a bar area in an adjoining room, and the restaurant draws a good mix of families, college students, and folks out on a romantic date.

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Amol India (354 Ludlow Ave.)
Although there’s a selection of excellent restaurants from just about any kind of cuisine you can think of in Cincinnati, we especially wanted to mention the Indian restaurants, because so many of them stand out. Claire: My favorite is Amol India, on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton (just down the street from Graeters, the Esquire Theater, a Skyline, and Sitwells, all mentioned elsewhere in this guide). I say Amol is my favorite because it’s a quiet place with wonderful service and they make my Chicken Makhani perfectly, but really, it’s tough to pick a favorite. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Anbar and Dusmesh (also on Ludlow), Krishna and Deep India (Clifton next to UC), Akash (downtown), and I’ve heard amazing things about Amma’s (Reading) in particular as well. Even if you’ve never eaten Indian before, now’s the time to try it!

Caffeinated Queers

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Rohs Street Cafe (245 McMillan St.)
Rohs Street is my favorite coffee shop in the city. Covering the ground floor of an old house connected to the University Christian Church just a block from UC’s campus, it feels both roomy and intimate at once. It’s the perfect place for a date, a small group meeting, or just sitting with your laptop to get work done. The drinks are delicious, the décor hip but comfortable, all the coffee is Fair Trade and organically grown, and the staff is very friendly. This not-for-profit business was started with community-building in mind, and it’s certainly worked. Not to mention that Rohs Street is of course a monumental place because it is where Claire and Caroline met for the first time! We also love to host some of our Cincy Straddler events here, and several times a month you’ll find the Queen City Poetry group there, writing or hosting a Slam.


Highland Coffee House (2839 Highland Ave)
Known colloquially as just “Highlands,” this is a hybrid coffee shop/ bar on the other side of UC’s campus from Rohs Street, a few blocks into Corryville (still part of the broader Clifton area). Open since 1978, Highlands has a gorgeous old wooden bar and live plants everywhere, and an atmosphere accurately described by one reviewer as “dark and subdued.” Filled with a mostly young (and queer-friendly) crowd, it’s easy to get comfortable with several couches, board games available to play, a back patio to get some fresh air (or smoke your cigarette), and all kinds of drink options. There’s coffee, tea, mixed drinks, liquor, smoothies, specialty drinks and even sandwiches, although there’s usually just one bartender making it all, so you may have to be patient. Come here for an hour and you may end up staying the whole evening.

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Coffee Emporium (multiple locations)
Coffee Emporium is a bright, lively place to grab a meal and enjoy their delicious home-roasted coffee carefully selected from family-owned farms. Just the smell of the place is enough to make you want to order a pastry and stay awhile. There are several locations – the OTR location (Central Parkway) was particularly mentioned by a number of Cincy LGBTQ folks who took our survey, and in the words of one respondent, it “is crawling with OkCupid queers.” The staff is friendly, the food delicious, and the people a wonderfully diverse mix.


Sitwells (324 Ludlow Avenue)
Named after the British poet Edith Sitwell, Sitwells Coffee House is located in the heart of the Ludlow Gaslight District of Clifton. Caroline: Sitwells makes one of the best cappuccinos I have ever had in my life. With an extensive menu for food, coffee drinks and alcoholic drinks (cold and hot), Sitwells is a great spot to study or hang out with friends. Many friends swear by it as their official first date spot/first OkCupid meetup spot. Sitwells happens to be the location of the Cincy Straddlers’ very first meetup!


Sidewinder Coffee (4181 Hamilton Avenue)
Home to the cutest bunny in the world, Patrick Swayze, Sidewinder in Northside is another personal favorite of Caroline’s. A small coffee shop with a nice outdoor patio area, Sidewinder is the perfect spot for small study groups, catching up with friends, or just getting some delicious coffee. They have your standard delicious coffee beverages but also an unique mix of creative drinks they’ve come up with themselves. Sidewinder also has a liquor license, food menu, and rotating art exhibits, making it another awesome coffee shop/bar.

Next: Hip Hair & Tight Tattoos and Culture and Arts for the Queer at Heart, 

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Nyles Claire

Nyles has written 1 article for us.


  1. Two things: 1. This made me never want to leave Cincinnati 2. The link for the Outreels film festival is broken

  2. I recently bought a copy of “Cincinnati: the Queen City and Its Neighbors,” a guidebook written under a WPA program during the Depression. In the introduction, Cincinnati is described as being “…gay, but conservatively gay, in the manner of old Vienna.”

    It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so hard at an unintentional funny like that. The meaning of the word “gay” has changed somewhat since that intro was written, but it still makes a certain amount of sense as a description of Cincinnati!

