It was either the fall or spring of 2006 when I first walked into The Crow’s Nest. Up until this point I had been to many a bar in Chicago, my hometown, but my younger brother had made the move to Cincinnati and found a place with our cousin on Nebraska and Roth in the West Side. Conveniently enough, at the end of the street and on the corner was this bar called The Crow’s Nest. I was in for the weekend visiting, and we went up there later in the evening and I am sure there was probably somebody playing music. However, what I remember most and what has stuck with me after these ten years is the vibe it gave off.
Maybe there is something in the water out on the West Side that makes this place feel like home? Maybe it is because the West Side is like a small town where everyone knows everyone. That can be both good and bad at times. Maybe it is just the sheer fact that these people, these friends, that have been coming to The Nest far longer than me mind you, are some damn good people. I was not obviously alive in 1896 when it opened, but I am going to take an artistic liberty and assume that nothing much has changed in the vein of it being a neighborhood bar; the road out front and the scenery inside have probably undergone the most change. But, The Nest for me at least has always seemed to have this neighborhood vibe to it. Everyone knows each other in some form or another, and that has carried on and I would venture a guess and say probably since it has opened as well.
The Crow’s Nest opened up in 1896 and was owned and operated by John Crowe. In 1921 though things changed even the name which from 1896 to 1921 it was called John Crowe’s Roadhouse, and after the change of ownership The Crow’s Nest (which is a naval term for where the lookout would sit. It was kind of like a wood basket that was connected to the main mast of the ship. The lookout would sit there and holler out instructions, obstacles, or land ahead) was changed to and has held onto that name ever since.
There have been changes of ownership over The Nest’s long life, but the building has remained and since 1921 so has the name. The name suits the place when you think of the literal definition of a “crow’s nest.” The building sits on the corner of West 8th and Nebraska, and seemingly keeps watch on the Westsiders coming home or going to work or school. Along with that it also keeps watch over the dead. Yes, you fair reader read that right, that was not a typo. See across the street sits St. Joseph Cemetery, and when I say across the street that is exactly what I mean.
One could say The Nest looks over the dead, and you would not be wrong as the building again is right across the street from the cemetery. But sometimes those lines blur, and the dead make their way into the bar. There is an array of different stories from the staff pertaining to these occurrences. Things placed where they shouldn’t be while a cooler door closes, and I’ve heard bartenders speak of a strange vibe when going into the basement. I personally have stayed late with one of the bartenders because the night per the “spirit” had just been too strange to bear for this bartender. There is even a sign that is sort of a joke about the bar that reads: If you think it’s dead in here look across the street.
While across the street may lay the un-living, inside of this building the energy is palpable and intensely alive. The Crow’s Nest has become a place where music thrives and all levels of talent are welcomed, and I personally have witnessed bands form, and bands get their start here. Everyone from Ben Knight to The Tillers.
Currently every Tuesday night, the Open Mic hosted by Sean Geil of those Tillers, has brought out some amazing musician’s. The caliber of talent that graces the open mic nights has been impressive at best. The open mic dates back to at least 2006, when a fella by the name of Captain Mike used to run it. Even then, the caliber was still amazing. Possibly due to the fact of who was bartending Adam O’Neil and Matthew Wabnitz started bringing up their friends. From that moment onward it has changed. These are just my opinions, because this is what I remember as I have been coming up here since 2006. In all honesty, nothing much has changed. Other than friends getting married, friends having kids, or both, and friends moving on but remains is The Crow’s Nest, the beacon of the West Side.
The building has become a second home for me. I have met and made friends with some amazing people at The Crow’s Nest. I am in the band that I am in (Willow Tree Carolers) because of The Crow’s Nest. I have ten year friendships with two of the bartenders because of The Crow’s Nest, and 7, 6,5, or 4 year friendships because of The Nest, and why? Strictly because of the music that has passed through the doors, and perhaps the water that resides on the west side.
The Crow’s Nest sits at 4544 West 8th Street, Cincinnati, OH 45238. It is the tallest building on the street. Just like any Irish bar it is welcoming to anyone that simply would like to have a good time with some good people. There are no grand words to close this out. No big ideas or overly dramatic sentences to describe The Crow’s Nest, no, you fair reader simply need to come out and experience it for yourself. And when you do, if you think it’s dead in there, well, look across the street.
Cincinnati is brimming over with amazing places to see live music. Every pocket within our city has a number of places to check out your next favorite band. Within the month of April, CincyMusic.com will be featuring Neighborhood Venues in Cincinnati. These venues include; a past brothel, the home of the amazing open mic night (and a darn good pretzel), an old school jazz joint, a west side gem, the venue that was once underwater, where to go to worship music, and the go-to spot in OTR for breaking bands.
Stay tuned to CincyMusic.com for our Features on your favorite neighborhood venues this month!