Category Archives: Bars

Five Places to Get a Great Cocktail in Over the Rhine

I originally set out to make a list of some of the best bars in the city for this article. Nothing too fancy, just a list of places I would recommend to people from out of town if they wanted to be sure of getting a great cocktail. Once I sat down to think about it I realized I had a problem. Not only do we have too many great bars and restaurants who are putting skill, art, and love into their cocktail menu to list in one article, but I was missing out on a great excuse to try a whole bunch of new places in the name of research. So for now I decided to limit myself to the one area of the city I am already way too familiar with and will be adding the top five cocktail bars of other neighborhoods in future weeks.

12th Street OTR

Five Places to Get a Great Cocktail in Over the Rhine

The rapid change of Over the Rhine from an economically depressed historical neighborhood to the city’s newest hot-spot for trend setters and foodies has been a boon for cocktail aficionados. Craft cocktails are a must for every new bar and restaurant in the area, leaving us with dozens of places within a three block radius to get a $10 cocktail.  Luckily we are talking about really good cocktails here and they are pretty darn strong to boot so that makes them easier to swallow (har.) But with limited time on your hands you may be wondering which spots to be sure to hit on a night out. Here is my list of five places in Over the Rhine where you are guaranteed to get a good cocktail.

5. The Lackman: This bar is probably my least favorite on the list when it comes to atmosphere and price but since this is list is about quality of cocktails it made the cut. The drinks I’ve had there are always wonderfully executed and served with a consistent quality. They have some barrel-aged drinks on a rotating basis, including a barrel aged negroni last time I was there. The bottle selection is not very deep but it is high quality. Service is usually very good even when it is crowded. The beer selection is great and rotates regularly. In short they are doing everything right, they are just missing some of the heart of other places and they charge you a bit more for the pleasure.

4. Bakersfield: I’ve written before about my admiration of Bakersfields’ cocktails. They were the first place in the area where I ordered a barrel aged manhattan and I love their Red Headed Stranger Cocktail. I also am a big fan of their $3 shot specials which always include a solid bourbon or tequila selection. I recommend stopping by on Fridays for a $3 shot of Four Roses. The cocktail list shows a great deal of thought and compliments their food and the vibe of the place. Just don’t go there if you are looking for a gin martini. Bakersfield loses points for being a tequila and whiskey only kind of place but you can’t expect urban cowboys to drink fruit flavored vodka now can you?

3. Neon’s: When Charlie and I did our run around OTR for Yelp Drinks Neon’s ended up with the winning cocktail with a smoked elderflower that was out of this world. They make their own bitters and syrups for their cocktails as well as a huge number of infusions so the variety of drinks you can get there is almost endless. They have a beautiful patio and a really excellent beer selection that is always good for trying something new. The drawbacks seem to have a lot to do with how popular it has become, with crowding and slow service being the most common complaint. Also, although I enjoy the creativity that can come from making your own infusions, they can be hit or miss. I’ve tried several bourbon infusions at Neon’s and unfortunately many of them seemed to be a waste of good bourbon.

2.  The Senate: The Senate Restaurant is one few places in OTR that manages to be a triple-threat. Great food, extensive beer list, and amazing cocktails that rotate out on a regular basis. The senate hits all the flavor profiles in their house cocktail list, from bitter to sweet, from fruity to fatty, from classic to cutting edge. I had a drink there once that was made with duck fat and looked like sludge but tasted divine and was served with a fig newton garnish. Recently I took my friend there for her bachelorette party and this was her reaction to the Fidel Castro she was drinking.

I think that says it all.

