Wolf’s Ridge to Open Understory, a Reception Venue and Restaurant, in Old North Columbus
The Downtown Columbus brewery owners will open a second event space and restaurant in the renovated Open Air building this fall.
After sitting nearly empty for decades, the former Open Air School at 2571 Neil Ave. in Old North Columbus will soon reopen as a café, bar and event space. The folks at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing will breathe new life into the building, which has also housed administrative offices for Columbus City Schools in the years since the school closed.
“It’s a really cool space that works well with our business and things that are really important to us,” says Bob Szuter, who co-owns Wolf’s Ridge with his father, Alan Szuter. “People have come to us, looking to do things in the Short North and Easton, and things like that. Nothing fit what we wanted to do. … We’ve always tried to get closer to nature.”
The new concept, dubbed Understory for the layer of a wooded area between the canopy and the forest floor, will have plenty of connections to nature, Szuter says.
“Being adjacent to the [Olentangy] Trail is really perfect. It gives us access to people that are interested in biking and running and hiking and whatever along the trail, and puts us literally in the woods there,” he notes. “So when we saw the property and really just got a feel for what could be done, it just made a lot of sense.”
This was no snap decision made amid a challenging year for restaurants and event spaces alike, however. Kelley Cos., the site’s developers, first approached the Wolf’s Ridge team about the space in 2018. Szuter and his father turned down the opportunity at the time, as they were focusing on building out what is now the Hickory Room taproom and event space adjoining the Downtown restaurant and brewery. When the owners decided the timing was right to expand this year, Szuter reached out to restart the conversation.
The desire to form a connection to nature, Szuter says, has a long history in his family.
“My dad and I have always gravitated toward that type of an experience,” he says. “When we started Wolf's Ridge, I was really excited about being part of the Downtown resurgence. … There was a lot of excitement around urban experiences and creating new things in old buildings and stuff like that, which is still fun, but we've always missed that nature element.”
The lower levels of the building will serve as public spaces, with a cocktail lounge and a fast-casual café designed to be accessible for those using the Olentangy Trail.
The event space on the upper level will have its own entrance that will be ADA-compliant, thanks to an elevator, and will accommodate around 100 or 130 guests. In-house catering and, of course, bar offerings will be in line with what clients might find at Downtown’s Hickory Room … at least to start, says Emily Stenger, who will handle events booking at Understory.
“As we start going and get a feel for things, they’ll come up with their own menu for the space,” she explains. The event space will include a terrace to reinforce the concept’s connection to nature.
Understory is now booking for October 2021 and beyond. Plans are in place to begin opening the public dining spaces in November; see additional reporting on that aspect from our sister publication, Columbus Alive.