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Monday, January 30, 2017

The Olde Fort Pub Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Robert (Bob) Arnzen, owner of the Olde Fort Pub in one of his loved soft-flanneled shirts, in the 1980s. Photo by Nancy Schneider. 

On January 20, 1977, Robert (Bob) Arnzen and his partner, Michael (Mickey) Foellger, bought what is now the Olde Fort Pub in the Midway District. It was cold—minus 25 in Cincinnati two days prior. It was the year the Ohio River froze. 

But the Pub was warm and friendly and offered good drinks. It was a local version of Cheers, a T.V. show that wouldn't debut for another five years. (Some local trivia: Woody Harrelson, who played Woody Boyd on Cheers, had some friends locally and they would all frequent the Pub in the early 1980s.) 

And for Arnzen, it was meant to be short-term. An investment. Forty years later his children are now managing it, and for many Fort Thomas residents, it's a place filled with memories and still, to this day, a loved spot to meet with family and friends for a drink (or two).

The Pub's Grand Opening Celebration advertisement. Photo provided.

Formerly Hank's Cafe and long before that, a Kroger grocery store, the Olde Fort Pub held a "Grand Opening Celebration" St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1977 with 10 cent beers all day long. Advertised as "a new drinking establishment atop the Highlands in Fort Thomas," the Olde Fort Pub offered lunch with fish fries, and a Wednesday "Ladies Night" with beer for 25 cents and mixed drinks for 50 cents.

A T-shirt designed by Joanne Arnzen, featuring the Pub's first logo. Photo provided.

Megan (Arnzen) Krieg, Bob and Joanne Arnzen's oldest daughter, says she has great memories growing up in the Pub. "I started working there when I was exactly 20 years old plus one day," she says. It was a Sunday, and because she was nervous, her dad stayed with her during her entire first shift. "Everything was fine and then he left me for the last hour," she says. "These two women walked in and ordered double old fashions. With a lemon twist." Megan says she had no idea how to make the old fashions, but the women were patient and kind, and tipped her, despite. 

"I love every minute of working up there," Megan says. "The customers would bring me dinner and just felt like family. We want people to feel comfortable. They can walk in in their p.j's or a wedding dress and it's fine—we've had both." 

Megan has so many stories. One Saturday night she and her brother, Nate, were helping a band set up. The lead guitarist asked Megan if she could get him a Phillips-head screwdriver. Megan said she didn't know how to make that drink while her brother, Nate (while laughing), handed the guitarist the screwdriver. Later that night Nate came up with a drink special in Megan's honor called the "Phillips Head Screwdriver," which proved to be a big hit.

Megan Krieg with her father, Bob Arnzen. 

For Megan, the Pub was a second home, long before she worked there. She remembers her dad, who would always wear soft flannel shirts and jeans, taking her and her siblings to the bar during the day, teaching them how to sweep and clean—their introduction to chores. There was an old jukebox they all loved, and Megan remembers her father putting on Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," and then lifting her up and putting her on top of a table, singing, whistling and dancing.

Later, when Megan had children she would take her kids to the Pub, along with fellow moms and toddlers from Bluebird Preschool. The kids would run, push balls around the pool table, and every time she says her dad would just light up to see the place filled with children. "I can't tell you how many dates we've had there," Megan says. 

An added bonus to growing up with a dad who owned a bar? He was home during the day. "Mom always seemed to have a baby on her hip and so he was there to help cook dinner, take us on bike rides, practice sports, help us with homework, put us to bed and then go to work," Megan says. "He coached a lot of teams and has sponsored a lot of teams."

There's a lot of history in the actual building, too, as well as paranormal activity, Megan says. Paranormal investigators from TLC once came out to investigate the Pub, staying overnight with lots of equipment. Most of the claimed activity came from the garage, which held an old clawfoot bathtub. The tub used to reside on the third-floor, in a shared bathroom. The apartments that shared the bathroom housed women who wanted to live close to where their husbands were training during the war.

Artist rendering of the Pub by Megan Krieg. Photo provided.

Some more fun facts:

• PVC pipes are used to toss recyclables down to the basement. 
• Bob and Mickey opened the Pub the same day they bought it from Hank, only to discover that Hank had given all his liquor and beer away the night before. So Bob and Mickey bought more at the grocery, went over to the Armory where people were playing games and invited everyone over.
• Since opening, they have never closed—not for renovations, holidays, anything. 
• There used to be a trombone on the wall above the bar. People would try to throw money into its horn, regularly. When Megan eventually took it down to sell at a garage sale, she found it chock full of coins and cash.
• The exposed brick used to be covered by plaster. Bob Arnzen painstaingly uncovered the brick underneath, regularly coming home with bloody knuckles. While working on this project he found a calendar attached to the brick wall from D-Day, June 1944.
• One time a man rode his horse into the bar, ordered a beer, drank it, and rode the horse home.
• Bob's youngest sister Kate Arnzen Kruse used to work at the Pub making cold-cut sandwiches and fish. His oldest sister, Beth Arnzen Blackburn used to make homemade slaw and the batter for the fish fries.
• In the early 1990s a car ran into the Pub, and the Pub stayed open.

Artist rendering of the Pub by Megan Krieg. Photo provided.

To this day Bob has a deep pride for the property. Much to his family's chagrin he'll climb up the fire escape and lift himself up onto the roof when it rains to check for damage. "I've never met anybody who cares so much," Megan says. 

Bob is known well for his generosity. Throughout the years he's been asked over and over for donations, and always gives. Megan says she can't remember a single time he's kicked anyone out of the bar and he'd sometimes let folks run up a tab, telling Megan not to worry—that he just wants to help people out.

He's also humble. Megan says she had no idea her father played pro sports—including for the Indiana Pacers—until she one day noticed a picture of her father hanging up in a back room in the bar. (Quick history: After playing for the University of Notre Dame Bob was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the 1969 NBA draft. He played for the New York Nets [1969-1970] and the Indiana Pacers [1972-1974]. He also played Minor League Baseball 1969-1972.)

Bob's partner, Foellger, left the partnership four years in to pursue law. Bob says in the beginning there was a kitchen, foosball table and pool tables, and live music. He remembers busses taking 50, sometimes 75 people to Bengals games, and bringing them all back to the Pub for afterparties. This February the Pub will celebrate 30 years of annual Chili Cookoffs. 

"People come in and have a good time," Bob says. "That's what we've always tried to foster: Come in, have fun. There are games, music and you can dance. It's a fun place for people to have a good time."

Given the longevity of the Pub, Megan said it's a favorite for people reconnecting with local friends, especially during the holidays. "People come back over the years, it's a tradition for them to meet up here," Megan says.

Bob says many people have met their husband or wife at the Pub, something we wrote about last year. (You can read that article here. Intrigued by the mystery couple who got engaged? Read about how they were found here.) 

These days Nate Arnzen, Mike Arnzen and Annie Arnzen pretty much run the place. "I never thought that I would have it after all this time," Bob says. "I remember my wife asking me in my late 30s if I would be doing this in my 40s. Now I'm almost 70 and I'm still kind of doing it. It's been a good business that has allowed me a lot of freedom to help raise my kids and kept me close to home. I've met a lot of people and have had a lot of fun."

To this day the Arnzens treat every customer like family. They work hard to keep the Pub fun, safe and comfortable, filled with good music, good drinks and good company—just like Cheers. 

And Bob says he has high hopes for the future, not only for the Pub but Midway in general. He mentions The Midway Cafe and Fort Thomas Pizza & Tavern, and how the area has become the entertainment hub of Fort Thomas. "They're all good proprietors, and they all have goodness in their heart," he says. "The future is bright in that part of town."  


  1. congratulations to the entire arnzen family.
    if anyone can relate to your wonderful stories it is me.
    terry cunningham
    york st cafe