Bar profile: Garden Theater's new bar Ethel's falls somewhere between Mouton and Oddfellows

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

“If we want to be known for anything, it’s camp,” offered Zachariah Baird, manager at Ethel’s Bar in Short North’s Garden Theater. Since he helped transform the bar from the Stage Left Lounge to Ethel’s, Baird has been working to establish a line-up of small performing acts suited to the space. For instance, Piano-A-Gogo will run on Fridays, with a live piano player and upright string bass. To tie in with the Garden Theater’s production of the play “Psycho Beach Party,” Baird developed a tiki menu to run through the play’s end, Feb. 1.

This isn’t to say entertainment will dominate the cozy, brick-walled space. Baird is incorporating performances like the live piano act (“Think like Sam from ‘Casablanca,’” he said) and silent movies projected on the walls. “But the goal is more ambient music,” he explained. “The customers will always be the center of attention.”

The goal is entertainment that serves more as a backdrop to enjoying a drink and good conversation.

The bar has been reformed to be part saloon, part apothecary. The cocktail menu rotates on a monthly basis. Currently the menu hearkens back to early film and theatre. La Lumiere, named after the Lumiere brothers — the first modern filmmakers — features Tanqueray, St. Germain, chartreuse, lime and orange bitters. Other hits like the Sparkling Ginger Bourbon (bourbon, ginger syrup, Pellegrino) and the Dirty Mike (bourbon, honey, lemon, lavender bitters) are all appropriate for sipping at the bar, whether you’re there for a show or not.

Everything’s done with a sense of fun. The tiki menu features names like the Sandy Bikini and Beach Bum. Instead of Ladies’ Night, Baird jokes about hosting “Suffragette Night.”

“We think of ourselves as more anthropologists of alcohol, rather than mixologists,” Baird says. “We’re somewhere between Mouton and Oddfellows.”

The transition to Ethel’s gives the bar more character, and highlights the life of Ethel Miles. Miles was hired as the original organist for the Garden Theater when it began showing silent movies in the 1910s (there’s an organ in the bar, in homage to her). She eventually purchased the theater in 1927 and ran it until her death in 1968. She constructed the signature Garden sign out front, and she also built the Newport Music Hall and the Drexel Theater, Baird said. Drinking at Ethel’s, then, is a nod to her work bringing popular culture like movies, concerts and theater to Columbus.

A final benefit to drinking at Ethel’s: All profits support the reconstruction of the theater and budgets for performance art programing.

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Ethel's at Garden Theater

1187 N. High St., Short North