CINCINNATI -- This Ohio city is famous for many things, not the least its long and illustrative brewing history -- waves of lager-loving Germans settled here in the mid-1800s, and by 1890, the city was the third-largest beer producer in the country -- and the cinnamon-spiked chili served any of five ways that wears its name. But who knew a city that once claimed the nickname "Porkopolis" for the many hogs raised and processed there in the early 19th century could also have such beautiful architecture?
The town heralded as the "Queen City of the West" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also won the admiration of Winston Churchill, who called Cincinnati "the most beautiful inland city in America."
Nestled on the banks of the Ohio River, with all the amenities of a major metropolis wrapped in an envelope of small-town charm, Cincinnati is a fun -- and walkable -- place to spend a fall weekend. Home to several museums, great restaurants and an evolving riverfront, it's got a little something for everyone. No wonder Lonely Planet named it one of its Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2012.
Cincinnati's metro area spans parts of Northern Kentucky as well as parts of Southern Ohio, so as in Pittsburgh, you'll have to cross bridges if you want to see it all. The most famous is the Suspension Bridge, which when it was opened to traffic in 1866 was the longest suspension bridge in the world (it spans 1,057 feet). It was designed by John Roebling, who also did the Smithfield Street Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Located on the north bank of the Ohio River, Cincinnati is about a 290-mile five-hour drive from Pittsburgh (follow Interstate 70W to Columbus, then Interstate 71S to Cincinnati). You also can fly into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport on US Airways, Delta and United airlines; fares start at about $350 round-trip. The fastest and cheapest way to get from the airport to downtown is aboard the 2X "Airporter" bus (www.tankbus.org). Just $2 each way, it runs daily from 5 a.m. to midnight. A shuttle via Executive Transportation (http://executivetransportation.org; 1-800-990-8841) costs $22 per person, or $32 round-trip.
Cincinnati's premier digs for out-of-towners is the four-star Cincinnatian Hotel at 601 Vine St. (cincinnatianhotel.com; 1-800-942-9000). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1882 Second Empire "grand" hotel features a gorgeous marble lobby that speaks to the city's Gilded Age and luxurious guestrooms. Rates start at about $235 for a queen room. The Art Deco Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza at 35 West Fifth St. (www.hilton.com; 1-513-421-9100), which opened in 1931, is equally glamorous. Graced with two-story ceiling murals and rare Brazilian rosewood paneling, it's a National Historic Landmark. Rooms start at $157 on weekends.
Another downtown hotel sure to pamper is the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati at 151 W. Fifth St. (cincinnati.hyatt.com; 1-512-579-1234; $139 and up), where you can swim in a heated glass-enclosed pool. Just across the historic Roebling suspension bridge, in Covington, Ky., is the Cincinnati Marriott at RiverCenter (marriott.com; 1-859-261-2900; $159 and up), the Radisson Cincinnati Riverfront (radisson.com; 1-800-395-7046; $129 and up) and Embassy Suites Cincinnati-RiverCenter ($129 and up), which offers complimentary drinks each evening in its atrium and a made-to-order breakfast. Other options include moderately priced chain hotels/motels and B&Bs such as the picturesque Clifton House, a classic Revival home in the "Gaslight Clifton" neighborhood (thecliftonhouse.com; 1-513-221-7600). Built in 1900 by a wealthy financier, it has six antiques-furnished rooms starting at $145.
There's no shortage of great places to eat and drink in the Queen City. Its most famous dish, and one you can't leave without trying, is Cincinnati chili, served in a bowl on top of spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese (3-way), cheese and diced onions (4-way) or cheese, onions and red beans (5-way). While the recipe was developed in 1922 by Empress Chili, one of the biggest chains dishing up the dish today, with three locations downtown and dozens more in greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, is Skyline Chili. Gold Star is the other major chain. At either, be prepared for a bellyache.
If you'd rather carbo-load like the '50s, there's no better seat than at the lunch counter at Hathaway's Coffee Shop (441 Vine St.). Located in the first floor of the Art Deco Carew Tower (the second tallest building in the city), it features servers in classic waitress uniforms and classic food such as milkshakes, tuna melts and beef BBQ. At breakfast, try the local delicacy known as goetta -- a grainy sausage made from ground pork and steel-cut oats.
For brunch, consider A Taste of Belgium (1135 Vine St.), a funky cafe serving sweet and savory crepes, baguette sandwiches and Belgium-style entrees such as boulets Liégeois; it's also open for dinner. For fine dining, head to Orchids at Palm Court in the Hilton -- it's downtown's most lavish, and highly rated, restaurant. Also high on critics' lists is The Palace at the Cincinnatian. In 2011, executive chef Jose Salazar was voted People's Best New Chef: Great Lakes in Food & Wine magazine for his ability to "reinterpret humble ingredients in brilliant ways." At Local 127 (413 Vine St.) , the focus is on locally sourced food. Senate (1212 Vine St.), named one of the top 10 restaurants for 2012 by Cincinnati Magazine, marries gourmet street food (crispy pig tails, tricked-out hotdogs) with craft beers and modern cocktails.
