Bodega in Columbus, Ohio

Barkeep by | Aug 2015 | Issue #103

Photo by Nathan Ward

Columbus, Ohio’s Short North neighborhood didn’t used to be the kind of place you’d find an excellent beer bar and neighborhood spot like Bodega. Patron Tony Keels remembers 30 years ago when crime ruled High Street’s strip. “[It was] kind of rough and crazy back in the old days,” the 52-year-old security specialist says. “Now it’s the place to be. What’s great is the cast of characters that come into Bodega. Gay and straight, suit-and-tie and street folk. The staff is just as diverse.”

But thanks to places like Bodega, The Short North is a revitalized district today. Outside, the 50-seat patio offers superb people watching on North High Street. Inside a long bank of windows, Bodega serves up 47 beers from sleek, stained wood tap handles at a rustic wooden bar. You’ll find Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist Sassy Cougar and Athens-based Jackie O’s Really Really Nelson as well as staples from the likes of New Belgium, Weyerbacher and Westbrook. Both 32- and 64-ounce growlers are available to go for most drafts.

Beverage director Josh Phillips aims for a 50-50 split between Ohio and non-Ohio breweries. But for one event, he took the local beer focus one step further. “I asked my local brewers to make a special beer that would only be served here,” Phillips says. “We ended up with 20 breweries committed; two to three kegs were released every day for nine days. It was a crazy week and completely worth it.”

As a Short North resident, restaurateur Brian Swanson often found himself at Bodega. When its owners were looking to sell, “I jumped on it,” says Swanson, who took ownership of the spot this past January. And his goal to provide “the neighborhood with something more than your average tavern” seems to be working. He cherishes his open-minded customers who are willing to indulge in things like Russian Imperial Stouts and the revamped menu with a Thai peanut bowl and pork belly nachos alongside traditional pub fare like burgers and fish and chips. On the weekend brunch menu, a suggested beer pairing accompanies each item, like coffee Stout with the house-smoked fried chicken and buttermilk waffle. And at the weekly Toast and Jams event on Saturdays, customers dine to a live DJ.

Both Keels and Phillips rave about Bodega’s daily happy hour (half off drafts from 4–8 p.m.), the latter calling it a way for “beer geeks to finally try that hard-to-find brew they’ve been searching all over town for.”

In fact, for beer obsessives like Keels in Ohio’s capital city, Bodega is something more: a place where he can dig deeper into beer with other people who have a thirst, so to speak, for that very same knowledge. “I have learned so much about beer from Bodega,” he says. “First I have learned to try beer, and share my experience. I have also learned to try local beer wherever I travel [and] I share my findings [with friends at Bodega] when I get back.”