Classic drinking spot in a classic part of Cinccinnati.
Over-The-Rhine was once Cincinnati’s blue collar, working class soul, one of those neighborhoods adjacent to the urban center of a major metropolis populated by the people who keep a city’s heart pumping. Today, Over-The-Rhine isn’t quite so blue collar, the area filled with high-end dining and retail options. Dunlap Cafe on the neighborhood’s northern edge is a bit of a throwback, a call back to the area’s more industrious roots offering a counterpoint to the growth that has swept through the Cincinnati district.
Part of Dunlap Cafe’s area credibility comes from its 1936 opening date just off the heels of Prohibition and predating Over-The-Rhine’s gentrification by a number of decades. The towering blue building on the corner of Dunlap & Henry is the longest continuously operating establishment of any kind in Over-The-Rhine and ranks among the oldest bars in all of Cincinnati. Throughout its history, Dunlap Cafe has been known as an affordable destination with a potent food menu and matching beer selection.
Ownership has changed hands over the years, but consistent has been a dedication to affordable food and drinks in a part of town that appreciates both. Bryan Vielhauer and Tim Pennington purchased Dunlap Cafe in 2012, modernizing pieces and parts of the space without drastically upending its charm. Left largely alone was the price point for domestic beer that persists today in the form of $2 PBRs and $3 Narragansetts among a host of other equally frugal options.
Rachel Appenfelder purchased Dunlap Cafe from Vielhauer and Pennington in January 2020, just two months before the COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered the Cincinnati dive bar. Pushed by uncertain circumstances, Dunlap Cafe concocted one of the great pandemic-era dive bar offerings, the Adult Happy Meal. Each custom designed box was filled with a main entrée of choice ranging from a burger to chicken tenders as well as fries, a Dunlap Cafe koozie, an adult beverage and a Twizzler. At a time when funds were precious to keep Dunlap Cafe alive, the dive bar stuck to its affordable heritage, offering these high-value specials for as little as $6.
Because of Dunlap Cafe’s focus on food, operating hours here skew early, ranging from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM most days (closed Sundays). Visitors are greeted with an extensive menu that leans heavily on breakfast staples ranging from omelettes to egg-based sandwiches. Lunch options include a set of burgers as well as a sneaky-good array of coney dogs. Everything here is cooked just a few feet from the bar in the rear of the space and carryout business is brisk, particularly on weekend mornings.
Outside, red shutters mix with bright blue paint to create an unmistakable Over-The-Rhine icon, a small, simple sign hanging from the corner of the building with the name of the Cincinnati dive bar and its phone number. Though Dunlap Cafe occupies only the first floor, the building is three stories tall, making it difficult to miss. A small patio has been fashioned out of a wooden fence and low cinder block wall behind the building filled with outdoor picnic tables.
The Dunlap Cafe space inside is snug, a large main room housing only a handful of tables. Exposed brick walls and plain, tiled floors let some of the history of the structure shine through, punctuated by a wall of vintage beer cans behind plexiglass lining one of the main area’s walls. By dive bar standards, an absolutely buffet of windows lets in considerable light thanks to the bar’s corner location, few decorations cluttering what is ultimately a pretty minimalist space.
A small bar can be found toward the rear of Dunlap Cafe with a small selection of stools providing somewhat cramped seating. Specials for the day can be found scrawled on a chalkboard and the beer selection hangs over the refrigeration station behind the bar. The kitchen sits behind an open door near the rear of the bar area, a small flattop kicking out the menu’s fairly diverse array of options. For those interested in extending the part past Dunlap Cafe’s early afternoon closing hours, packaged beer is available for sale.