At first glance, Columbus, Ohio, doesn’t appear to be the 15th largest city in the United States. Well, at second glance, it doesn’t either — unless you know where to look. In the 15 years that I have lived here, Columbus has become a very livable city, a mix of small-town and cosmopolitan, where you can be taken in by its sleepy, down-home feel, or energized by its urban corridors.
Don’t be fooled by the airport’s name — Port Columbus International Airport. There’s nothing port-like about the city, even though the local AAA baseball team, a Yankee farm club, is known as the Clippers. There is no big water anywhere near with the exception of a couple of reservoirs, and there’s a real stink brewing about the proposed construction of a big statue honoring Christopher Columbus, the city’s namesake.
There is, however, a scale replica of the Santa Maria, floating downtown in the Scioto River. You can’t make this stuff up.
Columbus is a fairly laid-back, live-and-let-live city, with residents that are friendly — once you get to know them — and a spring that is probably earlier than the one you know, if you’re coming from anywhere in the upper Midwest or the Northeast. Since the weather is supposed to be warm and sunny for the first part of this week, you may get to see actual daffodils in bloom while you’re here.
Do, however, bring an umbrella.
The city has its share of spots, hot or otherwise, and you will have a better time here than you expect.
Oh, that sounded a bit defensive, didn’t it? That’s because Columbus has an enormous chip on its collective shoulder, an inferiority complex that’s hard to shake. It isn’t called Cowlumbus for nothing. Come with an open mind and don’t expect Columbus to be Boston.
Don’t expect it to be Cincinnati, either. For that distinction, we are all grateful.
Columbus exists specifically because it’s the state capital. In 1812, the Ohio legislature decided to move the capital from the southern city of Chillicothe to a more centrally-located place, and Columbus was built from scratch to serve that purpose.
Today, Columbus itself has over 700,000 residents, although the population in the greater Columbus area tops one million. It’s a predominantly white town with very healthy minority and ethnic communities that add to the city’s surprisingly sophisticated palate.
What does this mean for you? You’ll find a variety of things to do in Columbus, from catching live jazz or blues, to sampling Ethiopian or Russian food, to singing Korean karaoke — and, of course, the more mainstream activities of golfing, shopping, and going to the movies.
In addition to being the state capital and seat of Franklin County, Columbus is home to several international corporations, such as Wendy’s, Nationwide Insurance, and The Limited; and Honda of America is just up the road in Marysville. Columbus also houses Chemical Abstracts, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), and the Battelle Memorial Institute. There’s an Anheuser-Busch brewery on the north side of town, too.
All phone numbers listed here are in the 614 area code, unless otherwise indicated. Enjoy your stay here. We’re certainly going to get a kick out of you.
The bad news is that public transportation has yet to catch up to Columbus’s decade-long growth spurt. The only mass transportation is COTA, the city’s bus service. There are good lines that run north-south and east-west, but if you want anything off main roads, you need a car.
The good news is that if you have a car — if you are driving here, or rent a car when you arrive at Port Columbus International Airport — Columbus is very easy to navigate.
There are two major north-south highways in Columbus, I-71 and Route 315, two major east-west highways, I-70 and I-670, and an outerbelt that encircles the city, I-270. With the exception of the morning and afternoon commutes, these roads will get you nearly anywhere in the city quickly and conveniently.
Most folks coming in for the Frozen Four will be staying in one of Columbus’s suburbs, where the hotel rates are cheaper than downtown and in the OSU campus area. I-270 can connect you to all four of the other major highways, if you’re out at a distance.
The easiest way to get to the Schottenstein Center for the games is by taking Route 315 to the Lane Avenue exit. You can see the Schott from the highway, and there are signs on both the northbound and southbound exit ramps to tell you how to get there.
Both I-70 and I-670 — routes that run south of OSU through downtown — connect to Route 315, which is on the west side of town. I-71 runs parallel to Route 315.
A word of advice: you should be in your best defensive-driver mode in Columbus. Turn signals here seem to be optional, and the drivers are, well, adventurous. Keep your eyes and ears open on the road, whether you’re taking the major highways or driving locally.
Another word of advice: be careful where you park. If you park in a spot where you’re not supposed to, you’ll regret it, especially around the OSU campus. Read all the signs. There’s a “tow first, question later” attitude throughout Columbus. And don’t let your meter expire during paying hours, or you will be ticketed immediately.
Shuttle from Downtown
The Columbus Sports Commission in conjunction with OSU is running free shuttles for fans from downtown to the Schottenstein Center on game days. There are several stops downtown, but the one downtown pickup I know for certain is the Hyatt on Capitol Square, 75 E. State St., just steps east of High Street.
