In glacial Norway, where parts of the country can average negative-degree temperatures in the winter, Norwegians coined a word for warmth, contentment and coziness: koselig. They see winter as something to be embraced, not hated: It’s an excuse to gather around the fire, sip cognac and coffee, and revel in each other’s company.
Americans love to complain about winter. Instead of griping about polar vortexes, we recommend gathering in one of these cozy spots, eating some comfort food and toasting the next few months of cold weather Cincinnati-style.
1. Ye Olde Trail Tavern: The top spot on this list is the farthest away (70 miles), but it’s worth the drive to Yellow Springs. Ye Olde Trail Tavern is Ohio’s oldest tavern: It was built in 1827 and used as a stagecoach stop between Cincinnati and Columbus. The inside remains redolent of a 19th-century log cabin, with low-lying wooden ceilings, pots and pans hanging from the rafters, and a roaring fireplace in the main dining area. Ye Olde makes hot chocolate drinks such as the Peppermint Patti, with peppermint schnapps, and hot spiced wine. In addition, it serves chili, grilled cheese sandwiches, twisty fries and good craft beer, including brews from neighboring Yellow Springs Brewery. And because it's Yellow Springs, you never know if famous resident Dave Chappelle will stop by and cozy up by the fire.
2. The Blind Lemon: With a five-seat bar, several tables smushed together, copper Moscow Mule mugs hanging from above and an ignited fireplace (it also has an outdoor fire pit), the phrase “snug as a bug in a rug” definitely applies to this 50-plus-year-old Mount Adams tavern. The drink menu is split between summer and winter cocktails, both of which can be ordered year-round. But because it’s winter, stick to the spiked coffee and cider drinks, served in a ceramic mug. Try the Keoki Coffee (Kahlúa, coffee, brandy and whipped cream), Top of the Hill (coffee, Baileys, Kahlúa, crème de cacao and whipped cream), Fog Horn (Tuaca, cider and whipped cream) or Irish coffee (Irish whiskey, coffee and brown sugar). If booze in coffee isn't your thing, Blind Lemon also pours nonalcoholic cups of coffee, cider and hot chocolate.
3. Overlook Lodge: Yes, it’s a lodge, so it’s automatically cozy. But with the addition of “The Shining” theme, the “rustic watering hole” also happens to be a lodge based on a book/movie where a man gets cabin fever and tries to kill his wife and son, and successfully kills the hotel’s innkeeper. This is one reason Cincinnatians need to get out of the house during the winter – especially during a cold snap. The Overlook has a fireplace, but it’s used for seating. While the Overlook doesn't have warm drinks on the menu, the Writer’s Block (bourbon, apple-berry sweet tea) and various “The Twins” shots should keep violent tendencies at bay.
4. Newberry Bros.: Nothing temporarily warms the body (and the soul) quite like bourbon, and luckily Newport’s Newberry Bros. boasts a collection of more than 700 bourbons and whiskeys. This year the Bourbon Review named it one of the top bourbon bars in the nation, listed under Bourbon Country. (Covington's Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and Wiseguy Lounge also made the list, along with world-famous places in Lexington and Louisville.) Besides bourbon, owners Peter and Kim Newberry also offer scotch, rare Japanese whiskeys, wine, beer, coffee drinks and small plates. While sitting in their intimate Prohibition Bourbon Bar, you won't be able to take your eyes off the glowing amber bottles organized on a shelf behind the bar. If you listen closely, you might hear the bourbons whisper, “Drink me.”
5. Symphony Hotel: A stone’s throw from Music Hall, the Symphony Hotel channels music with a treble clef, a harp and other musical objects scattered throughout different nooks. The old mansion was reinvented as a nine-room boutique hotel, but it also has a dining room, bar and comfortable tasting room with a fireplace. It's open to the public only Thursday-Sunday and offers pre-concert dinners and a Sunday brunch. At the bar, order an espresso, a French Press pot of loose-leaf tea, a stiff scotch or cocktails such as the Last Note (it's a play on the Last Word: Watershed Four Peel Gin, green chartreuse, lemon, Luxardo, thyme syrup) and the Senorita Clooney (reposado tequila, rosemary syrup, MadTree PsycHOPathy). If you feel so inclined, check into one of the Symphony's rooms named after iconic composers (Mozart, Schubert, Mahler) and take a long winter’s nap.
6. Wunderbar: Akin to Norwegians, Germans have the right idea about coziness. Put some sausages on the grill, bake a Bunyan-esque Bavarian pretzel and serve it with a warm bowl of beer cheese, and throw throngs of people into a narrow space with communal picnic tables. Covington’s Wunderbar isn’t a big place, so when it’s crowded body heat warms up the joint, as does a tiny electric fireplace. Strong beers, warm food and live music will get you through the winter. You also can visit Fika Hus down the street for a cozy Swedish breakfast or lunch.
7. The Presidents Room at The Phoenix: Wednesdays through Saturdays, eat dinner in the elegant Presidents Room dining room and conjoining bar, replete with one of the best happy hours in town. Diners who opt for a full dinner will enjoy the toasty dining room’s fireplace, which has a painting of a deer above it. The bar is dimly lit, quiet and a good place to get half-priced sauerkraut balls, pretzel nuggets with jalapeno beer cheese, pastas and classic cocktails. Right now would be a good time to check out the 122-year-old building’s tasteful holiday decor of twinkling Christmas trees and roped garlands.
8. Arnold’s: The oldest bar in Cincinnati is also one of the city’s coziest. As we learned earlier, bourbon makes the temperature rise, and Arnold’s makes its own barrel-aged cocktails: a Manhattan, the Diebold Fashioned and a Negroni. The warm woods of the bar area carry up to the second-floor dining area, which houses a room with a brick fireplace and another room with a bathtub. (The courtyard area can get drafty, so it’s best to stick to the bar.) Bourbon is important here, but let’s complement it with some comfort foods in the form of chicken and waffles, charred bourbon cheese and deep-fried deviled eggs.
9. Sotto: You have to walk downstairs into this cavernous candlelit restaurant. The lighting, exposed-brick walls, homemade pastas, Blue Oven bread, steaks, salumi and wines also help combine to generate dog-basket warmth. Plus it’s a romantic place, which offers the perfect opportunity to snuggle up to that special someone; Serena Williams and Drake had no problem doing that when they dined there in August. For a special treat, Sotto will be open for holiday lunch Dec. 23 and for Sunday dinners Dec. 20 and 27.