Cash-only fried bologna under the highway.
The tradition of dive bars and highway overpasses is deep and storied, Cincinnati’s installment the aptly-named JD’s Honky Tonk & Emporium located underneath I-75 just north of downtown. The highway-adjacent location adds to the blue collar vibe inside of the refreshingly authentic space, a dive bar experience wrapped in cinder blocks, sagging ceiling tiles and a massive mural inscribed with “Home of the Duck” above the image of a duck in a backwards hat drinking a beer (because why not?).
The term ‘biker bar’ is sometimes applied to JD’s Honky Tonk as a result of a shooting in 2010 that led to the death of an Iron Horsemen member who believed a rival gang was executing an attack and opened fire on both uniformed and undercover police officers. Today, the Cincinnati dive bar’s Camp Washington location is perhaps a little industrial but far from dangerous and hours have been modified to remove some of the typical dive bar post-midnight shenanigans. Where JD’s Honky Tonk was once open 5:30 AM to 2:30 AM daily, hours now run 12 PM to 9 PM.
While most of the JD’s Honky Tonk structure is lined with cinder block, a rebuilt, if slender addition, can be seen on the side of the building ringed in brick. Small windows dot the exterior of the structure, some of them comprised of opaque glass blocks that create soft lighting inside. Blinds are drawn on some of the windows to help regulate the amount of sunlight allowed inside JD’s Honky Tonk, a bit of Bengals neon to be found in the window immediately next to the bar’s front door.
As Cincinnati dive bars go, JD’s Honky Tonk lays claim to some of the best signage in the city thanks to two classically-designed pieces attached to a towering pole in the bar’s parking lot. The two signs represent interpretations of the bar’s name and replace a long-time piece that once stood above JD’s Honky Tonk that proclaimed now inaccurate opening hours of 5:30 Am to 2:30 AM. Thankfully, both eras of dive bar signage above JD’s Honky Tonk have made sure to proclaim the virtues of whiskey, advertising its availability prominently.
In many ways, JD’s Honky Tonk feels like a small-town neighborhood dive bar nestled into a major metropolitan area. The amenities match the vibe, ranging from arcade games to multiple pool tables, capped with the fact that JD’s Honky Tonk is cash only. Though bits of dive bar neon can be found within the Cincinnati dive bar, the notable vintage elements here are no doubt the classic beer posters that probably wouldn’t pass a legal review at this point. String lights over the bar rail add to the ambiance.
A moderately-sized bar is lined here with stools, an immense amount of accumulated character found behind the serving area. From a pair of ducks in a plastic case to an array of dive bar wisdom-lined wooden signs, the authenticity of JD’s Honky Tonk is clear based on this area of the space alone. Low tables fill in most of the space with a handful of booths along the bar’s short wall. A small kitchen can be found next to the bar area, the fried bologna sandwich a longtime favorite among JD’s Honky Tonk visitors.