Hamilton’s newest restaurant hopes to offer many experiences in high-profile space

The founder of a local hospitality group knew he wanted to open a restaurant in Hamilton, but he initially couldn’t find a location that appealed to him.

That changed Jan. 4, when city officials offered Scott Schmidt a tour of 103 Main St., which had been vacated a day earlier by Quarter Barrel Brewery + Pub.

“You can drive through downtown and cross the river into the West Side here and you can see things are happening,” said Schmidt of Looking Glass Hospitality Group.

“Then, once I understood the whole Spooky Nook project and some of the other things the city is working hard to put together, you can read the writing on the wall and know that this is only going to change for the better, so we wanted to be a part of that.”

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Because the space that debuted Wednesday as Fretboard Brewing & Public House already had brewery equipment, Schmidt reached out to Kevin Moreland of Fretboard Brewing in Blue Ash to ask him to collaborate on the brewery-restaurant project.

In doing so, Schmidt, who has opened more than 65 restaurants during his 36-year career, said he wanted to create “something uniquely different” for the area.

"This isn't intended to be another restaurant for us and it's not intended to be a second brewery for them," said Schmidt, whose LGHG owns and operates TAHONA Kitchen+Bar in Blue Ash and S.W. Clyborne Provision & Spirits in Mason. "It's intended to be a brand new project."

Fretboard Brewing & Public House aims to offer "the best of two worlds" — upscale, scratch-made pub fare and award-winning craft beer — in what Schmidt described as three different experiences: a traditional tasting environment and full-service food service of the first floor, a more traditional dining environment on the second floor and outdoor dining on the rooftop.

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“You can come here three nights, have a date night (on the second floor), have a group outing with your friends (on the first floor) and then come up and enjoy a patio date (on the rooftop),” he said. “You have many different occasions to utilize this. It’s not just for coming to eat, it’s not just for coming to taste beer. It’s for multiple experiences.”

The first floor offers first-come, first-served seating, as does the rooftop, which offers panoramic rooftop views of the Great Miami River and Hamilton’s downtown. Fretboard takes reservations for the second-floor dining room.

Public House menu main courses include burgers, fish and chips, steak frites, chicken salad wrap, Southern fried chicken thighs, barbecue macaroni and cheese, pasta scampi, blackened salmon and a pulled barbecue and pretzel bun.

Also offered are a wide array of shareable appetizers, salads, sides and desserts.

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On tap are 14 selections of Fretboard Brewing's award-winning beer. For non-beer drinkers, there's a choice of craft cocktails, wine by the glass and wine by the bottle.

Schmidt said the seven-week renovation effort cost $900,000 and changed the entire look of the place, including adding a dining area to the second floor, which previously was used entirely for kitchen space.

Approximately $125,000 went toward upgrading the brewery equipment, which Fretboard will use as a small-batch brewery to create five small test batches at a time, according to Fretboard partner Jim Klosterman.

“We can experiment with our beers, our recipes and do research and development out of this facility,” Klosterman said. “So when you come to this facility, those five beers, for however long they last, will be on tap here and here only with the exception of Blue Ash, from time to time as well.”

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Fretboard, which offers live concerts at its Blue Ash location, will bring local musicians to the Public House on Saturdays within the next few weeks.

First-day patrons of the new restaurant and brewery said they left impressed, including Lisa and Rob Fix of Fairfield Twp., who said they frequented the Fretboard in Blue Ash before moving out of Hamilton County in 2018.

“The food here is unbelievable,” said Lisa Fix, after she tried the jalapeno poppers and spicy pimiento dip. “When we heard they were opening here we were so excited because their beer is phenomenal.”

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