Behind Bars: Michael Jenkins at Char Bar

Erica Thompson

On any given night, the clientele in the Arena District's Char Bar can include everyone from service workers who come in after their shifts to people from random wedding parties. Additionally, there's always spillover from the Greater Columbus Convention Center, which hosts a variety of groups, including funeral directors, dentists and Arnold Sports Festival-goers.

"I have some regulars that I see once or twice a year for a couple of days," said longtime bartender Michael Jenkins.

And he can always tell when NHL teams are in town by what he calls the "hockey-razzi," or hockey fans that congregate by the "No Parking" sign outside.

Aside from athletes, Char Bar also attracts its fair share of celebrities like Kiefer Sutherland, who played a show in Columbus earlier this year.

"The guy was just an absolute, true gentleman and talked to me and the customers like regular people and got me tickets to his show," Jenkins said.

A Barry Manilow impersonator also stopped by about two years ago.

"A lot of famous and quasi-famous people feel like they can maintain a sense of anonymity while in here … without being too bothered," Jenkins said.

While the customers fluctuate, the bar has remained consistent - with the exception of things like new carpeting and an updated jukebox - during Jenkins' nearly 20-year stint.

"It's a very 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' type of mentality," he said.

The building is modestly sized, though the strategic placement of mirrors creates the illusion of depth. There are the typical amenities: arcade games, pool and darts. The red walls are covered in the standard alcohol ads and bar memorabilia, including Jenkins' souvenir check fromAlive, which named him best bartender in 2007.

Customers often get lost looking for the bathroom downstairs, Jenkins said. On their way, they must pass a keyless piano, which many believe is haunted.

"We've actually had some professional ghost hunters in here before," Jenkins said.

The bar is known for its signature long island iced tea, but edible refreshments are limited.

"Chips, peanuts, pretzels and beef jerky is [the extent of] our menu," he said and explained that focusing solely on the booze has helped keep the bar in business.

But the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, native could show off skills in the kitchen if needed. Prior to Char Bar, he worked in Arena District restaurants like the since-closed Damon's and Max & Erma's.

Jenkins attributes his lengthy time at the bar to the respectful owners and "the fact that I don't have to wear a nametag," he said. And he's proud that the place has a "neighborhood" feel in a district that is criticized for being too "touristy."

"There's a lot of people that will pop in and just embrace that warm feeling … and say, 'Yeah, this is just like my bar back home,'" Jenkins said.