CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds begin their march to a (hopefully) successful campaign on Thursday with a season-opening matchup against the Pittsburgh Pirates. While the likely sell-out crowd can expect plenty of happenings inside Great American Ball Park, including a military flyover, there’ll be no shortage of action outside the stadium, either.

Even though the first pitch isn’t until 4:10 p.m., fans traditionally start bellying up to the bar at local saloons in downtown and surrounding areas as early as 8 a.m. About 150,000 spectators will line downtown streets for the 104th Findlay Market Opening Day parade, starting at noon.

While Opening Day has become an unofficial holiday in Reds Country over the past century, local businesses aren’t taking the day off. In fact, for many bars, restaurants and shops in Over-the-Rhine, the Central Business District and Northern Kentucky’s river cities, the game is one of the biggest business days of the year.

What You Need To Know

  • Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds is one of the biggest business days of the year for many local businesses 

  • Up to 150,000 people will head downtown for the Findlay Market parade, and thousands of others plan to take part in other events around the region

  • Some of the events are meant to invite people to take part and then venture out to nearby stores, restaurants and bars

  • Beyond Opening Day, the success of the Reds throughout the summer can have a major impact on sales

Holy Grail Tavern and Grille at The Banks expects sales to soar up to 400% higher than a typical Saturday night, according to the bar’s owner, Jim Moehring.

The bar, which is across the street from Great American Ball Park, opens at 8:45 a.m. Moehring anticipates a line forming by 8 a.m. They’ll have their entire team of 85 employees on the schedule to deal with capacity crowds all day.

“Opening Day is the biggest day of the year sales-wise. It’s also the biggest day of the year tips-wise for the staff, which is huge for our staff,” Moehring said.

A maintenance team outside a bar at The Banks works on finishing touches ahead of Opening Day. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)
A maintenance team outside a bar at The Banks works on finishing touches ahead of Opening Day. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)

The longtime bar owner views Holy Grail as an “everyday destination.” But there’s no denying the impact major concerts like Taylor Swift and winning sports teams have on his business and that of others at The Banks and downtown, Moehring said.

“They bring people downtown who want to be a part of that excitement,” he added.

Moehring expects to see many of the more than 42,000 fans going to the ballgame to show up at his bar or another establishment at The Banks at some point on Thursday. Every year, thousands of fans cram into every open spot along East Freedom Way to take part in pre- and post-game festivities.

“There’s always a lot of people down here who have no intention of attending the game,” Moehring said with a laugh.

Cincinnati-based entertainment group 4EG is no stranger to Opening Day. The company has bars spread throughout downtown. Their newest venture, Killer Queen at The Banks, is hosting a soft opening on Thursday that extends throughout the weekend.

A maintenance crew was putting the final touches on the exterior of the cocktail-and-pizza joint Wednesday afternoon. They’ll have an inflated staff of 22 people for the game, said Margo Kidwell, 4EG’s regional manager. 

She referred to Opening Day as a stress test. They’re not taking food orders on Thursday, but they’re handing out samples throughout the day.

“Opening Day is really important to the city, and it’s really important for us to be open for it,” Kidwell said. “We’re excited to get our name out there and to show people what we’re all about.”

Bringing business to all corners of Reds Country

Part of the festivities planned for Thursday include special events at some of the city’s most iconic locations, including Fountain Square. Thousands of fans gather there every year to listen to live music and watch the parade pass along Fifth Street before venturing to the game or elsewhere downtown.

“Opening Day an opportunity for generations of families to come together and show their civic pride — certainly our pride in the Reds, but also their pride in our city,” said Mayor Aftab Pureval.

Pureval’s two young sons are attending their first Reds game on Thursday. Along the way, they may end up stopping at places to show support for local businesses, he said.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval considers Opening Day a way to celebrate Cincinnati while also celebrating many of its local businesses. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval considers Opening Day a way to celebrate Cincinnati while also celebrating many of its local businesses. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)

“We’re still recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic on our local economy, and it’s everyone’s goal to get more and more people back into our urban core,” Pureval added. “Opening Day presents an opportunity to do that while celebrating what makes our city so special.”

Reds fans aren’t only enjoying the game near the stadium, though. Gabriella Burch typically watches at a sports bar in Harrison, Ohio, surrounded by friends and family. This year, though, she’s helping to host a game-day celebration at Newport on the Levee, a redeveloped entertainment area that faces the ballpark from the other side of the Ohio River. Burch is the general manager there. 

From 3 to 7 p.m., the Levee will feature live music, an 80-foot obstacle course, a meet-and-greet with players from the Florence Y’alls, a minor-league baseball team. Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli is showing off his arm by throwing out a ceremonial first pitch on The Lawn.

At game time, they’re showing the Pirates-Reds contest on a massive projection screen.

The Newport, Ky., venue has changed a lot in recent years, Burch said. It’s undergone drastic renovations and comprises a new lineup of vendors and entertainment destinations.

To Burch, Opening Day presents a once-a-year chance to showcase their new-look space. On Thursday, Shiners on the Levee, a BBQ place, is celebrating the official opening of its new patio. All the bars and restaurants at the Levee have baseball-themed specials on deck.

Historically, people park in the garage at the Levee and take the pedestrian bridge to the game.

“It’s a big deal for us,” said Burch.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for all our tenants to show everyone what’s been going on here,” she added. “Obviously, we have lots of day-to-day guests who come to the Levee often, but the tenants are really excited to get a fresh wave of families and potential patrons who will be here for the excitement surrounding the game.”

At Washington Park in OTR, Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) Opening Day celebration includes live music, food trucks, baseball-inspired activities and things for younger kids, such as face painting and balloon animals. Despite all the activities going on at Washington Park, 3CDC’s Emily Stowe hopes most visitors don’t stay that long. 

Koch Sporting Goods in Downtown Cincinnati sees an uptick in business at the start of every Reds season. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)
Koch Sporting Goods in Downtown Cincinnati sees an uptick in business at the start of every Reds season. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)

“We’re hoping people come down, visit the park for the parade, and then jump around through the Central Business District and The Banks to enjoy all that’s going on there and also venture into businesses in those areas as well,” said Stowe, 3CDC’s event marketing manager.

3CDC is a property developer that houses many bars, eateries and storefronts in OTR and the Central Business District. She noted an expected uptick in sales at all downtown businesses on Opening Day, even brick-and-mortar retailers, whether they’re selling knickknacks, candles or clothing. It’s especially big for stores that sell Reds gear, she said.

Stowe, for instance, bought a new Reds shirt at Homage on Vine Street this past week specifically for Opening Day. She planned to wear it during her bartending shift at Washington Park before going to the game with her eldest daughter and a few others.

“Everyone in town looks forward to Opening Day in Cincinnati, and businesses are no different. It might be a stressful time for some of them,” she said with a laugh, “but I’ve heard from many of them expect it to be one of the best days of the year.”

Chris Koch, owner of Koch Sporting Goods, said the string of success by the Bengals and FC Cincinnati has helped with business over the past few months, especially during the oft-difficult winter season. His family-owned business, a Cincinnati institution dating back to the late 1880s, always experiences an uptick in sales of Reds hats, hoodies, jerseys and other apparel in the weeks leading up to Opening Day. This year is no different, he said.

He expected to see even bigger numbers on Thursday in the lead-up to the parade and then, as people make their way past his Fourth Street location, to head toward the stadium.

“It’s going to be fantastic, especially with the wonderful weather,” Koch said.

“People are optimistic and hopeful for a great season, it seems. They seem excited to wear that team’s jersey or their colors,” he added. “We hope the Reds can field a winning team and can continue this momentum all season.”