Ye Olde Gathering Place
New Tavern bolsters OTE revitalization
By Travis HoewischerPublished July 1, 2012
Taverns in Ohio have long-served overlapping and differing roles in their communities; a place to shoot pool, to gather for pitchers and post-softball pizza, or maybe for a quick pit-stop beer between work and home.
Just miles from the bustling Short North, three bar owners in Olde Town East, one of Columbus’ burgeoning enclaves, are bringing back the hometown feel with their new Olde Town Tavern.
As strange as it may sound, co-owner Krista Sparks says the neighborhood watering hole can serve as a catalyst for community in the smaller offshoots of downtown Columbus. It’s an effect she saw first-hand in her years behind the bar at Zeno’s in Victorian Village.
“It was the neighborhood bar,” she said. “When the lights went out, they would come into Zeno’s. When there was a storm, people would trudge through the snow to come hang out with us, because the bartenders were their friends. Here, it’s the same thing. There are people who have been here every single day since we opened. They want to get comfortable because this might become their new second home.”
The Tavern is the third business to take up residence on the corner of Oak and 18th avenues, which, along with Yellow Brick Pizza and The Angry Baker form a new mecca of commerce for the diehard OTE residents that moved into fixer-uppers over the last few decades.
Co-owners Brad Hobbs and Kevin Burns were two of the neighborhood’s resident advocates long before they opened the doors on the Tavern. For eight years, the two bartenders had to pass the intersection to go to each other’s houses, or to work, each time envisioning their own spot, in their own neighborhood.
“When we moved down here, we immediately saw this little intersection, and every single building was vacant,” Burns said. “It wasn’t hard to see it as a vibrant area. When Yellow Brick came in, we knew it could be done.”
Hobbs, Sparks (his fiancé) and Burns estimate that the trio have logged more than 40 years of experience in the Columbus bar industry, the creative soil from which their idea has grown.
“We both had a file of beverage napkins that we had drawn menu items and pictures on,” Hobbs said.
For the average bargoer, the still-blighted aspects of OTE – including the boarded up apartment building visible from the Tavern’s front booth – might still be a bit of a sell. However, Sparks thinks their little corner of Columbus is enough to waylay outdated skepticism about downtown dining and drinking.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to the downtown neighborhoods. I want to bring people in to have them see that there are people pushing strollers; there’s a lot of foot traffic,” she said. “Downtown is totally different than it was 10-15 years ago. The people in the suburbs that moved out there when downtown was dying – they have no idea. I want them to see the young people that are moving down here and putting time and money into building this. It’s not a faceless community; there’s a personality behind it.”
The owners see it as challenge to change preconceived notions, and agree that already they have exceeded even their own expectations, with barely a seat open in the establishment’s first weekend. But, the ulterior – and perhaps most important – goal for the Tavern is to connect the community that they’ve enjoyed for the last eight years.
“You wouldn’t normally go into a bar or restaurant in any other neighborhood and tell the staff where you live,” Hobbs said. “Even downtown, no one says, ‘Hey! I live four streets from here!’ But, I’d say half of our guests did, which is just that pride people have in this area.”
889 Oak St.