The holidays are in full swing, but that doesn't mean life has to be stressful for the next couple of weeks. In fact, a score of Cincinnati activities can turn any Grinch around.
After a long respite, WinterFest is back with fun for the whole family (and out-of-town guests). Craft shows, special dinners and lunches and pop-culture bars will get you in the spirit, and so will a Festivus celebration.
Space might be limited for some of the dinners and lunches, so get your reservations now. Baby, it's cold outside, but Cincinnati is just warming up.
Find last-minute gifts (and merriment) at this weekend's Over-the-Rhine holiday markets. On Saturday, Dec. 16, The City Flea hosts its final market of the year, this time at night.
From 5-10 p.m., watch as Washington Park is transformed into a Winter Wonderland with more than 100 vendors. Coffee Emporium will keep the coffee and hot chocolate piping hot, and local food vendors Empanadas Aqui, Babushka Pierogies and Lil's Bagels will offer some grub.
The next day, Rhinegeist's monthly Art of Vine event takes place, from noon to 7 p.m., at the brewery. Around 60 local and regional artisans will vend their homemade goods, ranging from coffee to knits.
Grab one of Rhinegeist's award-winning beers, sample food from Sartre's kiosk inside the brewery and shop till you drop.
City Flea, Washington Park, 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine; Art on Vine, Rhinegeist, 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine
Ramen Pop-Up at Northside Yacht Club
NSYC isn't exactly presenting a holiday pop-up, but what could be better this time of year than a steaming warm bowl of ramen to soothe the soul?
Former Kaze chef Hideki Harada and his wife, Yuko, will open their storefront Japanese restaurant, Kiki, next year in College Hill, so the couple is giving it a go on Mondays in December at NSYC. So far, the menu has consisted of two ramens -- one meat, one vegetarian -- and two kinds of cocktails.
Hideki makes tonkotsu ramen, with pork broth, tea-marinated egg, namuru (spicy bean sprouts) and black mayu (black garlic oil). The veggie one swaps out the pork and pork broth for soy butter-braised mixed mushrooms and mushroom broth.
Special drinks include the Kiki Tiki cocktail (gin, lavender, lime, sparkling wine and lychee), and hot cider combined with your choice of spiced rum or bourbon. You can also order from the NSYC's regular food and drink menus. The event has been popular, so it's recommended to get there early or risk them selling out. The final ramen date will be Dec. 18.
4227 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, 513-541-0528, 4 p.m. until the ramens sell out
Boca Holiday Lunches and Dinner
From Dec. 18-22, Boca brings back its annual decadent holiday lunches, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. each day. Though limited space remains for the lunches, Boca will be open for Sunday dinner on Dec. 17, from 5-9 p.m.
Both menus will have pommes soufflees, beef wellington with truffle sauce, wild mushroom duxelles and prosciutto; beet "mezzaluna" salad; gnocchi fonduta (crispy potato dumplings with black truffle and taleggio fondue); and oysters served Rockefeller style.
The items are also available on their Boca's dinner menu, but Boca isn't open for lunch or for Sunday dinner, which makes the events extra special. Boca will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day but will be open for a $95/per person four-course New Year's Eve celebration.
114 East Sixth Street, Downtown, 513-542-2022
The Presidents Room Feast of the Seven Fishes
Every Christmas Eve, places in southern Italy observe something called The Vigil (La Vigilia), which is a feast comprising at least seven types of seafood.
The Presidents Room prepares its grand Seven Fishes tour of Italy on Dec. 23. Patrons will receive seven courses for $95, with wine pairings costing an additional $25. A reception at 6 p.m. will lead into the 7 p.m. dinner. The first course contains hors d'oeuvres, such as butternut squash cannoli and sea urchin toast with foie gras. Other courses include: brodetto tonnarelli, a fish stew; prawn salad; sea bass; and, for dessert, a tiramisu with duck egg sabayon (custard) and Turkish coffee gelato.
Reservations are required, and the restaurant will not be able to accommodate seafood allergies. For reservations, call 513-721-2260.
812 Race St., Downtown
C & D Northside's Festivus Party
According to Seinfeld lore, Dec. 23 marks Festivus, a holiday Frank Costanza invented in the famous episode "The Strike", which first aired on Dec. 18, 1997.
