The Paris of the Midwest (according to a Mighty Duck)

Emilio Estevez is living in Cincinnati… and loving it!

THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Emilio Estevez, 1985, (c) Universal Pictures

In a recent interview in Vanity Fair, here’s what he had to say about my adopted hometown:

That’s mighty high praise from Mr. Mighty Ducks. We’ll take it. We’ll also take the #11 slot in the Travel + Leisure list of The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2021. Here’s what they have to say about Cincy:

The first clues that the Queen City — a Rust Belt capital that was hard hit by the decline of American manufacturing — was poised for a comeback started a few years ago, when tech startups and small businesses moved into disused Over-the-Rhine warehouses, filmmakers flocked in to take advantage of tax breaks and early-20th-century architecture, and historic spaces like the city’s Music Hall got a much-needed polish. Now, the urban revival is official — but sneak in a 2021 visit and you can still claim to be a trendsetter. Check into the Kinley, which opened its doors in downtown Cincy in October with a much-buzzed-about restaurant from chefs Kevin Ashworth and Edward Lee. While you’re in town, dine at restaurant standouts Please and Goose & Elder, explore new outdoor installations at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and pay a visit the lauded Cincinnati Zoo, whose animal dispatches on social media are the only reasonable justification for keeping your Twitter account. —Lila Battis

#1 in the Estevez Index, and #11 for Travel… not too shabby. Better watch your back, real Paris!

Band of Brothers

Yesterday I attended a happy hour with my old (both in age and tenure) buddies from Xavier. These gatherings actually are billed as “Hoppy Hour” because we meet at a different local brewery each month… and the person who picks the pub (we take turns) also picks up the tab.

A decade ago, we couldn’t have pulled off these monthly gatherings. But we’re off Little League duty now. Our kids can fend for themselves, so there’s a bit more free time in the ol’ schedule. Heck, we’ve got a few empty nesters in the gang already… and even a few grandparents!

Attendance has been great. Some of that’s due to our newfound leisure time, but I think part of it also has to do with Father Time. That ever-ticking clock reminds us we’re all going to shuffle off this mortal coil, and while we may be shufflin’, we’re still picking up speed on the downward slope. As the Buffalo Tom song says:

“Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead.”

Back in college, we were thought we were invincible. Now we know better. We’ve all come face to face with mortality. Knees and hips and sometimes hearts are wearing out. Parents, in-laws, even peers from our college days have passed on. It’s sobering… and a “Hoppy Hour” won’t bring our dearly departed back, but spending time with friends is a soothing salve for the soul, and the laughs are an over-the-counter heart remedy.

The “old guys” from the Muppets are now our peers.

Yes, we still talk about sports and bring up ill-advised-yet-somehow-we-survived stories of the beer-and-testosterone-fueled antics of our youth. That’s what guys do. But the gift of time has helped us realize that basketball games aren’t life and death. That empathy trumps ego. Caring matters more than career. We’ve all taken different paths over the past 35 years, but now it’s nice to reconnect with our fellow travelers.

If we have our health and a few close friends, we are truly blessed. If we can meet them for a beer or two every once in a while, our cup overflows. (Sorry about that… hand us a bar towel and we’ll clean it up.)

Cheers to you, my brothers from other mothers!

A War with Heart

Every year, the men’s basketball teams from Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati square off on the court, in what’s known as the Crosstown Shootout.

There’s no love lost between the two teams… there was an ugly post-game brawl in 2011.

The fan bases can get rather rabid, too. With a bit of perspective, it seems silly for normally-sane adults to get so emotionally invested in a single basketball game between two groups of mostly teenagers. (But as a Xavier alum, I’m duty bound to mention the fact that my Musketeers have won 10 of the past 14… Let’s Go X!)

However, there’s a new XU-UC “shootout” going on right now where there are only winners: the local bar and restaurant workers. It started more than a month ago when a man and his daughter left a $1,000 tip at a venerable burger joint and finished off their note with “Go Xavier!”

Since then, fans of both schools have been engaged in a friendly game of one-upmanship, leaving monster tips at dozens of local restaurants.

This tip war isn’t a war of attrition, it’s a war of appreciation for the local restaurants and bars whose business has been crippled by coronavirus, and the workers who rely on tips to get by.

It’s good to know that folks from both schools have their heart in the right place (and apparently fat wallets too).

Running list of tips from this article

The Illustrated Man

John Ham passed away a week ago. No relation to Jon Hamm. But there was a connection.

Jon Hamm, the actor, is best known for playing the character of Don Draper, a cigarette-smoking ad agency man in the 1960s, on Mad Men.

John Ham also was quite the character. He was a cigarette-smoking ad agency man in the 1960s. And the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, too.

I worked with John from 2000-2005. He was an illustrator, and a damn good one. He did a lot of the packaging artwork for the original line of Star Wars action figures and toys. He created the illustrations for a Cincinnati beer company’s souvenir six-packs of the Reds World Series Championship way back in 1976.

