Heading to the bar to drown your sorrows after breaking off a long-term relationship isn’t supposed to be healthy, but at some point you find yourself sitting alone in the tiny house you’re renting, and the silence is deafening. It’s ironic because a few months earlier it took every bit of strength to resist the urge to tell your former significant other to shut the hell up. Yeah—back then, you relished a little solitude. Now you’ve got your wish, in spades, and it sucks.
Oh, it’s your own damned fault, but knowing that doesn’t assuage the roar of loneliness.
You’ve got friends. Sort of. When you’re in a relationship for a long time you have two kinds of friends: mutual friends, who feel weird about taking sides, and peripheral friends who probably aren’t close enough to help you through this. You don’t want to impose, so you’re on your own.
And It doesn’t matter how you got there, one way or another you’ve got to cope.
If you happen to be a writer, you write it out. Rip your heart open
If you happen to be a writer, you write it out. Rip your heart open and bleed it out on the page. Oh, somewhere in the back of your mind you think you’re channeling Taylor Swift, but you have to take ownership of the pain or it will own you. You make some progress and maybe even figure out a few things, but that silence, oh man, it still screams at you.
That’s when you head to the bar. Not to numb the pain, but to get away from the white noise. Inane banter with the bartender, lame jokes with the guy drinking Miller Lite, and the general amusement that comes from quietly observing people as they become socially lubricated help you find your way back into the world.
It has to be the right bar. You don’t want some glitzy night club or some pretentious meet market, and you certainly don’t want to hang out in some miserable pit of despair where people decide who picks up the tab after a knife fight on the patio. Ideally, you’d like a place like they portrayed on Cheers way back in the day, but those places are hard to find. Most of all, you want something close to home.
In Columbus, you can find six bars within a half-mile radius of almost any residence. That doesn’t mean the perfect bar is close to you, but you have to start somewhere.
Here, Stock & Barrel staff offers up our own romantic guide for the best holes to crawl into and come out the other side a better person:
590 Oakland Park Ave.
Loved by Steve Croyle
India Oak is the bar I turned to. I always knew it was there, but I didn’t realize its potential until I needed catharsis that couldn’t be found in writing—the kind that comes from being around people. This is a dive bar, tucked between some buildings at a weird angle where Oakland Park dead ends into the railroad tracks—a wee bit east of Indianola. It’s just that this happens to be a good dive, where people show up for the right reasons. The drinks are cheap, they’ve got amazing homemade soups, and the boasts about the best sub in Clintonville are not without merit. I’d been in a few times over the years, but it didn’t take until I moved into a place that just didn’t feel like home.
This place is truly a neighborhood landmark. I-O is owned/operated by three brothers from right there in Clintonville, and it is staffed by extended family—be they blood relatives or unofficially adopted. Show up a few times over the course of a month, and you’ll become a friend. Show up a few times over the course of a week, and you’re effectively part of the family. Odds are pretty good your poison of choice will be in the works before you find a seat. They remember your name and whatever you were talking about the last time you were in. They make you feel right at home. Oh, I’d love to think I’m just that charming and magnetic, but we all know that is not the case. The point is, a lot of bars are places you go to escape, India Oak might just be one of those rare pubs that helps you come back from the brink. Which is good, because those railroad tracks are really close.
23 Campus Pl.
Loved by Kevin J. Elliott
Dear Mama’s Pasta and Brew,
First I want to apologize. It’s been at least 15 years since I set foot inside of you.
Back then, there was a Clinton in the White House, the pay phones on High Street were operational, you could smoke inside, and I was winding through what seniors at The Ohio State University call a “crawl.” But, lovingly, as some sort of allegiance, the comfort of your wood-paneled walls, that may or may not have been salvaged from a sunken pirate ship, was my last stop. It was a figurative and bittersweet goodbye to my days of debauchery, a time when my most pressing responsibility was to make sure I was present at a 7 a.m. sociology class, and making sure I was among your revelers on those celebrated Tuesdays. In an instant we grew apart. I moved away (or at least off campus) and stumbled into an adulthood in which recreational day drinking was no longer an option.
You? Well, you stayed stoic in that alleyway surviving all of the “development” and progress any “partners” could muster. This is supposed to be a love letter to the “dive” bar, but to call you a “dive” is derogatory. You’ve been there long before it was en vogue to affix the “dive” to the bar. Mama’s is just a bar. And now, you are the only one of that type left on campus. The South Heidelberg was a “dive.” Bernie’s is a “dive.” Larry’s was the last refuge for collegiate bohemia, but hey, they had to make room for the Stinking Donkey, or Brass Ass, or whatever they call it now.