1. Japp’s: I realize that a lot of people probably think I am on the payroll for Japp’s considering how often I rave about it. But seriously, this place has everything a cocktail nerd could ask for. First of all, the atmosphere is great. Beautiful historic building with no TVs and frequent live bands that compliment the style. But this is an article about cocktails and here is where Japp’s really shines. The staff is trained amazingly well with a really high degree of professionalism and consistency for all of their drinks and I am willing to bet that this is one of the few places you can go in the whole city where you can order a Blood and Sand or a Martinez and not have the bartender ask you what’s in it. On top of the classic cocktails, the rotating weekly list of house specials is always great and the bottle selection is amazing. And let’s not forget that fresh juices and house made syrups and bitters that are standard at this location. Nothing but quality and the price is actually pretty reasonable if you look at what the other places are charging for similarly crafted cocktails. Not to mention that the bar’s owner and still regular bartender Molly Wellmann literally wrote the book on craft cocktails.

So now is the part where you go ahead and tell me how wrong I am. What places did I leave off? What places are over rated? I want to know. And before anyone says anything I do want to give honorable mention to Arnold’s, where I would actually rather drink most nights than a lot of the other places on this list. Arnold’s has a personality that can’t be beat in this city and they have upped their cocktail game considerably in the past few years but the mixed drinks are still inconsistent and rely on pre-made mixes . And let’s face it; wouldn’t we all rather keep Arnold’s feeling a little more down to earth and little less trendy?

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Some more Yard House pictures…

I’m not going to do a full-scale review of the Yard House just yet because 1) I largely agree with what Tom said in his review  and 2) I don’t want to judge a business on a soft opening (especially when I’m eating and drinking for free). I’ll just include a few of my thoughts short format belong, along with a few pictures.

– The space itself is just a tad above average. Very minimalist, with a one story, spread out floor plan. I think keeping it open looks neat, but will lead to crowd volume issues during busy hours, which was not helped at the preview by the music blasting. I like the Lager House’s materials and construction considerably more.

– The view is beautiful of the Ohio River and Roebling Bridge (see below). This is going to be a fantastic place to sit for happy hour once the weather warms up.

– While there are a ton of tap handles, I wasn’t super impressed by the selection. There aren’t enough locals and too many handles are used for macro. I understand that  this is at The Banks and caters to a wide subset of the population (AKA: not just beer geeks), but I think there’s considerable room to improve. I think this will happen as the folks responsible for beer buying there get a better understanding of the lay of the land in terms of local beers in Cincinnati.

– The small bites of food I had were fantastic in every case. I’m looking forward to coming back during happy hour sometime when they have half off appetizers and I believe pizzas.

– People talk a lot about what this means for the Lager House. I think the effect with be at worst minimal and at best a benefit to both places. With the Red’s season starting back up, there will clearly be enough demand for both places. Also, I’m a believer that a rising ride lifts all boats. I think the Lager House’s superior beer selection will make the Yard House up their game and I believe the Yard Houses’s eclectic and high-quality food selection will make the Lager House up theirs. Overall, having both is great for consumers. I’m not going to say that the two are equivalent, but if the Lager House was full, I’d be more than happy to walk over to the Yard House for a beer and snack (or vice-versa).

– Overall, I was impressed with not just the Yard House and its food/beer, but with the service, as well. Obviously things were slow because of the crowd size and learning the systems, but it’s nice to see servers new at a place, still chipper and pleasant to interact with.

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The Yard House from afar. It’s situated right next to the apartments at The Banks.

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A little closer up view.

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My terrible, washed out picture of the main entrance.

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The bar: lots and lots of beer. The taps wrap around the entire thing.

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Those are all the kegs on tap at the time.

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A fantastic view of the Ohio River.

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Yard House Preview-Review

All of us here at Queen City Drinks were lucky enough to get invites to the soft opening of the newest place on the banks, The Yard House. The Yard House is an interesting place with an amazing beer selection on 160 taps! Due to the overall craziness at the entrance I started with a Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA after actually getting a chance to review the full list I moved to their special house beer, a Belgian Amber Tripel.

That is a lot of taps

The Yard House Belgian Amber Tripel clocks in at 9% abv and is a complex brew. It’s much more of an amber then a tripel as the sweet caramel flavors from the amber overwhelm the fruity Belgian action. It’s definitely worth a try but pales in comparison to the rest of their beer menu. Not to say this is a bad beer, just that they have SO MANY amazing brews.

A nitro tap is a beautiful thing!

