What happens when, as a city, we shed our drop ceilings, slip off our laminate floors and let it all hang out.
In May 2007, brother-and-sister team Tim and Elizabeth Lessner purchased the space at 73 E. Gay St. with the aim to turn the decked-out gay bar with salmon-colored walls and disco lighting into a restaurant that celebrates the city's history. They peeled away layers of paint and tile to reveal tin ceilings and brick walls hidden for years. They hung turn-of-the-century images of Downtown Columbus and invited us to dine inside a part of the city's history.
Lately, it seems, restaurateurs are following suit with restaurants that take some inspiration from Lessner's Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails-passing up shiny new builds in favor of rehabbing spaces in the oldest neighborhoods and buildings in the city.
For Tina Corbin of Club 185, Little Palace and El Camino-all of which are in rehabbed spaces-it's a point of Columbus pride. "These cool places make the city what it is, and it's really important to preserve their history," she says. "Why tear it down to build something else?"
Preservationist Mary Rodgers agrees. "There is a desire to latch onto older vintage elements and incorporate them into new business themes. I applaud this," she says. "These buildings have life, and we should honor them by continuing to use them."
We take a look at what happens when, as a city, we shed our drop ceilings, slip off our laminate floors and let it all hang out.Now: Strongwater Food and Spirits
401 W. Town St., Franklinton
Then: Home of the modern drinking fountain, the D.A. Ebinger Sanitary Manufacturing Co. (later known as EBCO) was built in 1910 and renovated in 1944. The building has had a few tenants, including the Sweden Freezer Co. (which made soft-serve ice cream machines), the offices of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, All American Storage and Eickholt's Glass Co. The factory became home to artist studios in 2011, and Strongwater's bar and event space opened in late 2013, with food service beginning early this year.
The Rehab: The restaurant and kitchen are in the offices and storage space. General manager Kris Howell had no shortage of remnants to dig through (including old furniture and manufacturing equipment) when preparing the venue for its new purpose. Another find: secret access doors opening into 2-foot-tall tiled rooms, revealing that parts of the building have been raised.
See The History:
Diners can enjoy cocktails in the glass office spaces built for the president and vice president of Ebinger Co.
The restrooms remain the same, with their original lockers and flooring. A sign of the times: The executive men's restroom is three times larger than the women's.
A "stairway to nowhere" leads to what was once a manufacturing facility on a second floor.
Found manufacturing pieces are displayed on shelves above the liquor bottles.
The bar is built from original paneling and topped with marble slabs from the nearby Palace Theatre.Now: Basi Italia
811 Highland St., Victorian Village
Then: The building started out as a two-story barn with a hay loft and a space to store carriages. As with many Flytown properties, it was subdivided in the 1930s into its own space and received a commercial variance. From barbershop to neighborhood grocery to bodega to Pisa Pete's Pizzeria, the building kept its commercial zoning as the neighborhood around it changed into what is now primarily residential Victorian Village. John Dornback and Trish Gentile purchased it and opened Basi in 2003.
The Rehab: To transform the space from a carryout into a restaurant took as much paperwork as it did manual labor. In addition to gutting the building from the inside, Dornback had to get permission to add an assembly line and outdoor seating, and he had to upgrade restrooms and electric hardware to be compliant.
See The History:
Due to a fire, the top floor was removed, although the front facade still remains.
The exterior of the building remains the Kermit green color the building was when Dornback and Gentile took possession, standing out from the rest of the buildings in the neighborhood.Now: Wolf's Ridge Brewing
215 N. Fourth St., Downtown
Then: Built in 1919, this building housed Commerce Trucks (which used it as a dealership, showroom and repair shop), a freight forwarding company and a GE appliance wholesaler. Vacant since 2007, the North Fourth Street property was most recently used by Artina Promotional Products as an office and showroom.
The Rehab: Wolf's Ridge co-owner Bob Szuter says his family liked the flexibility of the space. The streetside area could be used for a restaurant, while the warehouse out back is ideal for their soon-to-come taproom and distribution space. When Szuter first saw the building, it was "an '80s cubicle farm," he says. He tore out all fixtures until the only the shell of the building remained, exposing an original tin ceiling and maple floor. In the process, a hidden staircase (right of the front door) conveniently surfaced at the same time the City of Columbus mandated that the basement brewery needed a second exit.
See The History:
Parts of the subfloor and joist are used as the walls of the bathroom stalls.
Pieces of the maple floor make up the chevron design behind the bar.
The shelves in the bar back are built with floor joists.
For an authentic look, woodworker Dusty refinished the floors with tung oil and stain mix and topped it with a wax finish. This method was how floors were finished prior to the invention of polyurethane.Now: Club 185
185 E. Livingston Ave., German Village
Then: Built in the late 1800s, the space housing Club 185 was, according to "Historic Columbus Taverns" by Tom Betti and Doreen Uhas Sauer, a hardware store, a plumbing store and a furniture store before landing into its seemingly permanent purpose as a bar in 1903. In 1954, it became Club 185. Tina and Randy Corbin took over the bar in 2000 and kept the name and the original sign.
The Rehab: The first incarnation of Club 185 was intentionally dark. In the renovation process, the Corbins removed plywood panels, uncovering both full windows and 50 years of tobacco stains. Tina says any remaining tint is "part of the beauty of the facade." They discovered four subfloors on top of the original pine floor as well as a sign of the times: The original bar had no overhang. Drinkers of days past had no time to hang around and, rather than lounge at barstools, they simply leaned on the bar, downed a drink and dashed. (The same was true for Little Palace.)
See The History:
Both the front and back bar are original.
Architects have told Tina the decorative tin ceiling is one of the best examples they've seen in Columbus.
The Club 185 Sign isn't a retro talking piece; it's the real thing.
The restaurant pays to keep the phone in the antique phone booth operational.
The walls are covered with pieces of history, including a photo from the first Club 185 softball team and large mirrors cemented to the walls.Now: Seventh Son Brewery
1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village
Then: Once a property of Budd Dairy Co. across the street, this space built in 1931 has always been a garage where services over the years included tires (the Kelly Tires sign was once stored within the brewery), paint jobs, framework and taxi repair, says brewery co-owner Travis Spencer. The Seventh Son team took control of the building in 2011.
The Rehab: In the rehab, they kept only a single wall intact. New garage doors replaced the old, windowless ones, and they poured new floors after digging trenches for the brewery's drains. A few relics found in the process include a taillight from a Pace Arrow (an old RV) and, in a hidden doorway, a time capsule holding a calendar from the 1940s.
See The History:
Spray paint tests (leftover from the paint shop days) remain on the wall in the bar area.
In the back room are chains and tire-locking devices once used during repairs.
Remnants of the car lift can be seen in the bar area.
The letters AWJ, a previous (yet unknown) tenant, are a permanent fixture of the patio.Now: The Refectory
1092 Bethel Rd., North Side
Then: The original home for Bethel United Methodist Church, which moved its congregation up the street in 1971, the building housing The Refectory was built in the 1850s.
The Rehab: The restaurant opened in 1976 and has had three different owners, including one who had a vision to turn the sanctuary into a disco. A lack of funding halted these plans, and instead, in 1981, the would-be nightclub (which had been boarded up since the restaurant opened) became the main dining room.
See The History:
The vaulted ceiling in the dining room remains a main architectural reminder of the restaurant's former life.
The exterior components of the building-including a bell tower-remain intact.
A stained glass window in the lounge is said to be original to the building.
During the holidays, members of the nearby Bethel United Methodist Church congregation once again fill the sanctuary with music, singing hymns in the restaurant.