Brews News

Local, Organic, Real: A Look at Independant Coffee Shops in Cincinnati

Evan Wallis
Coffee shops give people a place to do whatever they want. They are used to study, socialize, relax, and create. But in a world that is becoming increasingly commercialized, local coffee shops still strive to give patrons a unique, comfortable experience. These are a few that stand out in Cincinnati.

Rohs Stree Café:

You could never have a guilty conscious at Rohs Street Café. Everything here screams of fair-trade and going green. Home of arguably the best lattes in town, this is where Cliftonites come to study. At any time during the day the plethora of tables are strewn with textbooks and laptops. The sounds of hip, Indie-pop and coffee grinders permeate the three-roomed shop. Burgeoning local artists hang their art and activists leave their calls to action on the bookshelves. The baristas are often referred to by name, and are always welcome to a friendly conversation. “When I moved to Clifton, it was the nearest café to me,” said Shannon Brown, a former volunteer barista, “as soon as I started going here, whoever was behind the counter engaged me in conversation.” In the evenings this place is often transformed from a student’s cove to a bohemian music scene. The modest stage presents an intimate setting for acoustic rockers to share their music. Whether it’s a drink, thoughts, or art, everything about this place urges people to share.
Must Have: A cup of coffee from the glorified Clover Coffee Maker. It almost makes you feel better than the difference you are making in the world by buying fair-trade.

Where: 245 West McMillan Street Cincinnati, OH 45219

When: Mon–Wed: 7am - 11pm; Thu-Fri: 7am - 12am; Sat: 9am - 12am; Sun: Closed

Baba Budan’s Café:

Music and an expansive beer selection are what pull the crowds to this hangout. In the morning and early afternoon, Baba’s is sparsely filled with students enjoying a cup of coffee or one of their fabulous sandwiches. But the place truly comes alive during its late night music scene. With music almost every night, this is where growing musicians play to garner recognition. On some nights this place has attracted so many music-lovers the fire marshal has arrived to enforce fire code. “Baba’s is kind of a chameleon-like venue,” says Rachel Voelker, the former music coordinator, and now frequent patron. “From rock to hip hop to jazz, Baba's does it all. Not all venues around here are so flexible and still keep an intimate environment for music lovers.” Baba’s even hosts a weekly open-mic night, which draws Cincinnati veterans and amateurs alike – so maybe people come here to say that they saw future rock stars during their humble beginnings.
Must Have: A Buffalo Bill’s Brewery’s Orange Blossom Cream Ale – Or any of their microbrews, for that matter.

Where: 239 W. McMillan St. Cincinnati, OH 45219

When: Mon-Wed: 10 am – Midnight; Thu – Sun: 10 am – 2 am

Highlands:

The Mecca of coffee shops, this place has it all – great drinks, an impeccable atmosphere and the best barista/bartender one could ask for. Highland’s is a night owl’s delight – open from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. its hours and liquor shelf say, “I’m a bar,” but its atmosphere and crowd say, “I’m a coffee shop.” People come for both – some get rowdy over a few draft beers or hot rum ciders, while some sit serenely studying microbiology and philosophy. Whether it’s a comfy couch to sit and have a conversation, a table to study over or a patio to party on, Highland’s can be whatever you want it to be. “We’re just kind of different here. We try to draw people with all different stripes,” says Jay Noel, Highland’s tenured bartender. “We’ve created a community here, from suits to students, we all get along and have conversations.” The windows are filled with foliage of all sorts and a fish named Guinness sits atop a dilapidated piano. Just like the periodic chart that hangs above the bar and dates back before things like Copernicium and Roentgenium were discovered, Highland’s has adapted to an ever-progressing world, but still serves the same purpose – a place for people to experience community.
Must Have: An Orgasm. No, this place isn’t that good, but this alcohol-infused milkshake will truly be mind blowing.

Where: 2839 Highland Ave Cincinnati, OH 45219

When: 5 pm – 2:30 am daily

Sitwell’s:

Situated in the center of Clifton’s cozy gaslight district, Sitwell’s is a staple; an eclectic shop that entices scholars and artists alike, with things like chai milkshakes or a Peruvian veggie bowl. Inspirational quotes and local art adorn the walls for a distracted reader or a lone lunch-eater to revel in. A T.V. juts out from the wall, but this scholarly crowd doesn’t seem to notice it – conversation is more important. Open for breakfast through midnight snacks this place allows you to enjoy a New York style egg sandwich for breakfast, or sip coffee and listen to local music until 1 or 2 a.m., but this place is more than a coffee shop or music venue. Sitwell’s is truly a gathering place for this diverse community. “I’ve seen and heard things here I would have never imagine,” Says Allyson Weil, Sitwell’s hardworking cook/server. “It’s a different world in here, the people are crazy.” Just like the outfits of some of its artsy patrons the chairs don’t match the tables, the decorations don’t match the walls, but this place is put together flawlessly.
Must Have: “The Best BLT Ever.” This sandwich holds true to its name. A familiar in café food, but this artsy bistro adds just the right flair to make people look (or bite) twice.

Where: 324 Ludlow Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45220

When: Mon-Thurs, Sun 8-1 am; Fri-Sat 8-2 am

Om Café at Aquarius Star:

Hippies like coffee and cozy chairs, too – Maybe more than anyone. This newly opened coffee shop sits across the street from Sitwell’s, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Drawing a decent crowd everyday, this self-proclaimed, “Conscious Café” gives people a taste for all things astral. The music is soothing; the art is abstract and the smell of incense seeps into your nostrils. Om café boasts about its organic food, but it truly does stand out – maybe because much of it comes from their garden. You can enjoy a Psychedelic Shroom Salad, the Deli Lama or the Loxmi Bagel – a traditional lox and capers bagel, named after Laxmi, the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity. Even the retail shop attached sells local, fair-trade clothes and trinkets. “We are really living our values here, all our coffee is direct-trade, which is better than fair-trade,” says Lydia, manager and community activist. “We recycle and compost everything, even our carryout containers and silverware are compostable.” This is a perfect stop for those who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, or just want some good food.
Must Have: The Deli Lama. A cheese and veggie sandwich that is sure to enlighten your sense of taste. After finishing you will surely be at peace.

Where: 329 Ludlow Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45220

When: Mon 8am-8pm; Tue-Thu 8am-10pm; Fri-Sat 8am-11pm; Sun 8am-6pm

Taza Coffee Shop:
Italian for “cup” this place gives everyone a place to fill his or her artistic one. For those artists facing a creative block, the wide-open feel in the bottom level of this café seems sparks creativity. This part is full of right-brainers and jaw-dropping art – much of which is painted on non-traditional canvases, like plywood or a mattress, for example. Nothing in here feels constricted or cluttered. Huge windows let sunlight in to view art in pure, natural light, but there are still dark corners to snuggle up in. A platform in the front of the main room presents musicians with a great stage to share what they’ve created. If you’re in the mood to work, make your way upstairs and you will be rewarded with a space that resembles a loft in an artist’s studio. “It’s clean, not too loud, you can really get stuff done here,” says Jeff T. a daily patron and self-proclaimed coffee-shop know-it-all. The employees here ad to the inspiring atmosphere here – ask any of them a question and they will give you a thoughtful answer, maybe just what you needed to start your latest masterpiece.
Must Have: Three Kings Latte. This elixir starts with espresso, and then wisely adds hazelnut, almond and caramel flavors. After drinking this you will find yourself following the stars back here for another revelatory experience.

Where: 2900 Jefferson Ave Cincinnati, OH 45219

When: Mon-Sat 8am-10pm; Sun 11am-8pm