I finished off my time there with what is quickly becoming one of my favorite beers, Rivertown’s Roebling porter on a nitro tap. This is only the second place I’ve seen this, the first being Rivertown’s tap room. Out of the bottle Roebling is so-so but on a nitro tap it is absolutely astounding.

Food wise they had people roving around with trays of appetizers and small bites. The joint was so packed it was hard to get around to try the different tastes and then I ended up hanging out at the bar while most of the trays moved around the edges of the tables. I did end up being able to try 2 or 3 things including some rocking pasta with chicken and some kind of Asian beef and rice.

Speaking of food brings me to the fact that the Yard House doesn’t seem like a restaurant. This is mostly due to the way it’s laid out, big central bar surrounded by a ring of 4-person high tops with 6 person booths lining the edges. There is also a massive patio with a mix of 4 and 6 person tables. The size and focus of the bar really makes it seem that that is what this is, an amazing bar. Sure it’s got food, most bars do, and that food is likely amazing. But the first part of the menu is all beer. Now don’t misunderstand me, this is not a bad thing at all. And time may show that my observation is completely wrong.

Building wise it’s a really nice place. An amazing view of the river, the Roebling bridge, and Paul Brown stadium. So 2 walls are all glass, 1 wall is the entrance, the last wall… yeah it’s a massive room full of kegs! On the inside they’ve got some great automatic blinds that they seemed to be playing with randomly last night. It’d go from slightly dark to mid-day brightness as soon as they opened the blinds. There is a ring of TVs above the bar showing sports.

One note on local beer, the Yard House has quite a few local brews but noticeably absent is anything from Blank Slate, MadTree, 50 West, Cellar Dweller or Listermans/Triple Digit. However Rivertown, Mt. Carmel, and Moerlein are well represented. Now the reason for this, I’ve been told, is that the Yard House nailed down the tap list something like 6 months ago. MadTree didn’t exist and Blank Slate was still self-distributing back then. So give them some time and I’m confident their tap handles will make an appearance.

There is another soft opening night tonight and the general public can get in after 8 pm. Then it opens for real tomorrow afternoon. I would suggest giving them a few weeks before going though. Let all the kinks get hammered out and give the massive crowds time to die down. But definitely make a point to get there soon it is an awesome, very welcomed, addition to the banks!

Now keep an eye out for the thoughts from other members of Queen City Drinks!

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Yard House Tap List Revealed

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With a couple weeks left until the Yard House chain’s location here in Cincinnati opens, we got ahold of what will be available to drink on once they open. I’ll leave the commentary to you folks and add the disclaimer that I’m sure some of this will change by the time they open the doors.

You can find the menu (PDF) here.

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Dutch’s & MadTree

Dutch’s (facebook page) is easily my favorite bar around town, but calling it a bar is really a disservice. It’s a bottle shop, amazing craft beer bar, and larder. So basically it’s full of great beer to drink there, great beer to take home, and great food to go with your great beer! Multiple times a week they have special tap takeovers and last night was no different. MadTree is up in the house with Batch One, Identity Crisis, and PyscHOPathy!

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Yelp Drinks 2013 Rapid Review

When I read about Yelp Drinks 2013 I have to admit I got excited. I am something of a craft cocktail obsessive and the chance to check out a few places I’d been hearing about for half price was too tempting to miss. The deal is simple, 20 local bars and restaurants agree to feature three of their drinks at half price anytime before nine during the featured week, which just so happens to be this week. The timing was great for me because I’ve just started doing a second, all alcohol, podcast called Bottoms Up and I thought that featuring some exciting local bars would make for a good show. So last night Charlie, my partner-in-crime and co-host, picked me up and we hit 5 of the bars in 90 minutes. You can listen as we talk to the bartenders and try the drinks starting Friday over on the Charlie Tonic site but here is my rapid fire review of the five locations we hit.

Blood Orange Martini at Mayberry.

Blood Orange Martini at Mayberry.

