Pilot Inn

Cincinnati, Ohio

Pilot Inn - Cincinnati Dive Bar - Outside Sign

Field Rating


out of 10

Visiting for lunch is the obvious recommendation, stopping at Edge Inn to wash everything down.

The Basics

3921 Edwards Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45209


In Short

Looking every bit the part as 1937 Cincinnati dive bar classic, Pilot Inn is about as old-school as it gets, a dive bar mixed with a lunch counter that despite a handful of updates is easy to picture anchoring its neighborhood block since just after Prohibition. As an added bonus, Pilot Inn sits in close proximity to another one of Cincinnati’s great dive bars, Edge Inn Tavern, creating an attractive one-two dive bar punch.

Field Note

Great dive bars usually benefit from proximity to an interstate, something about the lightly industrial vibes that come with the real estate that usually borders highway zones. Cincinnati’s Edwards Road, just a few feet away from Ohio’s man north-south interstate, I-71, features not one but two great dive bars in the argument for best in the city. Out of the pair, Pilot Inn is the seemingly elder stateman with a public record of a bar on site since 1937, the origins of Edge Inn Tavern just a block or so away a little more mysterious.

Without being clued in to the 1937 opening date for Pilot Inn, guessing that the Cincinnati dive bar stretched back into history that far would not be difficult. The understated awning out front, the bare bones block it sits on, the early opening hours to accommodate a lunch crowd, all of the variables add up to a classic bar built decades ago to serve anyone getting off of any shift hungry for some food or thirsty for a drink. Over time, Pilot Inn’s Hyde Park neighborhood has developed into a fairly desirable part of Cincinnati with more expensive drinking options prevalent just a few blocks away, but Pilot Inn endures as the counterpoint to that slow march of gentrification.

The awning out front is hard to argue with, the name of the bar supported by three words that define the space inside, ‘lunches,’ ‘sports’ and ‘spirits.’

The awning out front is hard to argue with, the name of the bar supported by three words that define the space inside, ‘lunches,’ ‘sports’ and ‘spirits.’ The vintage sign above the awning throw a couple of other elements into the Pilot Inn mix, ‘beer’ and ‘whiskey,’ so it’s easy to envision what a visitor is in store for inside. In addition to the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds gear that dots the interior, University of Miami (Ohio) fans will see representation as well, a rounding out of southern Ohio sports coverage at an everyman dive bar.

The space is split up into two rooms, the first the main area where a long bar runs along one wall opposite a handful of low tables that provide lunch and drink seating. Large bulb white Christmas lights snake around the ceiling before meeting up with a bit of tinsel to add to the festivities. The bar itself is supported by a long row of classic wooden swivel stools (with backs, of course), making for that classic shotgun-style, single room look to the bar’s main area. Liquor bottles line the mirrored back wall of the area behind the bar in typical fashion, an expansive selection that transitions into snack bags clipped to the wall.

One of Pilot Inn’s signature offering is the classic menu typically offered during lunch hours before opening back up during evening hours. Every staple hot and cold sandwich offering can be found on the Pilot Inn menu, including hamburgers, fish, subs and more. On this reviewer’s recent visit, the fried end of the spectrum was the popular choice, including potato skins, chicken strips and wings. Call ahead for availability, but the lunch special has long been a feature of the Pilot Inn menu, though of course all bets are off post-pandemic. Traditionally, a new item each day is offered and sell outs are known to happen on busier days.

Bathrooms are extremely clean by bar standards, the lone quirk the shower curtain-style divider that serves as stall door.

The back room of the Pilot Inn serves as hub for the Cincinnati dive bar’s pool table in a room that has been refinished over the years with an upgraded floor the most visible update. Bathrooms are extremely clean by bar standards, the lone quirk the shower curtain-style divider that serves as stall door in the men’s restroom. A back patio that doubles as a smoking option for those inside is accessed through this second room, providing a little bit of real estate outside supported by a picnic table as seating.

The Pilot Inn shows off every bit of its 1937 class, a space that is a 50s-style diner counter away from looking like the old school lunch & drink dive seen in just about every movie set during that time. The confines are comfortable, the lunch menu extensive and the vibe about as laid back as it gets, all of it within walking distance of another of Cincinnati’s great dive bars, Edge Inn Tavern, a perfect two-pronged reason to exit the interstate.

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