Inside Sartre OTR, Cincinnati’s Best Existential Cocktail Destination

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With a name conceived as a playful homage to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Frenchish brasserie Sartre OTR sits on the ground floor of the Rhinegeist building and serves up a changing menu of snacks, shareables and mains with a Parisian bistro sensibility.

The food is good and interesting. Order whatever “beignet” is on offer; whether it’s sweet potato, butternut squash or Tillamook cheddar, it’s going to be fried, delicate and delicious.

But if you don’t feel like investing in dinner, Sartre is a stupendous stop for several cocktails. The bar offers multiple communal seating areas with a shabby chic industrial Art Nouveau vibe, flattering lighting and plenty of space for you and several of your friends. The décor is transportive without artifice, just like the drink selection.

The wine and whiskey lists are long, with an obviously healthy selection of upstairs neighbor Rhinegeist on tap, plus foreign beer in bottles. But the cocktails are the star. Their riff on a classic Negroni uses Cappelletti instead of Campari for a subtle sweetness, and their Geist Spritz plays on an Aperol Spritz with Rhinegeist Bubbles instead of prosecco. The Sore Wounded — rye, China-China, Cocchi Americano and cigar bitters — is served in a corked vial for a bit of apothecary flair. And the Monkey Gland goes full Belle Époque with absinthe and gin. If freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you, we say opt for a stiff drink.

Sartre OTR, 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, sartreotr.com.

| Photos by Hailey Bollinger