Wednesday, January 31, 2007

BEST VENUES: Cincinnati's Northside Tavern

Animalhead note: I'd like to make this an ongoing feature for "People with Animal Heads." It occurred to me that no one EVER interviews local bar owners, especially the places that both bands and music fans love. What makes these bars so special? What is their secret to success?

Ideally, walking into a neighborhood bar should be akin to walking into your living room. It should be inviting, warm and make you feel comfortable.
Instead most end up feeling like your basement after spaying beer on the walls for four days straight.
For the past five years of its existence, Cincinnati's Northside Tavern has quickly become one of the last remaining refuges for any fan of the ideal neighborhood bar. Its presence at 4163 Hamilton Ave. (513) 542-3603 has become a special place.
Amongst other bars full of sour beer smell and smug bartenders, what makes it so unique is an ambiance of old brick, high ceilings, friendly staff, pool tables in the back (so you don't ruin live music shows) and an outdoor patio that still allows you to hear the bands inside.
For musicians, Northside Tavern has come to represent how life would be perfect if every bar followed the path set by its owner Ed Rush. The motto: All shows are free entry, treat everyone nice and make sure the bands are paid well. It's so simple and yet so revolutionary. Funny how most venues will never understand that.
Rush said Northside Tavern had humble beginnings and wasn't necessarily focused on bands at all.
"When I first looked at the space, I thought 'neighborhood bar and a courtyard.' The first music was jazz on Mondays," he said. "Business in the beginning was really inconsistent and a lot of times it was dependent on what was happening at other places. I was (and am) friends with a couple of The Tigerlilies and when they played the first time, we were packed, the music was great, people were into it, and the light went on in my head."
From there, Rush said it took awhile to get connected with the music scene in town. But he found that most musicians enjoy playing at new venues, just to see what its like. The grass is always greener. Soon many bands began reveling in the green fields of Northside Tavern.
"Bands have always liked to play Northside Tavern because we pay a guarantee, and we're up front about the money. We pay more for nights that are busy due to the bands, and we try to take care of the bands' need for drink," Rush said. "What can never be lost is my staff is fantastic, and most bands feel very welcome. The money for the bands is factored into my cost, we try to keep prices as low as possible and we'll never charge a cover. This is mostly due to the thought that people should be able to come and go as they please. If they like what's going on, they'll stay. We don't try to compete with other bars and there's no hard feelings if someone wants to go to another place."
Rush also made an excellent point in that the Northside Tavern is not alone in Cincinnati. The Comet bar lives by the same motto and makes me think I should highlight that place next. It's indeed a great one and I can't believe I forgot about it.
He said the success of his venue also spurred a feeling of wanting to give back to a town that gave him so much.
"Northside (District) itself has been a good neighborhood for us because it attracts the crowd that cares for mainstream Cincinnati. I was born here and I really like this city, and it's beyond me why people go to chain restaurants and bars when there are so many owner operated places in Cincinnati. People who come to Northside Tavern and other businesses in Northside, and/or live in Northside appreciate that sentiment.
"Cincinnati has always been a hot spot for music, R&B and blues have thrived here, and there have been a wealth of alternative and avant garde bands for years. I think this goes hand in hand with the large artistic community in the city, and many artists are also in bands," he said.
Rush added, "I've been lucky to attract a crowd that likes and respects what we're doing. I've been in the bar business for 27 years, and my staff also has vast experience in the business. I couldn't succeed without them, they have my back."
For those interested in preserving good people and good venues, start enjoying what Northside Tavern and The Comet have to offer. It would be a sad day to see either venue dry up.

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