Queer Girl City Guide: Cincinnati, Ohio

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Cincinnati – once known as “the Queen of the West” or “Porkopolis” (we have a thing about pigs), this old German city on the beautiful (read: dirty) Ohio River is slowly emerging as a pretty hip place to live. We’re pretty down-to-earth here – heck, the city itself is named after Cincinnatus, a Greek guy who could have been a dictator but preferred to be a farmer – but don’t let the Midwestern sensibilities fool you into thinking Cincy is boring. It’s actually a lot more diverse than many other Midwestern cities, and has quite rich history, architecture, and art scenes.

Fountain Square

Fountain Square

ClaireI have lived in Cincinnati my entire life (minus a few months in Berlin) and it’s been a wonderful place to call home, both growing up and as a young adult. It’s an incredibly livable city: decent cost of living, many beautiful neighborhoods, just the right size for knowing your way around but still finding more to explore. Most people are incredibly friendly and will strike up a conversation in the grocery store or on the street, whether they know you or not – this is the thing I miss most when I go other places. Well, that and the chili.


CarolineAs a Cincinnati transplant after living in sunny south Florida for 22 years, I immediately assumed life in the Midwest would be a drag with its general lack of ocean access and that thing called winter. But after moving to the Queen City for graduate school, I knew pretty immediately that I had fallen in love. Cincinnati has a lot of your standard Midwestern city things: good beer, fall, and old beautiful houses, but it also has many unique things. So many that Claire and I had a really tough time narrowing this guide down to what we think are Cincinnati’s greatest hits. After moving here without knowing anyone, I am constantly amazed at what a wonderfully diverse queer community I’ve discovered and found a place in.

As for that queer community in Cincinnati – it’s there, and growing, but somewhat decentralized. Like many Midwestern cities, there’s a definite lack of queer visibility and specifically queer establishments, so it can be tough when you initially move here, or if you’re growing up queer here (especially if you live in the ‘burbs). That said, the city isn’t very outwardly hostile, and once you find a pocket of queer friends to start connecting you to others (one thing this guide will hopefully help you do!), we think the ‘Nati can be downright grand.

City Skyline_02

Because we certainly don’t know all that the city has to offer, we sent out a survey to other Cincinnati queers and got a lot of great responses. We’ll mention the survey a couple times when we talk about things that many of our friends brought up.

The Most Necessary Nati Neighborhoods

Cincinnati is quite a maze of neighborhoods, owing to the fact that it was originally built next to the Ohio River and then later expanded up into the hills surrounding it. Below we’ve listed just a few neighborhoods you’ll want to be familiar with, though there are tons more to explore.

Cincinnati neighborhoods map_02

It’s also good to be aware of the sociological divide between “The West Side” (stereotypically blue-collar, sports-loving, German-Irish and Catholic) and “The East Side” (stereotypically white-collar, wealthy, with a sushi place on every corner), which is divided by Interstate 75. People who have lived their entire life on one side are mostly unaware of anything happening on the other side, or even how to get there. This guide focuses on the East Side because it includes downtown, the main arts scenes, many queer-friendly businesses, both major universities, and also because both authors are more familiar with the East Side. West Siders — hit up the comments below to help us fill in the gaps!

Downtown & Over-The-Rhine
Downtown includes the always-busy Fountain Square, a host of stores and restaurants, and the whole riverfront area, with the new “The Banks” developments between the stadiums and recently beautified parks. Over-the-Rhine (or OTR) is the part of downtown north of Central Parkway, and includes Music Hall, the beautifully redesigned Washington Park, and a new bunch of trendy shops, restaurants, and bars on Vine and Main streets.

Hip, progressive, and diverse in every way, Northside is Cincinnati’s unofficial gayborhood because of its welcoming attitude towards LGBTQ people. It is especially known for its excellent independently-owned stores and restaurants, and is a popular place both to live and play among Cincinnati’s “alternative” crowd.

An area that actually includes several neighborhoods (Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Corryville, Avondale), Clifton is home to the University of Cincinnati, the historic Ludlow Gaslight District, Burnet Woods Park, and large swathes of residential areas —some wealthier than others. Clifton is urban through and through, with a different feel and a different in each different neighborhood.

Hyde Park & Mt. Lookout
Full of gorgeous historic homes, green areas, and with patches of eclectic shopping and dining opportunities, both of these neighborhoods are definitely home to wealth. Hyde Park is also a popular area for young professionals who move to Cincinnati for work.

