Columbus Monthly’s 2023 Best New Bars (With Good Food)

Our top picks include a lovely lounge and patio from Wolf’s Ridge, an intimate gin and jazz bar in Short North and a family-friendly beer garden.

Erin Edwards
Columbus Monthly
Bean salad, Ahi tuna, pickled vegetables along with paloma at Understory, a lounge located in the Open Air building on Neil Avenue

Located in the wonderful Open Air building in Old North, Understory (2571 Neil Ave.) is a bit of a conundrum. Is this Wolf’s Ridge creation a bar with good food or a restaurant with great drinks? We’re landing on the former, because it’s the lovely libations that pull us there first. And the atmosphere. The Understory lounge offers a mix of bar seats, channel-tufted leather couches and blue chairs with a backdrop of windows looking into the woods. It’s here where beverage director Travis Owens puts his clever spin on classic cocktails: the scent of vetiver here, a garnish of peppery kinome leaf there and always a cerebral approach to mixology. Small plates like crispy shrimp, ahi tuna and pierogies are an added, delicious bonus.

If Understory lives among the woods, Ginger Rabbit (17 Buttles Ave.) is its burrowing cousin, a rare jazz lounge in Columbus that offers an underground respite from the streets of the Short North. This bar, run by chef BJ Lieberman and his wife, Bronwyn Haines, leans heavily into gin, with a variety of original cocktails, plus a handful of classics like a 1930s-era Remember The Maine or a rum-and-bubbles Air Mail. Food options include excellent conservas (tinned fish) with Dan the Baker bread, lobster rolls, olives, caviar and other spiffy snacks.

Finally, we head West for something totally different: Old Hilliard’s HillGarten Beer & Wine (4131 Main St.), a fun, German-leaning beer garden with a walk-up bar and plenty of space to stretch out. Here, you can watch the kids romp while you chomp a pretzel or bratwurst. Choose from 16 rotating draft beers by Ohio breweries such as Whitehall’s Two Tones, Cleveland’s Working Class Brewery and Marengo’s Hoof Hearted.

This story is from the 2023 Best New Restaurants package in the March 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.