Over the past five years, Cincinnati has developed into a riverfront hub of breweries, museums, art venues and entertainment. On any given night, groups gather at Falcon Square, the new hot spot for music, food and drinks. The citywide renaissance also encompasses the Over the Rhine district, one of the most intact historic precincts in the country. Today, the community is known for its creative cocktail culture and trendy group venues.
We recently traveled to Cincinnati to check out the Western & Southern Open at the Linder Family Tennis Center, Cincinnati’s group venues, hotels and entertainment along the Ohio River.
The 156-room 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati consistently lures creative groups to the Queen City. The art gallery boutique is set inside the former Metropole Hotel, which graced the Backstage District more than 100 years ago. 21c opened in November 2012 following a $58 million renovation. The hotel is just across the street from the Aronoff Center and features modern, pop-style art from around the world in all guest rooms and public spaces.
The outdoor tapestry of fiber optic threads and woven LEDs light up the building. Inside, a solarium of glass and brick lining the building’s 7-floor exterior climbs the historic staircase. 21c features hundreds of art pieces that change over a 6-month rotation, but the building’s iconic yellow penguins are a permanent eye-catching fixture.
“The hotel provides a creative atmosphere for groups,” says General Manager Gerry Link. “Being completely immersed and surrounded by art really inspires those who meet here. The outcome is beyond what the attendees expect because it gets them thinking in a new, creative way.”
Topping the list of creative spaces is the 90-seat Cocktail Terrace, the only rooftop lounge in the city. A private elevator spills guests out into the lounge and its plush couches, bar stools and hot tub that overlooks downtown Cincy. The bar seems out of character for the Midwestern neighborhood, as evident in the combat-style boots, trendy black attire and artful eyeliner worn by some of the servers.
The lounge includes creative “poptail” cocktails, using fresh ingredients and innovative recipes. We indulge in a Finlandia vodka and homemade ginkgo energy drink with smoked herbs.
“The cocktail terrace is a social venue for groups to really interact with one another in a one-of-a-kind setting,” says Link. “The rooftop venue puts on a show all by itself.”
The Metropole restaurant gives a modern take on a traditional cooking technique. Using a wood-burning hearth, Executive Chef Michael Paley chars most items coming out of the kitchen. Whether tender prime meats, cocktail garnishes or bushels of romaine lettuce for the smoky caesar salads, you’ll see and taste the wood burns from the flame-filled hearth.
The restaurant includes a private lounge, an expansive bar with views of the open-air kitchen and a 12-person private dining room. Mosaic tile floors from the Turkish bath found onsite, arched windows, historic moldings and ceiling plasterwork are just some of the original features of the building.
For teambuilding, 21c offers private sessions with artists and classes where the group creates a work of art together.
“If a group comes in with an open mind and interacts with the art, they will leave with creativity beyond expectations,” Link says. “Not only will you discover your own personal creativity, but you’ll discover something new about your organization
21c Cincinnati includes 8,000-sf of gallery space that is used for meeting/event groups. Rooms are available for buyout or room blocks. The wide range of spaces includes a ballroom with capacity for 350 guests. All meeting spaces are decorated with original artwork as part of 21c’s rotating art gallery.
The 200-seat outdoor terrace of the Base Camp Café at the Cincinnati Zoo offers gorgeous views of the new Africa exhibit and its predator-filled flat grassland savannah. The zoo accommodates 10,000 attendees while creating customized events for smaller groups such as giraffe feeding sessions or cocktails during an elephant bath. The exhibit and restaurant opened this past summer, showcasing solar electricity and LEED Platinum certification.
For a truly experiential group event, the 6,800 sf of available meeting space at the National Underground Freedom Railroad Center offers exhibits, films, storytelling, role playing and hands-on group activities revolving around the Underground Railroad Era.
Downtown Cincinnati’s Music Hall offers 20,000 sf of unique space and old world charm in its magnificent theater and ballroom, the latter being the second largest meeting space in the city. The venue, home to Cincinnati’s opera, symphony and ballet, has extraordinary acoustics.
The 200,000-sf Duke Energy Convention Center offers a 40,000-sf ballroom, the largest in the Midwest. The DECC welcomes creative groups by combining a versatile meeting/event space with a downtown core that keeps groups engaged. Kroger, Walmart and Macy’s are all headquartered nearby.
“Most people think that they are going to come here and it’s going to lack a bit of social sophistication,” says Karen Totaro, assistant general manager for the DECC. “We have a beautiful city that offers everything that a meeting planner would want.”
Just a short trot from DECC, visit the Underground Freedom Railroad Center and over 90 shops and restaurants.
The 561-room Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza is an Art Deco hotel located in the popular Carew Tower complex with over 40,000 sf of meeting/event space. The Palm Court restaurant is one of the best in Cincinnati.
The 456-room Westin Cincinnati, featuring 29,000 sf of meeting space, overlooks historic Fountain Square Cincinnati. The 491-room Hyatt Regency Cincinnati has 33,300 sf of space positioned next to Ohio River. The hotels are all based along pedestrian-friendly streets.
We started our meal at Boca, a 2-story palace that has a backlit bar with sculpted walls, long hardwood tables and a brick-lined kitchen. Faulk refers to Boca as his tribute to Europe. The chubby porkshanks and tangy brussels sprouts sat atop a charred Caesar salad drizzled with a delicious creamy anchovy dressing. Faulk says dressings are a passion of his and the kitchen staff will spend up to five days making one sauce. There are two private dining rooms onsite, seating up to 16 pax.
In the basement level of the building is Sotto, an open-kitchen casual Italian restaurant specializing in homemade pasta. As you make your way down the wooden staircases, the dark dining room shifts the energy from the vibrant tables of Boca.
During a private meal, we sampled short rib raviolis topped with a bountiful portion of fresh Parmesan. Step down to the underground wine closet and choose a selection of vino for your group. The stone-lined back room seats up to 25 with additional seating for 20 split evenly between two private dining rooms.