Blink and you'll miss this gem of a Clintonville hole-in-the-wall.
Driving along High Street in Columbus, the city’s main north-south urban corridor, near-suburb neighborhoods fade in and out of view quickly, the transition zones between them ripe for dive bars. Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern is one such example, located along a patchy part of High Street in Columbus near-suburb Clintonville dotted with businesses without any real density. Brew-Stirs pops into view a bit as a surprise, half of a small stone building on the edge of a vast residential neighborhood to the east.
Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern looks a bit like a small-town dive bar despite its big city location, a red awning over a pair of opaque glass block windows marking its location. The small plastic sign along the top of the building’s exterior reads “A Friendly Gathering Place in Clintonville,” underscoring the neighborhood focus of the Columbus dive bar. The bar’s wooden door is inscribed with “Brew-Stirs” along its top edge, all of these features positioned in a tight group, the effect making Brew-Stirs feel like a true hole-in-the-wall.
Owner Jose Hatlestad purchased the bar in 1995 with a stated desire to improve the quality of bars in this part of town. Hatlestad in partnership with other veterans of the Clintonville location opened a second Brew-Stirs location in the nearby Beechwold neighborhood of Columbus, taking over a space previously known as Zuey’s Roundback Bar. The fresh nature of that space feels much more like a modern bar whereas the Brew-Stirs Clintonville location retains more of that classic dive bar charm.
The result at the Brew-Stirs Clintonville location is an unassuming but comfortable space clearly focused on locals in the micro-neighborhood that surrounds the building. Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern is a single room dive bar, game area in front with a pair of dart boards and pool table. Thanks to the glass block windows, natural light is sparse inside, accentuated by the dim lighting to again hit that hole-in-the-wall note. Most of the space’s illumination comes from the television screens and highlighted liquor bottles behind the bar.
As one might expect with a neighborhood-focused dive bar, events here are plentiful, ranging from typical bar staples like DJ and karaoke nights to more communal events like golf outings, potlucks and the occasional chili cook off. Bar employees have been known to bring in a pot of homemade coney sauce and benefits have been conducted here on behalf of locals and employees in need of some assistance. The Brew-Stirs name pops up from time to time as a supporter of local events and charities, all of these attributes proof of Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern’s focus on the community.
The rest of the space is straightforward, a handful of short tables sitting opposite the bar that runs nearly the full length of the building. Decorations here are minimalist by dive bar standards, a row of football helmets lining the ledge above the liquor bottles and a NASCAR-sized car hood hanging from the ceiling. Screens located throughout Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern make for a good sports bar atmosphere, Ohio State photos and posters mixing with other Ohio sports teams.
Not to be overlooked is the sheer affordability of a visit to Brew-Stirs, daily specials posted on a backlit black whiteboard. This reviewer’s recent visit produced a bar tab that included multiple beers all hovering around $2 or $3, low prices even by Midwestern standards. Credit cards are accepted at Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern, though a $5 minimum does apply. On days when coney sauce hasn’t been brought in by the bar manager, typical salty snacks can be seen posted up behind the bar.
The Columbus dive bar’s focus on its community shines through not only in the simple presentation of the space but in the benefits, the chili cook offs, the affordable prices. Brew-Stirs Clintonville Tavern is a classic, a prototypical hole-in-the-wall that might have a high traffic location but feels more like a corner walk-up spot for locals.