Best of the Burbs: A day in Westerville

Jim Fischer
Otterbein University

With its run of brick storefronts situated comfortably adjacent to Colonial-style civic buildings, Westerville has retained some of its traditional Midwestern town appeal. But tucked within those storefronts are some solid contemporary eats and cool shops, enough to give Westerville's Uptown a trendy neighborhood vibe, too. Tattoo and skateboard shops sit alongside Amish furniture and Catholic bookstores.

This burb also has its share of modern strip centers connecting a plethora of housing subdivisions, not to mention its geographical connections to North Columbus and Polaris, but, thanks in part to Hoover Reservoir and Otterbein University, Westerville is also blessed with unique, standalone businesses and plenty of nightlife and arts options.

For my day in Westerville, I opted to stay in Uptown, finding a place to park on a side street and walking to my destinations, so this entry won't include the European flavor of Inniswood Metro Gardens, the city's terrific bike trails and the disc golf course at Hoover Reservoir.

Depending on when you're starting your day might determine whether you want to begin or end it atJava Central (20 S. State St.), a comfy coffee shop with a bustling front section and a cozy back room where owner Ralph Denick hosts live music and poetry readings on a regular basis, including Friday acoustic open mic nights and Saturday gigs by singer-songwriters, bluegrass bands, vocal ensembles and, occasionally, jazz from the Columbus Jazz Orchestra's Byron Stripling and Bobby Floyd.

A couple doors down from Java Central isSchneider's Bakery (6 S. State St.), which hasn't changed much in the 30 or so years since I made late-night doughnut runs while a student at Otterbein then-College. Consider this a good thing, and enjoy some treats from this hometown-y bakery. (Make sure you're carrying cash.)

When I first came to Westerville in the mid-1980s, it was still a dry town - a nod to its history as the center of the Temperance movement. (Don't believe me? Check with Ken Burns.) Indeed, it's been only a decade or so since the city's businesses could sell alcohol. So, for a cool dichotomy of sorts, visit theAnti-Saloon League Museum (110 S. State St.) and thenUptown Deli, home toTemperance Row Brewing(41 N. State St.).

The Anti-Saloon League Museum is open and staffed six days a week, primarily during daytime hours. It's housed in the home that was donated to the League that served as its national headquarters - yes, national headquarters - during the early 1900s. Rotating exhibits tell the story of the League's efforts to promote and lobby for prohibition, staffer Nina Thomas told me. Walk-ins are always welcome, but Thomas admitted that most of the museum's traffic comes in the form of requests for documents or other information from teachers or researchers, arriving from all over the world. It might be an odd thing for which to be known, but this is history and right in your midst.

It's not quite a half-mile walk from the museum to Uptown Deli and Brew, a well-appointed and unassuming spot in the center of uptown Westerville. Artisanal sandwiches and subs made with fresh deli meats and cheeses and accompanied by house chips are the general order of the day. Corned beef, pastrami, mortadella, prosciutto and roast beef are all prominently featured. This is also the place to get brewmaster Scott Francis' well-crafted Temperance Row brews (my favorite is the Scofflaw Scottish Ale).

Wrapping up my trip to uptown Westerville was a tour throughOtterbein University'sart galleries, courtesy Museum & Galleries Director Janice Glowski. Which is not to say you need a guided tour of the art. The university has three larger dedicated spaces, Glowski told me, each with a different focus.Fisher Galleryin Roush Hall(27 S. Grove St.) is currently showing the work of Indian folk artist Sonabai, whose backstory makes her art all the more compelling.The Frank Museum of Art (39 S. Vine St.) is the former home of Lillian Frank, a past chair of the art department at Otterbein. The focus here is global art and pieces from the university's permanent collection.Miller Gallery (33 Collegeview Rd.) is a traditional white-box space that hosts faculty and student art exhibitions.

Pro tip: Otterbein's theater program is one of the nation's most respected, so check and see if anything's on stage that you shouldn't miss, since you'll already be there.