The country’s 15th largest city, chock full of creativity and innovation thanks to an influx of youthful residents, gives up its secrets
The first in a monthly series highlighting the best vacation destinations you’ve probably never considered.
I have a terrible confession: I never saw Ohio’s capitol. A weekend in Columbus and not even a glimpse of the rotunda. But I have a very good excuse. I was lost in a 32-room bookstore. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was also preoccupied with selecting a writing utensil from a lifestyle store founded by a guy with a beard and an office-supply obsession. And drinking hand-poured coffee from a cafe named after a Belle and Sebastian song. And sizing up turquoise bulldog bookends from a shop in an emerging neighborhood. And watching a diner stuff a skyscraper-tall burger into his mouth.
And drinking more coffee, this time made of Fair Trade-certified beans from Guatemala. And I’m not even a coffee person; I drink tea, except when I am in Columbus.
Columbus kept me busy and surprised. Though I knew the facts — it ranks as the third-most fashion-forward city in the country and has a lower median age than the rest of the nation — I didn’t fully understand the burble of creativity and innovation till I found myself face-to-backside with a man made of oven roasting tins. Based on my experience, I expect the newest stylista accessory will soon be a Columbus pride T-shirt. I will have to make room in my drawer, moving my Austin and Nashville apparel to the side.
Ron and Ann Pizzuti are sharers: The 1 Pizzuti Collection, open since 2013, organizes exhibits based on the contemporary art that the Columbus couple has amassed over 40-plus years. “We like to think of the gallery as an extension of their living room,” said Mark Zuzik, its programs coordinator. The Pizzuti has a sculpture garden with permanent works, plus changing exhibits, inside the former insurance building.
The 2 Scioto Mile, a revitalized stretch of green-and-blue space along the river, offers a continual flow of attractions. At the Bicentennial Park, a summertime fountain sprays water 75 feet into the air. Farther south, on a reclaimed industrial site, the Audubon Center provides a bird checklist that is color-coded by season. Keep your pencil ready for such winter residents as the hooded merganser, the great horned owl and the golden eagle.
3 COSI is so hands-on, you will get a shock — a buzzy lesson on electricity. The nationally acclaimed science center, which celebrates its 53rd birthday this year, encourages active learning. You can ride a unicycle on a high wire, submerge in a submarine or cheer on basketball-playing rats. You can also contribute to the body of science by participating in an Ohio State University research project on language science, the ciliary eye muscle or pharmaceuticals.
At 4 North Market, founded in 1876, follow the edible maze of more than two dozen vendors. Many of the purveyors tout local roots: You can taste the hometown pride at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Katzinger’s Little Deli, Hot Chicken Takeover and Destination Donuts, which often incorporates produce from the seasonal farmers market held in outdoor stalls.
Before: You had to drive 20 miles to a horse farm to sample the beers produced by Rockmill Brewery. Now: You can stay within city limits and pair any of the brewery’s 15 beers on tap with the
5 Rockmill Tavern’s seasonal dishes, such as the deviled duck egg and the black truffle grilled cheese. The decor is haut-stable, with wood interiors constructed out of Michigan barns and tables built out of trees harvested from inside the Columbus beltway. A quick primer on 6 Fox in the
Snow, a bakery and coffeehouse open since 2014: No WiFi, no gluten-free and no pressure to know the intricacies of the coffee industry. “Not everyone cares,” says manager Jack Morgan. But for those who do, the coffee comes from Central and South America or Africa, is roasted in Portland, Maine, and is hand-poured in plain view (the baristas can handle up to six orders at a time). In addition, the sweet and savory treats eschew a current food craze: “Everything has gluten in it,” Morgan noted.
To eat at the 7 Thurman Cafe, a third-generation family operation in the German Village, you’ll need the wide jaw of a snake and the protein cravings of Mr. Universe. The ne plus ultra of burgers is the Thurmanator, which the restaurant created for competitive bodybuilders in the 1980s. A recent diner named Clarence Smith III admitted that the likelihood of finishing his meal was “zero,” but he plunged a fork into the teetering stack like a true warrior.
At the 8 Top, the oldest steakhouse in Columbus (est. 1955), you won’t be judged for devouring a Flintstone-size filet or double-scooping from the sour cream bowl. Diners chew to a symphony of martini shakes and lounge tunes featuring a 90-yearold pianist, Sonia, and her sidekick, Justin, who can belt out Judy Garland without spilling his gin gimlet.
