Friday, September 26, 2003

Mixed drinks, mixed crowd: Tina's turns twenty

Maggie Downs

It's a Tuesday night.

The bartender serves up jokes as quickly and easily as the mixed drinks she slides across the slick wooden bar.

Her workplace is tucked away like a secret on the corner of Fourth and Central streets downtown. Motorists regularly speed past the place on their way to I-75. Passers-by could blink and miss it.

The small neon beer signs that hang vigilantly in awning-covered windows are the sole clue of the warmth inside.

Regulars fill up the worn barstools. Out-of-towners are there specifically for Cliff's chili, made from an old family recipe. Snippets of conversation float through the air, with topics ranging from Nascar to Frank Sinatra.

Tina's, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next month, isn't just a Cincinnati institution. It is Cincinnati.

It's a place that bridges East and West, Ohio and Kentucky. A place where all career types mingle. A place where you can express passion for the Bengals without fear of mockery.

With its location, Tina's has been an eyewitness to the evolution of downtown during the past two decades. The Fourth and Plum Apartments bring an influx of young professionals to downtown. New housing developments among the historic Fourth Street district will bring even more. And the relatively new Silverglade's deli and market keeps them fed.

Tina's has also benefited from these developments, which is why bar owner Nancy Marchioni had to expand twice over the past seven years.

"You continuously hear about how downtown is dead, but I can tell you 100 percent that business has grown and has grown 100 percent," said the 42-year-old Delhi woman. "This part of downtown is really on the rise. There are new condos. New apartments. New businesses.

"There's a lot of energy here. I can attribute most of my growth to that."

Still, it's the people who keep coming back for cocktails and camaraderie that really make the place unlike other bars around town.

"This," said retired firefighter John Heltman, "really is the melting pot of the city." The 49-year-old Westwood resident was in between rounds on the videogame Big Buck Hunter II.

"You get a little bit of everything in here," said Mark Rosenbluth, a 31-year-old student and music producer who lives downtown.

"And you never know who you're going to meet," added Scott Katz, 23, a hotel manager from Erlanger.

On a typical night, a lawyer in a three-piece suit could be sharing a game of Golden Tee with a construction worker. A doctor could be found buying a round for the Harley-Davidson crew. A DJ could ask a city employee to pass the hot sauce.

"Everybody comes in and checks their coats," Marchioni said. "You don't have to be any certain thing other than who you are."

That's why some people refer to this small, simple bar as the Cheers of Cincinnati.

Lindsay Allen, a horse trainer and recent UC grad, knows that feeling. The 26-year-old East Walnut Hills woman usually catches up on bestseller fiction at the bar, a practice she began years ago in between shifts at her former downtown job.

"It's nice to have a place where you can come, talk to some people and feel like you're at home."


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