On Wednesday, April 6, fans are welcome to watch Frozen Four team skates at the Schott. Colorado College skates at noon, Denver at 1:15, North Dakota at 2:30, and Minnesota at 3:45.
Fans are also invited to an open skate at the Schott on Friday, from 3-7 p.m. It’s free.
High Street: The Main Drag
Although Columbus has a Main Street, the city’s main artery is High Street, which runs north-south all the way through the city. High Street is, in fact, U.S. Route 23, except that the route takes a detour through the city proper in an attempt to avoid clogging the true main drag, which forms the eastern boundary of The Ohio State University main campus, heads south through the city’s trendy gallery district known as the Short North, and makes a straight shot to downtown Columbus, Ohio’s capital city.
From High Street, a glance west of the northernmost part of downtown shows you the Arena District, home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. In the center of downtown sits the state capitol, a magnificent building worthy of a visit, and south of downtown, High Street dissects the Brewery District and forms the western edge of German Village, a 233-acre neighborhood completely restored by its residents in the 1960s.
The No. 2 COTA bus — the E. Main Street/N. High Street route — will take you up and down High Street for $1.25.
Here’s a trip down High Street, from north to south.
Worthington is an old village with a big green square divided by High Street and State Route 161. It has quaint shops and some nice architecture if you’re into that sort of thing, but what really makes it worth a pause is a couple of places to eat.
The Old Bag of Nails is a British-style pub that serves excellent fish and chips and other pub fare, plus great beer on tap, like Double Diamond and Old Speckled Hen. There are a number of other Old Bag of Nails locations throughout Columbus, but this is the original and it has a homey feel.
Diagonally across the street from Old Bag of Nails is Graeter’s, the Cincinnati-based chain that his reinvented the old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Everything this place offers is excellent. Signature flavors include black raspberry chip and Buckeye Blitz — peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter cookie dough and homemade chocolate chips — but everything they offer is rich, delicious, and not for the calorie-careful.
Just south of Worthington is one of Columbus’s best neighborhood restaurants, the Villa Nova. If you’re looking for good Italian at a reasonable price, this is the place. It’s crowded on Friday nights, but it’s worth the wait. Try the lasagna, better than Mama ever made.
Old Bag of Nails, 663 High St., 436-5552
Graeter’s, 654 High St., 848-5151
Villa Nova, 5545 N. High St., 846-5777
About three miles south of Worthington on High Street is Clintonville, a neighborhood lacking Worthington’s village charm but packed with antique and secondhand stores with a couple of good coffee shops and several restaurants.
What makes Clintonville especially worth mentioning is its proximity to the OSU campus. The major intersection of High Street and North Broadway is just three miles from the Schottenstein Center and a very easy drive in terms of traffic. If you’re staying near the Schott or if you are escaping between games Thursday, simply drive north on Olentangy River Road — that’s the road on which the Schott sits, at the intersection with Lane Avenue — to North Broadway, take a right and a mile later you’re at High Street.
North of North Broadway are several antique and boutique shops, but the real deals are to be found south, especially in places like Clintonville Antiques, where every square inch is crammed with something someone considers collectable.
If antiquing makes you hungry, ignore the McDonald’s within view of the shops and opt for Nancy’s Home Cooking — owned by Cindy, not Nancy — a very small lunch counter with huge heaping helpings of comfort food. The place doesn’t seat more than 30, with only four booths in the back in addition to the counter.
And Clintonville has become coffee central, with two local shops topping the list. Yes, there’s a Starbucks — there are two, actually, if you count the one inside the Giant Eagle grocery store — and a Caribou Coffee, but sample the local heroes, Cup o’ Joe and Mozart’s, for something unique.
Cup o’ Joe has several locations throughout the city and is owned by the same folks who own Stauf’s, a local beanery that roasts its own. Every store is similar in design and muted color scheme, with booths, tables, a fireplace and general funkiness, but the Clintonville location has a great staff and west-facing windows to let in plenty of sunshine. Like any good coffee shop, Joe’s has specialty coffees as well as regular old java, and while most of the food is overpriced, the bagels and muffins are cheap and delicious.
For pastries, you can’t beat Mozart’s, an Austrian-style bakery with a self-playing baby grand piano and reasonably good coffee.
A little further south on High Street in an area that is really between Clintonville and the OSU campus, you’ll find the Blue Danube, or Dube, a local institution. In continuous operation since 1940, the Dube has great blue plate specials and comfort food fare for cheap, a good beer list, and one of the most eclectic juke boxes in the city.
A few doors down is Dick’s Den, another institution, where a $3.00 cover charge after 9 p.m. will get you into see great local and national jazz and blues Thursday through Sunday. The bottled beer is cheap — nothing more expensive than $3.00, and you can get a bottle of Molson or Bud for $2.00.
