There’s a pleasantness to the joint: a slightly dusty Appalachian allure uncommon to many other area bars.
And in so many wonderful ways, it isn’t a bar.
It doesn’t look like a bar.
It’s well lit, but not by neon beer signs. You can see your feet and hear the person next to you speak. There are more places to sit than there are to stand. There’s a television, but only for emergencies. It’s small but spacious, and you can see the stage from everywhere.
It doesn’t smell like a bar.
Instead of the stink of stale beer and dingy sink water, it smells of citrus and cinnamon and star anise. It smells like root beer and wood.
It isn’t run like a bar.
The cocktails are six dollars and use premium local spirits. The carefully curated list of all-Ohio beers never eclipses five bucks for a pint. The door charge for live shows is a flat, modest five dollars, 100 percent of which goes to the bands.
Except on Sundays. It’s free on Sundays.
The owner himself isn’t like other bar owners.
He’s John Lynch, a young attorney from the neighborhood with a passion for beer and bluegrass who saw a niche and took a stab. Rambling House Soda Pop is his – and his wife Jennifer’s. It’s theirs, and it’s yours.
“We started super small,” Lynch stated plainly, handing me a glass of their current concoction, a strawberry soda pop with a little hint of vanilla. “We got on line with The Ohio Taproom first. If you’re willing to start small and stay local, there’s definitely room for something like this.”
That much is clear so far. In a marketplace swelling fat with craft breweries, Lynch (under the guidance of family friend and legendary Columbus brew guru Scott Francis) has thrown Columbus a change-up. Take the traditional brewpub model, but do it with something no one else in the city is doing: soda pop.
Lynch went through the process, both simple and delicate. The strawberry soda pop, for example, “is eight pounds of fresh strawberries, a little vanilla, and some sugar. We condense the strawberries into a syrup, mix it with carbonated water, and keg it.”
Pure and simple. No high-fructose corn syrup. No Yellow No. 5. Straightforward, natural, unique. Pounds and pounds of ginger, peeled and shredded, lemon rinds, top-quality spices from the local community market. It’s all done by hand and heart, a labor of love from the nicest bunch of folks you’re ever likely to meet.
“The three mainstays are cola, ginger beer, and sarsaparilla. Those are always available. Each week, we rotate a new flavor in.”
And each week, the little idea grows a little more. Word of mouth is doing its part. Open since January, it’s not uncommon for Rambling House to be rumbling on any one of its four nights in operation, jumping with 50 to a 100 people in and out of their seats. With the weather turning a kinder eye on the city, the journey out will just be that much more appealing.
The endgame, according to Lynch, is bottling. A production kitchen. Bigger batches and distribution. Weiland’s has picked up the trail, Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza in Worthington is on board, and Lynch has another half-dozen or so outside accounts.
But there are no dollar signs in the man’s eyes. His passions are here, in the Rambling House, right under the same roof as the folks young and old who turn out for a cold drink and some old-timey acoustic bluegrass music. He grew up listening to Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie.
He’s got a brewer’s brain. Hell, he even met his wife at Dick’s Den on one of its famous Bluegrass Tuesdays. He just wanted to bring some of that magic to other nights of the week.
So it is that most folks tell Lynch that being in Rambling House feels a lot like being in a friend’s living room. Mission accomplished. The term itself, Lynch went on to say, is in regards to a practice held in Ireland for ages whereby – in the absence of a proper neighborhood pub – those townspeople in search of a good pint and a good time would gather in someone’s house instead.
A wide demographic, a neat family feel. No mosh pit, and no twirling hippies.
Cozy, familiar, safe. Not words you’d associate with East Hudson 15 or 20 years ago. Or even five. But they’re aiming to change that, too.
“I hope that with places like Wild Goose Creative, Rumba Café – I hope we can create more of a nook, a little corner of good stuff. Make this a place to go. We’re just one or two shops opening up on Summit or Hudson from making this a walkable destination.”
As it stands, with shows ending pretty regularly at or before midnight, lots of people meander over to later shows at Rumba anyway, Lynch said. Or they can decide to be a grown-up, and be in bed before the clock strikes one. (His words.)
Lynch had a laugh over being listed (rather unexpectedly) by The Daily Meal, a massive food and culture blog, as one of “The 60 Coolest People in Food & Drink” for 2014. A couple other names on the list: David Chang, Rick Bayless, Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller. No big deal. Just the living Mount Rushmore of the culinary world.
Maybe Rambling House Soda Pop isn’t world-renowned just yet. Maybe it won’t be. But cool?
Some days, when it’s slow, one of the bartenders will just turn to the antique organ behind the bar and start playing. A glass of something cold, spilling beads of sweat onto a barrelhead, and some good old-fashioned organ music.
Sounds pretty cool to me.
Rambling House Soda Pop is located at 310 E Hudson St. For more about their offerings – both liquid and lyrical – visit www.theramblinghouse.com.