Love Letter to Cincinnati (#3)

A panorama of Coffee Emporium in OTR (Cincinnati)

A panorama of Coffee Emporium in OTR (Cincinnati)

Note: Read the earlier installments in this series, #1 and #2.

My favorite places in Cincinnati are mostly tied to ritual. But I didn’t even believe in ritual until recently, around the time I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. She writes:

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.

In addition to ritual, I also became a believer in routine—probably ritual’s twin sister, hardly distinguishable. I used to think routines would make me boring, predictable, and uncreative. Quite the contrary. If you’ve read any of Jonathan Fields’ Uncertainty, you realize that routine represents a certainty anchor—a stabilizing and trustworthy force that leaves you free to take risks elsewhere.

For the last few years, my ritual or routine, whichever you’d prefer to call it, has revolved around Coffee Emporium, a coffeehouse about a 5-minute walk from my apartment, in OTR. I take my laptop and start the day in a lively environment where the baristas know my order, the sun shines bright, and the ceilings are high.

Coffee Emporium windows

Inside Coffee Emporium (OTR / Cincinnati)

It’s probably the first ritual I ever consciously created for myself. When I first arrived in the city, in 1998, I had no activity that anchored me except for a morning run. Later, when M and I were together, we fell into a Friday night ritual of movie, dinner, and bookstore browsing. It could’ve been duplicated in any city, but I never realized how central that had become to my week’s structure until it was gone.

I don’t know that anyone faces the end of a marriage with a clear understanding of how life changes, but I did nothing to mark the change in my life, nor did I seek any new rituals or support. I had yet to see any importance or relevance in rituals, and furthermore, my modus operandi was to ignore beginnings & ends until I had a nice, good, long distance from them.

Fortunately, though, I did move to a new neighborhood (OTR), which forced me to discover new places and activities that I could truly call mine, and that I came to love.

The first and most important of these was the Roebling Bridge, part of my daily running route. Roebling is the suspension bridge over the Ohio River, connecting Cincinnati with Covington, Kentucky. When built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, at 1,057 feet, and it’s considered the precursor to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Roebling Bridge at sunset (Cincinnati)

Roebling Bridge at sunset (and under construction in 2010), Ohio River

I’ve probably taken more pictures of the Roebling than any other structure in Cincinnati. While I worked at F+W, I even brainstormed a new imprint called Rubico that used the outline of the Roebling towers as its logo.

View of downtown Cincinnati from the Roebling Bridge

View of downtown Cincinnati from the Roebling Bridge

As months and years passed, many little places downtown began to play a role in relationship rituals—having drinks at certain places on a date (Grammer’s—while it was still open—and Neons), returning to a particular restaurant for special romantic celebrations (The Palace, Nicola’s), reserving intimate conversations for this or that lounge (The Celestial, The Cricket at The Cincinnatian).

The Conductor plays piano at The Cincinnatian

The Conductor plays piano in the Cricket Lounge at The Cincinnatian

There are some rituals I always wanted to have in Cincinnati, but never managed to develop. I wanted to spend Saturday mornings at Findlay Market, but could never seem to get up early enough (or feel motivated enough to join the crowds).

I also wanted to have more rituals connected to the holidays and Cincinnati traditions, but that never happened either. I usually saw the Labor Day fireworks by accident while driving south on I-71; I never attended a Reds Opening Day parade; I never went to Oktoberfest even though it was only blocks away from home, I never went to a Taste of Cincinnati.

Labor Day 2011 on the Roebling Bridge

One of the few Labor Day fireworks celebrations I attended in Cincinnati, in 2011. I’m standing on the Kentucky side of the Roebling Bridge—emptied out due to fireworks over the river.

But I don’t regret any of that. The places and times most dear to me are tied to meaningful moments in a relationship (both platonic and romantic) that often happened entirely by accident, or became important long after the fact … those times when we came to a new understanding, dared to dream about an entirely new future, or even argued about fundamental differences.

