Tip the ghost on your way to the bathroom.
I can’t recall a bigger mismatch between a bar’s signature drink and the feeling of walking through the front door than Char Bar, home of a strange, strong Long Island iced tea special. Google refers to the bar affectionally as a throwback, which is a bit of an understatement for a bar that sits in a building so old that its basement features a bricked-in frame for what used to be the front door out onto High Street’s original elevation. The building opened its doors in 1847 as a funeral parlor, which is about all the story I need to give a dive bar a shot.
Char Bar is a stalwart in a stretch of downtown remade by a sprawling hotel complex and subsequent expansion project that included demolishing every square inch of the block…just short of Char Bar’s south wall. That patio remains intact, featuring a scenic view of a “nice” parking garage and a mishmash of chairs largely consisting of those thin, white plastic chairs. You know the ones.
One understandable reason for halting the gentrification before touching Char Bar may be the clearly haunted basement level home to a decrepit, keyless piano, dim lighting and the only path to the bar’s bathrooms. And quite a path it is, through a door off the secondary room upstairs, down a carpeted flight of steps, past the piano and into a crowded bathroom layout featuring scrawled, slightly intelligible writings that evolve as the night wears on.
Upstairs, Char Bar is a physical representation of dive bar greatest hits: aging pool table, Golden Tee machine, walls filled with browning posters, quasi-cursive signage outside, dart boards positioned in inconvenient places. But the space also features a low-key amazing bar, something that is easy to miss as groups cruise through the front room and head to secondary seating.
The bar runs the length of the space, wrapping around behind the front door into High Street-facing seating that makes a fine place to sit and pretend to care about the world outside of the beer bottle in hand. Low table seating dominates the secondary space, again curling out into window seating that includes a diabolical step up that can be tricky to navigate depending on your Long Island intake.
And the area is a fun one, even as creeping gentrification threatens the existence of places like Char Bar in downtown Columbus. Char Bar sits across the street from the city’s convention center and just a block or two away from dozens of bars and restaurants that feature great, but definitely not divey, choices for pre- or post-Char visits.
Of course, a Long Island iced tea or two and your only post-Char visit will be a rideshare and a nap. Come for the drinks, stay for the ghosts and say a prayer before you head to the bathroom.