Cincinnati takes its name from Roman farmer Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus, who exemplified unwavering service, civic virtue, and a willingness to set aside personal power for the good of the nation.
Similarly, George Washington was admired for stepping aside after two terms as President (while some framers of the Constitution wanted the President to have a lifetime appointment). You may recall this event being recognized in the musical Hamilton, in which Washington sings about “how to say goodbye.”
The Society of the Cincinnati, named in honor of Washington’s act, was set up for veterans of the Continental Army and is the nation’s oldest military hereditary society. Cincinnati was the first major American city founded after the Revolution (1788) and is named for the Society.
Cincinnati an overlooked gem. Even my family’s recent week there didn’t do it full justice. But where do you stay?
Dear reader, no question about it. You stay at the French Art Deco palace, the Netherland Plaza, now a Hilton. The name came about because this landmark hotel is built on the flat land, the Netherland, of the Ohio River’s flood plain below the steep hills for which the city is famous. Its name also came about because the owners originally planned to name it the St. Nicholas Plaza, but ran into legal obstacles after they’d received all the monogrammed linens, china, silverware, and stationery. They needed a “SNP” name—fast. Thus for a while it was the Starrett’s (the builder’s) Netherland Plaza.
The interior, dining rooms, ballrooms, and every tiny detail are a feast for the eyes. It’s hard to believe such an investment was still doable when construction began in January 1930, a few short months after the big stock market crash.
It was all painted over in the 1960s, of course, in a bid for modernity, but restored lovingly in the early 1980s. Alas, the ice rink in the middle of the restaurant Pavilion Caprice is no more, nor the garage’s automatic (driverless) parking equipment. I’ve seen pictures and cannot imagine how it worked, but it did.
Orchids in the Palm Court is one of only 63 AAA five-diamond restaurants in the United States, and the only one in Ohio. The stunning decorations—murals! marble and rosewood! silver nickel sconces!—would be worth savoring even if the food were less spectacular.
Maybe you won’t luck out like my cousin did and be given the Churchill Suite for a week—yes, Winnie stayed there—but all rooms on the high floors have wonderful views of downtown and the River.
Another highly rated hotel is The Cincinnatian, but we spoiled ones found the décor only so-so and the Christmas decorations downright tatty. Still well worth a visit for the delicious high tea, served the third Sunday of every month.
21C Museum Hotel
Now for something completely different. The 21C Museum Hotel is part of a small chain of boutique hotels that feature—and celebrate—contemporary art. We took a tour with a super-knowledgeable guide, and it was thrilling to see so much thoughtful, creative work—painting, sculpture, photography, tapestry, interactive, unclassifiable.
One mesmerizing piece was a clock that uses Big Data to tell the viewer how many x have happened since noon that very day until the current hour and minute. In the ever-changing graphic display, “x” might be “new cases of syphilis” (29 that day), “dollars spent at US Walmarts” (you don’t want to know), “cases of Svedka vodka sold” (thousands), ad infinitum. Upstairs, a photo exhibit.
Literally hundreds of framed artworks are in the hotel’s Metropole restaurant. Tasty and unusual. Condé Nast travelers named this the “#1 Hotel in the Midwest” in 2014. Loved it lots! Also the yellow penguins’ surprising appearances.
What to Read in Your Hotel Room
Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality, co-authored by Jim Obergefell, a Cincinnatian whose same-sex marriage to his dying partner was one of the four lawsuits prompting a 5-4 Supreme Court decision favoring gay marriage. Co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Debbie Cenziper. (Click carefully; other books have the same title.)