I like to think the Bengals and the city of Cincinnati are similar in terms of their composition and mentality. Cincinnati will never be a bustling metropolis like New York or Chicago, just like the Bengals will never splash on top-tier free agents or sacrifice high draft capital for elite talent. But you know, Cincinnati is doing just fine, and the Bengals are looking up after half a decade of being near the bottom. We are who we are.
If you’re driving in from the south, you get no better introduction to the city. The skyline is majestic as it towers over the Ohio River, and the city offers a balance of the big-city feel without much of the claustrophobia. The locals are friendly, and there’s plenty of locally crafted beer to wash down food from many cultural backgrounds.
Cincinnati has changed so much just in the last decade, and so have the Bengals. Now three years into the Zac Taylor regime, the roster has virtually erased Marvin Lewis’ fingerprints from it. This is hopefully the year Taylor can start righting the ship with Joe Burrow at quarterback, and maybe even give the city a team to cheer about.
What to Eat
At this point, most people have at least heard of Skyline. It is not what you think of when you think of traditional Chili. Instead of a thick meaty stew, Skyline offers what is essentially Greek meat sauce that goes surprisingly well on both hot dogs and spaghetti, and pairs with shredded mild cheddar. If you don’t like it, no worries. Your opinion isn’t valid if you aren’t from here and hate it.
Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse has a national distinction, but Ruby himself owns more than just the restaurant with his name attached to it. The first steakhouse he opened is The Precinct, located a few miles east of downtown along the Ohio River. What used to be a police station is now the site of the most flavorful steak you will ever bite into. You do not need a suit and tie to enter; just an appetite for greatness.
Biggest tourist attraction
Located just north of downtown and right next to the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in America. Check out the famous baby hippo, Fiona, pay your respects to Harambe, and if you’re in town during the holidays, come through for the Festival of Lights. The zoo is always fun and a hit for the kids.
Under the radar attraction
American Sign Museum
There are a few art museums in the city as well as the Cincinnati Museum Center, aka the Union Terminal, but the American Sign Museum manages to fly under the radar, even for locals such as myself. Located north of downtown and just west of UC, it features the biggest collection of neon signage you could imagine.
Game day experience
Paul Brown Stadium is located perfectly for visiting fans. Whether you’re staying downtown or right across the river in Covington/Newport, PBS is a very manageable walk from wherever you’re lodging in the area.
There are parking lots to the north, east, and south of the stadium, as well as some scattered across downtown. My advice—if you’re parking—is to find a cheap lot somewhere near the stadium and make your way to The Banks, which is located between the Reds and Bengals’ stadiums. The Banks has many bars and restaurants for your pre and post-game experience. It is also the center of the city’s DORA: Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area. All you need is an official DORA cup from a Banks restaurant/bar and you’re free to enjoy it outside along the river between the stadiums.
Once you’re inside the stadium, the pro shop is on the north end next to the city, and no matter where your seats are, you won’t have a bad view of the field. Getting around the stadium is frankly a bit tricky for first-timers, but don’t be shy asking for assistance. This ain’t the Black Hole, we don’t bite.