Oakley, Pleasant Ridge, Madisonville, Kennedy Heights
Here are more middle-class neighborhoods on the East Side, each with their own personality and historic flavor; these are generally noteworthy as good residential areas. Claire: I could go on for days about particular Cincinnati neighborhoods, so if any Autostraddlers are looking to move here and looking for something specific, feel free to message me!

For the Ladies who Love to Learn

In Cincinnati there are two large universities: Xavier University (Catholic, Jesuit) in Norwood/Evanston and the University of Cincinnati (public) in Clifton. Other universities include the small Catholic Mount Saint Joseph on the West Side, and the two-year Cincinnati State Community & Technical College in West Clifton.


UC: Bearcat Nation

Both of your humble authors can attest that UC is an incredible school with a lot of momentum behind it right now. One of the most beautiful campuses in the nation architecturally, UC is headed by charismatic, get-shit-done president Santa Ono (he has 20,000+ twitter followers and is friends with me on Facebook). UC has been rated one of the best-quality universities in the country for its price, has a quite diverse population, and has oodles of excellent programs to pick from.

Most importantly for you college-bound queers and graduate-student queers, UC has a strong LGBTQ community and many allies among administrators and staff. Student groups include UC Alliance (a social group open to anyone of any orientation), Colors of Pride (fostering multicultural connections and providing a space especially for people of color), and GenderBloc (a radical queer group especially concerned with education and support regarding gender issues, including genderqueer and transgender activism). UC also has its own LGBTQ Center in 565 Steger Student Life Center, which works closely with the UC Women’s Center (571 Steger) to provide students with all kinds of support, information, and advocacy within the university setting. Whenever I have dropped by these two Steger offices, the staff and students there have been super friendly and helpful and made me feel right at home.


XU: To See Great Wonders

While the Musketeers may be the Bearcats’ crosstown rivals, we’ll still admit Xavier is an excellent school and has a ton to offer. Xavier has recently nearly doubled the size of its campus and added a ton of gorgeous new buildings, and many of its programs are ranked highly in the nation.

Xavier is a Catholic university, but is nonetheless headed in positive directions on LGBTQ issues and community — it was the first Jesuit university to offer a welcoming statement to the LGBT community without a state mandate, back in 2000. The Xavier Alliance student group is a social group, but also has been consistently putting on large successful events to raise awareness and educate the community about LGBTQ issues, including bringing in high-profile speakers such as Judy Shepard, Esera Tuaolo, and Kate Bornstein.

Mt. St. Joe

“The Mount” is a tiny Catholic university on the West Side. It doesn’t have a large queer community or very public addressing of LGBTQ issues, but our gay friends there tell us they feel accepted and supported nonetheless. There is an LGBTQ group called PALS (under the office of Mission and Ministry) which seeks to bring awareness to the MSJ community, attends different events, and is looking to expand in coming years.

The Quest for Queers

When we first wrote a draft of this guide almost two years ago, we began this section by talking about Guerilla Queer Bar, a monthly event that happens in many cities. GQB allowed us both to meet some of our first queer friends here. Unfortunately, that Facebook group has grown somewhat inactive and become more of a bulletin board for queer items. However, there are a number of other ways to meet queer humans in Cincinnati. And the most significant social group for you young queer humans, that we know of, is one near and dear to our turquoise-with-pink-accent-bleeding hearts.


Cincy Straddlers

We hosted a meetup for Autostraddle readers in February of 2014. Others had tried before (hi Laura Wooley!) but something made the meetup group take off this time. Today our Facebook group has 200+ humans who all really want to be your friend and hang out. We have events quite regularly – multiple things each month and occasionally multiple things a week. There’s always a variety of stuff happening, and if you’re shy, someone will undoubtedly be happy to meet up with you one-on-one first so you can have a friend when you come to a meetup.



Pride in Cincinnati may be less outrageous and wild than Pride celebrations in bigger and more liberal cities, but still it’s exciting and fun, and there are many families and groups of all ages who come to wave the rainbow flag. There are usually events happening all week throughout the city, culminating in the parade through downtown which leads to the festival at Sawyer Point (a big riverside park). The number of political candidates who march in the parade, as well as the 2011 election of Chris Seelbach, our first openly LGBTQ City Councilmember, are hallmarks of growing acknowledgement of LGBTQ issues in local politics.


