Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wine down Thursdays at Plum Court Wine Room

Plum Court Wine Room owners, Tom and Dollie Moore
I once had a friend who used to reinvent himself every few years – no, he wasn’t on the lamb – and with each incarnation he would, legally, change his name. And his appearance, and his residence and his career. One day, when we were driving the U-Haul around town, I finally asked him why. “I like to keep things fresh,” he said. So it is with businesses and restaurants and bars alike, looking for a new and improved way of life.

The Plum Court Wine Room located, not surprisingly, at the corner of Plum and Court Streets downtown, is just such a place. In its latest incarnation, the former Pipeline bar, which was the former 241 bar, is now a hip new venue for wine tasting and friend making. Owners Tom and Dollie Moore open their doors every Thursday evening from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. to welcome customers as diverse in ages and backgrounds as they wines they serve. “We have a very eclectic group in here every week,” says Dollie with a smile. “Guests range from the minister of the historic Pilgrim Chapel in Mt. Adams to the former owner of the 241 bar.”

Each week the Plum Court Wine Room offers four to five tastings, including a selection of whites, reds, varietals and occasional dessert wines, for prices ranging from $7 to $9 per person. As a bonus, Tom prepares a buffet of his made-from-scratch hors d’ oeuvres to accompany the tasting. In fact, they’ve become such a hit he’s writing a cookbook.

Though highly seasoned business professionals, Dollie admits she and Tom are accidental bar owners. “We kind of backed into the business of wine tasting,” she says. They ‘temporarily’ moved to Cincinnati in 1998 when Tom, a corporate consultant, accepted a local position. But it wasn’t long before the couple fell in love with the city’s character and historic architecture. They bought a home next to the Pipeline bar and began restoration. In 2005, the Pipeline closed and while neighbors discussed forming a cooperative to buy the building, it remained empty. One day, when Dollie was replacing mortar outside their home, she started to patch the crumbling mortar on the old Pipeline. “If I care enough to patch the mortar,” she thought to herself, ”I care enough to own it.”

They bought the building, service bar and liquor license intact. After giving the interior a face lift, they began contacting wine distributors. “I taste 98% of everything we sell,” says Dollie. (Occasionally a bottle is unavailable to sample.) ”Tom and I have to agree on the selections and since our tastes are different, it’s a good blend." Dollie notes they only buy wines with a good history; vintners with a reputation for quality and consistency. They also zero in on the distributors’ specials, passing the savings along to their customers.

They’ve been building business the old fashion way, inviting friends to bring friends, and it works. Growing in popularity, Tom and Dollie recently extended their services to include private parties and special events. And why not? The atmosphere is warm, the couches comfortable and the company lively. Very much like attending a neighborhood gathering. No, exactly like attending a neighborhood gathering.

The Plum Court Wine room is located at 241 W. Court St. Hours are 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., every Thursday. For more information, contact Dollie Moore at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blues take center stage at Mansion Hill Tavern

Blues lovers know it well. Lunch diners make it a regular stop. Newcomers quickly learn it’s a place where everybody really does know your name. With its casual atmosphere and neighborhood location, Mansion Hill Tavern tops the list for down home cooking by day and down South blues by night.

Located on the western edge of Newport’s historic Mansion Hill district, the laid back bar and restaurant is a self-proclaimed “no aggravation location.” The eclectic interior is just what you might expect – brick walls, neon pub signs, assorted posters - and something you might not expect, a larger-than-life wooden Indian. On the afternoon I stopped in, the lunch rush had just subsided. Cara Peluso, who owns the business with husband Lou, was taking a much needed break at the end of the bar (she serves drinks and food while Lou, pictured above, cooks). It was the perfect time to get a little background on the tavern’s colorful past.

Mansion Hill Tavern’s history dates back to 1875 when the original portion of the L-shaped building served as an inn for railway workers of the nearby Louisville and Cincinnati Short Line Railroad. In 1892, it was converted into a neighborhood grocery store, changing names and owners through the years, until 1944 when it became Ivy and Gill’s CafĂ©…and booking joint. Later Gill left and Bill took over and well, it gets complicated, but the re-invented Ivy and Bill’s closed after Ivy met an untimely death. Lou Peluso bought the tavern in 1988 and has since turned it into one of the area’s premiere destinations for blues.

Friday and Saturday nights the tavern features such home town favorites as Johnny Fink and the Intrusion and the Blue Ravens. Sunday nights Them Bones, third place winners in the 2010 International Blues Challenge, warms up the crowd, then it’s an open blues jam where wannabes and pros show their stuff. There’s a modest $4 cover charge on Friday nights and $3 cover charge on Saturday nights. Sunday nights are free.

The roster heats up this week on Thursday, May 27th, when the tavern hosts the Cincy Blues Society’s Solo/ Duo Challenge. Jammin’ starts at 7:00 p.m. and goes until 10:30 p.m. Winners in each category will represent the Cincy Blues Society at the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Admission is $7. Better bring cash though. The tavern doesn’t take credit cards but does have an ATM on the premises.

Mansion Hill Tavern is open 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 3:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Saturday through Monday. Lunch is served Tuesday through Friday; dinner is served Friday night only from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. For more information, call 859-581-0100.

Now get out there are start singing the blues.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Joseph Williams Home offers urban chic interiors

Located in the burgeoning Gateway Quarter on Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine, Joseph Williams Home is explosion of color and style in urban chic interior design. I first visited the store in its original location on Reading Rd. but hadn’t seen their new digs so I headed out for a little one on one with owner, Fred Arrowood.

The first thing I noticed on approach was the vintage black and white tile “welcome mat” outside the door, the kind used in turn-of-the-century pharmacies and dry goods stores. With care, Fred had chipped out just enough of the original design to update it with the store’s name. I liked it immediately. The store is actually a group of three attached buildings - two side by side and one in the rear - offering sweeping display spaces and streaming light from ceiling high windows. Inside, the over sized space is made cozy by room vignettes, arranged very much the way they would look in your own home. Bold color sets the stage for sleek chrome and leather sofas, fanciful area rugs and hip paintings from local artists.

Fred, an Over-the-Rhine resident, has been in the furniture business for 24 years. He started in sales at Lazurus (now Macy’s), then became a buyer for such notables as Thomasville, Broyhill and Furniture Fair. Along the way he also managed teams of display designers. Frustrated with the lack of management’s vision for changing trends toward urban contemporary style, he decided to open his own store and fill a growing niche market.

“My timing could have been a little better,” laughs Fred. “I opened the store just when the economy took a down-turn and home sales dropped dramatically. People were cutting back and interior design was not a priority.” Like many small business owners, Fred had to come up with innovative ways to reach and service customers. And he did. He now partners with interior design consultant Heric Flores who offers design challenged home owners expert advice on color, furniture arrangement, window treatments and flooring. “It’s really been a major boost to sales,” notes Fred. “If I had to rely on foot traffic to drive business, I wouldn’t be around very long.”

That, however, is about to change. Plans for the new Mercer Commons complex of condos and apartments adjacent to the store, the soon to open Lackman Bar across the street and the recently opened SENATE restaurant are colliding in a perfect storm to make the Gateway Quarter a thriving retail district and vibrant neighborhood. Looking out the window to watch a neighbor pushing a baby stroller, Fred pauses a moment. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”