The Alive Guide to Campus Past (and Present)

Andy Downing

The most recent Other Columbus column from Scott Woods got us thinking about the ever-evolving face of campus, which has been documented exhaustively in the pages of Alive in recent years. Here's an extended reading list to catch you up on some of the places lost, along with those select mainstays that have managed to evade developers.

Gone but not forgotten

Bernie's Bagels & Deli closed in December 2015 after more than 40 years in business, forced out in the ongoing High Street development spearheaded by Campus Partners.

“If you go to Louisville, the campus area looks the same as it does in Indianapolis or Cincinnati or Columbus, like there’s a T-Mobile store and a Chase bank,” said Ryan Vile, who worked as a sound engineer at Bernie’s from 2001 to 2007. “At this point, instead of demolishing campus, you may as well just move it to Easton.”

While most of this 2017 oral history focuses on Dan Dougan’s late, loved Short North music venue Little Brother’s, it also offers glimpses into its campus-located predecessor, Stache’s, which casts as long a shadow as any venue ever established in the city.

Dan Dougan (former Stache’s and Little Brother’s owner): In 1988 I had a little money, and I wanted to do something. Peter Hermann ran Stache’s. Pete was this big, hulking guy. He looked like Pegleg Pete from [Mickey Mouse cartoons], except he had a colostomy bag instead of a wooden leg, and he had a thick, Russian-Jewish accent. He lived in Israel awhile, came to the states and somehow got enough money to buy out [previous Stache’s owner] Shelley Young. He tried to change the bar into a go-go club. He hated live music and walked around with a bullhorn and a golf club threatening people.

Marshall Crenshaw was at Stache’s one night. The place was packed. I’m at the bar and I say, “Hey, Pete. Put some gin in my gin and tonic.” And he says, “What are you bitching about? You just like to complain.” And I say, “Why don’t you smile tonight? At least you’re making money.” And he goes, “You think I’m making money? You buy the goddamn bar!” So I say, “How much you want?” He says, “What do you give me?”

I pull a number out my head. “50 grand.”

“You give me 25 tomorrow, the place is yours.”

I step outside, smoking a cigarette, trying to breathe. I look across the street at Dick’s Den and the sign says, “Why not?” I talked to Pete the very next day, but it took me about six months to put the deal together.

Reborn in a new neighborhood

In 2016, Used Kids, which had made its home on High Street for more than 30 years, departed campus and relocated to nearby Summit Street.

“Not having easy access to a vinyl place nearby will make it less likely for a lot of students who might potentially be into it to really get into vinyl,” said McPete, who pointed to a $5 cassette featuring psychedelic rock songs by Ohio garage bands as one of her more unique recent Used Kids discoveries. “High Street is such a magnet for students, and for prospective students and families who are visiting. Used Kids, whether you’re into vinyl or not, it’s interesting to go in there and check it out. Also, the people are super knowledgeable. It’s different from walking into a place like FYE where you’re like, ‘Yo, what’s the best format for this?’ And they’re like, ‘Let me call my manager.’”

Up in the air

The Blue Danube closed last summer amid ownership squabbles and major renovations plans. At the moment, it remains to be seen if the version of the diner that re-emerges will be true to its eclectic roots, or something more reflective of the polished-up modern campus.

In early June, Margetis and his cousin Jimmy Sicaris announced plans to lease the building to a new, as yet unnamed operator. The menu will be pared back, with a focus on home-cooked meals, including Greek dishes such as moussaka, spanakopita and pastitsio. The interior will be redone, new windows added, and the façade changed to brick or sandstone to match the original Dube design. Margetis wants to keep the Blue Danube name but isn’t clear if he or Swaim has the legal right to it.

“My main concern is not to fail,” Margetis told me that afternoon at Dick’s Den. “I’m scared to death. Because they make more money than some countries — OSU does, Campus Partners — and I don’t want to lose this on my watch, or I’d have to leave the city. Because everyone will kill me if I lose the Dube.”