The last place I’ll be in Cincinnati, the Saturday morning I drive off, is Coffee Emporium. I’m already envisioning my last time through that door, wondering exactly what a good-bye looks like, and leaving with caffeine in hand, to find new rituals in Charlottesville.

Posted in Cincinnati, Life Philosophy and tagged , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Matthew Turner

I love that bridge. every time I’ve walked over it, it felt special. This series is making me feel very nostalgic. It will  be the first summer in 9 years I’m not going to step foot into Cincy. To see the skyline as I come over the hill from Burlington.

Very Sad times 🙁

And I love how your mecca is a coffee shop. It’s the true church for me

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Darrelyn Saloom

Oh, Jane, I love this series. And I sincerely look forward to reading about your new caffeine-infused rituals in Charlottesville. 


I’ve read (and shared) all three of your love letters, and was surprised to read that rituals had only recently begun to hold a place in your life. As an American expat (and even before when we lived in a few places in the US), once you head overseas you learn the true value of your rituals. They help define pieces of who you are, your identity, because expats learn that moving among and between cultures can make you feel adrift otherwise. For us, it’s deciding which daily, monthly or holiday rituals are critical, and which are nice-to-haves that go by… Read more »


Jane, absolutely lived your Cincinnati series. Had to laugh at your confessing to not seeing tourist “must sees” while living in the city. I lived in Boston got years and never walked the Freedom Trail. Guess we feel they are must sees if we have to travel a distance to get there. Especially loved the necessity and comfort of rituals in our lives. Every Friday my husband and I do the dinner and movie thing and sometimes I’ve felt like maybe we shouldn’t be doing the same thing almost every week. But you are right about these rituals having an… Read more »


Thanks so much for this, Jane. I was pretty clueless about rituals myself when I left Cinci . . . you are so right, they are grounding and a critical way to find safety, to help you move on. I love all the connections with a city I knew for the four years just prior to your own arrival! AND I am pleased to nominate you for the Versatile Blogger award. Please visit for details and to collect the award. AND be sure to watch – your guest blog on Facebook for Authors (thanks so much for your prompt… Read more »

Elaine Olelo Masters
Elaine Olelo Masters

This blog about rituals/routines got me to thinking, comparing the loss of a love, of a city, of a friend. Perhaps it’s the rituals we miss the most, rather than the person or city. Divorce is probably harder to deal with than death. If a spouse dies, we know it probably wasn’t by choice, while divorce often is. But the resulting feeling of loss is still that of missing the rituals. No one there when you come in the door and say, “I’m home, honey.” No one there to walk the familiar streets with you or explore new ones. No… Read more »

Deborah Lucas
Deborah Lucas

Jane, I’m a big believer in rituals, but it took me thirty years to figure out what a gift they can be. After moving 50 times in 45 years, I needed all the grounding I could get. Whether on the move or staying put, rituals ground me in time and place. With a busy schedule and Responsibilities in many directions, they give me a chance to take a deep breath. The patterns in my life allow me to connect with my center and thus release the flow of creative energy. For me it’s watering my garden in the morning with… Read more »


[…] links to all three of these pieces, here’s a bit of the third installment, Love Letter to Cincinnati (#3): I used to think routines would make me boring, predictable, and uncreative. Quite the contrary. If […]

Susan Burmeister-Brown
Susan Burmeister-Brown

What a powerful essay, Jane.

Lillian Pierson
Lillian Pierson

This is sweet piece and so well-written.  It is funny how a city can occupy our hearts as if it were a friend rather than a place.  Thank God for rituals, especially the coffee one… something has to remain constant when you live a life of constant flux.  All the best to you in Charlottesville.

Carol Rich
Carol Rich

This is my favorite of your love letters. I had just, seconds ago, posted on my blog about my coffee place and the loving rituals I find there. Thanks. And I wish you happy rituals and good coffee.