intro written by Ilene Ross
interview by Sharon Rudd
photos by Bob Schwartz
Bob Schwartz is the face behind the ridiculously popular “5chw4r7z, the ethos of downtown.” The blog is no-nonsense, gets right to the point, and is always filled with Bob’s beautiful imagery. We asked Sharon Rudd, author of the blog “Eggplant to Go” to have a conversation with Bob to give us some insight into Bob’s love affair with the Queen City, as well as some of his and wife Erin Marie’s favorite places to eat, and she graciously agreed. ~Ilene Ross
Photographer and blogger-about-town Bob Schwartz chronicles the evolution of Cincinnati, often through the lens of food. A fan of cycling, architecture, twitter, sports, the streetcar, coffee, beer, and a good cigar, the multi-faceted creator of the blog 5chw4r7z shares how he fell in love with his adopted hometown, some favorite haunts, and a recipe for a really cool dinner party.
You’re a big supporter of Cincinnati, but not a native. What brought you here?
In 2004 I was downsized out of a job in Youngstown, Ohio. My wife Erin Marie and I decided right away I wasn’t applying for any jobs there. We really wanted to move to Cleveland or Columbus, but half the IT jobs in the state of Ohio were in Cincinnati at that time and we ended up here.
How long did it take you to fall in love with the Queen City and what were some milestones in that courtship?
A couple months maybe. One night really sticks in my mind. On the walk home from dinner, we ran into someone we knew at every single corner, It was crazy. I guess not much has changed since.
One of the things you demonstrate as a photographer is that truth, and beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. What perceptions about Cincinnati have proven accurate? What surprised you once you got to know the city?
I really knew nothing about Cincinnati except for Pete Rose and the Icky Shuffle. I had no expectations. The buildings really blew my mind; 4th Street and Main Street especially. That and the Roebling Bridge, I fell in love with instantly.
How has food played a role in your becoming part of the Cincinnati community and what it has to offer?
Food plays directly into how I got to this point. Erin Marie and I decided to get take-out and have a very fancy anniversary party on Fountain Square. We ended up meeting and talking to someone who has really influenced my approach to social media, Jackie. The first time we all went out to dinner, Jackie told me I should be taking pictures of my food because that would be the next big thing. This was 2007 and she was right. The more food pictures I took, the more popular my blog got.
How did you get into blogging and photography, and how do you see yourself evolving with both since you moved here?
I started a blog because I lost a job and I wanted to keep a skill set fresh. I built a Linux webserver, fileserver and hand-coded a blog. It was really crude and crazy and had no direction at all. I never had good cameras, just did the best I could with what I had. I had and have many artistic friends and was always jealous of their talent, so in a way photography let me be creative in my own way. It all came together when we moved to Cincinnati. I was so impressed with all this great architecture and all the cool things going on I had to share it.
The tag line of your blog is “The Ethos of Downtown,” where you live, and you blog a lot about nearby Over the Rhine, too. Yet you also get out into a lot of other neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. If you couldn’t live in downtown or OTR, where would you like to live and why?
You know, I forget about that title because it’s not something I did a bunch of soul searching about. I used to change the title every week or every couple days on a whim. Then facebook started including the title in posts and some of the titles looked stupid, so I went back and thought the ethos line was as good a title as any to stick with. I just call the blog 5chw4r7z. We really can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is where all the action is centered.
Besides the streetcar, what’s on your wish list for Cincinnati?
Bike lanes! Most of the time it’s not too bad, but there are a couple places – Central Parkway is an example – where the cars race around corners. And a real grocery store downtown would be awesome. After that, one of [Cincinnati City Councilmember] Chris Seelbach’s public restrooms on 4th Street by TJMaxx, so the street department doesn’t have to pressure-wash the sidewalk every morning. And someday I’d like to see Sunday Streets: Close Vine Street to cars four or five Sundays a year so people can leisurely walk or bike ride from the Banks to Fountain Square to Washington Park.
Were you much of a bus rider or bicyclist before you moved here? How did you become involved in the advertising campaign for the local bus system, Cincinnati Metro?
When we moved to Cincinnati we were avid cyclists, but I didn’t get buses at all. Who the hell is going to ride a bus? It took about 3 years for me to wrap my head around how to live downtown and how to fully take advantage of it. I think Metro selected me because they wanted actual bus riders and I was an advocate by that time and vocal about it on twitter and facebook. They’ve gotten their money’s worth because people are always tweeting or posting pictures on facebook of a couple bus stops that feature my Metro ad.