Mayberry: I’ve been wanting to try the gastro pub for awhile now so we started here with the plan to get some food while we had a drink. Oddly enough the menu really didn’t appeal to me. Everything seemed to have pork belly and I know that doesn’t sound like a problem but it just wasn’t what we were in the mood for so we settled on ordering two Blood Orange Martini’s and some Bacon Garlic Popcorn to snack on. The Blood Orange Martini was made with vodka, freshly squeeze blood orange juice, and triple sec. It was an uncomplicated and refreshing drink and the driest of all the cocktails we sampled. Not too sweet at all and if you don’t like the taste of vodka you probably won’t like it. The burnt orange peel was a nice touch.

OTR cocktail at Japp's

OTR cocktail at Japp’s

Japp’s Since 1879Of course I am no stranger to Japp’s but with it right across the street from Mayberry I couldn’t walk past without trying a drink. Since we were in Over the Rhine I decided to order the OTR Cocktail and it was an interesting experience in having the same cocktail made by a different person. The OTR has vodka, vanilla, fresh squeezed lime, cranberry and rose water. The first time I had it the vanilla and rose water came through and it was a much softer and sweeter take on the old stand by combo of vodka, cranberry, and citrus. This time the lime was much stronger and I didn’t taste any vanilla at all. Sadly, this was the first time Japp’s has let me down.

Rosemary Bistro at Taste of Belgium

Rosemary Bistro at Taste of Belgium

Taste of Belgium: I’ve been a fan of these addictive little waffles since I first picked them up at a farmer’s market but I haven’t been to their new restaurant yet, in part because I thought that as much as I love the waffles, eating them for dinner seemed a bit much.  But it turns out that Taste of Belgium was my favorite food stop of the night. To make up for the disappointing and over-priced popcorn, Charlie and I decided to split a burger.  It was delicious and the toppings of bacon, goat cheese and caramelized apples complimented each other beautifully. Not only was the food great but the cocktail here tied for first place of the night. The Rosemary Bistro was made with Watershed Bourbon Barrel Gin, house-made rosemary leek syrup, and topped off with tonic water and a sprig of rosemary. The result is a crisp and slightly savory take on a traditional gin and tonic. Two thumbs up for this one. 

What's left of my Yelptini at Below Zero.

What’s left of my Yelptini at Below Zero.

Below Zero Lounge: The drink here was the most disappointing but the atmosphere was the most fun so I guess it’s a draw. I ordered the Yelptini which has vodka, triple sec, and cranberry juice. Now you may be saying to yourself, as I was, wait a minute isn’t that basically a Cosmopolitan minus the lime? Yes indeed it is and it tasted basically like a Cosmopolitan as well. Nevertheless, a cosmo is a nice cocktail and I managed to forget to take a picture until the glass was nearly empty so it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it. The crowd at Below Zero were unpretentious, talkative, and just plain fun to be around. I admit I was disappointed when it was time to move on to our final stop.

Smoked Elderflower at Neon's

Smoked Elderflower at Neon’s

Neon’s Unplugged: I never though I would enjoy a bar called Neon’s but this is where we got the second winning drink of the night. With its long narrow interior, dark wood beams, patrons wearing knit hats, and a dog laying by the entrance Neon’s felt like a pub in a European fishing village but the variety of craft beer and house-made bitters was decidedly modern. We decided on the Smoked Elderflower cocktail and this one was a winner. Something like a smoked gimlet, this drink was made with vodka, smoked fig bitters, St Germain, a splash of lemon juice, Sprite and then garnished with fresh lavender and a lemon wheel. The result was a smokey-citrus taste that was really unique and enjoyable. This is a bar I will definitely be trying again.

If you want to try these or any of the other 55 drinks that are on special during Yelp Drinks you have until Sunday to make it out. If I get the chance I will be stopping by Arnold’s for their Maple and Bacon infused Wild Turkey Old Fashioned.

Also in the interest of full disclosure and because I don’t want everyone thinking that I regularly slam back five cocktails on a work night, except for the first stop Charlie and I shared one of each of these drinks so it’s not as bad as it looks. Drink happy and drink safe!

