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.

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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?

Jeff Ruby’s

For years, there had been deep concern among the people of Columbus, Ohio.  If you wanted a selection of steaks and were in the area of downtown between Mitchell’s Steakhouse on Third Street and Hyde Park on the High Street cap, there was nowhere to go!  Sure, you could get a good steak at Flatiron Bar and Diner as one of the items on its Cajun-influenced menu, but if you wanted the full steakhouse experience, you were totally out of luck.

Fortunately, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse ventured north from its Cincinnati roots and appeared on Nationwide Boulevard to address the disturbing steakhouse desert that existed in the north downtown area.  Now we have three high-end steakhouses in the space of a few walkable blocks.

Last night the Bahamians joined Kish and me as we checked out Columbus’ newest steakhouse.  We found a lavishly decorated place — the chandeliers alone might require us to don sunglasses for the next visit — that featured live music in the bar and a busy dining room.  The wait staff was extremely professional and helpful, and featured both our waiter and a sommelier who advised on the many choices on the wine list.  After we indicated our interest in Italian wines and ordered a reasonably priced bottle of Amarone, he stopped by at the end of the meal and offered us a free pour of another Italian wine on the list.  It’s the kind of treatment that helps to bring people back.

The food is on the pricey side for Columbus, Ohio, but it was good, too.  I got the ribeye, which was prepared with a very nice char and was succulent.  For sides we went with some tasty creamed spinach and a kind of loaded potato gratin (the others in the party also tried the green beans, which I studiously avoided), and the four of us split a creamy piece of cheesecake and a chocolate cream puff for dessert.  It was a fine meal from stem to stern.

How many steakhouses does downtown Columbus need?  As far as I’m concerned, there just can’t be too many.  I’m glad Jeff Ruby’s has joined the club.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVII)

Pecan Penny’s is the new BBQ joint in downtown Columbus.  It’s located in the old Ray Johnson’s Fish Market building on Main Street, between Third and Fourth.  Yesterday, JV, the Unkempt Guy and I decided to venture forth into an end of July downpour and check it out for the first time.

The set-up at Pecan Penny’s is different than at most restaurants, but familiar territory for barbecue aficionados.  You order at the counter from a menu posted on the wall, take your tray to go fetch your drink, and before you know it your order appears and you find a table, inside or outside, to sit down and eat.  The delivery of my order took about the blink of an eye, and I got my food before I’d even filled my water glass.  If you’re interested in something quick, Pecan Penny’s is the place for you.

Oh, and the barbecue is pretty good, too.  I got the brisket with mac and cheese, which also comes with some toasted bread and a large homemade pickle chip.  I doused the meat with some Hot Grandpa sauce — apparently a PP staple — in honor of JV, whose going to be a grandpa here soon, although of a decidedly lower temperature.  The brisket was moist, smoky, and quite good, with the HG sauce adding a nice zing to it.  The mac and cheese, which is infused with crunchy bread crumbs, was very tasty indeed and a great complement to the brisket, and the toast was good, too.  I ate everything except the pickle chip and enjoyed it all.

JV got the pulled pork and baked beans and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and the UG also enjoyed the brisket.  During lunch the UG regaled us with tales of his home barbecuing and meat-smoking prowess, but the fact that he got some kind of cucumber-oriented side dish made me question his true barbecue bona fides.  Really, UG?  Cukes, rather than mac and cheese or baked beans?  I shake my head in dismay.

By the way, Pecan Penny’s has a very pleasant, informal atmosphere, with a nice wait staff, too.  There is a bar area, a front of the building patio, and a back of the building fire pit.  It has the laid-back, relaxed vibe that makes you think it would be a good place to hang with friends, eat a little charred meat, and enjoy an adult beverage or three.  The lunch crew will definitely be back.

Seeing The Way Clear

For the last year of so, every day on my walk to work and on the way home I’ve faced this same scene at the corner of Rich and Third Streets in downtown Columbus.  They’re putting up a new building called 80 on the Commons.  I’ve watched the construction of the building with interest, but walking past the site has been a royal pain.

They’ve closed the sidewalk and one lane of Third Street so construction workers and equipment have room to work.  As a result, we pedestrians have been shunted off to a narrow temporary walking lane with a chain-link fence to one side and a row of orange barriers to the other.  And just on the other side of the orange barriers, so close that walkers could easily reach out and touch them, are cars, trucks, and buses speeding down Third Street.  Third Street just happens to be one of the main ways out of downtown, and it’s always jammed with fast-moving traffic.

It’s unnerving to be so close to the traffic, and it became even more so when I was started walking down the channel one day this winter and discovered that some driver had smashed into the row of orange barriers, crushing a few of them and knocking the rest out of line — which made me have to climb over the helter-skelter barriers to get to work.  I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t walking down the lane when that incident occurred.  Interestingly, they didn’t appear to replace the crushed barriers, they just made the barrier row shorter — which means that when you emerge at the north end of the row the orange barrier row ends before the fencing does.

The temporary walking path has gotten pretty disgusting, too.  Trash gets blown into the channel or is dropped by thoughtless jerks and gets trapped there, so you’re always picking your way around the newest food wrapper or soft drink can to be added to the debris field.  You’d think that somebody on the construction crew or from the City of Columbus would be responsible for picking up and disposing of the trash, but the interests of downtown walkers apparently aren’t a high priority.

The signs on the chain link fence have been telling me that 80 on the Commons is coming in the summer of 2018.  Well, it’s the summer of 2018 already — and I’m still waiting.  It looks like they are finally getting ready to end construction and reopen the sidewalk.  I’ll be grateful to finally see the way clear to the office again.

Nothing New Under The Sun

The latest personal transportation initiative to hit Columbus is scooters.

Electric scooters, to be sure — but still . . . scooters.

A company called Bird has identified Columbus as a location for its rent-a-scooter program, and now you see the Bird scooters all over the place, like this duo that I found at the corner of Gay and Third on Sunday.  The Bird scooter program sounds a lot like the Cars2Go program that was launched in Columbus several years ago — and which was discontinued earlier this year.  Bird users tap an app that allows them to unlock a scooter for $1, and then they pay 15 cents a minute as they ride.  The scooters can travel up to 15 mph, can only be used during daylight hours, and are supposed to be ridden on the street or in bike lanes and not on the sidewalks.  (Speaking for pedestrians everywhere, I’m grateful for that last caveat.)  Based on an article in the Columbus Dispatch, it appears that Columbus and surrounding communities are trying to figure how how the Bird scooters fit into the current rules regulating transportation options and whether permits and other requirements should apply.

The scooters are supposed to target people needing “last mile” transportation, and I’ve seen a few people riding them around.  I wouldn’t use one, but if the Bird option gets more people out of their cars and using the bike lanes, that seems like a positive thing to me.

Mostly, though, I’m amazed that scooters — which date back to at least the ’30s in America — have reemerged as a transportation option.  What’s next?  Rentable pogo sticks?