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Northern Kentucky: A spirit of community

NKY rich with arts, food and cultural events that bring people together

By Kathie Stamps

The historic MainStrasse Village in Covington, a 19th century German neighborhood, is Northern Kentucky’s home of Oktoberfest and Maifest. (Courtesy of KentuckyTourism.com)

In-person experiences are trending in all art forms.

Apps and ads and social platforms are great ways to find out what’s happening right now, right here. Finding a concert, art exhibit, dance performance or literary reading has never been easier, along with where to eat before or after, and arts organizations are flourishing because of the popularity of real-life experiences.

Being tied to a device 24/7 has its drawbacks, of course, one being the hospitality and travel industry calls “permanxiety,” or permanent anxiety, related to the fear of missing out and the preoccupation with needing to know what’s going on in the world at all times.

“Arts and culture are the perfect antidote to permanxiety,” said Linda Antus, president and CEO of Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network. “Our culinary and cultural tourism is moving higher on the charts for our destination demand drivers as the reasons people want to come here.”

Throughout Northern Kentucky, locally owned restaurants and food-centered events are more popular than ever. Take craft bourbon distilleries and breweries, for example. They are small enough to offer tours and tastings that have become destinations in and
of themselves.

“The experience element is critical,” Antus said. “It is the most important thing for any destination.”

Part art and part science, chefs and culinary artisans are appreciated by residents and tourists alike. Riverside Food Tours and Cincinnati Food Tours guide patrons through specific experiences surrounding regional dining options at MainStrasse Village in Covington and Findlay Market in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community, respectively.

MainStrasse Village in Covington celebrates Oktoberfest every September, attracting foodies from the neighborhood and from out of town to locally owned restaurants like Frida, Otto’s and the farm-to-table Bouquet Restaurant, and then to the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and a jazz café called Dee Felice. There’s Tousey House Tavern in Burlington, Ky.; Trotta’s Steak & Seafood and the bistro Purple Poulet in Dayton, Ky.; Pompilio’s Italian Restaurant in Newport; and Schneider’s Sweet Shop in Bellevue, Ky., a candy store and chocolate factory that celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2019.

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The Madison Theater is a music venue in Covington. It’s down the block from Riverside Korean, one of several ethnic restaurants in the city with authentic cuisine. A new brewery on historic York Street in Newport is Wooden Cask, specializing in craft beer. The York Street Cafe in Newport has a cozy, homey feel with food downstairs and entertainment upstairs. And more concerts take place at the Southgate House Revival in Newport. In Florence, Walt’s Hitching Post is an equine-themed restaurant and tavern, and Miyoshi is an authentic Japanese restaurant, one of several that opened because of the now-defunct Toyota plant.

Building, rebuilding, remodeling and connecting are all happening within the arts and culture scene of Northern Kentucky. In Newport, a $40 million concert venue is underway, thanks to a partnership between Corporex Companies in Covington and Los Angeles-based AEG Presents/PromoWest. The 38,000-s.f. concert space, Venue Plaza, is Phase I of the $1 billion Ovation development, a 25-acre mixed-use project located on the riverfront side of Newport at the Ohio and Licking Rivers. Construction began in July 2019 for the concert space, which will hold up to 2,700 concertgoers inside and up to 7,000 outside.

Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky launched “The 410,” a new giving circle in late 2019. The inaugural grant recipient is Southbank Partners’ upcoming mural project commemorating the 225th anniversary of the city of Newport in 2020. The 410 grant will help repurpose a structural wall into a wall of murals in downtown Newport, adjacent to the east campus of New Riff Distilling.

ArtsWave, the nonprofit promoter and fundraiser of the arts serving the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region, is the largest organization of its kind in the country. From its 2019 Community Campaign, ArtsWave awarded just over $10 million in grants to 120 arts organizations throughout the region. ArtsWave’s Blueprint for Collective Action is a 10-year strategy designed to create a more vibrant economy and a connected community through the arts sector.

In October 2019, ArtsWave was a sponsor of BLINK, a four-day festival produced by The Agar, ArtWorks, Brave Berlin, the Carol Ann and Ralph V Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. The festival featured sculptures made from lights and murals projected onto buildings.

An estimated one million people saw the inaugural BLINK festival in 2017 throughout 20 blocks. The 2019 event spanned 30 blocks, and ArtsWave offered guided walking tours from Covington across the Roebling Bridge into Cincinnati’s Findlay Market.

“The BLINK event was absolutely transformational,” Antus said. “Not only did it look lovely, but it was one of those things that brings community together. You looked into each other’s eyes and you saw a neighborhood in a different way, literally in a different light.”

Bringing people together and creating a spirit of community, arts events large and small are important experiences.


American Sign Museum


Behringer-Crawford Museum


Campbell County Log Cabin Museum

The Carnegie


Cincinnati Museum Center

Union Terminal

Creation Museum


Dinsmore Homestead


Fine Arts Center

Highland Heights

James A. Ramage Civil War Museum

Fort Wright

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center


Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati


Taft Museum of Art


Vent Haven Museum

Fort Mitchell