You can hear Charlie and I try all of these drinks on Episode 2 of Bottoms Up.

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33 Cent Martinis at Japps

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All this for 33 cents. Too good to be true?

Japp’s since 1879 has been generating buzz with their craft cocktails and frequent retro-inspired events ever since they opened on Main Street in Over the Rhine a few  years ago and this week is no exception. Last Friday Japp’s introduced their Prohibition-priced happy hour with .33 martinis. That is an unheard of price for a drink and with my recently discovered love of martinis, course I had to check it out right away.

My first surprise was that this was not a one-off event. Even with bulk and wholesale pricing I figure that a .33 martini has to be a money-losing operation. Of course these martini’s are one-per-customer, but I did assume that this was a special event. Perhaps to celebrate Groundhog Day or to commemorate the anniversary of the first publication of the Oxford English Dictionary. But I was delighted to learn that this will be the price of martini’s from 4-6 pm everyday that Japp’s is open for business.

My second surprise was not really much of a surprise but these are really good martini’s. I wouldn’t have expected any less of Molly Wellmann of course but the price and the fact that I had never had Plymouth Gin before did make me slightly nervous. In truth I suspected that I would be getting a good drink but served in miniature proportions. Instead it was a full-sized martini with two healthy olives served along with it. The picture above doesn’t quite capture the original martini because I was too busy enjoying it to remember to take pictures.

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The Blood and Sand after Ginny had a few drinks.

Upon further reflection the logic behind the so cheap-they’re-practically-free pricing becomes apparent. It is easy to stop by somewhere for beer after work and leave after one. After a martini it somehow seems a little easier to forget the responsibilities waiting for you at home. Plus, once I had my martini I realized that I still had plenty of money left to try another cocktail. I opted for a classic cocktail of the silent film era, a Blood and Sand. Named after the Valentino movie of the same name it has scotch, cherry herring, sweet vermouth and orange juice. I had read about the drink but never tried it so I ordered one and the lovely young lady behind the bar didn’t bat an eye or ask me what was in it.

The only downside was that service runs a little slower than you might be used to. A well-made cocktail takes a little bit of time, as do most of the specialty cocktails that Japp’s is famous for. As the bar filled up closer to six it got harder and harder to catch a bartender’s eye but frankly I enjoyed the time catching up with a friend and enjoying the wonderful jazz band who was playing in the corner. I have a suspicion that I will be making 33 cent martini’s a Friday happy-hour tradition.

If you want to hear more from Molly Wellmann, discussing Japp’s, cocktails, and the history of the building you can hear my two-part interview with her on The Charlie Tonic Hour starting with Episode 15.

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The first Oskar Blues Hops and Heifers Burger Night at Dutch’s (2/7; 6:00 PM)

This was just sent over to us from the good folks at Dutch’s  just sent this event over. If you need a little background, Oskar Blues entered the Ohio craft beer market within the last year, making a huge splash. OB is an institution  in Colorado, both in barrel capacity in involvement in their community. They actually own a sustainable farm where they grow hops and graze cattle. To come full circle, these burger nights at Dutch’s will definitely feature beef from that farm and more than likely hops, too.

On to the good stuff…

Oskar Blues Hops & Heifers Burger Night
Thursday, February 7th; 6:00 PM

This will be the first of a regular, weekly Thursday night burger night featuring burgers made with beef from Oskar Blues Hops & Heifers farm.

In addition to weekly burger nights, on the first Thursday of every month we will tap a special release beer from OB, and it doesn’t stop there…

As a symbol of our enthusiasm for, and to help promote this partnership, Dutch’s will be putting on its first, kinda-sorta-not-really permanent handle! Everyday at Dutch’s you will be able to enjoy a rotating selection of Oskar Blues beer on draft! Although we thrive on an ever-changing selection of craft beer on draft, we thought that this Oskar Blues handle will serve as a reminder of our partnership with them and our weekly burger night.

This month we will tap Oskar Blues / SKA Brewing oSKAr the G’Rauch, a collaborative smoked IPA.

