Behind Bars: Del Mar

Erica Thompson
Brendon DeWitt and Eaman Hai

“We don't even feel like we're in Columbus anymore.”

That's the feedback the staff has received from guests at Del Mar, the month-old SoCal restaurant in the Short North. Murals of sea life decorate the walls, seashells adorn shelves behind the bar and suitcases are stacked behind a makeshift ship railing above the open kitchen.

A dinner-by-the-sea experience wouldn't be complete without a mermaid, and she is anchored above the bar in all her glory.

“A lot of the stuff kicked around during orientation was based on Instagram-ability, if you will,” said bartender Brendon DeWitt, who helped open the Cameron Mitchell establishment. “There's a lot of places where you can get that Instagram factor, but that's all you really get. Here … it also translates to excellent food, excellent service and an awesome atmosphere.”

Though you can get swordfish, salmon and a popular Fisherman's Stew, Del Mar is not a seafood restaurant. Barbacoa Tacos bring a Baja flair to the menu, while Tuna and Salmon Pokes provide a taste of Hawaii.

“[We use] lighter cooking methods,” said manager Eaman Hai. “[We're] moving away from using so much cream and butter in all the sauces.”

Del Mar has also ditched the heavy juices for saline water in some of its creative cocktails, which include the Aloe, It's Me (fortified wine and aloe liqueur) and Tropicalia (vodka and fresh avocado).

“It's what you would want to drink if you were sitting somewhere on the beach in California,” DeWitt said.

A veteran bartender who helped open The Pearl a short walk away, DeWitt has spent a lot of time in warm climates. He lived in South Carolina and Florida, and served as a general manager of a restaurant group in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

He also spent time as a cowboy on a cattle ranch in Montana, and as a fisherman in Alaska.

“[From] an early age, I bartended and realized that this is something I could do anywhere,” he said. “It's like a common denominator amongst humans. Everybody's going to have a drink and everybody's going to need somebody to serve them one.”

Dewitt cites the “supportive” community as a benefit of working in the restaurant industry in Columbus. And residents have already showed up for Del Mar, which currently boasts a 4.6 rating on OpenTable.

“We've just seen the same people over and over,” Dewitt said.

“We had a group come in for graduation dinner, and then three of them were back yesterday for dinner, separately,” Hai said.

“That's the best proof that you can have that people are enjoying it, if they're coming back that quickly,” he continued. “It's been really fun and it hasn't slowed down at all, which is awesome. And we hope it never does, but that's up to us.”