KEEPIN’ IT REAL in THE COV: ATM Confessional at Herb & Thelma’s Tavern

First photo: Herb & Thelma's, Tavern, where "Cash is King," has an ATM Confessional to get your penance and cash. Second photo: Joe Fessler accepts the City's Authenti-CITY award from Covington Business Retention & Expansion Specialist Patrick Duffy.

Credit card? Ask forgiveness, then step inside

to get your penance (and cash)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of five articles naming the winners of the 2024 Authenti-CITY awards given by the City of Covington at a ceremony last Friday to mark the National Economic Development Week. More about the awards can be found at the bottom of this article.)

COVINGTON, Ky. – You’re battling a hearty appetite and an unquenchable thirst and you’re looking for one of the best-priced lunches in town, so you make your way to Herb & Thelma’s Tavern – which last year was officially named home of “Cincinnati’s Favorite Burger.”

After feasting upon a cheeseburger and a bowl of Herb & Thelma’s delicious bean soup (washed down with a couple of ice-cold beverages), you open your purse or wallet and find nary a dollar bill.

But then you discover that no one behind the counter of this 84-year-old establishment is interested in your stack of plastic or Venmo app.

What to do?

Why you ask for forgiveness … and duck into the ATM Confessional to get your penance and salvation.

With a bank ATM nestled inside a bona fide Confessional, it will dispense cash and save the day, assuming your bank account is in good standing. (Listen, it doesn’t perform miracles.)

Like the sign at Herb & Thelma’s says, “Cash is King” – and that’s been the case since 1939, when Henry and Marie Boehmker opened a little café at 718 Pike St. in the Lewisburg neighborhood.

In 1966, their son and daughter-in-law, Herb and Thelma Boehmker, purchased the café and named it Herb & Thelma’s. By 1969, their son Herbert “Chip” Boehmker began working at his parents’ café, and he took over in 1982. In 2012, Richard Ritchie bought the café, and three years after that, Joe and Suzanne Fessler bought the business.

But Chip is still behind the counter serving up a mighty fine burger, just like in days of yore.  

If you’re seeking a grandparents’ basement vibe, this is the place for you – in the best possible way, because you’ll feel right at home. Herb & Thelma’s serves up nostalgia by way of pinball machines in the back room, a big black telephone with a rotary dial on the wall, a lingering discussion of Cincinnati Reds games, and, almost always, a familiar face to share a beer and a few stories with.

It’s that kind of place.

“Do yourself a favor and check out all the history on the walls of the café,” said Covington Business Retention & Expansion Specialist Patrick Duffy. “And don’t forget your cash.”

About the awards: The first-annual Authenti-CITY awards were unveiled by Covington’s fun and irreverent Economic Development team in 2021 to celebrate National Economic Development Week in an off-the-wall way.

There were no rules and no criteria – just staffers getting together after hours (maybe over a few drinks, maybe not) and debating fiercely about what businesses, places, events, people and organizations most “kept it real” in The Cov. The fervor had to do with this: Narrowing down the massive list (because, you know, Covington is such a cool place).


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