Behind Bars: Nikki Simonin at Slammers

Erica Thompson

While waiting for a drink at Slammers Downtown, you'll likely notice one of the myriad tongue-in-cheek signs on the wall: “If you're drinking to forget, please pay in advance,” reads one. “We do not serve women, you must bring your own,” says another. And one of the most popular warns there will be no service for men without shoes or shirts, but for ladies, “no shirts” guarantee “free drinks.”

“I've had several women offer to take their shirt off,” bartender Nikki Simonin said. “It gets a little awkward at that point.”

Open since 1993, Slammers is Columbus' only operating lesbian bar and longest-running gay bar, according to Simonin. “But we pride ourselves very much on ‘all walks, one groove,'” she said.

Many patrons come for the pizza — the star of a menu that also includes subs, salads, appetizers and wraps. (Simonin recommends the Sicilian pie, including pepperoni, salami, ham, basil and Italian dressing.)

The bar has hosted weddings, birthday parties and graduations. There are trivia and karaoke nights every week, and a monthly comedy night will start in June. “Softball Sundays” bring in the bar's sports team — an accomplished group with a collection of trophies displayed throughout the establishment. An annual anniversary gathering draws old regulars.

“We're really good at big parties here,” said Simonin, who identified Pride as one of the bar's busiest events.

“We have a lot of tricks up our sleeve,” she said of this year's celebration. “It's gonna be bigger than it has been before.”

Festivities aside, Slammers is also a significant place for a community that may have trouble finding comfort elsewhere. “There's been people that have been coming here for the past 24 years and it is a safe space for them,” Simonin said. “They know what they're getting when they walk in the door.”

While Simonin refers to Slammers as her current “home,” she was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Baltimore. She studied nursing and worked with kids with chronic and terminal illnesses until her father died in 2009. “It was hard for me to be around sick people [after that],” she said. “So it was pretty life-changing. … I ended up in Columbus shortly thereafter and [I've worked] in the service industry since.”

Simonin wears a reminder of her durability in the form of a tattoo on the outside of her right arm that says, “Through pain comes strength.” On the inside is another tattoo of words her father wrote to her. And it's fitting that Simonin met the tattoo artist at Slammers.

“I've met my family here,” she said. “I met my future wife; I met my maid of honor; and 75 percent of our wedding party is made up from people that I've met [here]. I call [the] owner ‘mom' half the time. It's a really good place.”