CINCINNATI – When MadTree opened its new Alcove restaurant on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, it revitalized a building associated with the founding of the World Series, Billboard Magazine and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“You get Cincinnati history in one place,” said Brian Powers, music and reference librarian for the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Public Library. “You have the opportunity to talk about sports, you can talk about music, you can talk about politics.”
It all started with a German immigrant injured in the civil war who wanted a place where the whole city felt comfortable. Heinrich (Henry) Wielert ran a small salon at what is now 1410 Vine Street for a number of years, with a new building added in 1873. The facade showed the date and his initials.
“It was just a special place,” said Chris Smith, a librarian with the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Public Library. “There were dozens, if not hundreds, of these facilities in Cincinnati at the time. But Wielert really touched people’s hearts.”
The café was expanded to include a pavilion and house band. Guests included everyone from the city’s most powerful to families from the predominantly German neighborhood. There were many regular guests and friends of Wielert.
“The obituaries at the time say that part of the reason his job became so successful was his personality and his ability to deal with all kinds of people,” said Carol Trosset, Wielert’s great-great-granddaughter.
For years, George “Boss” Cox had reserved a table on the north wall. The head of the city’s notorious Republican political machine was known for running party business and influencing City Hall behavior and decisions from his café.
“He held court there quite a bit,” Smith said. “He decided political destinies and ended political careers [there].”
Members of the popular house band were the first to be recruited into the fledgling group of musicians who would form the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Among the guests listening to these musicians were two local pamphleteer magnates – William Donaldson and James Hennegen. Over a beer at Wielert, the two of them came up with the idea of a trade journal for the up-and-coming poster advertising business.
Billboard Magazine grew and the founders parted ways. And, again with a beer at Wielert, the two drafted a separation agreement.
“Apparently they wrote it up and put it in a bottle, and supposedly that handwritten agreement is in the archives of Billboard Magazine,” Powers said.
It was reported that a similar gathering, also over a beer at Wielert’s, led to what we know today as Major League Baseball’s World Series.
“There are also other people who are known to have spent a lot of time here, including the people who helped start the Cincinnati Zoo,” Trosset said of Andrew Erkenbrecher.
Some of these friends and acquaintances came up with the idea for the Altenheim, a home for aging German men, which Wielert helped finance and set up. It’s one of the things he was most proud of – and his family passes that pride on.
“We’ve heard at least as much about that as we’ve heard about him running a successful restaurant,” Trosset said.
The saloon passed to Wielert’s son upon his death in 1892, but was closed during Prohibition. The building was thereafter used for a number of purposes, including a church and youth center.
In the neighboring building, which once belonged to the Wielerts, a rowdy fighter named Ezzard Charles was training for an upcoming heavyweight run. On the third floor of the building there was a ring and a gallery. “The Cincinnati Cobra” would become the world heavyweight champion in 1949.
The old Wielert building sat vacant for years before 3CDC bought the building and Oakley-based MadTree Brewing leased the space for the Alcove restaurant. It opened in March 2022.
“I think [Wielert] was someone who built a restaurant here to build a community,” said Brady Duncan, a co-founder of MadTree.
“It’s so cool to have a beer in a building established by a German immigrant who served in the Civil War,” Powers said. “And then you’re in the same room that Boss Cox and Ezzard Charles were in in that building. It’s just great stuff.”
The fifth generation Wielert, Carol Trosset, recently moved back to Cincinnati and connected with Duncan, the folks at MadTree, to share her family history and knowledge of the building. She and her brother still have some Wielert heirlooms, including the intricate punch bowl given to Henry on his fiftieth birthday.
And they look forward to eating and drinking in the same room as their great-great-grandfather.
“History remains important and can still be part of our lives,” Trosset said. “I think a city is richer when it remembers its history.”
Old is new again in many ways. Who knows what story will be written this time at 1410 Vine Street.