Behind Bars: Seth Laufman at Blind Lady Tavern

Erica Thompson
Seth Laufman behind the bar at Blind Lady Tavern

Former Blind Lady Tavern bartender Alex Chien recently partook in the Most Imaginative Bartender competition. In the final round of the contest, spearheaded by the U.S. Bartenders' Guild, Chien faced off against nine other master mixologists in London.

He didn't take the title, but "according to sources, he was very close to winning," said Seth Laufman, owner of Blind Lady Tavern.

Chien, who started working at the Downtown bar in 2015, has since moved on. He will serve as bar manager for Watershed Distillery's full-service restaurant, opening in February.

But there are still plenty reasons to come to Blind Lady Tavern, including its rich history. It's reportedly the oldest bar in the state.

"There's a place in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that says they're the oldest, but just doing the math … it doesn't appear to be true," Laufman said.

That place would be Ye Olde Trail Tavern, which opened in 1847. However, Blind Lady Tavern was operating as a watering hole as early as 1831.

"There was a carriage section for travelers to park their carriages and horses," Laufman said.

For many years, the tavern was known as the Jury Room - "It was a place where court workers would come," Laufman said. In 2014, new management christened the establishment 1831 Tavern after receiving backlash for its first name, Balls, which referred to its specialization in meatballs.

When Laufman took over in August 2015, he only had to make minor changes to the vintage décor - "A little lipstick and rouge," he said - which includes a pressed-tin ceiling, striped walls and chandeliers.

The menu includes creative cocktails like the popular Jury Room, made with bourbon and blackberry purée, and Cajun-inspired dishes designed by Chef Danielle Leeman.

Unfortunately, running the business leaves Laufman little time for hobbies.

"It used to be golf and hockey, but that's since changed," said the Athens native, who studied sports administration at OU. After college, he got a job with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks before moving to San Francisco to work in the bar and restaurant industry.

"I learned a whole new world existed in food and cocktail culture," he said.

He returned to Ohio 10 years later. "I realized I would never own anything," he said of his time in the expensive West Coast city. Additionally, he wanted to be closer to family.

As for the future of Blind Lady Tavern, Laufman hopes to continually "churn out a product that people are excited about and return for," especially as the Downtown nightlife scene continues to grow.

If you're a newcomer, he recommends visiting Tuesday through Thursday, or on Saturday night.

"We do get busy but it's still not too much of a rush," he said. "People want to stay and hang out for a while."