Behind Bars: Brett Gregory at Two Dollar Radio HQ

Erica Thompson

Here are some facts about famous author Daniel Handler: He wrote “A Series of Unfortunate Events” under the pen name Lemony Snicket. He plays accordion. And he has a membership to Columbus-based Two Dollar Radio Headquarters, an indie bookstore, event space, bar and cafe.

“We've seen him order books from our website,” Two Dollar Radio HQ co-owner Brett Gregory said. “So [co-owner Eric Obenauf] sent him an e-mail … asking him if he'd write an original poem that we could put on our menu. And he responded within like two days. The only stipulation was that we didn't name a drink after him.”

The poem reads: “It has been said that liquor has the power to depress/The antidote is writing from an independent press.”

Two Dollar Radio was founded as an independent publisher in 2005 by Obenauf and his wife, Eliza. Gregory met Obenauf five years ago, but didn't know Obenauf owned Two Dollar Radio until he read about it inPoets & Writers Magazine. “I was like, ‘What the heck, why didn't you ever tell me?'” said Gregory, who is also an editorial and marketing assistant on the publishing side. “So I just asked if there were ways I could help.”

Gregory and the Obenaufs opened the headquarters on the South Side in September 2017, taking a DIY approach to the design. They built the bar out of recycled fence posts, the bar chairs from two-by-fours, and one table out of an attic's hardwood floor. They also painted the indoor mural, featuring a unicorn in sunglasses and the phrase “unicorn-level,” which has become an important description for their products.

“It's like this all-encompassing thing referring to the books that we offer, the food, the drinks and the experience,” Gregory said. “I would interpret it as like ‘transcending,' hopefully in a good way.”

The plant-based menu includes items like “Chick'n Bites,” made with wheat protein, and black bean brownies. Drinks include coffee, local drafts and colorfully named cocktails like “Bad & Boujee” and “Put a Ring on It.”

An eclectic mix of people are drawn by Two Dollar events, from interview panel discussions to magic shows. A poetry reading last November, featuring well-known names like Two Dollar Radio author and occasionalAlivecontributor Hanif Abdurraqib, sold 100 tickets.

“It was really cool to see the place packed and engaged in this reading,” Gregory said. “You feel like you're a part of something special.”

“I think we're still early in this concept,” Gregory continued. “I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. So I think the short-term goal is still just getting the word out there and making sure we're creating a unique culture or experience in a safe, friendly atmosphere.”