Independence Day getaways: Cincinnati

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From the July 3, 2014 edition

Within 50 years of its founding in the late 1780s, Cincinnati became a roaring boomtown and a sort of microcosm of the promise of a new America. Back then, this beer-brewing, German immigrant-heavy city was spilling over with forward-looking citizens. Ranging from pioneering chemists and industrialists (Procter & Gamble started their company here in 1837) to influential writers and activists (Harriet Beecher Stowe penned her Cincinnati-influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” published in 1852, after living in Cincy for about 20 years) to vanguard sportsmen and capitalists (formed in 1869, the Reds were the first-ever professional sports team in America), this city’s one-time movers and shakers helped shape our modern nation.

No, Cincinnati’s edge isn’t nearly so cutting anymore. But it’s still a scenic-river-and-hills city whose sweeping past continues to seep into its brewing-again present in entertaining ways and places. Here are a few.

Beer here

Craft beers from Rhinegeist Brewery have been popping up in Columbus lately, have you noticed? Focusing on hoppy “West Coast”-style quaffs, the name of this company — and its massive taproom-like, warehouse-y drinking space — is revealing. See, Rhinegeist is German for “ghost of the Rhine,” and this one-year-old sensation in the not-quite-yet-gentrified “Over the Rhine” neighborhood is reoccupying a long-dormant, 1895-minted Cincinnati brewery shut down for Prohibition about a hundred years ago.

Tune up (MOTR)

After a couple steins in Rhinegeist’s historic digs, check out always-happening, nearby MOTR Pub (it stands for Music Over The Rhine). Sort of the Ace of Cups of Cincinnati, hip and quirkily renovated-and-decorated MOTR books lots of edgy national acts, serves burgers plus a popular Sunday brunch, and its basement is stocked with medieval swords and pinball machines. What more could you want?

You’ll be back

Well, how about dumbwaiters, a famous old bathtub out front and publicity last year from Esquire Magazine calling it one of the “Best Bars in America?” That’s what you’ll get with Arnold’s Bar and Grill — a time-warping vintage brick watering hole that opened its doors the same year the Civil War started (in case you slept through history class, that’d be 1861). Arnold’s also offers an eccentric alley-like patio where bands play and full menus for lunch and dinner (the Greek Pasta is a local favorite).

Get on track

Another golden oldie is awesome Zip’s Cafe, which hasn’t changed much since premiering in 1926. It’s dark inside, with old-timey saloon doors, a beery model train chugging overhead and great burgers from ground-in-house-daily beef. Try the amazing Girthburger — an insane hamburger/local mettwurst (zesty sausage) combination.

Haute spots

If you want more serious grub, the upstairs/downstairs combo of glamorous Boca and its more casual, tapas-y brother Sotto, will fill that pricier bill in snazzy French and Italian style. Refilling the abandoned-for-a-decade space of Maisonette — one of the highest-rated restaurants ever in the Midwest (opened in the late ’40s, Maisonette scored the ultimate five stars in the Mobile Travel Guide for an unprecedented 41 consecutive years) — and Maisonette’s less austere sibling (La Normandie), Boca and Sotto are helping to restore some of that delicious old glory back to “The Queen City of the West.”