Secret Columbus: Shopping and Dining Hidden Gems

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Columbus Architectural Salvage, a dusty mashup of decades, resembles Home Depot overstock from the last 200 years.

They tower above Columbus. They're buried beneath it. They're unseen even though they're right under our noses. Columbus is full of hidden gems. Some are threatened by the ravages of time, but others are thriving spaces where in-the-know culture vultures, foodies and history buffs flock. How many of our 37 city secrets do you know-and how many will you discover for the first time?

20th Century Thrift Store

Columbus Architectural Salvage, a dusty mashup of decades, resembles Home Depot overstock from the last 200 years. With education in architecture and history and a gig managing the city's historic districts, Chris Sauer, owner of this thrift store for wood trim, lighting fixtures, cast-iron pieces and antique door handles, is uniquely qualified to hawk historical wares. Sauer, who buys the rights to salvage pieces from soon-to-be-demolished buildings, will keep an eye out for specific pieces for patrons who call with a request. His advice to steampunk fans, home remodelers and Pinterest-project fanatics is simple: "If you find something you're interested in, you should probably buy it."

Modern-Day Speakeasy

Descend the correct set of stairs at the Worthington Inn, and you'll end up in the wine room. Some evenings, when the timing is right, the room is occupied by candles, jazz and well-dressed patrons enjoying handcrafted cocktails by mixologist Cris Dehlavi. It has a name-Ezra's-but not a sign. This members-only soiree is hosted by Dehlavi and House Wine's Donnie Austin, who greets guests at the door. A $30 membership fee awards two hours of never-repeated cocktails. "It was a total experiment, the first one," Dehlavi says. The monthly invite now comes two weeks in advance of the event and is aimed at patrons of House Wine and M at Miranova, where Dehlavi tends bar.

Tiny Venue, Big Acts

In the alley-lined patchwork quilt of industrial, commercial and residential properties next to Grandview is the Tree Bar, an almost impossible-to-find watering hole with craft beer, nationally touring bands and the shellacked remnants of a silver maple tree that once divided the room. The intimate space (and a little gas money) attracts acts that need a place to stop between big-venue gigs. Kyle Sowash, dental hygienist by day and Tree Bar booking agent by night, remembers his first visit well. After getting directions, he says, "I found my way in and fell in love with the wood paneling."

Cocktails by Code Word

There are bourbons so rare that just a precious few end up here, for those in the know. Sought-after spirits join house-made limoncello and obscure Japanese whiskeys on the word-of-mouth menu at Giuseppe's Ritrovo. But they take some effort to access. "Work your way into the skin and bones of the bar," bartender Sean Ward advises. "You've gotta do some gnawing." At Curio at Harvest, the captain's list is more concrete. A leatherbound book under a bronze owl-a sign of bad luck, Italian patrons tell owner Travis Owens-holds the bar's secrets. Choose something from Haus Alpenz. Or try the Tang drink. We won't tell.,

South Side Sausage

Within a small brick building visible but easy to overlook at Greenlawn Avenue and Interstate 71 is the timeless counter of 128-year-old Thurn's Meats. Visit Thursday through Saturday, and you can order things not readily found elsewhere. Albert Thurn, a fourth-generation butcher, works in the room behind the counter, smoking meat, creating Alsatian sausages (cervelat), blood head cheese and, as he puts it, "very good bacon." With waits out the door and a newfound young clientele gleaned from the Internet, the family does its thing the same way they've been doing it since 1886. "We don't advertise much, but we get all the business we want. I guess," Thurn says, "that makes us a gem."

An Incognito Spa

Across from Topiary Park's east entrance is an immaculate brick 1890 Italianate house ringed by a quaint wrought-iron fence. In a sense, a family still lives here. "We're a family-owned business, and a house is a great representation of that," says Deja Redman, co-owner with her mother, Wauvette Duncan, and sister Chanelle Redman of Replenish, a spa that has occupied the house for about a year. Clients get facials and massages on the second floor in former bedrooms that have been converted to treatment rooms; they still have the soaring ceilings and elaborate fireplaces of the original house. "You get this experience that's so completely different than other places, but what's surrounding you are everyday things that can inspire you," Redman says. The carriage house is used for donation-based yoga classes.

Bookworm's Delight

At the Library Store inside the Columbus Metropolitan Library's main branch Downtown, you'll find much more than books for sale. For the book-obsessed, there are T-shirts, books, toys, accessories (like an irresistible "Jane Eyre" zippered pouch) and even books about books. The store got a big facelift and a new attitude this year. "A lot of people who walked by it didn't know it was there. It was really full of books, and it had this clubby old-library feel. We wanted to brighten it up and make it more light and roomy," says Lara Oliver, past president of Friends of the Library. Best of all, all profits from the store, which is operated by Friends of the Library, are spent on library programming.

Feast in Aisle Two

Down narrow aisles past Thai DVDs, marinated baby milkfish and containers of fried garlic is a restaurant just four tables deep. Camouflaged by signage from a former time (Mexican or Cambodian fare, anyone?), Westgate Thai is hard to find. But people do-including a guy who visits on business from New York City. -They come for passed-down-from-grandma Thai food cooked by Mali Smith and served by her family in spice increments ranging from one to 12. "Anything that's above five," says her husband and co-owner, Gary Smith, "is like putting a match in your mouth." Stay long enough, and an off-the-menu dessert may be offered. If it's Tapioca Corn Pudding, don't turn it down. 3201 Sullivant Ave., Westgate, 614-725-5660