The Cincy Straddlers themselves marched in the Pride parade this year, and it’s an understatement to say that we had a ton of fun. It felt great to be seen, to publicly shout our love for Autostraddle and each other, and to just waltz among rainbows and crowds of happy people. Southwest Ohio can feel like a pretty conservative place, depending on which circles you run in, so just seeing the amount of support swelling around you at Pride is so powerful.

Besides the official Pride celebrations in the spring, the large amusement park Kings Island (just north of Cincinnati) holds a popular “Pride Night” each fall with a portion of the ticket sales going to benefit the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Cincinnati, and many bars and clubs host other events in conjunction that weekend.

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Cincinnati has a very active chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN Greater Cincinnati, [email protected]), which works to promote safe environments in area K-12 schools, particularly for LGBTQ* youth. GLSEN hosts various events throughout the year including a Safe Space Soirée and Youth Prom every spring. Claire: I volunteer with GLSEN and it’s an incredible organization and group of individuals to work with. I highly encourage you to get involved – there’s all kinds of opportunities for volunteers: working directly with youth, being a point person or trainer for schools and organizations so they can access GLSEN’s resources, policy work and advocacy, etc.


The Cincinnati chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays hosts several events and speakers each year, in addition to holding its regular meetings for socializing and safe-space, confidential discussions. PFLAG also awards several scholarships to Cincinnati college students each year.

Trans groups

Here are some of the resources available to trans people in Cincinnati. Many folks involved with these groups are Straddlers, so if you’re looking for more information on any of them, you can reach out to us!

  • The Heartland Trans Wellness Group: Health, social wellness, support, and advocacy organization that provides community programming and professional consultation.
  • The Cincinnati Trans Community Group: Community group for trans people and their partners, family, and friends. Includes private online Facebook discussion groups in addition to in-person events.
  • The Transgender Wellness Program at Central Clinic: this program offers mental health and support services to Ohio residents enrolled in Medicaid. They’re accepting of all identities, intersectionalities, and have a comprehensive treatment philosophy focused on autonomy, body positivity, and education.
  • Crossport: A support group for transsexual and crossdresser folks.

Rivercity Softball

Also affectionately known as “Gay Softball,” this well-established league for adults has been providing fun for LGBT people and their allies for over 20 years. They have competitive, intermediate and recreational divisions for folks of all different sporting-intensities. Although I don’t know anyone personally who’s played, I’ve heard the name of this group in a number of different contexts and it seems a great way to socialize and meet other queer folks.

Internet networking

This is simply something that we must mention in this guide, since it is how Caroline and Claire first became friends and how many of the Cincy lesbians and queers who took our survey told us they first found LGBTQ friends here. OkCupid and Facebook (especially through groups and events) are some of the best ways to get a foot in the door when it comes to making queer friends — and don’t give up even if you strikeout the first few times. The queer community here is working on better ways to be visible and to find each other, but in the meantime, person-to-person and online networking is the norm. (And either of the authors will be ecstatic to help other Autostraddlers if you’re still feeling lost after reading this guide, just send us a message.)

For every other queer resource in Cincinnati you could possibly want besides this Queer Girl City Guide, check out this awesome listing from the Gay Chamber of Commerce.

Next: Where Can A Gal Get Her Groove On?, Essential Eating Establishments in the 513 and Caffeinated Queers 

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.

Amol India_01

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, 

Hip Hair & Tight Tattoos 


Beelistic Tattoo & Piercing (2510 West Clifton Ave. and other locations)
Trusted by college students and the broader community, the Beelistic artists create a safe and fun and atmosphere, and they can do just about anything you like in the world of tattoos and piercings. In a three-story house right next to the UC campus, you’ll find the tattoo parlor on the first floor, decked out in popular patterns. Head to the back to take the stairs up for all your piercing needs. Claire: I had the top of my ear cartilage pierced there a few years back, and the whole experience was very personalized and friendly.

Babylon (226 W. McMillan St)
Babylon Salon, located in Clifton Heights, is definitely on the list of good places a girl can get an alternative lifestyle haircut. From personal experience I highly recommend Toshia, who cuts the hair of at least 15 queers I know in town. As a curly-haired girl with complicated hair history, it always feels like winning the lotto when I find someone who can cut curly hair well.

