Built by hand

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Owner Richard Miller has an intimate knowledge of everything about his small and sleepy Clintonville bar, from the clientele to the nails that built the place.

It took them nearly a year, but he and Cynda Search built Rafter's Bar and Grill with their bare hands. Search operated a salon in the teal awning-topped strip center, but convinced Miller and a few friends to help her convert the space into a bar 13 years ago.

"We wanted a real homey place, that's why we left all the wood walls," Miller said.

Tiger-striped wooden walls envelop the faintly glowing bar. Ceiling fans hang from the metal-ribbed ceiling - noticeably lacking the rafters the name suggests - while a divider wall separates the long bar area from a mirror-lined space with two pool tables and several dart boards.

A Harley Davidson is parked in front of the dartboards. "One of our regulars [didn't want to drive and] pulled her bike in here," he said.

Miller and his bartenders take care of their many regulars - he even offers to drive people home when needed - and they return their appreciation. As one of the few bars in this part of Clintonville, Rafter's draws an eclectic crowd apt to chat with new faces.

In the evening, American longnecks run $2.25, while imports - like Stella, Heineken and Blue Moon - only set you back $2.75.

"We don't really have a happy hour since our drink prices are so low," Miller said.

Each bartender reps his or her own specialty shots, but chilled Jager bombs ($5.50) tend to reign among the tiny glasses.

Patrons gather around an oversized TV during football games and enjoy free munchies. The bar features a full menu Friday through Sunday, including typical bar bites alongside nice surprises like Grilled Pork Chops ($8.75), Reuben sandwiches ($5.25) and half-pound burgers like Keith's Works Burger ($7.25), with ham, bacon and mushrooms.

Rafter's also features a late-riser breakfast menu. Miller's omelets are known for their flavorful heft, like the Speedy Gonzalez Omelet ($7) with jalapenos, peppers and a spicy salsa, or the Popeye Omelet ($6) highlighted by sauteed spinach, mushrooms and bacon. The Eggs Benedict ($7) and Blueberry Pancakes ($3.25) are also popular eye-openers, and all entrees come with coffee to boot.

Walls decorated with an airbrushed mural of a wild-west scene, old tools and a cow skull - which Miller traded two rifles to get - may be a strange backdrop for eating bacon and eggs, but it's the place's big personality that keeps patrons coming back.