Feeling more laid back? Lavomatic (1211 Vine St.) is a wine bar/restaurant housed in a former laundromat. A Tavola (1220 Vine) serves up wood-fired artisan pizzas and fancy cocktails. Tom + Chee (420 Walnut St., plus two other locations) claims to serve the world's "most creative selections of grilled cheese."
Alas, the 2012 season for OTR Brewery District tours is over (cincinnatibrewerytours.com), but of course you still can celebrate the city's brewing history at several local microbreweries and pubs. Our favorite was the new Moerlein Lager House at Main Street and Mehring Way, next to Cincy's Great American Ball Park. With dozens of craft beers on tap, including seven Moerlein varieties, and countless bottles, you won't go away thirsty. It's rumored to be one of the largest brewpubs in the world -- big enough to offers tours ($10) at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The riverfront view ain't bad, either.
Also hoppin' is Cock & Bull Public House (601 Main St., Covington), the Brew House in Cincinnati's historic Eden Park district (1047 East McMillan St.), Rockbottom Brewery in the heart of Fountain Square and Hofbrauhaus Newport (at the Levee), modeled after the famous beer garden of the same name in Munich.
Kickoff isn't until 8:20 p.m. next Sunday, so get out there and explore. Much of the action centers around recently renovated Fountain Square, a public gathering space at the corner of Fifth and Vine streets. On game days, it's home to a giant tailgate with live music, adult beverages and a big screen TV. Just north of downtown is the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (irhine.com). The center of life for the many Germans who settled here in the early 19th century, it's one of the largest historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and dotted with funky shops, galleries and restaurants.
Foodies will appreciate Findlay Market on Elder Street between Elm and Race (findlaymarket.org). The only surviving municipal market house out of nine operating in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it offers a great variety of fresh foods, most of them local. It was built in 1852.
There's also more cerebral attractions. At the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (1301 Western Ave., cincymuseum.org), you can take a walk through the city's history, explore a replica of a limestone cave or gaze at dinosaurs; an all-museum pass coast $12.50 adults/$11.50 seniors. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (50 East Freedom Way, freedomcenter.org; $12 adults/$10 seniors and students) traces 500 years of oppression, including the slavery that exists today in various parts of the world. The city also boasts three art museums: The Taft Museum of Art (316 Pike St., free on Sundays), which is in an 1820 villa considered one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the Palladian style in the country; the modern art-filled Contemporary Arts Center (44 E. Sixth St., $7.50 adults/$6.50 seniors); and The Cincinnati Art Museum (953 Eden Park Drive, free), one of the oldest museums in the country and home to an unrivaled collection of more than 60,000 pieces that measure over the past 6,000 years. You also can tour the childhood home where "Uncle Tom's Cabin" author Harriet Beecher Stowe began her writing career (2950 Gilbert Ave.; stowehousecincy.org).
For walkers, the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati (cincinnati-walks.org) offers walking tours of specific neighborhoods ($10 adults). So does art historian Kathy Stockman, whose "Cincinnati Art Snob" tours explore the city through the lens of art (www.cincinnatiartsnob.com; prices vary). You also can see the sights via Segway; Segway of Cincinnati has three tour routes (segwayofcincinnati.com, $60).
For non-walkers, several companies offer horse-drawn carriage rides around downtown and beyond on Friday and Saturday evenings, with prices starting at $35/half hour (carriageoccasions.com; cccarriages.com; elegantcarriage.com). You also can view the city skyline by riverboat. BB Riverboats' fleet of white riverboats board at Newport Landing Dock, across the Ohio in Newport, Ky. (bbriverboats.com; prices start at $18/adults).
One of the hottest nightclubs in Cincinnati is Lunar, a 10,000-square-foot, two-story entertainment complex with several bars, dance floor and sound-proof cell phone booths (435 Elm St.). You can order your drinks by cell. For lots of choices in one spot, head to Newport on the Levee, an entertainment complex on the Newport, Ky., waterfront. Below Zero Lounge (1122 Walnut St.), famous for its martinis, has a DJ every Saturday night. Or, jazz it up at the historic Blue Whisp Jazz Club (700 Race St.). It offers live music seven days a week.
The official Steelers bar is Martino's on Vine (2618 Vine St.), two blocks east of the University of Cincinnati in Uptown. They've got Pittsburgh-style wings on the menu, as well as 31 televisions on which to watch the Steelers kick some major Cincinnati Bengals butt.
Next up: Away Games in New York, Oct. 28.
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter@gtmckay.