This bar won’t keep south campus alive by itself.
The area around the Ohio State University is an ever changing mosaic of budget-friendly food, impulse retail and the occasional book store. South campus in particular has seen huge investment over the past three decades, transforming what was once a very dive bar-friendly part of Columbus into a polished home for chain businesses and refined student housing. The Bier Stube is many things but polished is not one of them, a holdout among south campus Ohio State bars unchanged and unbothered by the shifting tides of the neighborhood.
Where fantastically-named bars like Mean Mr. Mustard’s have been lost to time, Bier Stube persists thanks in part to its offset location adjacent to an alley and connected to a liquor store parking lot. The only thing separating the short Bier Stube building from nearby parking spaces is the thin metal rail that separates lot from patio. The vintage sign anchored to the building includes vaguely Germanic lettering and a design that matches the crisscross lattice design of the Bier Stube itself.
Bier Stube has operated in one form or another since 1966, a lifetime ago in terms of the pace of redevelopment endemic to Ohio State campus. Ownership has shifted over the years from sole and shared stints, starting with Doug Milsap’s tenure when he purchased the bar in 1979. Owner Craig Kempton serves as face of the Columbus dive bar today, working his way up from manning the Bier Stube door as a student in 1996 to taking over as co-owner in 2004. Kempton’s goals are clear, focused on maintaining the authenticity of one of Ohio State’s last remaining dives and keeping prices affordable amid shifting pressures and nearby competitors.
The space is a dive bar time capsule, the faded cinder block exterior giving way to an intricate piece of lattice work that serves as the partition between parking lot patio and wood panel dive bar paradise. A classic drop ceiling covers the Bier Stube, tile flooring underfoot, every other surface covered in often diagonal wood paneling, as prototypical a dive bar setup as there is. The Bier Stube consists of a single room, a long row of small booths installed along the bar’s south wall, the wood paneling here etched and carved by decades of student visitors.
Thanks to its age and diversity of selection, the bar’s jukebox does a fine job of capturing the vintage nature of the Bier Stube, the music selection diverse and offered at the obscenely low rate of four songs per $1. The decorations here aren’t suffocating necessarily but they of course lean toward Ohio State artwork, a large portrait of Woody Hayes the most prominent visual element inside. There are no theme nights here, but there are communal events like celebrations for bartenders on a last shift or potlucks on major holidays, underscoring the friendly, neighborhood vibe.
The bar itself is another classic, a straightforward design that runs the length of the building. Six beer taps poke out of the wall underneath a cuckoo clock, a Darth Vader helmet and a poster or two offering some advice on where Michigan fans can go. The Bier Stube is a lowkey great sports bar, its location just off the beaten path, suppressing the crowd within a space well covered by televisions. Ohio State dive bar veterans will notice the parking sign for long-gone fellow dive bar Mama’s Pasta & Brew hanging behind the bar.
The term ‘hidden gem’ is overused of course, but it is difficult not to apply that moniker to Bier Stube and its liquor store parking lot-adjacent location tucked away from the spotlight of Ohio State area redevelopment. Thankfully, Bier Stube has been permitted to carry the torch for south campus dive bars of decades past, providing an experience that has differed little even as its neighborhood experiences relentless reinvention.