First Look: Bodega's dramatic renovation was worth the wait

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

All terrible iPhone photography by the author

We've all been thinking the same two things since Bodega closed for renovations in early February. 1) The Short North just isn't the same without Bodega. 2) What the hell is taking so long?!

When I walked into Bodega for a private "soft launch" reopening on Sunday night, I saw immediately what the hell took so long. The much-loved beer bar's transformation is dramatic. It's not a new coat of paint. It's Bodega 2.0.

Most obviously, there is no bar where once there was. A classy polished woodtop bar now resides against the left wall upon entering. MIND. BLOWN. Taps that used to wrap around the full length of 'Dega's old bar now live in two tightly condensed rows. The tap handles are now uniform and wooden, rather than the usual mishmash of brands (so that draft list becomes a necessity).

While the craft beer craze has lead to an explosion in draft selections, Bodega continues to maintain one of the city's finest. You may find bigger - as larger-scale beer halls boast as many taps as they can fit - but you won't find many better. I counted 47 different beers on draft, and Bodega takes the curation of its list seriously. And they're upping their cocktail game, too.

Apart from the amazing shifting bar, the most striking thing about the space is how much more open it is. The old Bodega was great … if you were lucky enough to get a table. Table seating has been reduced to three larger tables along the right (where the old bar lived), one in the back and a couple in the corner near the new restroom entrance. The end result: Now you can pop into Bodega for a beer without needing to send friends ahead to stake out a claim.

Another wholesale change is the menu/food experience. An all-new, streamlined menu is available at a food-truck-style walk-up counter in the back.

Salads and sides are offered, but the stars are fried chicken and fish. I swiped a chicken leg from a friend, and it scratched the smoked-then-fried chicken taste I've been craving since Ray Ray's Wing Shack closed at Ace of Cups. (Former chef Marcus Meacham has departed for the soon-to-open Kraft House #5 in Powell, though he got the ball rolling on these menu changes.) A full copy of the menu is below.

The change is so dramatic, it's sure to be jarring for former patrons - if you don't do well with change, you can sit on the patio and pretend you're back in time.

Overall, Bodega 2.0 is a solid update. It looks like their operating system will run more smoothly than ever.