What we used to love was your size and security. You were our “drinking closet.” Part Cheers, part breadbox. Buckeye blood stained the bathrooms, there were (and still are) tickets from glories past stapled to your innards, but we never felt out of place in catching a quick shot before a Buffalo Tom concert at the Newport. I just talked with your owner of 32 years, Terry Fahey, and he credits a lot of that inherent camaraderie and sustainability to Mama’s status as a “social club” and a rite of passage for “upperclassmen,” as standard-issue drunkenness for sub-21 freshman and riff raff could be obtained down the road. You’ve always been a home of goodwill.
In 2015, I’d like to think of you as the Back to the Future of Columbus bars. Go back to the ’40s and ’50s and you’re the Pantry, a lunch house for students and faculty. To the ’60s and you’re an Italian restaurant with red and white checkered tables. In the ’70s you were Froggy’s, a bar in infancy with a five-foot, out of tune accordion player as the marquee. Journey to any time in Fahey’s tenure, from 1983 to just last year when he passed the torch to current owner Brian Galensky, and you’d be witness to the quintessential collegiate experience—competitive darts, cheap pitchers, sports on TV, and the buzz of the university’s most recent triumph always in the air.
I came back to you one day last summer. Instantly there were goosebumps raised by nostalgia. The moose was in its usual spot. The dart boards hung with their vintage scorecards aside like they haven’t moved an inch. The tab was still at 1995 (or 1985 prices with inflation). I didn’t try the pasta (never have), but the pizza is still top-notch.
Calling you an “institution” is also a misnomer. As Fahey notes, and Galensky hopes, as long as there’s a steady stream of new students, there will be a place for you. They may be getting “more smart” and “less wild” but your little oasis of libations will forever be needed.
Kevin (once a semi-regular, but not in your coveted Hall of Fame…though I am in a picture preserved on the walls)
7496 N High St.
Loved by Lara Yazvac-Pipia
It’s early Friday evening and The Ruckmoor is hopping. Sure, there’s that record-scratch kind of feeling walking through the door—we’re not regulars. One whiskey in, and we’re rubbing elbows with all that have come before us. I order a Bulleit Rye, believing that I’ve had one here before. “Do ya see it?” the bartender asks.
I don’t. I settle for a Jim Beam and the bartender obliges. My husband orders a beer; the other bartender somehow makes out his order over the din and yells out, “I got the beer!” The goal seems to be to get us settled with a drink as soon as possible, which is the sign of any good host.
I get up to put some money in the jukebox. I make my selections appropriate for a roadhouse, juke-joint kind of vibe: Hank Sr., Buck Owens, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and the like. Dives seem to be best defined by their regulars. The Ruck’s are warm and friendly, and all are eager to show us the ropes. Whether its sharing the history of the bar or teaching my friend the appropriate technique to win the hook-and-ring game mounted from the ceiling, they act as gentle sherpas; it makes the cozy living room vibe of the place that much more warm, that much more welcoming.
I’m reminded of the family dynamic of bars like this: there are bowls of snack mix placed along the bar, as well as a taco buffet. I casually help myself to a taco and partake in snack mix and stories. Free food adds informality to any event. When we eat together, we are together. It becomes a more communal, more tribal affair. It also enhances the feeling that we can take off our coats and stay awhile, as any family would remind us.
The last-time I was here, a woman was exposing herself and repeatedly getting thrown out. The bartender had the motherly patience of a seasoned veteran.
This time, there’s nothing that rowdy yet, but as people get settled in, I wonder where the night may lead.
Little Kings are on the menu, pitchers of jello shots (???) are on special, and the place has a rowdy past. The barrel seats are a holdover from the ’60s, when they were purchased to discourage people from throwing them. The chairs that preceded the barrel furniture didn’t fare too well, so the heftier option has seemingly prevailed.
The vintage Budweiser carousel lamp’s motor has long been dead, the legendary Clydesdales long retired from their infinite pace around the interior of the light. I’ve seen these in dive bars since before I could legally drink in them; a broken one seems like a requisite.
After a couple of hours, it is time to go. Newly made friends lament our leaving, and truth told, we can see ourselves staying. And returning. And becoming sherpas to those that will follow.
Photos by Megan Leigh Barnard