Sports bar atmosphere with Asian accents?
CINCINNATI — There’s no sign on the front door yet, but Corner Bistro, a new Asian bar and restaurant at 307 Sycamore St., has been open for nearly a month.
The restaurant is already gaining traction with business people, baseball fans and even budding karaoke stars. If the place looks vaguely familiar, that’s because it was once In Between Tavern, a longtime haunt for baseball fans and bargoers.
“I took it over last year in April,” said new owner Yubin Lin, a seasoned restaurateur who has opened, operated and sold six restaurants in Cincinnati.
Originally from Fujian, China, Lin lived in New York before moving to Cincinnati 25 years ago. Her most recent business was Ichiban in Mount Lookout Square, which she sold about three years ago.
The In Between Tavern space needed some work before Lin could open the Corner Bistro.
“We couldn’t do anything in the kitchen,” Lin said, referring to In Between’s minimal kitchen space. “There was only a microwave oven and a small stove.”
She also noticed the regular use of canned foods and decided she needed to change that.
“I like fresh food,” she said. “I don’t eat canned food.”
“It was a full-fledged sports bar…an old-school venue,” added General Manager Dan Katz.
Katz, who moved from New York to Cincinnati, is also no stranger to the restaurant business. He previously owned Meatball Kitchen in Corryville and also owned a bistro in New York for about 10 years.
Lin closed the kitchen for five months for renovations but kept In Between Tavern open to accommodate bar regulars. She added floor space, as well as a new cooking line and other equipment so that she could serve freshly cooked meals. Her husband, Liqun Zheng, is the executive chef.
This 4,200 square foot space has now been completely transformed into a Corner Bistro. The restaurant can accommodate 150 people inside and around 70 outside. A modest restaurant sign hangs in the outdoor patio, located across from Great American Ball Park.
Indoor seating is divided into different areas: general dining room, sports bar, and the new sushi bar and karaoke room.
Katz said he observed how nostalgic regulars were for the sports bar at In Between Tavern and wanted to maintain that vibe.
“We left the old bar that was there,” Katz said. “He has old tickets from Bengals and Reds games.”
Introducing the new sushi bar to hot dog-loving Reds fans was a little trickier. However, Katz hopes the popularity of baseball in Japan will bring local food and fans closer together. He and Lin found vintage Japanese baseball cards, which they turned into posters that now hang in the sushi area.
“It’s the same familiar baseball but with an Asian flavor,” Katz said.
Corner Bistro offers an assortment of Chinese-American entrees, like Hunan, Kung Pao, and Teriyaki Chicken, as well as a few traditional entrees like a Southwestern Chicken Wrap, Coney-Style Hot Dog, and Burger and fries. Prices range from $9 to $14.
The sushi bar offers an extensive menu of sushi, nigiri sushi and hand rolls. Prices are $2 to $3 each for nigiri sushi and range from $4 to $13 for rolls.
Entrees are decidedly Asian-influenced, with options like pork gyoza, octopus salad, and spring rolls, plus a few familiar dishes like chicken wings and fried calamari. Entrees range from $3 to $6.
In addition to the full menu, Corner Bistro offers a lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. The price is $9.99 for dinner and $6.50 a pound for takeout.
“We’re in the business district and the (customers) love it,” Katz said, referring to the speed of the buffet.
The bistro also has a full bar, stocked with an extensive menu of hits. The beer selection includes local craft beers such as Rhinegeist’s Truth, Cougar and Bubbles, and Braxton Brewing Co.’s Summertrip. Favorite traditional beers from Anheuser-Busch and Coors round out the lineup.
“The crowd that was here before was just Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors,” Katz said. “We are slowly moving to the local.”
Katz also hopes to move into a more comprehensive wine and sake program once they build the dinner crowd. For now, their overnight delivery business is “running wild,” thanks to UberEATS, he said.
The bistro has deals on small appetizers and drinks, like $4 wine during happy hour, which runs from 3-9:30 p.m. daily. Ice buckets of five local beers are also available for $15.
Lin still plans to redo the facade and install the restaurant’s new sign next month. Starting a new business is inherently risky, but she’s hopeful.
“I think this place is the right one,” she said. “I think everything will be fine.”
Address: 307 Sycamore Street, Downtown
Working hours: 11am-9.30pm from Monday to Saturday; lunch buffet: 11am-2pm Monday to Friday; $9.99 per person in the restaurant; $6.50 per book to take away; happy hour: 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Information: 513-621-7009; www.cornerbistrocincy.com
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is an American Culinary Federation certified chef and former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.