Chop Shop (1609 Hoffner St)
Many people in our survey and other personal friends swear by Chop Shop for their awesome alternative lifestyle haircuts. Voted “Best of the City” two years in a row, Chop Shop is the place to go if you’re anywhere near the Northside area. Stylist Jen Knarr believes “that your hair should be a reflection of who you are. Your hair is the accessory you carry everyday, it should make a statement.” Claire: The first time I went there and was telling my man Charles what style I wanted, he asked me if he could “butch it up”…. no compulsory cishet norms here! Seriously, Charles is the best, hit him up.

Culture and Arts for the Queer at Heart

At the theater

Queen City Queer Theatre Collective
A group of young actors and directors have come together in this budding theater company, which is dedicated to performing shows that speak to the queer experience. Coordinating with Below Zero and sponsor Absolut Vodka, the Collective hosts free play readings about once a month on the top floor of BZ (usually home to the Cabaret). For young actors, this is a great opportunity to take on more work and hone their craft, but it’s also a huge thing for the Cincinnati queer community to have access to – many of us have never seen our stories on stage before. Claire: I’ve attended five or six of these readings and each one has been incredible – the skill and passion of these actors, the intimate and relaxed setting where you can be absorbed in the story, and the intensity of emotion I’ve felt, just seeing queerness reflected in the narratives around me. If you have no other theater experiences in Cincinnati, I recommend the Queen City Queer Theatre Collective.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (962 Mt Adams Cir)
Claire: The Playhouse was the first place I ever saw professional theater, and each new show I see there continues to impress me. The building, on top of a hill in Eden Park (not far from the Art Museum), contains two performances spaces and has a comfortable, modern feel to it. A slew of shows with varying subjects are offered each year, always including at least one world premiere. With acting and production values consistently a cut above a typical local theater, the Playhouse still has decent prices and offers student matinee performances as well. Around the holidays, the perennial favorite is the always-lively production of “A Christmas Carol.”


Aronoff Center For the Arts (650 Walnut St.)
The Aronoff, just around the corner from Fountain Square downtown, is a gorgeous building that plays host to Broadway shows, the biggest of the Cincinnati Ballet’s productions, and a number of other performances in its three theater spaces. Tickets tend to be expensive, but worth it for what you see. Comfortable seating, good acoustics, and decent sightlines even from the highest and farthest seats make it a great “big city theater” experience.

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Cincinnati Music Hall (1241 Elm St.)
Music Hall faces Washington Park in Over-The-Rhine and is the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and the Cincinnati Opera — all with a long history of impressive professional performances. The building itself has a grand facade and a beautiful ornate inside complete with enormous chandelier. Attending a show there will make you feel super classy and cultured (the opera has student rush tickets), but one word to the wise: if you were thinking about wearing a shorter skirt, don’t do it, just because the seat fabric is the most irritating surface I’ve ever endured for a three hour opera.

College Conservatory of Music (Corry St and Jefferson Ave)
A college within the University of Cincinnati, the College Conservatory of Music (CCM) provides year round performances in the performing arts and electronic media for the Cincinnati area. Nationally and internationally recognized, CCM is known for being starting point for many future opera and musical theater stars. With extremely high production values, seeing almost any performance at CCM is definitely worthwhile.

Know Theatre (1120 Jackson Street)
Home to the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, the Know Theatre of Cincinnati brings cutting edge, social-norm-challenging alternative theater to their home performance venue located in the OTR area. I saw an incredible stage adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” there and highly recommend the Know.

Ensemble Theatre (1127 Vine Street)
The Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) is another theater located in the heart of the OTR area of Cincinnati. A professional theater company with a focus on presenting primarily new works which tackle “compelling social issues,” ETC is definitely a spot I would recommend checking out for a night of theatre that really leaves you thinking.


Covedale Center for the Performing Arts (4990 Glenway Ave.)
The Covedale is a charming place in the heart of the West Side with several shows and musicals a year, generally of excellent quality (and in a large, nice facility) for a community theater. In addition to typical adult-casted shows, it is home to the Cincinnati Young People’s Theater (CYPT), which draws high-school age actors from all over the city. For aspiring thespians out there, keep in mind that the Covedale is one theater that pays its amateur actors!

Warsaw Federal Incline Theater
Run by the same folks who run the Covedale, this brand new facility is promising some awesome shows and musicals, as well, though we haven’t had a chance to check it out yet!