  3. Angela with Tess

    I’m reading this article with Laura Wooley’s dog in her room…possibly while sneaking some of her mama’s amazing popcorn. Further proof that not only are the Cincy Straddlers great, but the group has led to some amazing friendships and in this case, the closest thing to family I’ve got!

    Now lets see if I posted this puppy photo correctly…if not, I promise Laura has the cutest dog ever.

  4. way cute! is caroline the dark-haired one? love your curls!

    Never really been through Ohio, but makes me wanna visit!

    • It’s amazing. Actually that pic got switched around so that’s a pic of the Blind Lemon’s patio— but Rosie’s is just as cute :)

  5. I love this so much……I’m moving to Columbus in three months but you basically just sold me on visiting Cincy like every other weekend. And I’m slightly jealous that you all seem to be such amazing friends, but that is so awesome

  6. Northside! I lived in Cincy for grad school, and I miss it. Even after living all over the east and west and south of the U.S., no one has opened doors for me as frequently as in Cincy. I love the friendliness. I remember being parched on a hot day and going into a fast food joint to use the bathroom, and the woman behind the counter gave me a mega cup with ice and told me to get any drink I want on the house <3

  7. I wish I’d found a guide like this when I moved to Cincy/NKY almost 4 years ago. Now I live in the gayborhood. Whee! My fiancee was a Cincinnati Rollergirl for a little while last year (and we were both NKY rollergirls–Black-n-Bluegrass–before that). Pictured L-R are Wheezy, Kitten Kicker, Jas Hubbard, and Sailor Scary.

    Thanks for the shout-outs (shouts-out?) for the library and the archive! So many lesbrarians, ya’ll.

    • Nice article. Just to add to your observations, historically Cincinnati has had quite the progression in welcoming the LGBTQIA community. From a very unfriendly past including restrictive laws and attitudes (Maplethorpe, etc.) To progression (Obergefell) Cincy had come a long way.

      Thanks for mentioning Crossport. We’ve been around since 1983, and most other trans groups in the area trace history back to the group. For a trans group, that’s a pretty long lived organization.

  8. *screams* ahhh I’m so happy there’s a Cincy guide up here! Grew up in the Nasti since 2000 and recently moved to LA for my job and damn do I miss the queen city. I am only regretting that I never knew about the cincy straddlers until now!

    heads up to anyone in the area this weekend, especially if you’re a new transplant (because if you’re not new you’re probably already going): Zinzinnati Oktoberfest is this weekend! If you like beer or lederhosen or dachshunds or accordions or listening to your high school teachers sing in a Bier Band (does this last one only apply to me?), you should definitely go. One of the largest Oktoberfests in the world, y’all!!

    • oh hell yeah! We’re proud of Oktoberfest. :D

      Sidenote, when you inevitably come back to visit, you should jump into one of our meetups! :)

  9. Thanks so much for this guys! And HI right back at you! There are so many places on this list that I didn’t know about and I can’t wait to try them when I visit for Christmas.

    I wanna echo your love for the library because it’s the best library system of any city I’ve ever lived in.

    One thing I’ll add: Jungle Jims! If you’re the kind of person who loves grocery stores as much as restaurants, it’s the best place to go.

    • BEST library ever. My prodigious music collection is mostly just cd’s I’ve burned from there (it’s legal and encouraged!).

      And hell yeah, check out Jungle Jim’s, I’ve never seen a place like it. A field trip in a “grocery” store. My buddy @mchammer09 just spent two hours there yesterday because she got lost in the goodness :)

  10. Love me some Cincy. The vibe in the city is just really relaxed and I can’t even tell you how much a love all the breweries!
    Got some lovely friends there who don’t mind showing my mouthy German butt around every time we are there.

  11. It’s not that Cincinnati is now finally struggling to create LGBT life. It’s actually fading away. Cincinnati had a more visible and organized LGBT live 15 years ago with bars, clubs, a community center, and public events. Except for pride, that’s all gone. LGBT visibility is in retreat in Cincinnati. Anyone have any idea why Cincinnati can’t sustain gay life?

  12. thank you so for this post! I will let you know that some of the hyperlinks are dead. <3

  13. This is more of an general guide to Cincinnati than a “Queer” guide to Cincinnati. Only a couple of these places are queer owned or for queer people. Sure you can be queer and go to any of these places just like you can go anywhere and be queer but you’re not going to see a ton of other queer people there just want random day to befriend. The other guides on here I’ve used have also been more to direct you to places specifically for queer people or queer owned businesses. I wouldn’t use this as a guide for that at all really minus the couple things. Plus this was written in 2015 and is outdated because of some closures.

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