Behind Bars: Kileen Lehman at The Light of Seven Matchsticks

Erica Thompson
Kileen Lehman

The opening notes of 1920s jazz song “The Charleston” can induce anxiety or excitement in the staffers at The Light of Seven Matchsticks, depending on their state of preparedness. As the first track on the nightly music playlist at the new speakeasy-style bar — located below Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza — it signals the start of service, whether the staffers are ready or not.

The song also represents fun; it recently served as the soundtrack for a silly video (see the company Facebook page) capturing a “Snuggie Monday,” when the staff comes to the bar in pajamas to brainstorm ideas for the business. It's a different experience compared to general manager Kileen Lehman's previous job.

“I'd been working in a corporate restaurant and loved the business but it just gets a little stale,” Lehman said. “You don't get to create.”

Before co-owner Natalie Jackson brought Lehman on board — the women met at Marietta College years ago — the space was being used as a storage area and green room for bands performing upstairs. Prior to that, it had housed six other businesses, including a bar said to have drawn Perry Como and Dean Martin. Lehman likes to joke that Martin's ghost hangs around, as the staff has witnessed items mysteriously falling off the shelf and the kitchen door moving on its own.

But during business hours patrons are always comfortable and upbeat, whether they are slipping drink orders through the mail slot — there's a secret knock involved, too — or talking among themselves in the green velvet booths. The bar is also a library of sorts.

“All of the menus are tucked into adventure books,” Lehman said, pointing out examples like “The Swiss Family Robinson” and “White Fang.” (The bar itself is named for a book featured in the Wes Anderson film “Moonrise Kingdom.”)

Favorites like the barbecue Korean ribs are always available, but people can find temporary specials on the “secret menus” tucked into the books' checkout-card slots.

Lehman likes to think that the adventures extend beyond the books, as customers are venturing out of their comfort zone in the bar. “A lot of people say when they're down here that they don't even feel like they're in Columbus anymore,” she said.

Patrons have the opportunity to experience new things, like the “Garlic is Better than Seven Mothers” cocktail, made with gin and, yes, black garlic.

Lehman, who doesn't have a craft cocktail background, admits it's intimidating to compete with highly regarded bars like Mouton and Curio at Harvest.

“Maybe I won't know some very complicated recipe or the newest techniques that are happening, but I can have a good conversation with you and I can engage with you,” she said, stressing the appeal of the environment. “Every day I feel like I'm hosting a party.”