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Juxtapoz Magazine, Cincinnati: The City In a BLINK

After being a casual observer of a summer of seemingly endless airline disasters, I was a little anxious about whether a trip to Cincinnati in Oct had the right risk-reward ratio. If there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that a lot can truly be accomplished without the need to be physically present, but there’s little wow factor in viewing a mural festival on Zoom.

BLINK CincinnatiIt has been on our radar for many years. Although most mural festivals have similar characteristics, there was something that made BLINK stand out. It offered a glimpse into what the next iteration might look like. We had to see it in person. Despite growing up in Pennsylvania, I have never been to Cincinnati. I was eager to see a place that felt familiar and yet completely new. 

Walking is my favorite activity during these types of trips. If it were up to me, walking would be the main objective of every trip or vacation, because in doing so, you’re able to slowly take in the sights, sounds, vibes, and sometimes unfortunate smells that accompany a leisurely stroll through an urban grid. It allows you to pick up on little cultural nuances enhanced by an outsider’s view of the priorities of a city and its people, so I hit the ground running… er, walking.
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The first morning, I walked all of the way to Kentucky. You can do it! The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge spans the Ohio River, connecting Cincinnati to Covington, KY. I digress. 

BLINK runs from the Over The Rhine (OTR), to the north, through downtown, over the bridge, and into Covington. There is a lot to see here, including an incredible FAILE mural that covers two buildings, separated by a main street. 

Walking back across the bridge into Cincinnati, you can’t miss the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a museum placed on the very shores that, at one point in our storied history, ensured that making it this far literally meant achieving one’s freedom. I was not aware of the museum’s presence prior to this trip, but it alone is enough reason to visit. I could have spent a whole day looking at the displays and interactive exhibits.

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It felt like a quick trip, which is unfortunate because it was almost lunchtime. Skyline Chili is a place I heard about before I went to Cincinnati. It is a legendary chili that residents claim is unmatched. It seems that the place is loved by millions, but I was not able to find its culinary appeal. You can choose your own adventure with this one. I can say that now that I’ve left the city and am safe far, far away. The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at murals in progress and exploring the OTR neighborhood. I waited for darkness to set in so that I could see firsthand the projection mapping aspect of the festival. Ghost Baby, a bar that is four stories above Vine Street, is one the coolest spots of OTR. It’s a vibe, for sure, and definitely the type of place that will make you forget the sun might be shining when you make your way back up to street level.

It was an inspiring evening. There are so many projection-mapping projects happening that it’s impossible to absorb it all in just one night. Thankfully, I had another evening ahead, but still couldn’t help rushing block to block, neighborhood to neighborhood, to ultimately end up back down on the riverside to check out the 300-piece drone show over the bridge that I’ve already talked about too much. 

I found myself at Deeper Roots Coffee in the Findlay Market to meet the BLINK organizers and take a tour the next day. If you’re within a few blocks, it is the hands-down spot for caffeine reuptake. It’s obvious the ambitious organizers care deeply about their city and have no plans to slow down in achieving their vision of the city’s potential as a major arts hub.

A few of us walked to the Cincinnati Art Museum following the tour. You may not want to walk quite that distance, but once you get there, it’s worth it. The museum is amazing, but it’s even better when you take a stroll through the beautiful Eden Park.

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Hathaways, a diner which has been in the downtown area since 1950s in the Carew Tower, was my choice for lunch. There’s nothing like the oversized portions served up at a diner after you’ve put in 10,000 steps before lunchtime. I walked a short distance to the 21C Hotel, and was pleasantly surprised to find it there. We’re fans of the art museum concept of 21C, and I had previously gone to Louisville to visit the first one they built. It was impressive, and the new one was just as impressive. But make sure you get to the second floor. I was about ready to leave when a man stopped me at the door, realizing that I was only there to view the art. He suggested there was more upstairs. I would have been overwhelmed, but instead, I discovered many rooms and hallways that were filled with cool pieces I hadn’t expected.

Literally, you can get your bang for the buck at the Contemporary Arts Center right next door to 21C. The CAC offers five floors of art exploration in an amazing building. Everything I saw today was free so even budget-minded travelers should visit the museums in Cincinnati.

After a long afternoon of art-making, I met up again with a friend for a drink at Rhinegeist Brewery. It’s like an adult playground, mixed with fun things for kids as well, making it also family-friendly. The rooftop bar offers great views of the city and is a great spot to hang out. Later, we returned to Findlay Market which is right in the middle of everything in the OTR area. Eli’s BBQ provided plenty of caloric replenishment. Findlay Market is a great place to shop and eat. 

The rest of our evening was spent exploring the streets and taking in the many light installations. We stopped at Mecca somewhere in the middle. Any place that shows skateboarding videos behind bars is my kinda place, so it’s definitely recommended.

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It was quite overwhelming to see so many people out and about on that night. It was evident that this city is being joyfully exposed to public art at the highest level by the number of families and children who walked the streets late into the night with big smiles on their faces and lively looks.

The next day was a short one, but I did some more walking and eventually settled on Nicholson’s Pub for a quick lunch before heading to the airport. I don’t know exactly what was in that BBQ Bacon Burger I had, but even right now, I’m considering whether it was the best one I’ve had in my lifetime. 

It’s funny, but throughout my time there, I kept hearing people saying things like “It’s Cincinnati, we’re used to being looked over,” or “We’ll take anything we can get,” but the vision for the city and the people behind BLINK are really doing something special. My guess is that this modest assessment will change a lot in the coming years. —Mike Stalter

BLINK is very grateful for the organization of the event and the tour of the city.

Mike Stalter Photography and Text



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