Falcon Theater (636 Monmouth St., Newport, KY 41071)
The Falcon Theater is a small community theater just across the river in Newport that’s been putting on shows since 1989. With a bit of a black-box feel to it, it nevertheless delivers great acting and doesn’t feel too cramped.

OutReels Cincinnati Film Festival
Though it is only an annual event, we would be much amiss to mention all these cultural  opportunities and not mention Cincinnati’s own LGBT film festival. Over the course of three days, this entirely volunteer-run event showcases over 20 short feature films from around the world. Look for it in November – location to be announced!

Museum Madness

Cincinnati Art Museum (953 Eden Park Dr)
Art is rad, and so are art museums. Located in Eden Park, the Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the oldest art museums in the country. The Art Museum is definitely another awesome date spot, because the Art Museum has free admission year round, and is full of conversation starters! Wouldn’t you love to talk to your lady about the deeper meanings of ancient sculptures? From mummies to European church paintings to Pop Art, it’s got it all.

 Cincy Straddlers sometimes visit the CAC and comfort the poor Shark Girl.

Cincy Straddlers sometimes visit the CAC and comfort the poor Shark Girl.

Contemporary Arts Center (44 E. 6th St.)
Whether or not you know the first thing about contemporary art, the CAC is an amazing place to visit. The mission of the Center is to connect art to your life and “provide a place for reflection and dialogue,” and that’s just what it does. It’s a non-collecting museum, which means that while there are a few permanent exhibits (including the top-floor UnMuseum, which is great for kids), the rest of the space in the beautiful modern building is dedicated to presenting contemporary art from around the world. Some of my favorite art exhibits ever have been presented there, including the work of Shepard Fairey (that’s the OBEY guy) and an exhibit exploring the art of the music video.

Cincy Museum Center_01

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (1301 Western Ave.)
One of Cincinnati’s most beautiful buildings, the enormous 1930s art deco Union Terminal train station (its design inspired the look of DC Comics’ Hall of Justice!) was converted to the Museum Center in the 1990s. Now it houses the Museum of Natural History and Science, the Cincinnati History Museum, and the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, as well as an OMNIMAX theater, rotating special exhibits, the Cincinnati Historical Society Library, and an Amtrak station (trains to DC and Chicago stop here in the middle of the night). Claire: As an employee of the CMC for four years, I could write whole paragraphs about any one of these attractions, but it’d be just as easy for you to come check it out for yourself. I encourage everybody to come visit – there’s much more than can be explored in a single day.

Freedom Center_01

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (50 E Freedom Way)
An internationally recognized and excellently collated museum, this isn’t just a historic look at slavery in the American South and the heroes of the Underground Railroad, but also includes informative exhibits about modern slavery and how freedom fighters all over the world are combatting it. Check the website to find out about a number of thought-provoking events and lectures throughout the year, many of them free. On the fourth floor, you can also find the John Parker Library, a genealogy center where volunteers will help you trace your family history for free.

Taft Museum of Art (316 Pike St.)
In an early-1800s house that has been named a National Historic landmark, the world-renowned Taft Museum of Art was begun after the Taft family (yes, that Taft family… relatives to William Howard Taft) bequeathed their home and 690 works of art to the people of Cincinnati in 1927. In addition to the original Taft collections, which include European old master painting and 19th-century American paintings, there are usually two themed changing exhibits to check out.

Next: Sports Galore and Books, Animals and Other Things Ladies Love

Sports Galore


Baseball: the Cincinnati Reds
The nation’s first professional baseball team, the Reds have been doing well for the past few years. They play in Great American Ballpark, down near the river, and the fireworks after every game can be heard around downtown. Going to at least one Reds game a year is a must — even if you don’t like the sport, just people-watching is entertainment enough.

Football: the Cincinnati Bengals
Welcome to the jungle! The Bengals, our orange and black heroes under the guidance of coach Marvin Lewis, have remained competitive the last few seasons as well, and even beat our arch-enemies the Pittsburgh Steelers a few times. Bengals’ tickets are expensive, but if you’re a football fan it isn’t hard to find a sports bar or chips-and-dip-equipped house party on game day.

Hockey: the Cincinnati Cyclones
Around since 1990, this successful team plays at the Cincinnati Gardens.

Some of the Cincinnati Rollergirls at Cincinnati Pride 2015.

Some of the Cincinnati Rollergirls at Cincinnati Pride 2015.

