Esquire Theater

Cincinnati, Ohio | C.1911

Photo Credit: Marco Fratus

The year was 1984, and America’s fast food industry was reaching a near-mythological zenith. The “Wendy’s” hamburger chain was rapidly expanding with their famous “Where’s the beef?” commercials appeared on TV sets all over the country. So, where exactly was the beef? Well, it wasn’t in Clifton…yet. Until Wendy’s executives discovered the then-vacant Esquire Theater.

Originally built in 1911, the Esquire had entertained Clifton residents for over seventy years before shutting its doors in 1983. First opened as a neighborhood box theater, the theater – then known as the Clifton Opera House – hosted live performances and silent films. The establishment continued to evolve with the movie industry, screening Hollywood films and later becoming a leading arthouse theater.

When Wendy’s discovered the Esquire sat unused, they jumped at the chance to bring square burgers and Frosty’s to the neighborhood — but they were in for a big surprise. Clifton residents weren’t interested in what was on Wendy’s menu, and instead, wanted to preserve the Esquire. A three-year development battle ensued, leading residents to band together in opposition of thr developers.

Clifton won, and the Esquire was saved. Today, the Esquire remains the only independent theater in the U.S. to show first-run Hollywood films, and has been celebrated as a “film industry rarity” for it. As it turns out, if patrons are really craving a burger, there’s a Wendy’s about 5 minutes down the road. Though we think they’d probably prefer to snag a soda and popcorn from the concession stand instead.

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