Ward’s Café, located on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Beech Street, was originally built in 1915 for Peter Steuer, also known as Handlebar Pete, who operated the building as a café and boarding house for railroad workers. In addition to being a St. Bernard councilman, he was a close friend of Cooper Procter and became acquainted with nearly every employee of nearby Procter & Gamble (P&G). They were the ones eating the advertised “good home-cooked food” at his café.
Architect John Striker estimated the building would be four stories high and consist of about 40 rooms. The projected cost was $15,000. From the 1989 Historic Inventory of Hamilton County, St. Bernard, Ohio booklet, the structure is the “oldest railroad related building in St. Bernard and is one of only three structures in the city with a link to the railroad industry.” The other two structures are the 1910 depot and the 1950 switching tower.
The Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages went into effect in 1920. As an operator of a café, this was not good news, but it did not stop Peter Steuer; that is, until he was busted….along with several other St. Bernard tavern operators.
In March 1928, Steuer filed a bond for $1,000 as a guarantee that no more liquor would be sold on the premises. He eventually reached an agreement with a judge that the room would be rented as a grocery store. He sold the building to the Wards in 1929. Operating under the name of Ward’s Café, it was a tavern/restaurant/rental property owned by Edna Brown and her husband William Ambrose (Tobe) Ward.
The Volstead Act was repealed in 1933. It is unthinkable that Tobe went for 4 years without selling alcohol. He was from Kentucky and had access to good old Kentucky moonshine. After all, his second cousin was a well-known female bootlegger, who was also busted.
Following the deaths of Tobe and Edna Ward, the business was inherited by their children. Daughters Inez and Jenny bought their siblings’ portions and successfully operated Ward’s Café for at least twenty more years. Although it operates under a different name and is no longer a tavern/boarding house, it escaped demolition and is one of two commercial buildings that exist on Railroad Avenue today.
Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 Jan 1928; 03 Mar 1928; 10 Apr 1914; St. Bernard-Ludlow Grove Historical Society Files; Ward Family History.