A Secret No Longer

In Austin, Texas, you’ll see t-shirts and bumper stickers that exhort: “Keep Austin weird.” Columbus doesn’t have any pretense about being especially weird, but this bumper sticker that I saw above the beer taps for local craft brews at a local bar had a different goal — keeping Columbus a secret.

If Columbus was a secret, the secret is out. The city has been featured in positive articles in the New York Times and other publications, and last week a friend emailed me a website link that ranked Columbus number two in a list of romantic winter destinations. (I’m really skeptical of that one, frankly.)

Even if Columbus is no longer a secret to be kept, I still was glad to see the bumper sticker and the sentiment it expressed. When my family moved to Columbus in 1971, it was derided, even by residents, as a “cowtown.” Those days are long gone. Now, people recognize what a great place Columbus is and are proud of our fair city, and they’re trying to keep the riff raff and Johnny come latelys out. It’s been quite a change in attitude — a change for the better.

A Cowtown No Longer

Columbus has been getting some very good press these days.  The latest is an article in National Geographic entitled “Why All the Cool Kids Love Columbus, Ohio.”  And that article even gives a shout-out to Gay Street, where I’ve worked for more than 30 years.

The National Geographic article points out what others have noted:  Columbus is a young city with an interesting mix of people from lots of different places, the arts scene is vibrant, it has some great neighborhoods, it’s open to new business ideas . . . and it has good craft beers.  You’ll also hear people talk about how downtown Columbus is starting to take off, and how the Columbus restaurant scene is improving — all of which is true.

sept_kahiki-life-sml-300dpiThe kudos that are coming Columbus’ way are a far cry from the 1970s, when Columbus was called a “cowtown” . . . and the name seemed apt.  In those days, it was hard to find any ethnic food in Columbus — except for the ersatz Polynesian cuisine, often served with a Flaming Volcano drink, at the fabled Kahiki — and the city was really a pretty boring place.  Back then, the Short North was almost a skid row neighborhood, German Village was dodgy at best, and people sipped fire-brewed Stroh’s beer rather than those tasty craft options.  When Kish and I graduated from Ohio State at the end of the ’70s, we decided to shake off the dust of Columbus and hit the road, and we really weren’t thinking about coming back.

A few years later we changed our minds, and come back we did.  And since our return in the mid-80s we’ve seen a tremendous change in CBus in many ways.  Some of it is due to solid governmental administration, some of it is due to enlightened leading citizens, but a lot of it is due to the fact that Columbus is home to lots of friendly, interesting people who aren’t afraid to do some different things and take some risks now and then.

For those of us who knew Columbus during the “cowtown” days, the transformation of our city has been a pretty amazing thing.  I’m glad to see Columbus is getting some buzz.