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Great Bars: Neighborhood hangouts

Looking for fun but not a lot of fuss? Try one of these comfy-as-your-favorite-old-jacket local joints

By
From the Spring 2014 edition

The Tavern

Underneath a carefully preserved pressed-tin ceiling and above a chicly distressed wooden floor, a circa 1914 photograph on an original brick wall charmingly reveals The Tavern was once a pharmacy. Absent that, this warmly lit place’s vivacious vibe, fire-pit-equipped patio, extensive beer list (20 taps are half off during happy hour) and terrific grub (think vegan chili, beet sliders and the Tavern Turkey sandwich) would have you thinking it’s always been Olde Towne East’s happening hangout.

Gatsby’s

Unconventional angles, eccentric spaces and a proliferation of weathered wood make this rambling Gahanna classic (with its own parking lot traffic light) resemble one of those shipped-over “authentic” Irish pubs. But Gatsby’s evolved organically. Born in 1977, this dark and cozy, two-story, shot-and-a-beer funhouse has 12 taps (Guinness, Fat Tire, Stella), volleyball courts out back, bands downstairs (where there’s a second bar), Tuesday euchre tournaments, great lunchtime specials and all-day happy hour deals on Sundays. Gatsby’s thin and crispy pizza is king, but there are also popular Reubens and Waldo Fried Bologna sandwiches.

St. James Tavern

This laid-back Italian Village pioneer and its famous jukebox have been charming edgy music lovers for more than 17 years. An ark-load of wood paneling—plus muted lighting and brick walls—set the mood in this hip, no-fuss watering hole, where pints of terrific beers are sold cheap (most of the dozen taps are only $4). If craft brew’s not your thing, try a Moscow Mule fashioned with homemade ginger concentrate. Or how about a Macallan 12 for only $6.75? The little tavern is also equipped with red pool tables, plus retroarcaders like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga.

Bob’s Bar

With 37 taps (one cask-conditioned) and about 150 bottles in the cooler, you can drink your way around the globe and earn an honorary doctorate in Beerology (aka "Bob’s World Tour”), which entitles those who complete the challenge to nifty prizes and lifetime discounts. Yes, as the etched bar stools report, you’ve just entered “The Cultural Hub of the Midwest.” Less ambitious sippers in this no-nonsense joint can still learn from ale-expert bartenders (who personalize “special shots”) and dig the rockin’ jukebox while tossing darts, watching sports and shooting some stick. Insider tip: BYO Pita Hut from next door.

Wurst und Bier

If being near Crosswoods gets your lederhosen in a twist because local hot spots resemble characterless strip mall shops, visit enormous Wurst und Bier. Past its generic exterior, it’s Oktoberfest in there every day. Expect beer barrels, long tables and other giggly pseudo-Bavarian beer hall accents. There are also huge TVs since Wurst und Bier likewise functions as a (soccer-loving) sports bar. To get your “Prost!” on, glug uncommon Teutonic brews like Schneider Weisse, Gaffel Kolsch and Radeberger Pilsner. Slurp ’em on Fridays, and you can groove to oompah bands.

The Old Mohawk

Turtles prance around a Tiffany-style lamp above the horseshoe-shaped bar in this stout-bricked, former Prohibition-era speakeasy. They honor a long-gone owner reputed to have raised those reptilian critters here. Now lounge lizards—plus regular old friends, families and dates—congregate in this beloved space to take in de rigueur German Village wacky wall clutter, reliable chow (killer kettle chips, locally made bratwurst, stellar Mother Mohawk sandwiches and $10 Sunday-only steak dinners), plus refreshments delivered by John, Mohawk’s 20-plus-year veteran bartender. He’ll get you good beers (12 taps), stiff pours and—if you’re hip—terrific turtle soup.

The Pint Room

Just more than a year old, the sleek and modern, large upscale Dublin sports bar-like Pint Room goes big. How big? Well, how about 101 beers-on-tap big? You read that correctly. While a mind-boggling beer list can make choosing a brew a chore (albeit one fun to repeat), this sometimes-raucous and cozily lit establishment eases your pint-sized commitments by offering 3-ounce, sample-anything pours for $1 to $1.50. To soak up the suds, there are characteristically big burgers loaded with everything from tasso and Cajun spices to peanut butter, bacon and jelly and lobster or crab.

Meister’s Pizza

Sports fans (it’s an official Browns Backers clubhouse) and lovers of the best Chicago-style pizza in town find a home in wood-paneled, finished-basement-like Meister’s. Show up on Monday (all night, all six taps, which recently included Founder’s Rye PA, are $3) or Thursday (cans are $1) and save cash while checking out the dollar-bill-lined bar, choice R. Crumb comic book covers, red pool tables and the “Bird’s Nest,” an elevated room-to-yourselves space. And don’t leave without some deep-dish love. (Note: Meister’s masterful Chicago-style pizzas take 40 minutes to prepare.)

Little Palace

The comfy booths are gray, but the mood is bright inside retro-mod Little Palace. Putting the “in” in “vintage,” it’s an old Downtown diner with wood paneling and a red-and-black-checkered floor, fashionably enlivened by the savvy team behind The Rossi and Club 185. Eight rotating taps from the likes of Seventh Son and Jackie O’s (they’re half off during happy hour), plus inexpensive libations (like a $5.50 Bulleit Rye Old-Fashioned) and some OK vinos (like Cloudline pinot noir) lubricate cool-tune-loving patrons for killer cheap vittles such as must-have sliders, poutine, overachieving salads and scratch-made pizzas.

Villa Nova

The popcorn is free and hot, and the beer is ice cold and affordable in the perennially packed blue-collar and red-sauce haunt called Villa Nova. The serve-yourself corn comes from an old-school popper, and the suds arrive in frosty mugs—in daunting liters, if you want. So belly around the often-crowded octagonal bar, check out walls overflowing with marine pressure gauges, famous Buckeyes, movie star cowboys and sports on TV. During happy hour (which is all evening on Mondays), enjoy the best free buffet of pizzas, Buffalo wings and Italian subs in Columbus.

Johnnie’s Tavern

Blink and you’ll miss Johnnie’s … so don’t blink! Same-family-owned since 1948, this dinky west-sider near railroad tracks is the kind of locals-only business almost extinct these days. Or, as bartender Laura Lombardi explains, “We survive because of our regulars.” Lombardi also recounted how her grandfather (indelibly represented in photographs) transformed a failing food mart dubbed Johnnie’s into this bar—then named his son after it. Show up on a “Joe’s Coneys” ($2.50) Wednesday, order frosty-mugged $1.50 happy hour Yuenglings (their only tap), plus a famous handmade cheeseburger ($7), and you’ll quickly feel like family, too.