In a city brimming with murals, the art is increasingly where you eat.
Walking into Clintonville's Condado Tacos, one's senses go into overdrive. Music thumping in the background and the buzz of tables filled with diners immediately greet patrons at the door. Lights above the bar illuminate a “TACOS” sign while smells from the kitchen dance through the eatery.
Perhaps most arresting is the floor-to-ceiling artwork that covers the wall. Mexican-inspired Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, street art graces all four Condado locations in Central Ohio, as well as the company's stores in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
The Clintonville taqueria at 2977 N. High St. is a showcase of carnival-inspired Día de los Muertos scenes that pay homage to Olentangy Park, an amusement park that brought joyful day trippers to this part of town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the murals shows a skeleton riding the Red Devil, a roller coaster enjoyed by park thrill-seekers. Nearby, scenes of a magician, a fortuneteller and Spider Woman can be found.
Expanding the Narrative
Increasingly, some of the city's most interesting visual creations can be found in local eateries. Restaurateurs are engaging their guests through hand-crafted imagery that both entices patrons and helps businesses share their story.
“The rabbit theme is central to the Sweet Carrot brand,” explains Dylan Menges, owner of Menges Design. Menges crafted the fantastical “Rabbit Holes” mural located in the bathroom of Sweet Carrot's new fast-casual restaurant at 2050 Polaris Parkway. (A sign directing the way reads “Restrooms Hare.”) “When you go into Sweet Carrot's spaces you'll find a variety of art. It's a very intentional way to communicate their idea of a whimsical rabbit world,” Menges says.
“Rabbit Holes” creates an immersive experience for visitors, making them feel as if they have stumbled down a rabbit hole. Looking up at the ceiling, patrons see a rabbit gazing down at them. Menges hopes that the art makes visitors linger a bit longer than normal. “If that happens, then we have succeeded,” he says.
Carolyn Maloney fell in love with the Southwest-inspired mural by local artist Paul Giovis that was partially painted in the Olde Towne East space where she planned to open her restaurant and tavern, The Olde Oak. She admired it so much that she commissioned Giovis to finish the piece and planned her menu of Southwestern fare around it.
The mural, which features cowgirls in calming, pale tones, especially spoke to Maloney as a small business owner in the neighborhood. “If you look around Olde Towne, there are a lot of really cool ladies in power,” she says.
Beyond the Gallery
“Everything is art,” says Columbus-based street artist Stephanie Rond when asked about the role of art in food. She painted the murals inside Clintonville's BLunch at 2973 N. High St. with fellow artist Adam Hernandez.
“I want to see art in as many places as possible,” she explains. “Not everyone feels comfortable going to museums and galleries. If someone can see art in a space that they feel comfortable going to, then we all gain.”
Rond, whose vibrant art features feminist undertones, crafted an image of an African-American woman partially covering her face with a colorful feather as she releases birds toward BLunch's windows. The woman's stance and facial expression reflect strength, while freedom can be felt in the birds' daring attempt to exit the space. “I hope that diners get a sense of calm but also a sense of power from the work,” Rond says.
At Condado, owner Joe Kahn considers the murals covering the walls of his eateries as crucial to the dining experience. “Joe wanted to create a space that you walked into and just had a feeling,” explains Julia Jones, the restaurant group's PR manager. “A space that's more than a taco joint; a space that is exciting, unique and eclectic, where a guest can see something new in the murals every time they visit,” she says, joking that the murals can also act as a conversation piece during a lackluster first date.
Supporting the Creative Community
With a fair share of mass-produced artwork on the walls of restaurants in the region, choosing an eatery with locally crafted art enables patrons to directly support Columbus' creative talent.
Selecting a space for The Olde Oak that was painted by a local artist who lives and works in the neighborhood was a no-brainer for Maloney. “We try to incorporate as much of Olde Towne East into our space as possible,” she says. “We know the value of the people that live here.”
As an artist, the decision to showcase local art directly impacts Menges, and he opts for establishments that advance Columbus' creative economy when he chooses to dine out. “I vote with my wallet and support the restaurants that are saying, ‘We'll make an investment into local artists,'” Menges says. “That's where I like to put my dollar.”