Best Of MTM Cincinnati: Fountain Square

Most towns have their central plazas. San Francisco has the Embarcadero. New York as Times Square. DC has The Mall. Cincinnati’s is Fountain Square. If you remember the opening credits to WKRP in Cincinnati, it was the first thing you saw of the city, the fountain, officially called The Genius of Waters or informally called the Tyler-Davidson Memorial, framed against a building that looked suspiciously like one of the Twin Towers. It’s actually the Fifth Third Building.

Fountain Square has since undergone several radical transformations. Gone is the Skywalk, which let one walk from the old Cincinnati Bell Atrium (now Convergys Center) over at Fourth and Main to the Duke Energy Convention Center all the way on the western edge of downtown. An ugly shell of a department store, so obscure it’s barely remembered as Fountain Square West, stood next to the Square when I first moved here in 1991. A week later, they blew it up for a parking lot. Now it’s a Macy’s (formerly Lazarus, whose parent owns Macy’s.)

The Fountain has moved. It once stood near the Fifth Third Tower overlooking a stage and a wide, empty section of the Square. Now it stands dead center. Plus, Fifth Third no longer dominates the Square. Its tower and adjacent office building fronting Sixth Street still stands, but only a branch and a mortgage office face the Square itself. The rest has been given over to restaurants. Yes, kids, there is a reason now to come downtown after work now. Or even on weekends.

In fact, you might hardly recognize the place if you haven’t been here in the last ten years. Photos after the jump.


The Genius of Waters

I once worked with a guy who claimed his grandfather was Tyler Davidson, who built the fountain. Never mind that Tyler and Davidson were two different people.


The Cadillac Ranch on Sixth Street, on the other side of Fifth Third Center from the Square

A coworker keeps trying to get me to ride the mechanical bull here during BigHugeCo’s semi-frequent happy hours. Natually, I do not let this woman talk to Nita. Otherwise, I’ll have to ride the bull. The beer here is cold, even in the summer, and the chili – California-style chili, that is – is excellent.


This bear seems to be telling me about my wife.


The single most important addition to Fountain Square: Graeter’s Ice Cream!


Nia Nite

This night club is one of the latest editions to the Square. Back in 2001, the city decided Fountain Square was a dull patch of brickwork people only cared to visit when the now-vanished stage was in use or the ice rink was running. They set about attracting new restaurants, including a couple of chains, and, of course, Graeter’s Ice Cream. Now, you park your car under the Square and hang out here before going to your destination downtown.


Fifth Third Center, home of all the restaurants

I have no idea why they put a map of Antarctica over the walkway. It’s on the Sixth Street side as well.


Rock Bottom Brewery, one of the Square’s oldest haunts

Here there be beer. Yes, it’s a chain. Other chains represented on the Square are Chipotle and Potbelly. I was really happy to discover Potbelly. Even happier on my last trip to Chicago to find several within two blocks of Wacker Drive.


The ice rink, which appears every November and disappears in March.


Fifth Third Tower

Nita leases me from this bank. They own my condo. They own my car. They own my ass.


The Westin, home to McCormick & Schmick’s, a seafood place, and Ingredients, which caters more to the office crowd.


Carew Tower, the tallest building in Cincinnati until 2011, when Queen City Square will be completed.



There’s a great place called Palomino’s on the second floor that gives a terrific view of the square, as does The Albee inside the Westin. Note the video screen above the Macy’s sign. I used to work in an office that had a view of the Square. We wasted more time watching that screen (sans sound, which you can get when you’re actually on the Square). The screen was designed to give the Square a Times Square feel. During football season, the city has parties where people gather to watch the Bengals on the screen. Now if the Bengals would learn how to play football…

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