Stories Behind the Booze: Queen City Radio
When we think neighborhood bar, we think friendly bartenders, comfy seating, and scrumptious libations. Queen City Radio checks all of those boxes, with the addition of retro charm, delicious grub, and a dedication to giving back. And did I mention the dog-friendly patios? What was once a gas station and garage has been renovated into a fun and lively hangout for Over-the-Rhine residents and visitors. What sets Queen City Radio apart is their philanthropy and dedication to the community they call home. Every quarter, Queen City Radio works with a different brewery and liquor representative to raise money for a different nonprofit. Last quarter, they supported Women Helping Women in partnership with Rhinegeist and Woodford Reserve, and collectively raised more than $3,000. This quarter, they’re partnering with Cincinnati Pride, Avery Brewing Company, and Effen Vodka, in hopes of doubling that number.
As we talked with Events Coordinator Laura Peterson, it was clear to see why she loves working at Queen City Radio. Laura emphasized again and again that this is a bar for everybody. We were fortunate enough to get a closer look at her role with Queen City Radio and her experience with miming, old-school cocktails, and spontaneous tattoos.
What’s your background and how did you come to work with Queen City Radio?
I've been working in the industry since I was 14. I started in a little tiny mom and pop, basically knockoff Dairy Queen, Sonic type thing. [Customers] pulled in with their cars and we had little intercoms and that's how I got started in service. And I’ve just always been very good at it. I moved to Cincinnati about five years ago to come to school. When you're going to school, the easiest thing to do is to be a server. I was living in Clifton and I started working at Zula here in OTR and I loved OTR. The customers you get… it’s awesome, so I knew I wanted to stay in the area, at least for work. I was actually working at a law firm downtown and a friend of mine who was working there knew one of the Queen City Radio owners and said, “Hey they're looking for bartenders. I know you're looking for a side gig.” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” That was back before we opened. I came in and I interviewed and got the job, and it’s been a year and a half.
The whole point is, a French 75 is a cannon, so it hits you like a cannon. But of course it’s super smooth and delicious.
I'm one of the ones who has the tattoo. The owner messaged us and said, “Hey, I’m gonna go get this radio tattoo. If anybody wants to get one, I'll pay for it.” And I went “Okay, sure!” So yeah, I worked here since day one. Loved all the people. I could never imagine working at a different bar now.
You mentioned your theater background earlier. Can you tell us more about that?
I went to the University of Minnesota for two and a half years for theater and I did miming. It’s a part of the program and I also did it professionally for awhile in Minnesota. All of the people from Shakespeare [Theatre] come here all the time and they've heard all this from me and they keep being like, the method that I do is a very different method. It's built on a lot of French and Russian influences. So they’re always like, “We wanna see; we wanna see!” I’m like, “You haven’t got me drunk enough!” It's been a long time and my body is totally different than it was. It was a lot of fun. I started out just wanting to be a normal theater person and my first Intro to Acting Class, I was like, “This is weird; oh my god I hate this.” And then about three weeks in I was like, “This is really cool.” It just took a buy-in period.
As a team and as a business, how do you navigate the popularity of Queen City Radio, and especially Over-the-Rhine, while keeping the integrity of the business?
In this place, it's pretty easy. I always say you can tell the quality of a bar if the employees stick around after their shift or they come in on their days off. We're all always here. So I have no trouble telling people to come here because I come here. And OTR, it’s all so easy. We want to make sure that we are putting our best foot forward as a business and telling people the kind of bar that we are. But there again, we’re a philanthropy bar; we’re an everybody bar. We make that our purpose.
Do you have a specialty drink that you like to make and or drink?
Everyone here will tell you, and they always hate me because I always order it. It’s my favorite cocktail and it’s delicious and I bring it everywhere I go. It’s a French 75. It’s a complicated drink to make, so you don’t order it when it's busy. But if it’s like just normal flow of people, the bartenders aren’t crazy busy, ask for it. It's one of the original cocktails from the 1920s…it's got an amazing history. The name is really historical. I'm a history person, so that's my thing. A lot of people make it without St. Germain, which is not okay. That's what makes the drink. Otherwise, it’s just a gin lemonade with a champagne splash. With the St. Germain, though, it brings out all the flavors of the gin and the lemon and the champagne. A lot of people think gin, they think of Christmas trees. It's not approachable. But you don't taste it; you just taste herbal, floral. It’s lovely. We just introduced a drink with St. Germain on our cocktail menu and I looked at our cocktail guy and I went, “You and me, we are BFFs now. That’s my drink!”
