RAISING THE BAR

The Columbus Ohio Bar Scene

A step back in time
By / Photography By | October 10, 2019
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Columbus is on the move, growing quickly and looking to the future. Modern new buildings rise. Self-driving electric shuttle buses circle Downtown. Drones fly overhead.

And, yet, Columbus has managed to hold on to some grand pieces of the past ... and some of those are bars.

The Columbus bar scene has also grown and changed over the years, bringing new rooftop patios, wine bars, taprooms and even a craft beer hotel (Brew Dog’s Dog House). Whether you are looking for a drink or just a place to socialize, Columbus today offers a wide variety of choices.

If you want to step back into a world where the pace of life was slower and multitasking was not part of the language, you can find that, too. Come along as we take you to four Columbus bars that will serve you a century-old piece of history with your cocktail.

1. BARCELONA RESTAURANT & BAR, 263 E. Whittier St.
 

Consistently named one of the city’s best restaurants, Barcelona has been serving traditional Spanish flavors since 1996. But the German Village building it occupies has a much longer history, dating to the 1890s.

Take a seat at the bar and look over the extensive wine list or the cocktail menu. Look over the magnificent oak bar as well, with large columns at each end featuring carved capitals atop them.

Built by the Brunswick Company in 1907, the bar has been the focal point of this space for more than a century. (Brunswick was a Cincinnati woodworking operation that started out building carriages, then found there was bigger money to be made in billiard tables, bowling alleys and ornate bar fixtures.)

For most of the last century, the establishment at the corner of East Whitter and Jaeger Streets was known as Deibel’s even as it passed through a succession of owners before closing. Barcelona’s redesign of the space kept the significant historical elements intact.

It’s not just the bar that delivers the history lesson here. The original tin ceiling remains, and the uneven wooden floor shows the wear of many decades. It’s a comfortable space, one that has been a hangout for Columbus folks for 100 years. It’s a place to slow down and just enjoy.

2. SERVICE BAR, 1230 Courtland Ave.
 

This is a place where the history comes in layers. As you approach the Short North building, the most noticeable feature is the translucent tower housing the distillery equipment of Middle West Spirits. That part is new, built in 2017 on top of the 1920s-era one-story warehouse where Middle West began operations in 2010.

The addition allowed the company to open its own restaurant/ tasting room called Service Bar. Walk in the front door and you will immediately notice the elegant antique back bar, another wooden masterpiece made by Brunswick dating back to the 1880s. This one features triple arches with arched mirrors and elaborate carving. Saved from a Cincinnati bar and restored, it provides a classic saloon vibe to the room.

The drink menu naturally features the house-made spirits in creative cocktails. If you’re seeking a drink as classic as the bar, they offer signature versions of a Manhattan and Old Fashioned. The stylish blending of modern and historical elements, along with an innovative food menu, earned Service Bar mentions in the New York Times and Food & Wine magazine.

3. CITIZENS TRUST, 51 N. High St.
 

Look for the side door on Gay Street, climb the stairs and step back in time. The bar here is modern marble, but the space transports you back to an earlier era in other ways. Vaulted ceilings, tall classic columns and hand-painted friezes are clues that you are actually in a century-old bank built in Classical Revival style at the corner of North High and Gay Streets in downtown Columbus. The sophisticated cocktail bar takes its name from the original occupant: the Citizens Savings and Trust Company.

When Columbus-based developer The Edwards Companies wanted to remodel the building into apartments and retail, some serious effort went into recapturing its original glory. To restore the columns, the Kephart architecture firm said they “found the grandson of the original plasterer who still had the original molds and was able to re-cast the columns.”

Head to the bar to place your order for one of the many inventive cocktails. There are more than 30 on the menu, and the bartenders will help you choose one — or go off the menu to make what you want. While you’re up there, take note of a couple more nice touches: the antique cash register and the original bank vault behind the bar. (Another bank vault serves as the mailroom for residents of the building’s apartments.)

Then take your drink to one of the many seating areas, from couches to plush chairs to tall tables, some near a pool table. If a space can be both open and cozy at the same time, this is it.

4. ASTERISK SUPPER CLUB, 14 N. State St., Westerville
 

When owner Megan Ada took over a longtime pizza place in uptown Westerville in 2016, she set out to create a space that would be “a throwback tribute to when times were slower and when friends and neighbors would gather around the supper table.” Asterisk Supper Club delivers that atmosphere, with shelves of books that run from floor to ceiling and antique chandeliers over the dining area. Afternoon tea is part of the daily ritual.

But the room is dominated by the dramatic bar, another antique from the Brunswick Company, hand-carved in 1892. This one is beautiful mahogany, 22 feet long, with triple arches, arched mirrors and a carved head looking down at you from top center. Bar manager Steven Riska tells visitors the bar appears briefly in the 1960 western film Guns of the Timberland, starring Alan Ladd. A poster for the film hangs on the wall next to the bar — and Riska has made a cocktail named for the movie. “It was also Frankie Avalon’s first movie role,” he says. The bar ended up in storage for decades in Colorado, but was rescued and restored by Wooden Nickel Antiques in Cincinnati, which installed it at Asterisk during the renovations.

Sitting at the bar, it does feel like being in a saloon of a different era. But the saloon would have been in a different place as well, since turn-of-the-century Westerville was not only dry, but also was home to the national headquarters of the Anti-Saloon League. It would take until 2004 for Westerville voters to approve liquor sales.

Today Asterisk offers more than 25 custom cocktails to go with its beer and wine list. It’s a sure sign that, despite the vintage ambiance, times have changed.