Nothing sparks conversation like a dive bar horseshoe.
The moment arrives every so often when reviewing dive bars on a regular basis where part of this reviewer’s brain says, “are we sure about this?” And let me be clear, that part of my brain is always wrong to worry and everything always turns out in some kind of beer-soaked amazing fashion. But that alarm bell faintly triggered approaching Cincinnati’s Edge Inn, a building that despite a truly impressive dive bar classic sign looked boarded up on a recent visit. The bar was, in fact, open and, thankfully, glorious inside.
Proximity to an interstate is always a good omen for a potential dive bar, let alone a stretch of Cincinnati’s Edwards Road just off of I-71 connecting the city to Columbus and all points north where not one but two epic dive bars take up residence within a handful of feet. Pilot Inn, just a couple of buildings away, boasts maybe the more refined offering of the two locations, but each holds their own distinct charm. Outside, Edge Inn’s green sign laced with red neon proclaims life’s two necessities, ‘beer’ and ‘liquor.’ The sign hangs over a windowless front door that I assure you is open despite all contrary appearances seven days a week.
The online reviews for Edge Inn, a scarce sight despite the dive bar’s long history, all cite the same basic draw to visit: inexpensive drinks. And that is certainly true today, the bar offering prices much lower than its Hyde Park neighborhood location would suggest. The fact that the bar is cash only allows for some of that financial flexibility, creating an environment where domestic cans can run $2 or $3 in a part of Cincinnati where just two blocks away craft beer might go for $8 and up.
Inside is where Edge Inn separates from a run-of-the-mill dive bar, featuring a horseshoe bar in the center of the space reminiscent of Denver dive bar legend Nob Hill Inn. And there’s something to a horseshoe in the center of the room, that forced social interaction that comes with having no choice but to look at someone else in a dark dive bar where that may not be everyone’s first choice. Of course, those moments often turn into the kinds of interactions that make visiting a dive bar the worthwhile experience it is.
Though work has certainly been put into a number of the surfaces within Edge Inn, including what looks to be a refinished floor, the weight of time is clearly evident inside. The drop ceiling tiles are colored and missing in places. The short wood slats that run halfway up the walls that surround the bar look to be aged if not original. And the bar counter itself again may not date back to the construction of the building but there’s something to the classic U-shaped build and the polished wood that establishes that vintage authenticity.
Though there are a few windows facing out onto Edwards Road, green curtains shield the light from penetrating too deeply into the space. A long beer ledge runs around the exterior walls, a handful of beer signs dotting the space. Maybe the most interesting interior feature is the liquor tower built out of support poles that sit just inside the ‘U’ of the horseshoe bar. A series of shelves supports some of the bar’s liquor selections, the rest hidden beneath the bar as it curves through the room. Additional seating juts off of this main space to provide a little bit of overflow drinking in addition to a small carve out for darts.
While nearby Pilot Inn plays up its historical roots in a bit more public a fashion, Edge Inn competes on that same level, a space that looks like it could have come from any decade. And though a bit of polish can be seen here and there, the age of Edge Inn is allowed to come through and create that darkened, drinking alcove feel so perfectly captured by a good dive bar. The fact a mini-crawl can be had in tandem with Pilot Inn only adds to Edge Inn’s status as fitting retreat from Hyde Park, Cincinnati and everything else.