We’re an everybody bar.
You should be able to get a French 75 at any bar in the city. I know Zula does it; Sundry and Vice does it. You can get it at Japps. I’ve trained the people at Tillies to make it for me up in Northside. When I went back to Denver to visit my family, we stopped at a restaurant for my birthday and I was like “Can you make me a French 75?” The bartender had never heard of it. I taught him how to make it and then he came back half an hour later and was like, “I just sold four of those drinks.” I’m bringing it back. Everyone needs to know. The whole point of champagne is that it opens up the pores in your mouth. That's why you get drunk faster, so be careful. The whole point is, a French 75 is a cannon, so it hits you like a cannon. But of course it’s super smooth and delicious.
Do you find that a majority of bars in Cincinnati are run by men? And if so, how do you feel being a part of that industry as a woman?
Overall, yes, most of them are. But I've seen a big push lately for getting not just ownership, but management and representation. And even in places where a lot of times, I get it, men are applying, so you hire a man. Sometimes that's the thing. But even in places like that, like Northside Yacht Club has done the Lexi Program. Same with us. And so, that's another place where I feel super, super comfortable all the time. I saw that in the bathroom and I went, “Absolutely, yes.” So, Cincinnati, I think, is better than a lot of places I've been, honestly. There's a lot of really terrible dudes out there working in the industry. But Cincinnati, I’ve never had a super big problem with that. I know I'm lucky in that way.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Lexi Program?
We worked with Women Helping Women to get this program started. I know they did something like this – I think it's in New York or Florida – where you order an Angel Shot and that tells the bartender that you need help. I know in the beginning we were trying to figure out ways… like maybe you do something on the rocks. They decided that it would be simpler just to ask for somebody. That way you can come up to any member of staff and say, “Hey, is Lexi here?” and then we know, “Yeah! She’s in the back. You wanna follow me?” And then we can get people out of bad situations. It's men and women. We've had men use that as well, because they're just as susceptible. And what we do is we pull them in the back and say, “How can we help you?” Do we need to call the police? Do you just need an Uber? Do you just need one of our barbacks to walk you down the block? Whatever it is you need to make you feel more comfortable, we’re going to take care of it for you.” There's a women's bathroom downstairs with the sign on it. You should take a picture of it because women have written on it. It’s so cool.
I have no trouble telling people to come here because I come here.
Who has been an influential woman in your life?
First and foremost, my mother. I always joke with my parents that I'm a daddy's girl through and through. And people at this bar will tell you I'm a daddy’s girl, hardcore. My mom is just… she's such an independent and she just does whatever she wants. For my dad's midlife crisis, he took up chainsaw carving and became a sculptor. And we were like, “Okay, that’s cool Dad, but whatever.” And then my mom, who's an English teacher, was like, “It’s my turn! I’m going to move to Korea!” She didn't even have a passport. She had done nothing like that before. And she was just feeling that need to do something and so she moved to Korea. And now she's in China. My dad makes fun of me because I'm getting my degree in English for teaching English to speakers of other languages now, so that I can travel. He's like, “Well you're just following in your mother's footsteps.” I said, “Well it’s about time because I've been following in yours for so long.”
Is she who inspired you to want to get that degree in English?
Both my parents are teachers and I kept trying to avoid it. I wasn't going to be a teacher, but my parents are teachers. I've seen it. It's harder than I could ever want to work and just…no. I kept trying to find ways to not to do that and the universe kept saying, “Hey, hey, hey Laura, guess what you would be really good at?” And I was like “Okay, shut up; I’ll do it.” I’ve got connections with the place she worked at in Korea, so that’s going to be my first job.
If your mouth is watering for one of Laura’s French 75 cocktails, join us for our May Yappy Hour at Queen City Radio on Tuesday, May 22, from 6-10 p.m. The best part? Dogs are welcome! The talented Desh Rain will be providing gourmet dog treats, and Avery Brewing Company has donated some fun, dog items for our group. We will be gathering on the upper patio. Queen City Radio is located at 222 W 12th Street.