Behind Bars: John Lynch of Rambling House Soda

Erica Thompson

If you're in the Old North neighborhood, you can identify Rambling House Soda by the giant green and yellow vinyl mural, which hangs on the side wall facing Indianola Avenue.

But about eight years ago, the wall bore an "Ohio for Obama" mural that Rambling House owner John Lynch and his sister painted. After purchasing the building, previously a pub and then a Catholic church, Lynch leased the space to the President Obama campaign for about a year. Afterwards, he developed the Rambling House Soda brand and opened the bar in January 2014.

"It's kinda awesome that [the bar] started that way because … we're really politically involved," said Lynch, who worked as a constituent aide for Ted Strickland in Washington, D.C., when the former Ohio governor served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rambling House has hosted fundraisers for Strickland and Mayor Ginther.

"Jerry Springer was here a few months ago raising money for the Ohio Democratic Party," Lynch said.

While one wouldn't immediately associate progressive politics with bluegrass music, Lynch's goal is to make Rambling House the go-to spot for the genre in Columbus. And he's been pretty successful. Musicians consistently perform Wednesday through Saturday.

"We really have tried to create a place where musicians really enjoy coming and playing," he said. "The bar hires the sound guy, the bar hires the door guy … [and] you get to keep 100 percent of the door."

Additionally, each Sunday, 15 to 20 musicians come in and play in an "Old-Time Jam" featuring music that precedes even bluegrass. Lynch plans to live-stream performances in the near future.

Rambling House's decor also recalls days gone by. Among the decorative barrels and wood furniture are an approximately 100-year-old pump organ and a silver-painted back-bar mirror that dates from the 1800s.

Of course, Rambling House is most known for its craft drinks, including Sarsaparilla root-beer, Columbus Cola, Lemon Lime and the popular Ginger Beer, which requires "hundreds of pounds of ginger" each week. Lynch learned brewing techniques working days at Elevator Brewery while attending Capital University Law School at night.

Lynch's grandmother Madi's Midnight Chocolate Cake is no longer on the menu - "The staff was eating it all," he said - but it will be replaced this week by new floats using Bexley-based Johnson's Real Ice Cream.

When he's not playing basketball or running on the Olentangy Trail, Lynch is kept busy by his wife and kids - a 17-month-old and a second boy due any day. He will offer more community-focused activities, like an "Antique Roadshow"-type event with the Ohio Historical Society and a rock-climbing-themed event with Clintonville Outfitters.

"It is really neat to have people come in and say you've made the neighborhood better," Lynch said.