Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Revolving Restaurant of Covington

In 2009, archaeologists believed they had uncovered evidence of the first revolving restaurant. If their research was correct, Emperor Nero had one in his Palatine Hill Palace around 54-68 AD—quite awhile before the idea of spinning dining rooms spread across the United States (and Cincinnati) in the mid-20th Century.

On the recent “post about postcards,” four of the vintage mail pieces featured images of hotels or buildings adorned with revolving restaurants. I spent an evening in a bar trying to read about the history of these dining establishments (it’s a bit hard to find amongst a sea of online food reviews and search-engine-optimized mid-tier dining advertisements). Mitch Moxley of the New York Times Magazine has a great piece, though, and The Guardian has an interesting visual history. The United States’ first modern revolving restaurant (and world’s third) came to Honolulu in 1961. Designed by John Graham, the concept gained a foothold in pop culture the next year when his subsequent creation opened atop Seattle’s Space Needle. The 1962 World’s Fair—and its theme: “Man in the Space Age”—ushered in an approach that would become ubiquitous for high profile, upscale eating establishments. For awhile, it seems the rule was: “Designing a tall building or tower? Throw not just a restaurant up there, but a revolving restaurant.”

The popular novelty was quickly replicated in many cities, from world center’s such as London and New York, to the likes of Cincinnati and Atlanta, and even in places like Louisville (the quality of your view and uniqueness of sights to see most certainly differs by location).

No matter what mid-size American city you find yourself briefly in, I don’t think it’s overly presumptuous to look up at a building (particularly if it’s round) and think: “there’s probably a revolving restaurant up there.”

Although, these days, the better way to phrase that might be: “there probably was a revolving restaurant up there.”

The kitsch has worn off in recent decades and the attractions are apparently expensive to maintain and repair. In a few cases, it seems the carousel concept could no longer cover for mediocre food and sub-par service. Still, there’s something just wonderful about the idea of a revolving restaurant. As Mitch Moxley said in his aforementioned NYT piece:

“…these restaurants have always evoked the spirit of ridiculous audacity that many of our cities lack today. They’re civic boosterism in physical form: We built a tower so you can properly enjoy the other towers we’re so proud of having built.”

Beautifully said. I absolutely love that description.

Cincinnati, for a time, had two revolving restaurants (one on each side of the river). The Ohio side has been gone for years, but the Northern Kentucky one still exists and still spins. I had long made it a point to go here, but never quite seemed to get around to it. I actually stayed in the hotel a few weeks ago for a wedding, but totally neglected going up a few more floors to partake in the panoramic view. Then one night, while debating where to get a drink with friends (and fresh off reading Moxley’s article) we settled on stepping foot into Covington’s space-age steakhouse.

Eighteen at the Radisson apparently features a bar alongside the restaurant, but we were told both would soon be closing. Without a reservation, our 7:55 PM arrival was cutting it too close to enjoy cocktails while swirling above the Cincinnati skyline, Covington fast food district, side-by-side competing Speedway gas stations, Interstate 75, Northern Kentucky, and the Ohio River. Still, the very kind staff was happy to oblige us a few moments to have a look and make some photographs.

You probably don’t have to lie and say: “We were curious to see the place because we’re from Indianapolis and all of our revolving restaurants closed long ago!” None of that is true anyways, Indy still has one in their downtown Hyatt Regency. 

“Eighteen” was originally dubbed “Riverview Revolving Restaurant.” It debuted in 1972 atop the iconic building that was first a Quality Inn. A 2016 renovation brought upgrades and a fresh look (both inside and outside) to the hotel and restaurant. The view is impressive, the food seems to have good reviews, and the outside of the building itself evokes a distinct style/era. The structure has long been a staple in the Queen City’s skyline views. I’m glad that they’ve kept the restaurant spinning and by extension, have kept Cincinnati clued in to a quirky piece of architectural and cultural history.

The parking garage is a bit older and more akin to a fallout shelter, but it’s welcoming in that it smells of fresh laundry. The staff at this hotel is also fantastic (thank you for finding my shoes when I left them a few weeks back).

May the Radisson’s restaurant spin forever more.

Also: I'm looking into potentially doing a story on the area's other, now defunct, revolving restaurant. Happen to know anyone who works at the Millenium Hotel who might be willing to chat? Let me know.

The Radisson and its revolving restaurant peeking through the fog in 2012:

  • Covington's other interesting restaurants of the floating and celebrity variety. 
  • Why some of the city of Covington's streets perfectly align with a few of Cincinnati's.


  1. I posted this on Haudi's Facebook page. Maybe that might help.

    1. Thank you! Hoping we can get the chance to see it. If you’re free, you have to come!