The unofficial holiday has flourished as an alternative to the commercialism of Christmas. On the exact date of Festivus, Northside dive bar C&D Northside will throw a Festivus-themed party, replete with a Festivus pole, the Airing of Grievances, Feats of Strength, a potluck dinner and, as always, Old Style on tap for $2, happy hour, free pool, board games and pinball. It's a Festivus for the rest of us!
1714 Hanfield St., Northside, 513-541-988, starting at 4 p.m.
Mita's Christmas Eve Brunch
Mita's isn't typically opened on Sundays, so that's what makes this year's Sunday brunch one-of-a-kind.
Chef Jose Salazar created a menu depicting the flavors of Spain and Latin America. He'll have five kinds of tapas, including ceviche de camarones (California shrimp) and tortilla Espanola (Spanish potato and onion omelet). Entrees like benedicto de jamon serrano (serrano ham, spinach, poached eggs, saffron hollandaise sauce and a Blue Oven Bakery English muffin), arepas, beef sliders, and sides of patatas bravas and fresh fruit will be available.
If you miss the brunch, Mita's will also have a New Year's Eve dinner. Make reservations online.
501 Race St, 513-421-6482, Downtown; brunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Yuletide Nightmare at Video Archive
Overlook Lodge and Video Archive co-owner Jacob Trevino had a genius idea to turn his bars into holiday-themed pop-ups, contrasting the light and darkness of the holidays. At the Video Archive, he gives the 1993 Tim Burton film "The Nightmare Before Christmas" the bar treatment.
To enter the bar, you must first tell a joke to the attendant, who will open the door for you only if he doesn't know the punchline. Video footage of an actress playing Sally screens on a loop, alongside "holiday" films like "Gremlins."
The 10 cocktails reference "The Nightmare Before Christmas," such as Deadly Nightshade. It's a clear skull filled with citrus-infused vodka, holiday-spiced cranberry juice, soda and lavender smoke pouring out of it. Santa Jack is made with espresso, candy cane-infused vodka, iced hot chocolate and marshmallows, and the Dr. Finkelstein is winter-spiced shochu and Earl grey tea.
965 E McMillan St., Walnut Hills, 513-559-9500
Miracle at The Overlook Lodge
Over at the cozy yet murderous The Shining-themed Overlook Lodge, in Pleasant Ridge, axes are now covered in wreaths and "A Christmas Story" lamp lights dangle from the mantle. "Gremlins" is replaced with "Bad Santa" and other holiday movies playing on the TVs.
At Miracle, choose from 10 different cocktails, including "Die Hard's" Yippee Ki Yay Motherf***er (Barbados rum, cachaca, Trinidad overproof rum, purple yam-coconut orgeat and pineapple served in a Santa mug), the punny You'll Shoot Your Rye Out (pumpkin-spiced rye whiskey, Budweiser-marshmallow syrup, and egg), Run Rudolph Run (blanco tequila, coffee liqueur, iced hot chocolate, Mexican spices and topped with whipped cream) and the green-tinged Jingle Ball Nog (cognac, Amontillado sherry, peanut butter, almond milk, pandan -- a type of green South Asian plant -- cream, nougat syrup, egg and nutmeg). Both pop-ups run until Christmas, so there's still time to absorb the Christmas or not-so-Christmas feels.
6083 Montgomery Rd., Pleasant Ridge, 513-351-0035
Kings Island operated WinterFest from 1982 to 1992. It returned briefly in 2005, but then took a 12-year hiatus. Now, it's back, and this time they have Smurf-blue hot chocolate.
More than 5 million lights illuminate 180 acres of the park, and the 314-foot Eiffel Tower is now a giant Christmas tree. Rides in The Coney Mall, Action Zone and Rivertown are open, including new roller coaster Mystic Timbers.
Stroll down International Street and visit Cafe du Pere Noel for hot chocolate and pull-a-part bread. Sample gourmet mac-n-cheese at Classic Christmas Cafe, and indulge in Jack Frost's liquid libations -- spiked hot chocolates.
The International Restaurant, overlooking the ice skating rink on the Royal Fountain, offers a buffet ($24.99 for adults, $14.99 for 12 and under and $19.99 for pass holders) and features ham, turkey, seasonal sides and the aforementioned Smurf hot chocolate, a nod to the park's Smurf-blue soft serve.
Tickets at the gate: $35; online: $19.99-$45; parking: $15. Free ticket for 2018 Gold Pass members.
6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason, through Dec. 30