One Of Cincinnati’s Oldest Taprooms Just Closed, And You Probably Don’t Care
By: The Gnarly Gnome
Photos By: The Gnarly Gnome
If you had never stepped foot in BJ’s Brewhouse in Tri-County, I’d understand that you might not understand why I’m spending my time writing about them when 100 other things are also pulling my attention. It’s because BJ’s had (or has, depending on who you ask) a much more important role in local craft beer than folks realize.
Before we start diving in, the news that you need to know is pretty simple. After 15 years, the taproom just recently closed its doors as Tri-County Mall ceases to be. (The mall officially closed last year.) The chain’s other local locations in Rookwood and Florence will remain open (as will the one up at Austin Landing in Dayton.)
This opens up a lot of questions that I really want to answer, namely the first:
Why Do I Care About BJ’s Brewhouse?
I’ve been rolling this question around in my mind since I first heard the news last week. On the one hand – I’ve had some terrible beer at BJs, sometimes in really inopportune times (check out the BJs episode of Cincy Brewcast – or remember back to 2023’s Oktoberfest Quest), on the other, I’ve had some really great beers bellied up to that bar. The brewery isn’t local at all… they don’t make their beer here; it’s shipped in. It most certainly IS a craft brewery, though. There’s a lot of back and forth about why I should or shouldn’t care about this place closing its doors.
The truth that I’ve come to is that I care because of where the space sat in my journey as a craft beer drinker – and where it does for a lot of folks I anticipate. If you try really hard to search the back reaches of your fuzzy memory banks to remember back to what things were like before BJs opened it’s doors, it’ll be a long stretch. They opened in early 2008. 2008! The only local breweries or taprooms that are still operating that are older than that are Miller, Sam Adams, Hofbrauhaus, and Mt. Carmel.
We didn’t have anywhere close to the options that we do now. That same year, Listermann would start brewing operations, and later, Great Crescent would open their nano brewery in a shop in downtown Aurora, Indiana. Rivertown wouldn’t come until the following year, and even Moerlein’s OTR brewery was three years away. MadTree was five years down the pike.
It’s hard to remember back in those days, but BJs was an oasis for craft beer lovers in the suburbs. For that? I’m always going to be grateful for them.
I’m also not surprised that they closed their doors for a couple of very simple reasons.
Do We Still Need Places Like This?
First and foremost (and probably the biggest reason that this shouldn’t come as a shock) is that Tri-County mall is self-destructing (like most malls are, or have already done) – the brewery couldn’t sustain what they were doing in a mall that was falling down around them (ask Forest Fair’s Bass Pro Shop and Kohls how they feel about it).
It was only a matter of time.
In a much bigger sense, though – craft beer is changing. As much as I carried on a minute ago about the role that BJ’s played for us craft beer drinkers in the suburbs a decade and a half ago – that same role just doesn’t exist these days. Chain brewpubs don’t scratch the same itch that a local taproom does. They don’t even scratch the same itch that a well-run “out of town, invasive species, taproom” does. It doesn’t matter how great your food is, how wonderful the service can be, or how much we fall in love with a place – in a city like Cincinnati, you’re going to have a hard time running a brewpub chain like BJ’s, or Rock Bottom in 2024.
We are beyond that.
Raise A Pint
Regardless of whether you had a personal relationship with BJ’s Brewhouse in Tri-County or not. The next time you find yourself bellied up to a bar with a great craft beer selection or a local brewery, raise a pint. Try to remember what craft beer used to be like (if you were around to experience it) – but don’t shed too many tears.
This is ok… as are most closings when they happen. It’s a sign of evolution; it’s a sign of growing up.
Craft Beer will always be alive and well in Cincinnati – but the places we go to enjoy it will shift and change as we do.
Goodbye, BJs. I guess I’m driving to Rookwood.