Everything communal and authentic about an Irish pub.
One of the great allures of a dive bar is that the authenticity inherent to such a place lends itself to a little more than a night of drinking. Conversations, sarcastic comments from the bartender, rare gems on the jukebox, it’s the no-frills nature of the space that allows a communal vibe to flourish. Crowley’s Irish Pub (or Crowley’s Highland House Cafe or just Crowley’s) is Cincinnati’s case study in creating something more than just a set of walls and beer taps thanks to long-held devotion and attention, in this case under the watchful eye of a single family.
Nestled atop Mount Adams just north of downtown Cincinnati, Crowley’s Irish Pub opened just shortly after Prohibition in 1937 thanks to Bill Specs Crowley. Crowley and his wife had the good fortune to raise 10 children over the years, all of whom have had a stint or two manning the bar over the years. Sister Crowley (first name, not sibling identification), Jeanne Marie “Chick” Crowley Riesenbeck and a host of other family members have ensured that Bill’s passion project persists today largely just as it did when the doors first opened.
The small plots and winding roads of Mount Adams make for scenic dive bar territory with nearby City View Tavern another example worth seeking out. Crowley’s is quite literally a corner neighborhood pub at the intersection of two of Mount Adams’ few roads near its summit. Day drinking is kind to Crowley’s, the light bouncing off of the multi-colored structure in a way that feels very Old World, appropriate for the oldest operating Irish pub in Cincinnati.
Outside, a series of stained-glass windows dot the classic exterior of the Cincinnati dive bar, each window inscribed with the traditional Crowley family shield. Historically, the Crowley Coat of Arms features a blue boar and three red crosses, the color faded a bit along the Crowley’s Irish Pub exterior but still representative of historical precedent. The wooden sign above the door adds another classic, well-worn touch to the bar’s exterior reading “Crowley’s Highland House Pub.”
The single room floorplan lends itself well to neighborly, communal gatherings as evident by a rolling series of events that includes chili cookoffs, pumpkin carving nights and other celebrations. Wood plank flooring mixes with checkerboard tiling near the bar area, playing off of similar wood paneling that runs halfway up the bar’s walls before blending into green paint throughout. This deep brown & green palette is a comforting one, dark ceiling tiles above (some of them painted in the style of the Irish flag) adding to the cozy atmosphere.
Historical photos, newspaper clippings, string lights and even the military medals of past Crowley family members make for an atmosphere that makes the word ‘cozy’ feel insufficient. String lights not only dot the walls but hang overhead, mixed in with Guinness decorations that are likely federally required in some way to hang in every American Irish pub. Guinness is, of course, available here, and the pour runs about as traditional as can be found in Cincinnati.
So tied with its community, Crowley’s Irish Pub was even delivered a game ball after a Cincinnati Bengals playoff victory in 2023. The Bengals started the tradition a year prior, a sign of respect and recognition for area bars and restaurants that stuck with the Bengals through a number of let’s say ‘thin’ years before a playoff breakthrough that energized the city. Only a small handful of establishments have been recognized by the Bengals, Crowley’s certainly a proud dive bar, Irish pub, neighborhood representative.