I’ve wanted to write about The Monkey Bar for a long time, and it’s not just because it’s a fun place to drink. The Monkey Bar has a ton of history behind it, and I’m a sucker for a bar with a story. There’s a ton of history on the Monkey Bar’s website that you can check out – but before we dive into the bar itself I’ll try to summarize a little bit of it here.
The Monkey Bar (or at least the first part of what would become it) was built in 1841 by James Foster when he first began settling in the area. It was a tavern and an inn called the Twenty-Two Mile Stand (it is located 22 miles north of Cincinnati). Other folks in the area called it ‘Foster’s Inn’ or ‘Foster’s Hotel’. It was sold in 1892 and became a very popular summer resort, with a brick addition built onto the back by the river to accommodate more guests.
The flood of 1913 did a ton of damage to the town of Foster, and while the Inn wasn’t left unscathed (that brick addition was destroyed), when the dust settled the building was spared.
The business was renamed ‘The Blue Danube’ in 1934, and then again renamed ‘The Train Stop’ in 1975 when it was purchased by Joe Roy Harris. This short period of its life in the late 70s saw two different fires break out in the building – and it was quickly sold to Joe Roy’s brother Ken Harris.
Ken Harris vowed when he purchased the building that it would never burn down again, and rebuilt it with brick, rock, and concrete to make sure that his promise would be kept. During this rebuilding process, a lot of the quirky “easter eggs” that you’ll find were added. There are many little trinkets built into the building, everything from revolvers to a tiki statue and even a replica of Mt. Rushmore.
Under Ken Harris, the business gained a ton of popularity. It was also under his ownership that its nickname ‘The Monkey Bar’ was given… which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Ken Harris passed away in 2013, and his son McKinley Harris took over for a few years before selling the business to its current owners Mark and Amy Altemeier, who have made massive improvements and given now-named ‘Monkey Bar’ a new life in its already long history.
The Monkey In The Monkey Bar
The Monkey Bar gained its nickname, and then full-on identity back in 1985 when then-owner Ken Harris purchased a chimp named Sam. Sam had already been living a very interesting life. He started out with his brother, Rudy, as an act in a carnival that went bankrupt. The bankrupt carnival left them abandoned in Boone County, Kentucky.
The duo was “adopted” and proceeded into a life where they “entertained” folks from the bed of a pickup truck. Folks would pay money to feed the pair candy, soda, and the like.
Sam was eventually sold to the owner of a canoe livery in Loveland, Ohio, where he remained until one day he bit the owner and was sold off to Ken Harris over in Foster.
Ken had a space in an old foundation at the Tain Stop that became Sam’s home. Patrons of the bar would often give him cigarettes to smoke, grape soda to drink, and plenty of things that eventually caught the attention of the Humane Society upon completion of the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
There was a big trial, with many folks believing that Sam was extremely happy with his arrangements. Others were determined to get him to a new home. Before the trial, Sam was relocated to a temporary home, and owner Ken Harris renovated his living quarters, outfitting it with a television, a radio, and even a refrigerator. This new space was approved by the Department of Agriculture and Sam was allowed to return home while the trial continued.
In the end, after a massive media spectacle, the jury acquitted Ken Harris and he was returned to his living quarters. The Humane Society was undeterred, though, and filed a lawsuit against Harris to get custody of Sam. The lawsuit was eventually dropped. In the end, in 1997 when the Township announced plans to turn what was Sam’s playground (it was on township property) into restrooms, Ken Harris decided it was time to remove the now 25-year-old chimp for good. It was never disclosed where exactly he was relocated to.
What To Expect From A Visit To The Monkey Bar
While the history is an incredible story in itself – the bar isn’t just about what it used to be. The current ownership of the place has done incredible things to The Monkey Bar. There are a lot of reasons now that this is one of the best bars in the area.
It starts outside. In the summertime, this is an absolute hotspot for folks looking to grab a seat on their massive patio and listen to some live music. Garage doors all around the building open it up to the outside making it feel like it’s one with the patio. You can even canoe right up to the patio from the River below and grab a drink before heading back along your way. It’s incredible. They have a bar outside on the patio that makes it easy and fast to grab another drink without missing any of the excitement. This is definitely one of THE best bars in Greater Cincinnati to hang out and have a drink on the patio.
Inside, things reflect the wild, long history of the space. The interior is split up into several different rooms, all connected via a maze of doorways. It feels open and yet intimate at the same time. There are bars both upstairs and downstairs, upstairs feeling a bit more “traditional” with a medium-sized bar with a bunch of great craft beer on tap.
Downstairs is their Bourbon bar. This is the space that has the vibe that I resonate with the most. It’s full of stone, and dark wood. There are two original fireplaces – leather seats… you get it. It’s warm, cozy… wonderful.
Why You Need To Visit
The Monkey Bar is a little different than a lot of the bars that I like to write about. It’s not really a “neighborhood joint” – though It can certainly fill that need if you live close by. It’s a full-on destination. This is the type of place that you go to when you want to spend an entire evening hanging out with your friends.
The conversations, the experience, the view… they’re all the building blocks that have turned this place into what it is.