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Yelp Drinks 2013!

Yelp has been doing Yelp Drinks over the past couple years and it’s been a great event. The short of it: three select drinks at certain bars/restaurants are 50% off. This is a great way to visit some new places and an even better way to try some new drinks. The full details are below.

http://www.yelp.com/events/cincinnati-yelp-drinks-2013

It’s back! Our famous city-wide, week-long happy hour… Yelp Drinks!

Cincinnatians know how to get down. As it happens, so does Yelp! For seven straight days, we’ll be getting down with 50% drink specials from bars and restaurants all around Cincy. These participating businesses have each chosen three of their best bevvies to show off—so start coming up with your sorry-I’m-late-to-work excuses now!

Who: You and your thirsty friends!
When: February 18th – February 24th, 2013
Where: Various locations around Cincy!
How: Just click I’M IN on the right side of the event page.

A few quick notes:
1) Yelp Drinks prices are 50% off of the regular listed price until *9:00 PM during regular business hours from February 18th-24.
2) No coupons. Just let them know you’re there for “Yelp Drinks!”
3) Please tip on regular price.
4) Please consume responsibly and designate a driver.
5) You must be 21+ to participate, clearly.
6) Follow @YelpCincy #yelpdrinks if you wanna share with your Twitter friends

Participating venues [after the jump. -JO]: Continue reading

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What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

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I am not proud to admit this but I am still wondering what to do for New Year’s Eve. Typically I go to various private parties for New Year’s in order to avoid the overhyped and overpriced headache that is New Year’s Eve, aka “amateur  night.” Who wants to spend $60 a head to get cold appetizers and a  cheap “champagne” toast with a bunch of strangers?

But for various reasons the parties are not happening this year and I admit that I am not immune to the glamour and promise of New Year’s Eve, no matter how cynical I sound. So I am trying to decide between staying home and ringing in the new year from the comfort and safety of my couch or else braving the crowds to look for community and conviviality to begin 2013. I am still making up my mind but here are a few events that look like they’d be worth the price of admission.

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Know Theater’s 7th annual NYE Speakeasy Party: I am sucker for themed parties and vintage cocktails so this sounds like a really good time to me. Room games, appetizers, a DJ and two bars serving martinis, sidecars, and my personal favorite, Manhattans. And for $15 in advance it seems like a pretty reasonable price and even if you have a miserable time you know the money is going to support local theater.

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Japp’s: If you want a wider variety of cocktails to go with your vintage cocktail dress Japp’s in Over the Rhine is hosting their first annual NYE Party and Olive Drop. You can dance to DJ Tanner and Keith Jones and the Makeshifts, get your picture taken in the Retrocentric photo booth (I have no idea what that means) and of course enjoy both classic and original cocktails made by people who know the difference between a martini and a gibson. VIP packages are available if you want to pay $25 for a bottle of champagne and some party hats.

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Arnold’s NYE with the Dancing Pigs: If you are more of a beer and burger person you can still have a classy and fun NYE with Cincinnati’s oldest bar. Dinner, music by the Dancing Pigs, champagne toast as well as coffee and beignets after midnight can all be yours for $15.

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The Cabaret: If dancing and fabulousness are more important to you on NYE than the quality of you cocktail or beer than I would recommend Cincinnati’s best (and let’s face it, only) drag cabaret show bar. I’ve been for a fundraiser and it was a blast. The performers are great, the music is all about dancing and fun and the drinks are reasonable. Music by DJ Syimone, a free photo booth and best of all, no cover.

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Of course there is also one very important option left, and it’s probably the one I will end up taking if I go out. It’s all well and good to go out and look for something new, fun and different to do on New Year’s Eve but if you have found a local bar you are happy with, where the staff know you and the regulars are friendly there is no reason to look any further for the big night. After all New Year’s Eve is all about starting the new year in a way that reflects how you hope to spend the coming year. Friends you can have a laugh with, someone you are happy to kiss at midnight, and a few good drinks are all most of us really want for the New Year. Here’s hoping that you find it.

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