On the Road

Riverside City Charm in Covington

By: Erin Byers Murray

Covington, a historic northern Kentucky town is a jumping-off point for bourbon-fueled fun

At the northeastern tip of Kentucky, the small city of Covington and its surrounding neighborhoods sit across the river from Cincinnati. Thanks to a revitalization of its downtown area, where the boutique hotels honor Kentucky’s bourbon heritage and the public art glints at a creative undercurrent, it’s not just the first Southern city over the bridge—it’s a destination full of thrills, especially for those seeking history, culture, comfort food, and of course, good bourbon.

Get Centered

The first stop for a long weekend should be the Hotel Covington, situated in the heart of downtown. The original building (once the state’s first skyscraper) nods to history, horse racing, and bourbon—the rooms are mod and minimalist with cozy faux fur throws—and this past year North by Hotel Covington arrived next door, featuring apartment-like suites and a vibe-y cocktail den called Knowledge Bar and Social Room. Get settled in there with a smoked bourbon cocktail and a few bar snacks.

Street art in Covington

Eat, Drink, Wander

From there you have your pick of dining spots, like Rich’s Proper Food and Drink, a longstanding institution that whips up another killer bourbon drink called One Last Smoke, complete with a cherrywood smoke show, plus Southern-focused plates and oysters on the half shell. The owner of Rich’s also has plans to open nearby rooftop bar Opal this year. Ripple Wine Bar provides the town with a vast selection of wines by the bottle or glass alongside small plates of pierogis, flatbreads, and charcuterie boards. If you’re looking for goetta, the region’s signature downhome sausage, head over to Libby’s Southern Comfort where the crisp-crusted goetta hush puppies will satisfy your fix. When it’s time to walk it all off, make your way to the German-influenced MainStrasse neighborhood for a stop into Frida 602, a tequila and mezcal bar with Latin American small plates, or their sister spot, Mama’s on Main, for old-world Italian (get the housemade pasta) in a hip, artsy setting.

Shop and Sip

As Northern Kentucky was a hotbed of corruption, gambling, and more during Prohibition, it’s no surprise that the area now boasts one of the country’s only vintage bourbon stores. Covington’s Revival Vintage Bottle Shop is brimming with dusty bottles of liquor for sale. Partners Shannon Smith and Brad Bonds can taste you through a range of vintage pours—and appraise and buy any forgotten bottles you’re looking to sell. (Look for their new space opening soon.) For a taste of something more current, serious bourbon lovers can blend their own at the new Wenzel Whiskey, which sources from distilleries around the state, or head to New Riff Distilling in neighboring West Newport, which is one of the only distilleries offering single-barrel selections for everyday consumers. They’ll walk you through the space before giving you a seated tasting of several barrels, with half and full barrels available to purchase for later.

Explore Some More

the baker's table

The villages right around Covington are worth the detour. Take a drive into Dayton to visit Unataza, owned by Honduran Alejandra Flores, who sources coffee beans directly from Latin American growers and offers the perfect pour over or cortadita (plus small bites like baleadas loaded with refried beans and eggs). And you shouldn’t miss a stop at Newport’s the Baker’s Table and its bakery across the street. Chef-owner David Willocks crafts hyperseasonal prix fixe menus from local purveyors at the restaurant (look for house-extruded pastas and veg-heavy mains) while the bakery excels in breads and pastries and transforms into a wine bar and sourdough pizza spot at night. While you’re in Newport, find time to duck into the country’s most underrated speakeasy, Prohibition Bourbon Bar, tucked beside a daytime coffee shop. Boasting literally the world’s largest selection of bourbons (bottles overflow from every shelf, corner, and cabinet), owners Peter and Kim Newberry delight in sharing their stash—check the hours before you go, and be sure to keep an eye out for the generous pours.

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