Clintonville Antiques, 3244 N. High St., 262-0676
Nancy’s Home Cooking, 3133 N. High St., 265-9012
Cup o’ Joe, 2990 N. High St., 261-1563
Mozart’s Bakery and Caf, 2931 N. High St., 262-2414
Blue Danube, 2439 N. High St., 261-9308
Dick’s Den, 2417 N. High St., 268-9573
Have you seen a college or university campus area? Then you’ve seen the strip of High Street adjacent to The Ohio State University. A mile’s hike from the Schott, High Street at OSU offers plenty of places to eat between games Thursday and before Saturday’s title match, and some of the best people watching in Columbus.
All you have to do is walk east on Lane Avenue from the Schott, and you’ll get to High Street. On the way, you might want to stop at the Varsity Club at 278 W. Lane Avenue. The beer selection is good, the atmosphere is good, the food is so-so.
Turn right (south) at the intersection of High and Lane and you’ll find lots of franchised food, the best of which is arguably Chipotle Mexican Grill, a subsidiary of McDonald’s.
If you’re into the arts scene, do stop by the Wexner Center for the Arts at 1871 N. High St. (292-3535). The bookshop is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and Saturdays noon-6 p.m. The caf, open weekdays 8 a.m.-4 p.m., offers a good alternative to fast food.
The current exhibition at the Wexner is entitled, “Landscape Confection,” a dreamy collection of landscapes by 13 contemporary artists. Admission is free.
You’ll also see the standard variety of boutique shops in this area, a couple of good record stores — check out Used Kids at 1980 N. High St. — and if you’re strapped for cash, there are ATMs everywhere.
As cities go, Columbus is fairly vanilla — there is a church in my neighborhood with a marquee that proclaims, “Woman healed of cysts and tumors!” — but like any large metropolitan area, has its share of readily available vice.
For a walk on the wildish side, check out the Garden District, a little slice of Amsterdam along a two-block strip of High Street between the OSU campus and downtown. The area, named for the former Garden Theatre, houses two adult stores, The Garden — in the windows of which women sit, Amsterdam-style — and The Chamber, plus the city’s best piercing parlor, Piercology, a Wiccan store called Salem West, a funky book/comic store called the Monkey’s Retreat, and for balance the Columbus Worship Center.
The Garden, 1174 N. High St., 294-2869
Piercology, 872 N. High St., 297-4743
Monkey’s Retreat, 1190 N. High St., 294-9511
The Short North
This is one of Columbus’ funkiest neighborhoods, bordered to the north by the Garden District, to the south by downtown proper, and to the west by the blossoming Arena District.
This area houses the largest collection of local art galleries and boutique shops in Columbus, as well as a couple of very good bars and restaurants — and the North Market, Columbus’s upscale version of a farmer’s market.
All you’ve got to do is go. Take the bus or drive and park, and walk around. Don’t miss the Yankee Trader, a store that sells everything from full-size cutouts of George W. Bush to feather boas — in bulk, if you like.
Need a body waxing? Okay, so maybe just a manicure? Then it’s Stephen Colatruglio for you.
For continental cuisine on a carryout budget and a good selection of cigars, try Europia Gourmet Foods, and for artery-clogging Scottish pub fare, head to Mac’s, where the scotch menu can provide a meal in itself.
Yankee Trader, 463 N. High St., 228-1322
Stephen Colatruglio, 640 N. High St., 221-1181
Europia, 672 N. High St., 460-3000
Mac’s, 693 N. High St., 221-6227
If you want locally made beer, head to Barley’s Brew Pub at 467 N. High St. (228-ALES). Currently available are Barley’s pilsner, pale ale, Scottish ale, Russian stout, Irish rogue, Oatmeal stout, and an E.S.B. (extra special bitter).
You can order a pint, a sample round, or a growler to go, a half-gallon jug to take for the road, so to speak.
Food specialties of the house include the turkey-nut burger, which is ground turkey encrusted in pecans, deep-fried sauerkraut balls, and some of the best chicken wings you can get in Columbus, given that it’s not Buffalo.
In the North Market — just west of High Street at 59 Spruce Street — another Columbus gem awaits in the form of Firdous Express, the best Middle Eastern food in the city. Try the falafal, of course, but the soups, lamb, pastries, and coffee are divine. This won’t break the bank, either.
Other good eats in the North Market include Bob the Fish Guy and Jeni’s Fresh Ice Creams. The North Market closes by 7 p.m. weekdays, 5 p.m. on the weekends.
Two of Columbus’s best restaurants sit unpretentiously in the Short North: Ri