Over-the-Rhine in Downtown Cincinnati, OH, has a long, rich, and often muddy history, a past of immigration, of social change and social distortion, of rises and falls and culture clashes and cultural reconciliation.
It’s here amid the brick and mortar that Cincinnati’s personality, a pasticcio of young and vintage, of Old World and New, of music and art and passion and violence and destitution and wealth, and of black and white and everything in between, really begins to shine.
It’s a story of renewal and rediscovery.
Like many 20-somethings hailing from Cincinnati, I hadn’t been to Findlay Market since I was a kid, taking trips there as part of my “cultural education” in a public elementary school. It had odd hours, was in the middle of Over-the-Rhine, an historic, crumbling neighborhood we were supposed to always avoid. Fresh produce and butcher shops sat side-by-side with a police presence meant to limit the numbers of shootings and drug transactions and succeeded in making everyone feel more than a little out of their element.
But then my parents became part of an urban revitalization movement, and they picked up and bought a condo in OTR. A lot of people thought they were crazy. I figured they were just more hip than everyone else. And I wondered what ever happened to Findlay Market.
Turns out nothing happened to it. The state’s oldest continuously-operated public market — open for business since 1855 — has always been there, providing fresh fruit and crispy vegetables, prime cut meats and warm bread, beans, pastas, spices, flour, rice, soap, flowers — all to both neighborhood dwellers and suburbanites alike. Now, it’s finding a new niche for the growing population of proud and diverse residents of ORT who are beginning to defy the stereotypes of this once-shunned center of artistic innovation and architectural splendor.
This modern souk that rivals, in grit and color and the smells of urban life, any within the walled medinas of Morocco, has grown to include not only bakeries, butcher shops, spice stores, produce stands, fish stores and a seasonal farmer’s market, but now also serves coffee, gelato, gourmet dog treats, arts and crafts booths, waffles and crepes, a Vietnamese restaurant, and even a beer garden on weekends.
What always starts out as a quiet morning sipping coffee, nibbling on a pastry and reading the latest Street Vibes, inevitably awakens into a cacophonous afternoon of street vendors and shoppers and children looking for ice cream after school and business people catching up after work and street performers with drums and trumpets and sometimes coal and canvas and a whole slew of people just taking it all in.
Some people come, list in hand, ready to find those odd ingredients for a dinner party.
Others are just looking for inspiration.
Everyone seems to know each other, as if you’ve stepped into a neighborhood bar, and they greet one another as friends or colleagues or simply as fellow urbanites, secrets shared by those who have escaped the ordinary.
Findlay Market is open Tuesday through Sunday all year round. Saturday is the biggest day, best for people watching while having a beer or attending a wine tasting at Market Wines.
There is ample parking within a couple of blocks, but for everyone who lives downtown, it’s a surprisingly nice walk through some parts of OTR you’ve probably never seen before. You can see buildings, including those surrounding the currently-under-renovation Washington Park, in all stages of reinvention and revitalization, and you can really get a feel for what this area used to be and what it will become again.
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