8 of the 9 points come from the sign out front alone.
Bob’s Bar is an onion. It’s a strikingly robust craft beer oasis wrapped in a dive bar husk that features one of the most brutal restroom layouts in the state of Ohio. But the swagger is on full display here, a bold, blazing sign above the front door including a stylized image of a man toasting the street outside just next to a proclamation that Bob’s Bar is the “Cultural Hub of the Midwest.”
In an alternate timeline, Bob’s Bar is a run-of-the-mill strip mall dive bar with a local clientele and a TouchTunes in the corner, its location perilously close to a Target-anchored shopping district. But Bob’s Bar is, thankfully, much more than that thanks to original owner Robert Morris’ stewardship that started when the bar opened its doors in 1978. Morris run would end in 2000 when unpaid sales taxes and an expired liquor license forced him to close the doors.
Brothers Chris & Mike Beck swooped in at that time, paid off the taxes and renewed the liquor license with an eye on maintaining that positive attributes of Bob’s Bar while layering in new reasons to visit. In 2001, Bob’s Bar as it exists today reopened its doors, a few renovations under its belt including the crucial addition of a second sink. The padded bar rail was swapped out for a standard wooden perch, but more importantly, the bar’s approach to draft beer pivoted to what was then a small but growing craft beer scene.
The original incarnation of Bob’s Bar focused on domestic beer across three taps (sometimes all three serving Busch), a far cry from the 30+ rotating taps ushered in by the Beck brothers. Today, a whiteboard behind the bar lists that day’s offerings, a list in flux thanks to the small batches and rare varieties sometimes housed at Bob’s Bar. New offerings are provided every Friday and posted online, catering to a devoted group of beer fans eager to mix new varieties with unassuming surroundings.
And those surroundings sit in a very “in between” part of Columbus, just north of the heart of the city’s Clintonville neighborhood. Unless your idea of a pub crawl is beer followed by Bob Evans (not a terrible idea), Bob’s lives on an Uber-only semi-accessible drinking island. Food trucks post up outside on a frequent basis, but the real Bob’s experience is one that includes a trip to next door Pita Hut, though parking is most definitely not shared between the two businesses. Many a night for many a Bob’s patron has included a late night stop at Pita Hut to stem a downward spiral.
The Bob’s Bar layout is narrow, it’s long, and it’s dotted with enough roadblocks, enclaves and barriers to make a trip to the bathroom on a Saturday night a time for prayer and hope for safe passage. Though the bathrooms have been renovated through the years, the footprint is still small, making for some tricky angles, fleeting privacy and expedient exits.
The beer selection earns the title above the door, a selection that is egalitarian, equal parts High Life and triple dry hopped fruited lactose-infused milkshake IPA. Selections here provide not just outlets for every socioeconomic capability but also endless potential adjustment throughout a beer-soaked night. Bob’s at times features beer on tap found nowhere else in Columbus and potentially found nowhere else in Ohio.
Once a year the rotating beer selection, creative and expansive in its construction, culminates in the Bob’s Bar Extravaganza, a destination event for anyone that values the intoxicating draw of a city-best dive bar selling deliciously diverse beer to a devoted, drunk and feisty fan base.
That’s the real joy of Bob’s, a neighborhood bar in a strip mall adjacent to a big box retailer inexplicably selling some of the world’s best beer without the pretention that so often accompanies the pursuit of funky IPAs or rich stouts. And don’t underestimate the joy involved in asking a friend to meet you at the Cultural Hub of the Midwest.