Mark Dempsey, 55, opened the Downtown Columbus bipartisan political hangout in 2012.
Mark Dempsey, the owner of Dempsey’s Food & Spirits, died early Friday morning, Jan. 10, at Grant Medical Center after suffering two heart attacks in December. His death was confirmed to Columbus Monthly by Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady, Dempsey’s close friend of 35 years. Dempsey was 55.
A Columbus native, Dempsey opened the Downtown restaurant and bar at 346 S. High St. on March 12, 2012, across from the Franklin County Courthouse.
“Mark was all about all things family, all things Irish, all things politics,” said O’Grady. “He had this concept that he brought to me that he was going to open this place, and he wanted it to be this political hangout, and he wanted it to be bipartisan. I thought it was the most fantastic idea,” O’Grady says.
Prior to owning the restaurant, Dempsey, a longtime Democrat, was the chief deputy of the auto-title division of the Franklin County Clerk of Courts office and campaigned for Mayor Mike Coleman. He infused his passion for politics into his restaurant, where political memorabilia hangs on the walls and customers can order The Lashutka roast beef sandwich, named after the former Republican mayor of Columbus, or the Harry Meshel Greek Chicken Wrap, named for the former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
“He asked me if I would commit to what he called a number of ‘shifts’ per week … that I would be there for so many breakfasts, lunches and dinners a week, so that people would know that if they came, that I would be in there. That there would be a county commissioner in the place, because he wanted this political presence,” O’Grady says, adding that he dines at the same table at Dempsey’s almost every Monday morning, in front of a picture of his mother, father (a former Ohio Democratic party chairman) and Ted Kennedy.
Eventually, Dempsey named a turkey melt—The O’Grady—after his friend, with some prodding. “I said how much money does a guy have spend in here to get a damn sandwich named after him?” O’Grady says, laughing.
Tony Tanner, the owner of The Butcher & Grocer and former deputy chief of staff for the Ohio state auditor, was friends with Dempsey for years even though they were on opposite sides politically. He said the restaurant had become a gathering place for Republicans and Democrats alike, with TVs turned to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News—when there wasn’t a Notre Dame football game on.
“You always knew when Mark was in the room, and you knew immediately [that he cared],” Tanner said in a phone interview Friday. “[The restaurant] was a safe haven no matter what politics you had. … It was all in good fun.”
Dempsey, a past president of the Shamrock Club of Columbus, proudly celebrated his Irish heritage, the restaurant becoming home to the Notre Dame Club of Columbus and a go-to stop for St. Patrick’s Day.
“He is literally one of the best guys you’d ever know. … He impacted a lot of people. I don’t know anybody ever that had a bigger heart,” O’Grady said. “Mark was a guy who was always looking to do you a favor even if you didn’t ask him to do you a favor. He was just that way. He wanted to help out. Everybody loved him.”
Dempsey is survived by his wife, Megan, five children and six grandchildren. Read his obituary here. A gathering in his honor is taking place tonight at Dempsey’s, located at the corner of Mound and High Streets.
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