Still going strong

Campus institution Buckeye Donuts is one place that hasn't been altered by development, as Alive documented in this 2016 cover story, which featured a running diary kept during 24 straight hours spent in the shop.

5:30 a.m. Another celebrated evening in Buckeye Donuts history didn’t actually unfold as depicted on television. When comedian Dave Attell swung by the shop with his TV show “Insomniac” in 2003, viewers were led to believe the visit occurred “around 1 or 2:30 in the morning,” Jimmy Barouxis said earlier in the day. But Attell and his camera crew actually arrived at 5:30 a.m., shortly before sunrise. “We waited and waited ... and we weren’t sure they were going to come at all,” Barouxis said. “Some people stayed. There were some campus celebrities, or campus characters. ‘Help Is on the Way’ was here; he was called the rapping bum. He was awesome. They filmed the show, and [Attell] said the place reminded him of a bus station.

Dick's Den, like Buckeye Donuts, has been untouched by development, as Alive documented in this 2016 oral history tracing the well-loved dive bar's existence.

Sondej: We had the old-time tavern guys, like Winchester Shorty, who was always saying, “Go piss up a rope!” Or George Wills, he ended up having throat cancer, so he had a tube going down his throat that he would pour the whiskey in. We were a shot and a beer bar. We always had the saying “If you shake it we don’t make it.” It’s sort of changed now. You have to deal with it, but back in those days it was: “If you shake it we don’t make it”; “Same-day service”; “Service with a sneer.” We had one can of mushroom soup [behind the bar], and we had it because the law said you had to have food. No one ever ordered it, but even if they had we wouldn’t have given it to them.

Documenting the change

In March 2016, developers and Old North residents sparred over redevelopment plans. Watching the bland, multi-use structures creep further north on High Street, it's clear which side is currently winning.

If that’s true, then where does campus truly end? ”How much farther can you keep pushing people? Where is all this character of Columbus going to go?” Motil asked. “Are we going to have five-, six- and seven-story apartment buildings lining High Street all the way up to Worthington?”

In 2018, Alive took a quick tour of the “new” High Street running adjacent to campus.

Within the last couple of years, a bevy of other onetime campus establishments disappeared from the now-scooter-laden stretch of High Street from Lane Avenue down to South Campus Gateway: Used Kids Records (now further north on Summit Street), Evolved Body Art (next to the new Used Kids), Bernie’s Bagels & Distillery (RIP), Johnny Go’s House of Music, Charleys and more. And it’s been 10 years (!) since the departure of Larry’s, which is now a Moe’s Southwest Grill; next to Moe’s is the brand-new Barbacoa Mexican Fusion & Bar (previously Rippers) where, on a recent stroll down High, an employee shouted $4 margarita specials at passersby.

At Woodruff Avenue is the View on High, another “luxury living” apartment complex with first-floor retail (Wendy’s, FedEx, GNC). The Wellington, a giant tan-on-bottom/brick-on-top Edwards Communities apartment complex anchored by a first-floor Target and Chick-fil-A, sits at 17th Avenue and High, burying any trace of Bernie’s.

More than a collection of buildings

The High Street of the past was shaped as much by the characters who populated the strip as the collection of bars, music venues and shops long-since shuttered, none perhaps more than Don Bovee, aka Don B, who performed his rendition of the “Batman” theme onstage hundreds (thousands?) of times before his death in 2017.

"[U2] came to town on May 24, and that's Don's birthday. Through The Other Paper, I made a serious but half-hearted effort because I thought it might be funny if Don got up onstage with U2. It took about one phone call to figure out ... nobody at [U2's record label] found that funny. So that didn't happen," Cole said. "But Don had it in his head he was going to do it, so we had to find a way to let Don down easy. And it turned out to be, 'Well, these guys are from Ireland, and over there they drink beer warm.' And Don did not want to have anything to do with people who drank beer warm."