Changing One Corner

When I first started working at the law firm, more than 30 years ago, the lot at the western corner of Gay and High Streets in downtown Columbus was occupied by some kind of five and dime store.  It may have been a Woolworth’s, it may have been a Kresge’s, but there was a building and business there where I bought some small item, once.

I only went there once, because very soon after I made my purchase the building was torn down and the lot was paved over for parking.  It was one of the last gasps of the Columbus urban craze for demolishing old buildings that left the core area of downtown a veritable wasteland of ugly surface parking lots.  The preponderance of parking lots gave the center of downtown a kind of sad, scarred feel that made you wonder whether the area would ever be revived.

But slowly, over the past decade, many the surface lots are being replaced with buildings.  Some of the buildings are pure residential developments, many are mixed-use concepts with retail on the ground floor, office space above, and residential at the top, and a few purely commercial buildings have been constructed, too.  And some of the commercial buildings with parking lots have been converted into something that is much more interesting — like the former tire and lube business a few blocks from the firm that was turned into a cool bar, with its former parking lots becoming fenced-in outdoor seating areas complete with fire pits and games and food truck space.

And now the big, long-empty lot at the corner of Gay and High has finally joined this welcome trend.  Work has been ongoing for a while now, and as the picture with this post indicates, it’s getting close to being done.  It’s a huge project that is one of those mixed-use developments, and the buildings look pretty cool — and are much preferable to the grim asphalt expanse that we’d been looking at for years.  We’re now wondering what business might move into the ground floor options, and are hoping they will add to the buzz on Gay Street — for some years now the coolest street in downtown Columbus largely because the original buildings on the block between High Street and Third Street somehow survived the wrecking ball.

After more than three decades, our little part of the world is being reconfigured.  Scratch another surface parking lot and substitute something more attractive and vibrant and hopefully a harbinger of more to come.  Our downtown is on the move, one parking lot at a time, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

Advertisements

The Random Restaurant Tour (XX)

The Ringside Bar & Grill is one of the oldest establishments in Columbus, dating back to 1897.  Also known to those of us of a certain age as Clem’s — the name of the gruff, cigar-chomping boxing fan sitting at the bar who ran the place for years — it’s a modest brick structure in Pearl Alley, tucked in behind the Rhodes Tower and the other buildings fronting Broad Street.

These days the Ringside is also one of the unlucky businesses shrouded by the massive scaffolding apparatus surrounding the Rhodes Tower, where lots of exterior work is being done.  The Ringside has exercised a little self help, decorating the concrete abutments for the scaffolding to direct patrons to the front door and hanging signs on the scaffolding itself to remind people that the Ringside, and the other restaurants in the alley, remain open for business.

Yesterday a group of us decided to hit the Ringside on a rainy day.  Inside, the place is a snug joint that has the warmth and pleasant feel of an Irish pub, with the kitchen on one side, the polished wooden bar on another, a row of wooden booths against the wall, and some tables in the middle.  I always feel right at home at the Ringside.

And the place always serves a very fine burger, too.  Yesterday I went for the patty melt, and I got a piping hot, juicy burger on crunchy toast, dripping with melted cheese and sauteed onions, served with kettle chips.  It was excellent, and left me well nourished for the afternoon’s work.  I hope patrons don’t let the scaffolding deter them — the Ringside is right there where it always has been, ready to dish out one of the very best burgers in downtown Columbus.

Scooter Dodging

Urban Columbus has taken to rent-a-scooters like a duck takes to water. Every day you see dozens of people zipping down streets, in bikes lanes or on sidewalks, looking super cool because that’s how people on scooters inevitably look.

There’s just one problem: pedestrians. We poor downtown walkers have been reduced to the status of scooter dodgers, having to pick our way around scooters left willy-nilly on sidewalks, in front of business doorways, or wherever those ultra-cool scooters rider choose to abandon them. And because those sophisticated scooterites apparently can ride the scooters wherever they want, including sidewalks, we walkers have to be especially vigilant — because the scooter users are too busy being cool to pay much attention. Already I’ve had two close calls — one when a scooter rider zipped past at about 10 mph just as I was coming to a corner and we luckily missed a collision by inches, and the other when the rider turned a corner and I was able to dodge without a second to spare. In each case I got a breezy “sorry!” as the rider rocketed on his merry way.

I’m all for downtown Columbusites getting their coolness quotient up to the maximum level, and I do think scooters fill an urban transportation niche — which is why they’ve instantly become popular. But can the cool contingent at least take care in operating the scooters, and show some consideration for the rest of us in where they leave them?

August Toadstools?