Over the Rhine is undergoing a restaurant explosion. Given the other places you’ve lived and traveled, and, heck, your own personal food preferences, anything you’d like to see added or deleted from the mix?
Something a little more affordable. It would be nice to grab a sandwich and a drink and get out for 7 or 8 dollars. And a real authentic Italian restaurant would be awesome. We got spoiled in Youngstown growing up surrounded by ethnic Italians.
You seem to enjoy discovering the history of Cincinnati. What are some cool things you’ve learned, and do any of them involve food or beer?
The amazing thing I think about is how much U.S. history Cincinnati has been involved in. Albert Sabin and George Rieveschl in medicine. Cincinnati had a huge influence on Prohibition and also gambling just across the river.
Imagine a perfect day for you in Cincinnati. Where would you go, what would you do, who would you spend it with, and most importantly, what would you eat?
I’d spend it with Erin Marie, of course. We love grabbing breakfast at Findlay Market on Saturdays. Then a bike ride out along the river to Pirate’s Cove. It’s not so much the food there, but the mindset sitting on the water with a beer. After we got back home and had a cigar on the deck, we’d do some bar-hopping up Vine and back down Main Street.
If you had an unlimited budget, where in town would you go for a great meal?
I would eat at Senate every single day!
What’s your favorite guilty food pleasure in Cincy?
Hold the Nuts in Silverton: soft-serve vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts.
You travel back to Northern Ohio, to the beach, you’ve been to Europe. What Cincinnati foods do you miss when you’re away?
Since I didn’t grow up here, I don’t have an affinity for Cincinnati-specific foods, but travel has led me to appreciate just how good we have it in Cincinnati for forward-thinking, quality cuisine.
Cincinnati has quirky weather, but once in a while we hit that sweet spot when it’s not too cold, not too hot, and not too humid. What would be your ideal meal on your deck? And what would be your ideal picnic and locale somewhere out in the city?
Anything cooked on the grill; a dry aged steak from Avril-Bleh, for instance, and Erin Marie’s cumin-rubbed corn on the cob. A homemade burger works wonders too. Smale Park, the Serpentine Wall, and Washington Park are all good picnic spots.
Without asking you to pick favorites, could you suggest a place or two you’d recommend people check out in these categories? Extra points for places outside downtown/OTR and any “hidden gems” you think deserve more attention.
A good place for a quiet chat with a friend over coffee: Collective espresso
A good brunch with a group: Metropole
A good place for soup: Skirtz & Johnston and Zoup
A good burger: Tons of choices: Terry’s Turf Club, Senate, The Rookwood, Moerlein Lager House
A good snack while watching a sports event: Mainstay Rock Bar with their free wings for Bengals away games!
A good specialty market beyond downtown/OTR/Findlay: Dutch’s in Hyde Park
A good place for sweets: Taste of Belgium, Skirtz & Johnston and Holtman’s Donut Shop! Oh boy
A good fish fry: For a church fish fry, Mary Queen of Heaven is the best of the bunch, but for the most delicious crispy fish, Bridgetown is the absolute best.
A good happy hour: I bus it home from Clifton so I don’t make many Happy Hours sadly.
A good late-night bite: Lucy Blue Pizza’s new shop on Main St. or Shanghai Mama’s
A good place for an after-dinner cigar: There are limited choices these days for smoking a cigar in Cincinnati, but Neon’s and Igby’s are my favorites right now.
A good spot for people-watching while you eat: Fountain Square
Have your tastes in food changed since you moved to Cincinnati?
It’s funny, my mom always comments on how I never ate certain things as a kid when she sees me eating something new. All these incredible food blogs have challenged me to confront my picky eating. Do I not like something because of preconceived prejudice or do I really not like it? Seems like an even split so far. I’ve surprised myself by liking things I thought I hated. But the foods I don’t like, I really, really don’t like.
Graeter’s ice cream, Montgomery Inn ribs, La Rosa’s pizza, and Cincinnati-style chili have been traditionally associated with Cincinnati for years. What would you like our “new” food reputation to be?
Inventive and creative cuisine.
You sometimes blog about friends who are talented cooks and your dinners together. What, in your opinion, are some ingredients of an unforgettable dinner party?
An unforgettable dinner party should include one fearless cook. One exotic menu item. Generous helpings of beer and wine. And a good mix of interesting conversationalists. On a number of occasions I’ve invited someone I’ve been wanting to meet but who I thought no way they’d show up. A couple times they have!
Sharon Rudd shares her enthusiasm for the Cincinnati food community on her blog Eggplant To Go, and facebook.
She is also staff writer/publicist for Tom+Chee.