By the time I joined the agency where “Hammy” worked, he was 62 years old… the wise (and wisecracking) elder statesman of the creative team. He didn’t really need the money – he and several friends had broken away from a big agency to form their own small ad agency decades prior. They grew the business, and were eventually bought out by a big national firm. But John was a people person through and through. “Gregarious” is probably the best adjective. He genuinely enjoyed the camaraderie of a creative environment. Always smiling, always generous with his time. He was much older than the rest of the creative team, but it never really felt that way. He was one of us. And when he wasn’t pursuing his art at work, he was engaged in his other passion: playing tennis.

Toward the end of his career, John would often get tapped to create a “farewell” caricature. It was usually for a bigwig who was leaving P&G (our largest client by far). But occasionally he’d create them for co-workers. I was lucky enough to get the Hammy treatment when I left the agency.

When John retired in 2008, Keith Neltner, our mutual friend and co-worker, turned the tables and created a caricature of Hammy in that same style.

The Yoda in the illustration is fitting – not just because of John’s Star Wars experience, but also because he was a lovable, wise mentor to all of us.

I shouldn’t feel so bummed out about the passing of a guy with whom I haven’t worked in 15 years, especially someone who made it to 83 (despite the smoking habit) and lived a very fulfilling life. But that smile, man, it was incandescent. We’ll miss that light.

May the force be with you, Hammy.

Radio silence

My old radio boss is finally calling it quits on broadcasting. Gary Burbank was the last of his breed, a radio personality who did “theater of the mind” comedy sketches. Mel Blanc may have been called the “Man of 1,000 Voices” in Looney Tunes cartoons, but Gary probably did more voices than anyone else, including Mel. And unlike the current breed of “morning zoo” personalities, his bits were funny without being prurient and/or insipid.

Photo credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating

Gary’s show was syndicated to multiple stations in the mid- to late-90s, which is when I was part of the cast and crew. I learned a lot from GB -about humor in general, about doing character voices, about comedic timing, about how to deal with freelance writers and how to organize a show. Every day was a new adventure. It wasn’t always easy, but the end result was always entertaining. In many ways it was a dream job for me, but I was born about 20 years too late to be able to make a decent living at it.

In 2007, Gary retired from his weekday afternoon radio show on WLW-AM (known as “the nation’s station” because as a 50,000 watt clear channel AM station based in Cincinnati, it would reach 38 states at night). He created dozens of indelible characters (a partial list is on this Wikipedia page) but the one who lasted the longest was Earl Pitts, a blue-collar, ‘murica-loving redneck. Even after he retired from his daily show, Gary continued to record Earl Pitts commentaries, which are syndicated and air on several stations around the country. Now, at 79, he’s finally calling it quits on Pitts.

logo from the official Earl Pitts website

Gary’s already in the national Radio Hall of Fame — deservedly so — and at this point in his life he’s certainly earned the right to call it a day. But it’s a sad day for radio, because they don’t make ’em like Gary anymore. The good news is, Gary is turning his attention to a podcast that will feature several of the characters he created. So we’ll still be able to hear his voice(s).

You can read more in this article from John Kiesewetter, formerly of the Cincinnati Enquirer and now with WVXU (the former Xavier University station!).

The Queen City is King of Beers (again)!

For the second year in a row, Cincinnati claimed the top spot in SmartAsset’s assessment of the best cities for beer drinkers. Mainly because we have dozens of breweries, a plethora of bars, hundreds of beer varieties, and a decent cost of living.

We compared 384 cities across the following metrics: total number of breweries, breweries per 100,000 residents, average number of beers per brewery, bars per 100,000 residents and the average price of a pint. 

From the SmartAsset article “Best Cities for Beer Drinkers – 2020 Edition”
Visual from the SmartAsset article

The Germans who immigrated to Cincinnati in the 1800s really loved their bier. You couldn’t swing a dead knockwurst without hitting a brewery. Most of these businesses didn’t survive Prohibition. But a new generation of brewmeisters has done a great job reviving the old traditions… and putting a new spin on them, too.

Clip from the Art & Craft video from Leapframe and Neltner Small Batch. Full video is below.

At present, we’ve got 70 local breweries and 63 taprooms. And they’re making good stuff: 18 local breweries picked up a total of 39 medals in the 2020 US Open Beer Championships.

Original artwork by my good friend Keith Neltner, done for an Artworks mural in the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati. Learn more about the mural on Keith’s Neltner Small Batch website.

My wife and I went to our “local” brewery, Big Ash Brewing, last night.

photo from the Big Ash Brewing website

It was warm enough to sit outside… at least, it was warm enough with a fire pit going.

It’s tougher to visit taprooms in the Age of Coronavirus… but you can always get your beer to go. It’s good for your health…

Cheers to the Cincinnati Beer scene! If only they had this brewery…

Art & Craft | A Tale of Beer and Brushes from LEAPframe on Vimeo.

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