The first and the last memory that we have of this place share the same blurriness.
The last one was the average Saturday drunkenness of somebody who is discovering good craft beer and cannot say no to another and another…and another.
My husband Raul and I, new to Columbus from Chile, bustled in, the fog creeping in the corners of our eyeglasses on a cold night this past December. Two strangers, excessively bundled from head to toe like tiny children. We took several minutes to take off the Inca-patterned hats and mom-knitted scarfs (my mother thinks I’m living in the North Pole, and I thought she was completely right by the middle of January). We sat and asked for two beers. With the first sip all the stress of moving your whole life to another country in two suitcases dissipated.
The adventure started months before we came.
Raul was hired at Ohio State, and I agreed to come from Santiago de Chile to…Columbus, Ohio? It sounded like nothing to me. Google showed us that this city was turning quickly into a food and beer Mecca. It was kind of tempting, especially considering that we always wanted to live abroad.
We rented a room in the Short North using Airbnb, while we searched for our new home.
We had a bed and a roof, but we needed beer.
Browsing the surroundings, House Beer seemed like the best option.
We started to go twice a week – or more – and interact with this random selection of people, a totally non-representative sample of U.S. society. For me, their kindness is enough to understand why people want to come to this country.
We met co-owner/bartender Patrick, a soul who seems young and old at once, his eyes shining with the sempiternal, happy nostalgia – saudade, in Portuguese – of real rock stars, a Kerouac-style character I imagined once back home.
We met Chris, a Columbus native who speaks Spanish with an unexpected and perfect Argentinean accent – which is as weird as if an American moved to a small random town in the north of Chile and encountering a native-speaking American with a perfect Southern accent. We spent several nights talking about Argentinean barbecues, made only with wood, salt, and the best beef you can imagine – grass-fed by default. And he talks about his beloved host family and friends there, from when he went 10 years ago as an exchange student. And then he offers a Fernet shot, a bitter from those far lands, to wash away the shared homesickness.
We started to go twice a week – or more – and interact with this random selection of people, a totally non-representative sample of the U.S. society. For me, their kindness is enough to understand why people want to come to this country.
We saw them not actually watching the Super Bowl, but eating and drinking with desperation and paying attention only to the commercials. And then we saw them cheering our team in the World Cup, celebrating and then being terribly sad, as we were.
We have received free tax advice. We’ve seen tears and broken hearts. We’ve heard personal stories about loveless mothers, cruel boyfriends, and boring jobs. We’ve talked about racism, feminism, immigration, ayahuasca, patriotism, gun laws, ’Mericans, Iraq, and all those complicated topics.
We’ve made them dance cumbia and realize that Southamerican people are born with extra articulation in the hips.
Some nights ago I was telling stories about House Beer to a cool guy in a cool outfit. He said, “Mmmhhh, I don’t like Short North people,” talking as if they were an annoying mass of post-hipster zombies, while holding not one, but two light beers. I felt offended, something that happens only when you have a very strong feeling for something. This is our neighborhood now. This is the bar and the people that made this city – and this country – feel like home for the first time, a feeling that is renewed every time we go again and somebody asks, “How was your week?”
The same way someone greets you when you’re home.
House Beer, which celebrated its two-year anniversary
in August, is located at 843 N High St.