By the 19th century, downtown was exactly what you would imagine as a bustling city center. At the time, Cincinnati was the frontier of the United States and a hub for trade. The Ohio River and the Miami/Erie Canal fostered the city's speedy growth as the population rose to 115,000 in 1850. The canals were eventually replaced by railroads, and the railroads were replaced by highways; industry sought more cost-effective accommodations and downtown suffered. Many of its residents moved out to the suburbs and the once lively city center lost its vigor.
However, it wasn't long before downtown began its transformation from an outdated trade center to a thriving cultural hub. The area is roughly defined as the blocks between Central Avenue and Broadway Street, Central Parkway and the riverfront, and contains a staggering number of restaurants, bars, and shops.
Many of Chef Jeff Ruby's restaurants call Cincinnati home; his Steakhouse concept has remained at the corner of Walnut and Seventh Streets for decades and is a fine-dining destination for both professional athletes and foodies. Cincinnati's oldest drinking establishment, Arnold's Bar and Grille on East Sixth Street, offers a surprisingly diverse menu of pasta dishes, Greek salads, and sandwiches, complete with cold drinks and a cozy atmosphere. Not to be forgotten, every trip downtown deserves a pilgrimage to Skyline, an institution of Cincinnati-style chili, which has locations on Fourth, Seventh, and Vine Streets.
Apart from its restaurants, downtown Cincinnati hosts a diverse nightlife. Neighborhood bars like Knockback Nat's on 7th Street draw the ball cap and blue jean crowd, while nightclubs Blackfinn and Lodge Bar cater to those with collared shirts and slacks. Skinny-jean clad artistic types can find refuge at the rustic Grammar's, located on the border of Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Those seeking a pint of import or craft beer usually end up either at Fountain Square's Rock Bottom Brewpub or Nicholson's on Sixth.
Perched above Fountain Square, Macy's and Tiffany's embody the classic downtown shopping experience, but the area also showcases a number of locally-owned specialty shops that are worth exploring. Cincinnati Art Galleries on Sixth Street features 19th and 20th century American and European art, as well as a large collection of work done by Cincinnati students. Batsakes has sold custom made hats from the same 6th and Vine location for over 100 years. The store front window displays images of celebrities ranging from Bill Cosby and George H. W. Bush to Luciano Pavoratti and Snoop Dogg; all had proprietor Gus Miller make them a hand-crafted hat. Just north of Central Parkway in Over-The-Rhine, several small shops like Park + Vine, Iris Book Store, and Original Thought Required, are doing incredible business while bringing life to the once dismal neighborhood.
Throughout the year, Downtown hosts several events on 5th street, including the world's second largest Oktoberfest celebration and the Taste of Cincinnati food expo. The latter takes place over Memorial Day weekend and draws nearly half a million people downtown over the course of three days. Other annual events include the Tall Stacks Festival, the WEBN Fireworks, and the Midpoint Music Festival.
The downtown area of Cincinnati recovered from hardship unlike many other city centers. Today it no longer depends on the whims of big business, but rather the mindset and passion of its business owners and residents. Old housing is constantly undergoing renovation and prices are affordable. Young people are moving back in alongside business professionals and families. People are walking the streets and downtown looks alive again.