Here’s a visible sign of just how unbelievably wet this August has been — a bumper crop of ugly toadstools has sprouted in Schiller Park.  A few days ago I jokingly posted about all of the rain we’ve been getting, and wondered whether the next thing we would see was mushrooms — and now they’re here, effectively mocking my idle attempt at humor.

Toadstools, in the middle of what is traditionally one of the hottest, driest months of the year?  I almost hesitate to ask this, but what’s next now — snow?

The Random Restaurant Tour (XIX)

Sometimes, you only need to look at a menu to determine whether a place is likely to be good, or bad.  When it comes to a BBQ joint, you’re looking for a menu that is brief, and preferably written on the wall rather than on laminated menus that are handed out to patrons.  That’s because, if you’re turning out the highest quality barbecue, it’s got to be the exclusive focus of your efforts.  You can’t be wasting time worrying about creating new salads, special soups, or other, lesser items.

Yesterday we ventured out of the downtown area to try the offerings of Smoked on High.  I’d heard about SoH from several friends and the word of mouth was very strong, so when the Red Sox Fan suggested yesterday that we give it a shot I was all for it.  We drove, because it was pelting down rain — a daily occurrence this August — and SoH is located just south of downtown on High Street, in a converted house located on the border between German Village and the Brewery District.

SoH passed the BBQ menu test with flying colors.  According to the options posted on the wall on the entrance to the order area, you can choose from brisket, pork, chicken, or ribs, a handful of sides, and three sauce options.  Oh, and yesterday chili was available as a special.  It was a visible demonstration of commitment to barbecue, and nothing but.

Of course, I went for the brisket sandwich, with mac n’ cheese and cornbread as sides.  When I ordered the brisket the cook pulled a virgin slab out of the oven, glistening with a great char, and sliced it up for my sandwich.  I was given my food, had decided to try the spicy and mustard and vinegar sauces, had paid for the combo, and was headed to my seat in a few seconds.  The speed was appreciated, because after looking at the meat I was definitely eager to dig in.

The sandwich was terrific — the meat was awesome, and the Red Sox Fan aptly noted that the bun was appropriately substantial to hold up against the weight of the meat piled on it — and the mac n’ cheese and cornbread were delectable, too.  Although it was a very close call, I decided I prefer the mustard and vinegar sauce.

Smoked on High is a short drive from downtown, but it’s also just a short walk from our house in German Village.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to become a regular.

Rainy August

Normally, August is one of the hottest months of the year. It’s typically the month when your lawn dries out and finally gives up the ghost, and you squirm with embarrassment when your neighbors arch an eyebrow at the carpet of brownness.

Not this year, though. We’re in the midst of the wettest August I can remember, where you need to carry your umbrella every day just in case another gullywasher is going to roll through town. We had a big cloudburst this afternoon, and another one tonight. It’s as if August and April traded places.

The lawn seems to be enjoying it, though. What’s next? August mushrooms?

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVIII)

I’m a firm believer in the importance of getting out of the office, taking a break from the workday grind, and having lunch with friends, family members, and colleagues.  However, there are days when the press of work is just too much.  You realize you’ve got to work through lunch, and that means you’ve got to eat lunch at your desk.

When that happens, as it did yesterday, I’m extremely grateful for Cafe Phenix.

The Phenix is one of our Gay Street neighbors, located right across the street from the firm.  You can dine in at their pleasant shop or the sidewalk eating area just outside, or take out, ordering from a full menu of sandwiches, quiches, soups, and pastries, with a full array of teas, milkshakes, smoothies, and other beverage items.  The proprietor and his staff are friendly folks who are likely to engage you in a pleasant bit of conversation while your food is being prepared, and the menu changes daily, with specials shown on a sign outside and soup offerings written on a chalkboard behind the counter.

When I’ve visited the Phenix to get carryout for a desktop working lunch, I inevitably get the soup.  I’ve had the croque monsieur sandwich, which was very good indeed, but the proprietor’s true medium for culinary artistry is bisques, chowders, gumbos, and other forms of hot, steaming, spoon-friendly nourishment.  In my opinion he is one of the very best soup makers in town.  In fact, his sausage and seafood gumbo and seafood bisque are the stuff of Gay Street legend.

Yesterday, I got a carry-out bowl of the white chicken chili, a creamy concoction stuffed with chunks of chicken, onions, potato, and great northern beans.  The Phenix threw in some moist, ridiculously buttery corn bread that I crumbled into the soup, licking my fingers all the while.  I enjoyed every bite of the result, and for only $3.99, a bowl of soup from the Cafe Phenix is awfully easy on your wallet, too.

The Phenix almost makes you look forward to a lunch at your desk.