By Mark J. LucasPublished October 25, 2012
Cheers had it all wrong. A true drinker doesn’t want to go where everybody knows their name; they want to go where there’s barely a sign. Or a website.
Be the Bourdain of Booze by eschewing the elite and pulling up a beat-up stool at these five precious dives:
The Main Bar
16 W Main St.
The Main Bar is referred to by many as “that one, little bar, all by itself, smack in the middle of downtown.” The elephant in the room, upon first inspection of this pint-sized hideout, is whether the Franklin County Jail (directly across the street) or Castle Bail Bonds (on the second floor of the building) are causes for concern. That is, until you realize that the bail bondsman from upstairs is sharing a Bell’s Oberon with several service workers from downtown hotels and bars. Tara, the pretty, gravel-voiced bartender, makes it clear that a solid collection of regulars and the presence of cops keep the place quaint and incident-free.
724 N High St.
This one’s a real character. Mike’s Grill (there is no grill) didn’t even have a sign until a local organization ordered them to display one. Robert, the bartender, informed me that he recently had to throw out a crackhead wearing a prom dress. The stories abound: It was once robbed using a chunk of granite. It’s the haunt of a bicycle gang called The Righteous Mothers. Once, a bartender got his finger bitten off and swallowed by a crackhead. In the morning, (it opens around 6 a.m.), strippers, SWAT officers and residents of the assisted living facility next door enjoy a beer together. There are no taps. Cash only, no exceptions. There’s a huge, beautiful patio in the rear that no one seems to know about. And a front door just waiting for you, the adventurous C-bus drinker, to stroll through.
262 E Sycamore St.
In the pristine trappings of German Village, you definitely wouldn’t expect to find the Sycamore Café. It’s a shot-and-a-can joint that looks like it’s been helicoptered out of a small town. A dog greeted me outside the screen door entrance, and a man in a straw cowboy hat and flannel shirt bid me welcome through the threshold. The walls are lined with OSU flair. Pool table in the back, low tables in the front. A smiling southern belle put my bottle of beer on a warped coaster, then picked it up to put a nicer one down instead. Over the plaid half-curtains, I could see million-dollar houses and cobblestone streets. One customer proposed a toast to the bar ... and the dog out front.
Johnnie’s Glenn Avenue Grill
1491 Glenn Ave.
If you think you’ve gotten lost finding Johnnie’s, you’re in the right spot. Situated in the dead center of a Grandview neighborhood, it looks like a man-cave that’s taken hold of an entire house. The bar is in what appears to have been a living room. Off in what would be a parlor is a pool table and jukebox. Through the kitchen – a regular, house kitchen – is a large enclosure made of plywood and chicken wire that serves as a smoking deck complete with fans, tables and flat-screen TV. A chap at the bar tells me it’s where he and his neighbors go to get away from their wives, a practice that has endured since it’s conversion in the 1940s.
The Ruckmoor Pub
7496 N High St.
Located in the Crosswoods Center off Ohio 23, The Ruckmoor Pub is a cozy watering hole complete with fireplace and barrel chairs. It opens its doors with the cock’s crow at 5:30 a.m. when 78 year-old bartender Marge starts slinging drinks to nurses and factory workers fresh off the graveyard shift. When it was built in 1958, it stood in a field, and Bob, a construction worker and owner of the establishment, lived upstairs (God rest his soul). They serve your standard bar eats, if you feel peckish whilst overhearing familiar banter between regulars. According to Sean, the manager, it’s a staple for north-enders and almost everyone in the area can trace an anecdote back to its bar stools.