A newcomer’s guide to deciphering the region’s quirks.
By Marnie Hayutin
On our first morning as newly relocated Cincinnatians, my
husband suggested that I drop him off at work, take the rental car and begin
exploring our new city. Good idea, I thought…
…until I drove the wrong way down both Broadway and Fifth
Street, and crossed back and forth over the river five times (that’s the real number, no dramatic license), as each
attempt to find my way to the Marriott RiverCenter in Covington landed me back
on another bridge.
Overwhelmed by my harrowing morning commute, and too
terrified to venture out again, I spent my first day as a Cincinnati resident
watching Montel Williams and polishing off $45 worth of Pringles and macadamia
nuts from the mini bar. Welcome to Cincinnati. Eventually, with my husband safely behind the wheel, I did
learn my way around the city. But a few things continued to baffle me for years
to come. Like, Why is there spaghetti in my chili? And What’s the deal with the
help you acclimate faster than I did, here’s my unofficial list of things that
are confusing (and great) about Cincinnati.
Yes, we do boast the world’s largest assortment of chili
restaurants, but no, it’s not the red-hot Tex-Mex version to which you may be
accustomed. Cincinnati chili is a milder, sweeter blend, with some recipes
including ingredients such as cocoa and cinnamon. We eat it atop a bed of spaghetti
and piled high with a mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese. That’s called a
Three-Way; you can make it a Five-Way by adding beans and diced onions.
Cincinnati chili is something of an acquired taste for many
newcomers. You’ll know you’re officially a local the first time you see a
late-night chili commercial and scramble for your car keys.
Part Bean Bag Toss, part Horseshoes, this game is all
Cincinnati—you’ll find Cornhole boards set up at church festivals, family
picnics, camping sites, tailgate parties and neighborhood barbecues throughout
Cincinnati USA. Players toss corn-filled bags aiming for the hole in the board;
scoring is based on how close you are the hole, how well your opponents are
doing, and how much beer everybody’s had.
The Pig Theme
The pigs you see around the city are a reference to the time
during the early to mid-19th century when Cincinnati was known as
“Porkopolis.” In those days, Cincinnati was a leader in the meat-packing
industry, and it was common to see pigs running through the streets of the
city. As for the flying pig icon—as in the Flying Pig Marathon and the four
flying pigs at the entrance to Bicentennial Commons Park at Sawyer Point—some
say it symbolizes a pig with wings flying up to heaven, and it emerged to pay
homage to all the pigs that lost their lives here.
city rivalry plays out on the basketball court each year in February when the
University of Cincinnati Bearcats meet the Xavier University Musketeers in the
Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. Practically a municipal holiday, Shootout Day
is not the time to schedule Book Club.
Cincinnatians say “Please?” when they mean “What?” or
“Excuse me?”. Don’t be confused—it’s just your cue to repeat something.
The Real Rookwood
Much more than a shopping center or a street name, Rookwood
refers to Rookwood Pottery, ceramic vases and tiles that are credited with
putting Cincinnati on the international art map. The Rookwood Pottery Co. was
founded in 1880 in Mt. Adams as an outlet for women to enjoy the hobby of
decorative painting on ceramics. But soon Rookwood Pottery graced such
prestigious buildings as The Vanderbilt Hotel, Grand Central Station and The
company closed in the middle of the last century, then reopened again under new
leadership. Both the old and the new pottery are still around and remain highly
collectible. If your new home features an original Rookwood fireplace, consider
As two winter-hardy souls from Colorado, my husband and I
scoffed as our neighbors stockpiled bottled water every time forecasters
predicted a half-inch of snow. We soon learned the reason: Our freeze-and-thaw
daily temperature fluctuations turn the hilly terrain into a minefield of black
ice. Now when they tell us to stay home, we stay home.
The Cut in the Hill
This stretch of I-71/I-75 that slices through the hills just
south of the Ohio River is a star of morning traffic reports and a particularly
temperamental diva when it snows. There’s a big payoff at the end of the
bottleneck, though—if you’re heading north, the cut in the hill provides
arguably the most dramatic view of the downtown Cincinnati skyline.
Where is the Cross
The stretch of suburban highway between Montgomery Road on
the east and I-275 on the west officially became the Ronald Reagan Cross County
Highway in the mid-‘90s. But ask a native how to get from Blue Ash to Wyoming,
and she’ll probably tell you to take the Cross County, never mind what those highway
Watch for street names that change between neighborhoods,
too. To name a few, Columbia Parkway becomes Wooster Pike through Fairfax and
Mariemont, Vine Street becomes Springfield Pike in Wyoming, and Ridge is
Marburg when you’re driving in Oakley.