House of blues
The Dolphin Lounge has been a mecca for live music in Gahanna since it began hosting blues jams in 1984. Even Slowhand has made the pilgrimage -- Eric Clapton gave an impromptu performance there a few years back -- and local blues favorites including Ray Fuller, Frank Harrison and Patrick McLaughlin have graced the Dolphin's stage.
"We've had a lot of different people come through here that are legends in Columbus," said owner Laurie Ebright. "We're [Columbus'] best-kept secret. I don't think a lot of people know we're here but the talent still flows in and out of here."
Laurie's mother, Nancy, owned and managed the Dolphin Lounge for 34 years until her death a year ago. Since then, Laurie has taken over and maintains the traditions started by her mom, including the popular blues jam, emceed by family friend and bluesmaster Rick Boals.
"I still wanted to keep my mom's vibe to keep her spirit alive in here," Laurie said. "My mom has built this bar; I'm just carrying on her tradition. She left it to me because she knew I would keep it running and keep the live music."
Nancy was always an avid supporter of live music and often made the stage available for amateurs as well as pros. Even if somebody was having a tough night, she would encourage them and make sure they knew they were always welcome back, Laurie said.
When Clapton stopped by to play, Nancy couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about, considering the homegrown talent that can always be found performing at the Dolphin.
"She's always supported live music no matter who it was. We're known as a blues place, but it could be any kind of music," Laurie said.
That appreciation of classic sounds extends to the Dolphin's design, with a jukebox that plays 45s, velvet paintings on the wall and lava lamps strewn about. The venue was laid out with both patrons and musicians in mind -- the stage is visible from almost anywhere. The raised bar with leather arm cushions completes an atmosphere that recalls the heyday of rock 'n' roll.
"It is just a friendly place," Laurie said, noting that the only change she's made is opening earlier for happy hour, to extend the laid-back vibe. "It is just a nice neighborhood place that everyone feels welcome coming in, and you feel good coming back."
345 Agler Rd., Gahanna
Hours:6 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday