Behind Bars: Karrio Ballard of Barrel on High

Erica Thompson

Barrel on High is a classic whiskey bar with a twist of unique charm. Among the flat screen TVs and decorative barrels are framed vintage alcohol ads and figurines of the 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball "Dream Team." In addition to the standard Old Fashioned cocktail or burger, you can order sweet potato pie made by co-owner Karrio Ballard's grandmother, who lives in his Mansfield hometown.

Ballard moved to Columbus at age 15 in pursuit of better opportunities. "That saved my life, because where I was at was a dead end, and I just was fortunate to realize that at a very young age," he said.

Ballard went on to study creative writing at Ohio State University, but soon realized college wasn't the right path. "I just felt that I could do whatever it was I wanted to do without going into stupid debt," he said.

He put his writing talents to use as an MC, recording and performing at festivals and club gigs all over the country under the name Zero Star.

"My music sounds like space," he said. "Take that for whatever you want it to mean."

Aside from developing as a musician, Ballard also gained experience working as a bartender, eventually advancing to manager at popular campus bar Too's Under High, which is owned by his good friend Scott Ellsworth. Ballard and Ellsworth had dreamed of going into business together for a long time, a dream they finally made it happen by purchasing Barrel 44 in November 2014 and turning it into Barrel on High.

"The reason I took the opportunity to buy a bar and venture into that was because it was something outside of the box," Ballard said. "After putting out music consistently and doing shows for 10 years, I think I'm entitled to be able to move on to something else and try and get good at that."

Music remains a significant part of Barrel on High, which hosts a monthly jazz and funk night. The bar also offers poetry and open mic comedy nights and more - truly something for everyone, as its clientele "ranges from 25 to 60" years old.

"We do baby showers [and] graduations," Ballard said. "My aunt's 50th birthday party was here."

Ballard and Ellsworth are also committed to using local ingredients and serving local beer. They showcase artwork from Columbus artists in the bar, and many of their branded t-shirts highlight Ohio. The company website features pictures of the clothing, modeled by Ballard's two-and-a-half year old daughter, Addy, who also has her own Instagram account. She is shown doing the "rap squat" pose in multiple pictures taken by Ballard.

"I'm silly like that. That's stuff that I just do," he said.

But Ballard's main focus is his business, and his goal is to have "a very cool bar."

Mission accomplished.