Since moving to Columbus, Ohio a little over a year ago, Kyle and I try to visit a new-to-us place to eat, drink, or be merry every weekend. Columbus is in the midst of a restaurant bubble with trendy bars and eateries opening every month, so it’s hard to keep up. Last weekend we found ourselves visiting three new-to-us places in one evening. For a group of twenty-somethings that likes to have their nightcaps around nine thirty on a Friday night, this was not only surprising but an accomplishment.
Lately, I’d been hearing a lot of talk about the recently opened Buckeye Bourbon House. I read about its chic location and moody vibe in a historic hotel in multiple foodie magazines, so I made reservations for after-dinner drinks. Our group of six was made up of two scotch and bourbon experts, two general whiskey enthusiasts, one newly enamored student of the drink, and one trying to ease back into the pungent libation. The Buckeye Bourbon house boasts over fifty “curated rare whiskeys” along with an assortment of craft cocktails; it seemed perfect for a group of people who love not only the drink, but the experience.
It was just okay.
The Buckeye Bourbon House starts out with a bang. Soaring ceilings with elegant molding, ambient light, antique style furniture and games, with marble and leather details: the space radiates vintage class. Unfortunately, the utilization of the space is the best thing about Buckeye Bourbon House. Whether at a winery, a craft brewery, or a specialty cocktail lounge, you almost always rely on your server for recommendations and guidance. Often, you’re ordering drinks with flavor profiles and ingredients with which you are unfamiliar like, “dehydrated juniper moon beams” or “tears of a mildly depressed unicorn.”
At Bourbon House, Cassie, wanting to explore a wide range of whiskey flavors, asked for guidance from our server. He had nothing to offer. Under pressure to order, she instead relied on those more familiar with whiskey at our table to point her in various directions. Similarly, the bar sent over what was supposed to be a Sazerac and was instead a miscellaneous pour. The waiter couldn’t tell the difference. Finally, the cocktails were below average. What was supposed to be a fizzy, bourbon-filled, foamy, slightly sweet drink turned out to be a tepid, flat, watery concoction that tasted like it had been at the party for too long. Disappointed in the overall service and quality, we moved on after one drink.
Most Columbus locals will already be familiar with our next stop: Tip Top Diner. Hungry and eager to forget all the money we just spent, we waddled across the street to Tip Top. Eccentric, cheap, and with a great playlist that floats between 1990s hip-hop and 1950s crooners, Tip Top is exactly what tipsy stomachs everywhere want. The grilled cheese was a revelation and the french fries with queso was, some might say, life-changing. The service was fast and friendly and both the drinks’ prices and names feel like college. Once we had our fill of shoe-string fries, we went in search of some live music.
North of campus, just past the UDF, you’ll see an unassuming concrete building. There’s a yellow lamp illuminating one of it’s walls. Painted dark green with white lettering, with a banjo and a fiddle, the wall reads: Rambling House. Rambling House is well known by the localvores for their homemade sodas. Locally conscientious bars in town will serve their cocktails made with Rambling House Soda, so we were familiar with them, but had never been to the actual location. While the soda making operation outgrew the building, Rambling House still hosts live music Tuesday thru Sunday, with a special focus on traditional and roots genres. The interior of the space is small, warm and welcoming. There’s a collection of worn-in sofas and seats, as well as a beautiful stained glass bar-back which gives the space a shabby Victorian feel. There’s a five dollar cover charge but only on Friday and Saturday nights, and only after eight in the evening; that was the only drawback with arriving around ten on a Saturday night. Rambling House serves a range of mixed drinks – with their specialty sodas – and a good selection of local beer on draft. It’s probably not a great place for a first date, as it’s hard to talk, but it’s a good place to relax and enjoy music in a cozy environment.
After a great night of bourbon, french fries, and homemade soda, and very proud that we’d stayed out so late, we still managed to be home and tucked-in by midnight.