Taft’s Ale House, Cincinnati
A former church in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood pays tribute to our nation’s 27th president with great beer and tri-tip steaks.
You can’t miss it. The imposing, brick-walled church on Race Street in the heart of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood commands the entire city block. Unadorned but for a stained-glass window and striking bell tower, this 1850s landmark appears stuck in time. Formerly St. Paul’s Evangelical German Protestant Church, today it delivers a different sort of salvation for a dedicated congregation.
As you ascend the wide, wooden staircase to the two-story hall, there’s much to take in: the golden light of a sparkling chandelier, the rich scent of beef smoking in the kitchen, friends and family gathered at communal tables enjoying a meal.
But there, at the end of the long center aisle, you’ll notice what you came for. Where the organ once stood are now tall, steel barrels full of beer ready to be served. Resist the urge to genuflect. Proceed to the bar. Welcome to Taft’s Ale House.
The craft brewery and restaurant, named for Cincinnati native and U.S. President William Howard Taft, opened in April 2015 after three years of renovations and a $9 million investment. When the brewery’s founders first toured the long-vacant, decaying Greek-revival building, it was missing its windows and steeple and had large holes in the floor. But partners David Kassling and David Williams had a vision for the space.
“I was immediately blown away with the opportunity,” Kassling says. “Dave came from a finance background and didn’t have the restaurant experience, so we became a team. ... It’s been a wild ride, and it happened quickly.”
Taft’s bestselling beer, Nellie’s Key Lime Ale, is named for First Lady Helen “Nellie” Taft. The Caribbean Ale is bright, crisp and one of 16 beers currently on draft. Another favorite is the hoppy, fruit-forward Gavel Banger IPA. “It’s juicy, hoppy justice,” Kassling says of the easy-drinking ale.
But beer is only half of the equation. Taft’s Ale House also serves a can’t-miss menu of salads, sandwiches and platters featuring the restaurant’s true differentiator: certified Angus tri-tip steak. Tri-tip is a cut of beef typically found only on the West Coast. It’s well marbled and triangular, which makes it great for smoking, explains Kassling.
After its rubbed and charred over an open flame, each cut is smoked over cherry wood then finished to a tender medium rare. Knife and fork it as a platter or try it sliced thin on a sandwich.
The menu’s Big Billy — with sweet caramelized onions and house-made au jus for dipping — is a nod to the notoriously rotund president, who, as the story goes, once found himself firmly lodged in a White House bathtub. The brewery’s logo features this very scene, but with the president raising a pint as if toasting his predicament.
After dinner, the party is just getting started in Nellie’s Tap Room, a lower-level bar that serves beer plus Prohibition-style cocktails.
“The Nellie bar is one of those semihidden gems that you’re lucky to stumble upon and that you didn’t know existed,” Kassling says. “You enter a different world.”
Taft’s Ale House plays to the Victorian era in which its namesake lived, with vintage furniture and a mix of dark wood. Private nooks and crannies, music and a wraparound bar make the space cozy and lively all at once.
“The building is incredible, and it’s the most iconic brewery building I have ever seen,” Kassling says. “Just to see the look on people’s faces when they walk in for the first time … it’s truly something to behold.” 1429 Race St., Cincinnati 45202, 513/334-1393, taftsalehouse.com