Our History

Old Mecklenburg GardensAs you enter through our beautiful grape-arbored "Bier Garten," you are surrounded by its nearly 150 years of history as one of Cincinnati's most important political, social and dining landmarks! From its earliest days, Mecklenburg Gardens has been a symbol of the Queen City's rich German heritage - A tradition that is carried on today.

From its humble beginnings as John Neeb's Mount Auburn Garden Restaurant and Billiard Saloon, Mecklenburg Gardens has remained a focal point for Cincinnati's German residents. It became Mecklenburg Gardens as the name sake of Louis Mecklenburg, a German immigrant who was John Neeb's head waiter when he purchased the restaurant from him in 1881. More than just a restauranteur, Mecklenburg was a civic-minded man who knew the importance of teaching his fellow German immigrants about the American way of life while also helping them keep alive their German traditions. It is with these ideas in mind that the mythical town of "Kloppenburg was born. Mecklenburg's restaurant served as Kloppenburg's town hall where mock elections were held and area residents were taught about the American political process. Of course, this "education" was not without a social aspect! Rumor has it that the town's name, "Kloppenburg" derived from the noise made when the patrons hit their empty beer steins on the table to demand refills!

The Mecklenburg family ran the establishment for nearly 50 years. Louis and his son Carl, presided over Kloppenburg town meetings, hosted local and world famous singing groups during the early days of the Cincinnati Zoo Opera, and even found a way to keep an important German "tradition" alive during Prohibition. Visit our classic Bavarian-style bar area, where you can see on the back wall a replica of the infamous ship which, it is said, informed regular customers about the availability of libations based upon the north or south direction of its "voyage"!

In 1930, the Mecklenburgs turned daily operations of the restaurant to their trusted head waiter, George Reifenberger. A Bavarian immigrant himself and 40-year veteran of Cincinnati's restaurants, Reifenberger carried on the fine traditions of the previous owners. Mecklenburg Gardens was known as the premier place to enjoy German favorites such as hasenpfeffer, a country-style rabbit dish, Mrs. Mecklenburg's famous Kartoffeln (potato) pancake, and of course, steins of fine German lager.

Reifenburger and his daughter, Mary Derrick, remained proprietors of the restaurant until 1966. It continued to be one of Cincinnati's most respected dining establishments through the 1940's and 50's when such notable guests as Governor Frank Lausche could be found enjoying a meal at Mecklenburg Gardens. In the 60's as the trend turned away from fine dining, the historic restaurant began to decline. In 1967, just one year after Joseph Sansone, Mecklenburg Gardens first non-German proprietor, took over the restaurant, a series of burglaries and fires in the building placed the future of this Cincinnati landmark in jeopardy.

But in 1974, Mecklenburg Gardens witnessed its first rebirth. Scott Handey and chef Rob Fogel returned the restaurant to its fine dining tradition, elevating it to Mobil 4-star restaurant status. Also, in recognition of its historical significance, the 110-year old building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Unfortunately, this rebirth was short-lived. after several changes in ownership and dining styles, mounting debts forced Mecklenburg Gardens to close its doors on New Year's Eve, 1982.

Though it was reopened briefly as a pizza restaurant after its closing, it was not until June 23, 1996 that Mecklenburg Gardens reestablished itself as a symbol of Cincinnati's German heritage. Restored to its 19th century charm and strong German roots by its current proprietors, the Harten family, today's Mecklenburg Gardens features a full menu of German favorites, complemented by superbly prepared American classics as well as our kitchen's own creations. Of course, our bar also features one of the city's finest beer selections, with an unmatched collection of German biers.

Since its much aniticipated reopening, Mecklenburg Gardens has grown, both in reputation and in size. The New York Times named it "The place to eat in Cincinnati" and its fully restored Bier Garten is regularly listed among Cincinnati's best outdoor dining experiences. The new Banquet Haus is now open - the ideal setting for banquets, weddings or other gatherings - with even more expansion to come.

So whether you prefer a quiet candlelit dinner at a corner table or a rousing night of German singing, the Mecklenburg Gardens has something for everyone. Thank you for joining us in celebrating, and helping add to, a wonderful part of Cincinnati German History.


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