|Molly Wellman tending bar at Japp's|
Just a few weeks ago, Cincinnati’s newest bar, Japp’s Since 1879, opened in the now burgeoning bar district on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, joining other great hang outs like the Famous Neon’s Unplugged, the Drinkery, MOTR, Mr. Pitiful’s and more. For this humble writer, the experience at Japp’s is all about well known mixologist and part owner Molly Wellman. Anyone who has had the pleasure of speaking with Cincinnati’s famous Wellman for more than five minutes can see that Japp’s is a pure extension of her. Molly can be found guest bartending all over town at bars like Neon’s and Mainstay and at different events, but it was only a few months ago when I heard of her affinity for classic cocktails from the 1700’s through the 1950’s. When the opportunity arose to write this review, I was excited to take in the place and chart my experiences at the new OTR hotspot.
To tell the truth, calling Japp’s Cincinnati’s newest bar is a bit of a historical inaccuracy. Japp’s existed in the same spot as a bar in the 1990’s but the building has been empty for several years now. If you’re wondering about the ‘since 1879’ part, Japp’s originally opened over 130 years ago as a hair and wig shop. Wellman and the staff at the bar have carefully preserved and paid tribute to this history and definitely do not take it for granted.
I showed up for Japp’s soft opening, sat down at the bar and waiting to get a drink from Molly, hoping while she mixed my cocktail that I would get to ask a question or two. Instead, she ended up sitting down with me for close to forty minutes, and in that time I don’t think she stopped smiling even for a moment. Through our conversation she and I got a real sense of what she hopes this bar will be.
|The Van Gogh|
When you walk through the doors of Japp’s, you are greeted by a doorman who welcomes you to the bar with a warm smile. To the left is a large round table called the stammtische table, which Molly explained as the table for the regulars. In the old days, new immigrants would seek out these stammtische tables in order to find out information on where to live and work. The desire is for this bar to be a community bar, a place for people to come and have a conversation and exchange ideas. To that end, there is not a single TV in Japp’s. While there is music playing, it is at a level that allows a conversation to exist without yelling at the person two feet away from you. Molly chose bartenders that were exceptionally personable.
During the course of the interviews, Molly had to leave a few times to take care of this or that, and every time another bartender would come over and talk with me. While it was a small gesture, I definitely noticed it and I’m sure it was no accident. For that matter, every aspect of the bar feels very deliberate and well thought out.
I asked Molly to make me her specialty. With her giant smile, she responded that she was going to make me a “Sunshine in a Glass”. I soon realized that Molly, along with the rest of staff at Japp’s, reminded me of the kind of bartenders you see in old movies, where a stranger walks into a bar and the bartender actually has a conversation with them. Japp’s bartenders find out what you are in the mood for, what you like and what you don’t like and then build a drink for you. This process takes a bit longer, but time goes by quickly as you converse with them and watch them work their magic. The level of care in each cocktail is apparent and impressed me all the same. For my drink, Molly mixed her homemade bitters, these ones she calls sunshine bitters, fortified wine, a dash of gin and champagne, and finished it with a twist of lemon.
|Coffee Machine or Spacecraft? ...Definitely a Spacraft|
This is going to sound funny, but honestly the best way to describe this drink is that it made me smile; every sip brought a huge grin to my face. Though the drink was certainly delicious, it was really the experience that I was drinking in. At that point, I was already sold, and I was still only half way through the bar. In the back of Japp’s sits a coffee bar run by the people at Tazza Mia, which looks less like a coffee bar and more like a mad scientist's lab. There is what appears to be a large still that cold brews coffee, which takes sixteen hours to brew on top of this iced coffee. There are small bunsen burners on the counter used to brew each individual cup of coffee. And while the coffee connoisseurs do serve your standard espresso, machiatto and latte, they also serve coffee cocktails. And though I wouldn’t usually mix caffeine and alcohol, I ordered one for the sake of the article. I tasted the Van Gogh, an iced coffee with almond syrup, absinth, and a caramelized sugar cube. The drink was delicious and the coffee didn’t hit you in the face like I feel coffee usually does. Instead the natural chocolate flavor comes out and coats your tongue. It wasn’t bitter, as I was told that the natural sweetness of the coffee is accentuated through this cold brew process.
As I got to know the lovely Ms. Wellman that evening, so too did I better understand Japp’s. Both of them have a fun, positive and laidback vibe, but with plenty of class to spare as well. Stepping into Japp’s feels a bit like stepping into a time machine, as it’s still accessible but definitely different from any bar I have been to. Molly’s bubbly personality permeates throughout the bar; everyone, from the doorman to the patrons themselves, was full of smiles that night at Japp’s. Here’s hoping that Molly and everyone else at Japp’s continues to cultivate that experience, cheers!
You can find Japp's on Facebook here.