Take in the view in a tequila-free zone.
Dive bars with straightforward names are fairly common, but Cincinnati’s City View Tavern is a uniquely rare find. Yes, you guessed it, the bar offers a view of Cincinnati’s skyline, but to simply refer to it as a ‘city view’ does little justice to the absolute panorama that opens up to visitors who snake through the dive bar’s floorplan out onto a wide patio attached to towering Mount Adams just north of the city’s downtown core. The view is breathtaking the structure’s history lives up to the high bar set by the scenery.
City View Tavern Mount Adams was first constructed in 1875, making the dive bar one of the oldest continuously operating businesses of any kind in the city. Owner Thomas Spain introduced a grocery store to the building in 1891 and added a saloon in 1901 before selling to Bernard Recklingloh in 1906. Longtime partner of Recklingloh, George Lagemann, took over the reigns in 1917 when Recklingloh retired. Naturally, Lagemann was living upstairs at the time, making the sale a simple transition.
Those who have visited City View Tavern Cincinnati before may perk up at the mention of an ‘upstairs’ given that no such floor exists today. The second and third floors disappeared in 1946 when a fire almost destroyed the entire structure and the building next door. Ownership at this point rested with Ted Lagemann thanks to continuous family ownership of City View Tavern and one night post-Christmas in 1946, Ted asked a cousin to dispose of unsold grocery store Christmas trees that rested next to the building. That cousin decided not to move the trees and instead burned them on the spot, predictably starting a fire that claimed the upper stories of the building.
In true dive bar fashion, City View Tavern refused to close despite the fire, instead working around the debris as the first floor was rebuilt. The grocery store that had occupied the back and larger portion of the floorplan was moved up front at this time before eventually disappearing altogether. The City View Tavern trademark patio was erected during the late 1950s or early 1960s, providing unique access to the view of downtown Cincinnati. It wasn’t until later that it was discovered that this initial construction failed to footings, essentially creating a deck anchored to the wall of City View Tavern and resting somewhat precariously on the ground below.
Debra Henning and husband Silas purchased City View tavern in 1985 from Ted, eventually reconstructing much of the structure in the 1990s with a focus on restoring the business to its original look and layout. Today’s City View Tavern mirrors original photographs of the structures from over a century ago, staying as faithful as possible to its original appearance. Thankfully, an updated deck was included in the renovations, as was the installation of the single pane, 500 pound rear window that serves as a dazzling centerpiece to the Cincinnati dive bar’s interior.
George Clooney is said to have visited City View Tavern a time or two during his time at Northern Kentucky University and ex-Cincinnati Bearcats basketball coach Bob Huggins frequented the bar, but no visitor tops the infamy of Charles Manson, born in Cincinnati. The classic story, confirmed by Henning, is that Manson lived a few doors down and visited City View Tavern on occasion. One night, after an aggressive night of tequila drinking, Manson is said to have threatened to jump off of the deck in back, saying he believed he could fly. Ted Lagemann was owner at the time and cut Manson off (naturally), prevented him from jumping off of the deck and promptly banned tequila from City View Tavern. The ban persists today.
Maybe best of all, City View Tavern feels very much like the authentic space where all of this history occurred. Winding Mount Adams roads eventually snake past the simple City View Tavern exterior marked by a set of windows and simple lettering along the time of the building spelling out the name of the bar. A short hallway leads to the single-room main space, a bar on one side and a handful of tables occupying the bulk of the space. Wood paneling runs halfway up the bar’s interior walls before giving way to an array of beer signs, vintage photos and newspaper clippings.
The exterior patio is, of course, the star here, bench seating complementing a small set of tables. The view is wildly impressive, the slope of Mount Adams steep enough to prevent all but the nearest trees from blocking even a portion of the view of downtown Cincinnati. At night, the view is accentuated even further thanks to extensive downtown lighting and a highway that runs in between the bar and downtown that serves as a sort of visual buffer, ensuring unfettered visual access to a lit-up skyline.
In addition to regular keg tappings, City View Tavern also offers a simple food menu that revolves around a staple set of burgers that are often cited as some of the city’s best offerings. Co-owner Silas lends his name to the chili on the menu that also draws strong reviews. As of this writing, City View Tavern is for sale, first listed in 2020 as a symptom of the pandemic and reduced in price a handful of times in the intervening years. Here’s hoping that any new ownership treats City View Tavern with the reverence it deserves.