Ohio State Spring Game 2013: An out-of-towner's field guide to Cincinnati

Cincinnati. Basically. - Andy Lyons

So you're headed to Ohio State's 2013 Spring Game? Here's a few quick tips to enjoying your stay outside of the cozy confines of Paul Brown Stadium.

Because of necessary construction in Ohio Stadium (and part as a regional recruiting ploy), Urban Meyer and the rest of the Ohio State brass have decided to have this year's spring game take place in the home of the Bengals, Paul Brown Stadium. While there will no doubt be drama surrounding the players – who plays well, who surprises, how the special teamers look, which wide receiver gets to use AJ Green's locker – Buckeye fans unfamiliar with the Queen City are going to need to know what to do with the hours that aren't spent pre-gaming, spring gaming, and post-gaming.

Cincinnati is not Columbus; it is more dense, more compact, and more of a pro sports town than a college football one. Visitors to Cincinnati will not find a whole lot of college football-themed areas or memorabilia, but they will find lots of pride in the local teams – the three religious pillars being those of the Reds, Bengals and local college basketball. However, if you're looking to expand your horizons a little bit beyond the spring game itself, Cincinnati has a lot of restaurants, bars and activities to offer within downtown and its immediately surrounding areas. For local flavor on the Ohio side of the river, you're going to want to explore mostly The Banks. The Fountain Square-area is worth checking out as well. If you are looking for a more Polaris-ish atmosphere, then crossing the bridge into Newport, Kentucky is your best bet.

We'll start with breakfast : the game is at 1 p.m. EDT instead of the usual noon kick, so fans will have an extra hour of breakfast, brunch and tailgating. There is a surfeit of Bruegger's Bagels restaurants in the greater Cincinnati, but if you are looking for something with a more local flavor, Servatii's Bakery (there's a Fountain Square location as well as one at Court and Walnut) is close by with baked goods, and Busken does not disappoint either. For a more complete brunch, there is a First Watch on the corner of 7th and Walnut. Remember this area, as you'll most likely be going back to it later.

Onto the game – you can park in Paul Brown Stadium's lot if you like, but it is by far the most expensive option. Remember, this is not Columbus. Tailgating to the point of getting hammered, like you would on any other game day, can be a bit more frowned upon along The Banks. The nice part is that beer will be sold in the stadium, and if you're a craft aficionado, the Christian Moerlein Brewery is highly recommended. As for parking, there are three buildings surrounding Great American Ball Park, the Reds' stadium. Those lots are a short walk from the football stadium but are much cheaper and far easier to access. Along those lines, if you're thinking of catching a baseball game in the evening, the Reds will unfortunately be in Pittsburgh for the weekend. But the Reds Hall of Fame is a fascinating place if you have any interest in baseball whatsoever and have time to get lost in a little bit of history.

Now, the food. The main social gathering areas of downtown Cincinnati are a little bit north of the stadium but are within a comfortable walking distance. If you've got a taste for delicious Mexican cuisine, Nada is highly recommended. Their fish tacos are on par with anything you'd get out in California and I could write a whole 6000 words on them alone. It is located on Walnut between 7th and 6th. Via Vite is right on Fountain Square and is also an excellent option – you'll want to try the lamb or the bacon-wrapped pork. For Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, try Palomino's; the wood-fired pizza is highly sought after. Arnold's Bar and Grill is a solid choice for American cuisine as well. The most popular restaurants are going to be just northeast of Fountain Square between 6th, 7th or 8th. If you're looking for more family friendly (or cheaper) options, you should cross the Purple People bridge into Newport and try Dewey's Pizza at Newport on the Levee. It's an Ohio-based chain and should be familiar to those from the area, but it is quite tasty. There aren't a whole lot of midwestern standby restaurants such as Max and Erma's or Chili's (and with good reason). If you've got a small army to sit/feed, you'll have to head out to the suburbs for that.

Speaking of Newport, it is very much like Polaris. It has an AMC theater, a bowling alley, a Gameworks and the famous Newport Aquarium. If you brought children with you, this is probably the place for you and your family. The dining is a little bit more classy than that of your typical suburban menu, but there are some familiar names (it has a Brio's and a Mitchell's Fish Market).

For the bar-goers, many people will point you in the direction of Holy Grail because they are apparently contractually obligated to do so, or they want to keep you out of their favorite bar. Holy Grail's service can leave much to be desired sometimes, but can also be pretty solid as far as sports bars go. If you've got a big enough party, you can get a tap at your own table and pretty much do your own thing. My personal recommendation is a small bar on 7th called Knockback Nats. There is only one tap and it varies, but the atmosphere for sports fans is really the kicker. It is more known for its food than its drink selection, but has bottles of high-quality beers and is a great sports bar. If you're looking for a more classy joint or a more craft beer-ish atmosphere, Rock Bottom Brewery is right on Fountain Square and makes its own brews. The Morelein Lager House is more of a restaurant than a bar, but there are taps right on the table of Moerlein's excellent selection of beers. Yardhouse and Toby Keith's are the other of the "big four" at The Banks and might appeal to your interests. Another place you might try if you're feeling a bit of a walk will be right across the river again to Hofbrauhaus in Newport. It has a very nice outdoor patio as well as authentic German steins inside. Warning: Hofbrau has an early closing time on Thursday or Sunday's, so if you're planning on staying out late then, find another place to go afterwards. On Friday or Saturday you should be good to go though.

More advice if you're planning to stay out late – Cincinnati is, again, not like Columbus. There are certain border lines that should be crossed with caution. For example, if you're planning to try some bars in Over-The-Rhine, it's developmental and on the rise, but might feel uncomfortable for some (ed. note: perceived socioeconomic worries should never be a reason to miss a good time). It is not advisable though to stray north of Liberty Street or beyond Findlay Market to the east. If you stay within the downtown area (Riverfront, stadium area, central downtown, Fountain Square, 7th and 8th) you'll have absolutely nothing to worry about.

If you're staying the entire weekend, a good place for Sunday brunch is It's Just Crepes on 4th, which is probably the closest restaurant to the stadium of those we've mentioned. After that, if you've driven, you may want to take a short jaunt out to the Union Terminal and Museum Center. Cincinnati is big on its history, so most of the downtown attractions will be of that nature. Another place to visit is the Carew Tower, which is the tallest building on the skyline just south of Fountain Square. It has a nice array of shops and restaurants, and also has an observation deck if you're into that sort of thing. Additionally, if you're willing to drive a little bit or if you've made a deal with your significant other that the trip will not ONLY be about a spring football game, Mount Adams is one of the most beautiful areas in Ohio. The art museum is free to the public and is up on a high hill overlooking the city and into Northern Kentucky. Another highly recommended and famous tourist attraction around that area is Krohn Conservatory, which has monthly floral exhibits and is also free.

Finally, a few other places to keep in your back pocket can all be found in Gateway Quarter. Senate (a gourmet hot dog place), A Taste of Belgium (chicken and fancy waffles), and Bakersfield OTR (tacos, tacos, tacos, and whiskey) won't do you wrong.

If any other Cincinnatians have additional thoughts, or if you've been someplace in Cincy and want to share, let us know in the comments below.

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