Local Faves At 9 Robert Mason Heritage
Supply, a lifestyle store that is barely a year old, pen concierge Henry Dolin approached the Pen Bar and selected a Paper Mate InkJoy for a left-handed writer. She never smudged again. Writing utensils are just one of the founder’s many favorite things. Robert Grimmett clearly hearts office supplies and vintage-inspired accessories, such as his eponymous line of canvas carriers named after family members; beard-grooming products (good for women’s tresses, too); toppers and watches; and candles that smell like a barbershop.
During football season, the Saturday uniform in Columbus is a T-shirt from 10 Homage, an apparel business founded by a guy who sold shirts from his parent’s basement. After 10 years, the gray top with the black “Ohio” lettering is still a classic, any day of the week.
The staff at Helen Winnemore’s 11
continue a tradition from 1938: supporting North American artists and offering a hot beverage to visitors. Each year, the two-story gallery features about 200 artists who design clocks, jewelry, greeting cards, wooden animal puzzles, pottery, pillows, fingerless gloves, leather satchels and even the mug holding my cup of welcome coffee.
With 32 rooms and up to a quarter-million books, be sure to grab a map of the 12 Book Loft at the front desk. In Room No. 26, I found two mentions of the 40-year-old independent bookseller in “100 Things to Do in Columbus Before You Die.” And in Room No. 2, one of two spots for serious bargains, I discovered Jane Austen for $3.49 and Dave Eggers for $5.99.
Local Faves 13 Le Meridien Columbus, the
Joseph, the newest hotel in the Short North neighborhood, acts as a satellite gallery for the Pizzuti Collection. (Present your room key for free admission to the nearby museum.) After a craft cocktail at Soul, repair to your room and browse the catalogue of Ohio artists whose works appear in the guest quarters and public spaces. The “I’ll Never Leave You” screen print by David Skeens, which adorned my bathroom, costs $250 — about the same price as the nightly rate.
At the downtown 14 Westin Columbus, more than a century of overnight visitors have elbowshined the marble front desk. The former Great Southern Hotel, which opened in 1897 with an adjoining opera house, has retained many of its original charms, such as the august lobby with the pink marble wainscoting. The renovated rooms, however, have been Westinized. And, yes, the beds are Heavenly.
“We are not a shopping destination, but we’re becoming one,” said Katie Schultz, manager at Elm & Iron, a home furnishings store with a quirky vintage flair. Indeed,
15 Clintonville, which borders the Ohio State University campus, is on the cusp of a moment. Many of the new arrivals — Flowers & Bread, Bareburger, Vintage Toast, Little Eater and Whit’s Frozen Custard — are sprouting up along High Street. They make nice with some of the older establishments, such as the Global Gallery Coffee Shop and Wholly Craft. The two stores have been around for at least a decade, proving that Fair Trade products, local handicrafts and the DIY spirit are always au courant.
The German Village Society explains the dramatic arc of the 233acre 16 German Village, a neighborhood that was created by 19thcentury immigrants, struggled with anti-German sentiment during World War I and blossomed during the preservation movement in the 1960s. To experience the bookends of time, wander the brick lanes lined with Italianatestyle homes and businesses selling such German staples as kraut und pork and nutcrackers. The 23-acre Schiller Park, the city’s second-oldest park (dating to 1857), maintains its original purpose as a gathering place for residents and visitors.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: In Columbus, Ohio, classic state-pride T-shirts are on sale at Homage; the Thurmanator at Thurman Cafe is a stack of two 12-ounce burger patties — among other delights; a mural with a message on the side of a building in the Franklinton neighborhood; from the Scioto Mile, a dusk view of the eponymous river and the Columbus skyline; the North Market, founded in 1876, has more than two dozen vendors, many of which tout local roots.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Katie Dorrian crafts a drink at Fox in the Snow, where all the coffee is hand-poured in the open; leather wallets are among the vintageinspired accessories at Robert Mason Heritage Supply; Kurtis Bailey lights candles in the lobby of Le Meridien Columbus, the Joseph, in Short North.
Sports memorabilia and apparel store Homage had humble beginnings as a basement T-shirt business.