Live music, the Ohio River and Mario Kart convene.
Every city needs at least one and ideally a small set of dive bar-live music venue hybrids that power the local music scene and create a space to experience inexpensive entertainment with inexpensive domestic beer in hand. Cincinnati’s entry in the genre is Stanley’s Pub along the Ohio River just east of the city’s downtown core and south of Mount Lookout. The trademark black awning has extended from the residential-style structure since 1983 under single-family ownership for the duration of its existence.
Opened by William O’Donnell and the rest of the O’Donnell family, the Stanley’s Pub book is well-judged by its cover thanks to a building that feels like a converted home with an awning bolted to the front door. Yellow siding tops the two-story structure, giving way to vertical green lights underneath that surround a Main Street-style windowed entry punctuated by red curtains that run along the inside of the window. The key exterior attraction here is the Stanley’s Pub logo, a classic representation of dive bar sophistication depicting a gentleman in hat with cane in hand leaning against a lamppost.
The communal, residential vibe promised by the Cincinnati dive bar’s exterior extends inside where a single main room includes a long bar and a handful of tables. The star Stanley’s Pub attraction is of course the live music stage that sits in the corner of the room, a small, slightly elevated square with a hand-painted backdrop that includes the bar’s logo and a scenic depiction of the bend in the Ohio River that serves as home to Stanley’s Pub.
Easily overlooked is the mosaic tile floor that looks either original or close to it, small hexagons stitched together in a series of running patterns throughout the space. The Stanley’s Pub interior can be a bit snug on live music evenings, stools at the bar at a premium and only a handful of short, round tables available. The space behind the bar is downright minimalist by dive bar standards, only a handful of photos and decorations obscuring what is a pretty majestic bar back that extends from floor to ceiling.
The live music calendar at Stanley’s Pub is packed with both local and touring bands manning the bar’s small stage most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Expect to pay a small cover during evening hours on those nights. As another nod to the bar’s focus on the local music scene, Stanley’s Pub holds a pair of open jam nights with a Jazz Jam every Monday and an Open Jam every Sunday. Of course, why let live music have all the fun? Mario Kart competitions are held most Wednesdays, bragging rights and local champions decided on a projection screen atop the stage.
Because of the small footprint inside Stanley’s Pub, amenities are a bit thin with the focus of the space and customer base conditioned to live music. A lottery machine in the rear of the building and a selection of ferns dotted throughout Stanley’s Pub make up the extent of the activities here outside of drinking and listening to music. When the weather cooperates, a small back patio, covered in parts, extends the available drinking area in true residential fashion feeling more like a neighbor’s backyard than anything else.