Cincinnati may not be the most glamorous destination for a New Year's Eve celebration, but that is where John and I chose to celebrate it this year. The reason for our choice was fairly innocuous: that's where John lived for 4 years back in mid-60's when he went to law school at night and worked for Proctor & Gamble during the day. I'd never been there, never really wanted to go there, and, even though it is just over in our neighboring state, had successfully avoided it for the length of our marriage. It's not that I had anything against the city, I just knew nothing about it so thought it uninteresting. This year I was looking for some place to spend the long New Year's weekend which would be half a day's drive or less and decided to give Cincinnati a try. I found out it had two historic hotels (The Cincinnatian and the Netherland Plaza), chose the latter for its view of the Ohio River and its proximity to the Fountain Square celebration I'd read about, and we were set. I was not disappointed.
There ended up being 3 things about Cincinnati that I really enjoyed: The Netherland Plaza, the family-friendly outdoor New Year's Eve party on Fountain Square, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Oh, and I liked Skyline Chili, too.
The Cincinnati skyline for which the famous chili is named is not too shabby, either:
Art Deco is defined as "A style of decorative art developed originally [in Paris] in the 1920's with a revival in the 1960's, marked chiefly by geometric motifs, curvilinear forms, sharply defined outlines, often bold colors, and the use of synthetic materials, such as plastics." (Dictionary.com) Art Deco moved away from the soft pastels and organic forms of Art Nouveau and embraced influences from many different styles and movements of the early 20th century, including Neoclassical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, and Futurism. (Wikipedia)
I never knew the definition of Art Deco, I just knew I liked it. And The Netherland Plaza, which opened in 1931, is a fine example of it. The Art Deco style is not carried into the 561 renovated rooms themselves. It stops at the plaque on the door to your room.
...and the silverware in the dining room...
From the halls and stairway of the mezzanine overlooking the dining room and lounge ...
The hotel and the adjoining Carew Tower, both on the National Register, capitalized on Art Deco for its exterior design as well. For an Art Deco lover, it is glorious.
The hotel is only a block from Fountain Square, shown in the foreground of the photo above, where for the winter season they install a huge ice rink on one side for skating at only $2.50 a head. They even rent skates for $2.50 as well. In the middle of the square is the Tyler Davidson Fountain, dedicated in 1871, for which Fountain Square is named:
We stolled (or rolled, in John's case, as he was on his electric scooter, Old Blue) over to the square about 9:30 on New Year's Eve, which, thankfully, was a balmy night in the 50's, and sat on the broad shallow steps of the fountain and watched the skaters and the ever-growing crowd while we waited for midnight. There was a big TV screen on which we could watch activities being broadcast from around the city while we waited. At the midnight hour, the City treated us to a fireworks display that was set off from the roof of a low building between two taller buildings across the street from the square. It was a little disconcerting to have fireworks set off so close to the crowd, but it was thrilling. And extremely loud.
We've experienced outdoor New Year's Eve parties in the past: the Duval Crawl on Duval Street in Key West, the City Market Celebration in Savannah, and First Night in Pittsburgh (still my favorite). We find that an outdoor New Year's Eve celebration is a whole lot more interesting than a big loud party in a hotel or bar. And Cincinnati's Fountain Square party proved satisfactory. It was great for people-watching from the steps of the fountain. Those same people that we were watching were helpful to John as he maneuvered Old Blue out of the square along with thousands of others trying to leave all at the same time. It is truly amazing how fast a crowd at an outdoor venue can evacuate in an orderly and peaceful fashion.
On New Year's Eve Day itself, after eating at Skyline Chili (my first experience...had it "Three-Way," over spaghetti, with beans, topped with shredded cheddar, and savored the touch of cinnamon they add to the recipe), we spent several hours at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. What a spectactular museum. It's huge and spacious, appearing to be housed in 2 or 3 purpose-built interconnected buildings. I don't think I've ever been to a museum that employed such a variety of methods for presenting its theme. There were original films and videos playing in several small theatres, a live one-man monologue performed in costume and character presented continuously by alternating actors, paintings, photographs, tapestries and wallhangings, life-size and miniature dioramas, recordings, documents, archeological finds, and, the piece de resistance, the Slave Pen, recovered from a Kentucky farm only 60 miles from the museum. One of the permanent installations, entitled "Invisible: Slavery Today," is not only colorfully artistic, but eye-opening and disturbing. There was so much to absorb that I could not do it in the 4 hours we spent there. My feet finally gave out and we had to make our way back to the hotel, 4 long uphill blocks away. In my preoccupation with the exhibits, I didn't take any photos of the museum, but its website has some excellent ones to peruse. www.freedomcenter.org/
I would go back to Cincinnati and would probably even stay at the Netherland Plaza again. The room we had was one of the most spacious rooms we've ever had...it looked like when they renovated it they took a wall out between two smaller rooms. It was perfect for us since we travel with a bunch of health care equipment for John. And it was surprisingly inexpensive. I mean, its prices don't compare to the Motel 6 (remember, you get what you pay for), but it was much less expensive than the last two hotels I wrote about, The Bedford Springs and the Summit Inn. Of course, when you add State, County, and City taxes, $21/night for valet parking, and all those tips for the hotel and parking staff, it starts to add up, but still, it was a whole lot less expensive in more elegant digs than the four-day trip to London we took with my folks back in 1998. And since we'll never be able to travel by air again, given the state of John's health, I thought it was a pretty darned good deal. (Does she protest too much? Maybe, but I enjoy at least one good rationalization a day.)
Also, the cupcake store in the hotel was closed for the holiday. I really wanted to try one of those. Another reason to go back.