Roller derby: the Cincinnati Rollergirls
Also playing at the Cincinnati Gardens, the Rollergirls are owned and operated by the players, and are members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. They have several teams, but “the Black Sheep” are rated most highly in Cincy and are consistently in the top 10 of WFTDA’s North Central Region. This sport has a high energy crowd and is very exciting to watch. Claire: I love the atmosphere more than basically any other sports atmosphere, because there are tons of families with kids who don’t even blink at the crazy derby names or the tons of queers both on the rink and amongst the crowd. It’s pure fun – but be careful not to miss it — they only have 5 home matches each season

Besides professional and semi-professional sports, there are oodles of community leagues to join (see: Rivercity Softball above, under “The Quest For Queers”), and plenty of exciting events a year (including the Flying Pig Marathon, which goes through downtown, and the Cincinnati Masters Tournament, which brings worldwide tennis stars right before your eyes).

Books, Animals and Other Things that Ladies Love

Public Library - Pleasant Ridge Branch

Public Library – Pleasant Ridge Branch

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (multiple locations, Main Library: 800 Vine St.)
Cincinnati’s public library system is one of the best in the nation serving such a large population. Claire: I absolutely love the library and use it all the time — once you get a library card, you can order tons of books, music, dvds, etc., on the online catalog and pick your items up after a few days at your location of choice. The library website also has plenty of downloadable ebooks, audiobooks, and music, in addition to research databases very helpful for academic work. Each library location has free internet access on their computers, free Wifi, helpful staff, and a host of free programs any given week. The downtown Main Library has many quiet places to read near a window, and huge collections to browse — whether you’re interested in gender studies, queering the theater, your genealogy, or basically any other subject categorized on the Dewey decimal system. The Main Library also has an incredible Maker Space, where you can use vinyl printers, button makers, 3D printers and more for free or very cheap.

Ohio Lesbian Archives (3416 Clifton Avenue)
By Appointment: OLArchives [at] gmail [dot] com
Primarily a reference library and research archive, the Ohio Lesbian Archives holds hundreds of unique items by and about lesbians: books, cds, dvds, magazines and photographs. The organizers of OLA welcome all visitors wanting to learn some herstory and hope they leave with a kick-ass sense of empowerment. The OLA is currently working on an online catalog so folks can see what they have, and they love volunteers and student interns. You can follow their blog and Facebook page to keep up to date on them.

Cincinnati Zoo (3400 Vine St.)
One of the oldest zoos in the country, the Cincinnati Zoo is consistently ranked one of the best in the country, because of its size and its outstanding efforts for conservation and education. It has a huge collection of endangered species — both plants and animals — and many successful breeding programs. A day at the zoo is a ball of fun — there’s lots of ground to cover, and all of it interesting; my favorites are Manatee Springs and the new Giraffe Ridge. Don’t forget the sunblock. Around the winter holidays, parts of the Zoo are decked out in the Festival of Lights, a must-see evening wonder and a great family-time or date opportunity.


Shake It Records (4156 Hamilton Ave, #1)
Opened in 1978, record label and store Shake It Records is another awesome local spot in the Northside Neighborhood. With walls covered from floor to ceiling with band t-shirts and posters, Shake It sells new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs and books. Fun fact: In 2010, Tegan and Sara played an intimate acoustic show at Shake It. Caroline: I’m glad I missed it, or I may have died from extreme fangirling.


The Esquire (320 Ludlow Ave)
A small six-theater art house/independent movie theater, the Esquire is the only movie theatre in the immediate Clifton Area. I don’t think you can be more queer-friendly than an independent movie theatre. The Esquire also hosts midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show every other Saturday night, accompanied by the enthusiastic young cast of “the Denton Affair.”

Rock Paper Scissors_01

Rock, Paper, Scissors (1301 Main St.)
The endeavor of some recent UC grads, Rock Paper Scissors is a sustainable art supply and local music retail store located on Main Street among the hip other happenings in OTR. With locally-crafted art supplies, swag and merch from local Cincinnati bands, and hosting “a diverse menu of creative in-store workshops,” Rock Paper Scissors is a great place to grab a souvenir or dive into the local art community.

Have you made it this far, dear reader? If you’re a visitor or transplant to Cincinnati, or a queermo who’s from here and trying to branch out, hopefully you found this guide helpful. If there are things we left out, tell us in the comments! And if you’re far away and never thought of it before…come on out and try the Nati. We’ll show you a good ol’ queer Midwestern time.

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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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