CINCINNATI (AP) — Kentucky has its bourbon distilleries, St. Louis its Budweiser factory, Napa and Sonoma their wineries, and cities from San Diego to Philadelphia have turned into meccas for beer lovers looking for local craft brews.
Now business owners and history buffs in Cincinnati want Ohio's third-largest city to carve out its own niche in alcohol tourism and transform a bedraggled, crime-prone neighborhood into a thriving brewery district.
A plan approved by the City Council last week identifies a slew of problems in the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, a picturesque but troubled neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati, and how to begin solving them. The goal is to restore some of the former glory of the district's enormous brewing and warehouse buildings, weed out drugs and prostitution, inject new residents and businesses, and create some buzz.
"Most people don't know that Cincinnati was one of the biggest brewing centers in the country," said Steve Hampton, a local architect and executive director of the nonprofit Brewery District Community Urban Development Corp., the group behind the plan. "That's something we've not done a good job of sharing, and we want to remedy that and use it to revitalize the neighborhood."
Over-the-Rhine — or OTR as locals call it — was founded by German immigrants in the 19th century but fell on hard times in the 1970s and '80s. It was the site of the city's race riots in 2001 and once was dubbed the most dangerous neighborhood in America.
In the last decade, OTR has been undergoing intense gentrification amid criticism that the city's poorest are being pushed out, and the southern half of the neighborhood has become the trendiest spot in Cincinnati, with bars, restaurants, and high-end condos taking the place of run-down and often-vacant buildings.
The northern half, where the brewery district is, has been largely untouched by gentrification.
Back in the late 19th century, the district was at its peak, with 18 large breweries in operation, some on a national scale, Hampton said.
One of them, the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., became the fifth-largest brewery in the nation and could have reached the heights of Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors had its founders not decided to close when Prohibition hit in 1920 and lasted 13 years.
All but one of the pre-Prohibition breweries in the district eventually shut their doors and a handful was demolished. From 1957 to 2010, only one beer-maker was in business in Over-the-Rhine, leaving the ornate and massive brick breweries empty and crumbling.
Now, three companies are brewing beer in the district. One of them, Rhinegeist, is brand-new and will open a taproom to the public on June 29 in what used to be part of the Christian Moerlein complex.
"I'd love to turn Cincy into a beer tourism place," said Bryant Goulding, co-founder and co-owner of Rhinegeist, a name that gives homage to the neighborhood and plays off the German word "Zeitgeist," or the spirit of an age.