The Scoop: Couples visiting Cincinnati, Ohio, can stroll through hidden tunnels and search for ghosts together with American Legacy Tours. The tours began when an entrepreneur discovered pre-Prohibition-era tunnels beneath a brewery he purchased. Now, American Legacy Tours explores other mysterious and little-known parts of the city. For offering couples a fun way to learn about the Queen City on a date, American Legacy Tours has earned our Editors’ Choice Award.
In the early 1990s, a Cincinnati entrepreneur purchased an old brewery in the city. In 1994, he acquired the original 1860 blueprints when his realtor retired and discovered a dotted line in the corner of a room. The line meant the floor was hollow there because it used to be a staircase.
He was curious, so he enlisted the help of a few friends to solve the mystery. The group got some beer and a jackhammer and started chipping away at an area of the floor. Almost immediately, the jackhammer broke through and uncovered a 30-foot deep tunnel underneath the building.
As it turns out, pre-Prohibition-era tunnels exist all over Cincinnati, and brewers in the 1800s used them ferment lager beer between 40 and 45 degrees. Those tunnels were sealed off in the early 1900s when mechanical refrigeration rendered them obsolete.
That fascinating discovery led the group to ponder what other hidden wonders the city had to offer, which is why they started American Legacy Tours to find out — and show them to more people.
“It was started by a bunch of history nerds, basically,” said Miranda McGee, a Guide for American Legacy Tours.
The tour company gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at what life was like in the city long ago by visiting covered up or forgotten areas.
Miranda is one of the many guides who lead daily tours, which often include couples on dates. She is also Australian, which makes her an interesting source of information on American folklore.
“I know, I’m an Australian telling you about American history. But I figure if you have to listen to someone for a couple of hours, they might as well have a cute accent,” Miranda said with a laugh. “All of our town guides are dramatically different, and I love all of them.”
Today, the company offers a wide variety of informative tours that teach participants about the history of everything from ghosts to baseball. For providing couples with a fun way to learn about Cincinnati on a date, American Legacy Tours has earned our Editors’ Choice Award.
Family-Friendly Tours of the Cincinnati Underground
American Legacy Tours is a family-friendly company that attracts many couples. Miranda said she sees plenty of bachelorette parties, travelers, and even older couples who want to learn more about a city they’ve lived in for decades.
Miranda said there’s something special about having couples take the tour on a date night. She often tries to tie in a fun, historical fact with the story of how they first met or another quirky tidbit along the tour.
“There’s something awesome about going down into a brewery tunnel that you didn’t even know exists together,” she said. “It’s the moment where you look at each other and hold hands. Then you go down 30 feet underground.”
The tours — like most every business — were affected by the stay-at-home orders and health precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, the tours included between 30 and 50 people. But during the pandemic, they were capped first at 10 participants, then later 16 people. As the weather starts getting warmer, the company is looking to expand its offerings to seven days a week.
American Legacy Tours is now training more tour guides to offer private tours to those who want to have a more intimate experience.
“Learning about history is a beautiful way to start making your own history,” Miranda said. “Plus, fun facts are great for awkward dinner parties or family functions. You can talk about the fact that there was a cholera epidemic in 1849 and a tenth of the population died.”
Specialized Offerings That Appeal to Everyone
The Queen City Underground Tour is the most popular experience offered by American Legacy Tours, which starts with a stroll through Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Then participants can visit buildings in the Gateway District that was once home to more than 130 saloons and bars.
Couples can even wander down into the hidden crypts where some of the city’s first residents are buried. The underground tour also features details and sights of Cincinnati’s colorful brewery heritage. It lasts about two and a half hours and the area offers plenty of great spots for couples to grab a beer, drink, or food after.
It also has the Newport Gangster Tour, the first tour the company launched, in nearby Kentucky that delves into the city’s mob history and a tour that’s especially interesting for baseball lovers. In 1919, an infamous cheating scandal clouded the World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. The tour dives into the Reds’ rich history and American Legacy Tours is the only tour company in America that works with a Major League Baseball team.
One of the best things about the tour is that almost everyone who takes it is a baseball lover, so people often talk baseball all afternoon.
The company has a food and wine tour of the city and a ghost-hunting tour, as well. Ghost tour guests go to the creepy, abandoned Emery Theatre, where they receive ghost-hunting equipment and are set loose. They can walk through the three balconies, backstage dressing rooms, and under the stage to search for paranormal activity.
The newest addition, the Hidden Caverns tour, takes people through the Linck brewery tunnels and the Jackson brewery tunnels. Participants can see a site where Johnny Cash filmed a movie, as well as one of the city’s most important inclines.
At the end, guests check out the last remaining structure of the original Christian Moerlein Brewery Co. complex, which has been closed to the public for decades.
“We adore Cincinnati. I think it’s the undiscovered gem of America,” she said. “To tell the stories and see people’s eyes light up, it helps other businesses and other people that it feels like you’re giving back to the community so much.”
American Legacy Tours Helps People Connect
Miranda said she’s noticed many couples visit American Legacy Tours on a first date. When there’s chemistry, the couple can hold hands and talk endlessly about what they learned — perhaps over a craft beer. If things aren’t going well, there’s still enough activity for it to be an enjoyable experience.
“The best part is that 99% of the time everyone on the tour will excitedly say, ‘What?’ at one point,” she said. “There are so many interesting facts about Cincinnati on the tour.”
Cincinnati is a great location to learn about American history, as it features the most pre-Prohibition brewery architecture in the United States. Over-the-Rhine is the largest, intact historic district in the nation. It’s bigger than Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, which are well-known for their interesting histories.
Miranda said city residents also keep discovering new brewery tunnels underneath the city’s streets, so there’s always something new to see on a tour.
“We cater to a lot of different whims,” she said. “It’s a beautiful icebreaker. And at the end, you can go and get a local beer.”