If a dive bar could be a warm, wood-paneled bath, this is it.
Dick’s Den is a Columbus dive bar institution, frequently cited as one of Ohio’s finest spots to gran an ungentrified drink, and that distinction is difficult to argue. Just north of Ohio State’s main campus, the slow creep of “progress” marches ever closer to Dick’s door, but a few blocks of buffer still exist, leaving this wooden-clad dive bar as-yet unaffected. Cash-only until a handful of years ago and founded in 1964, this is an old-school dive bar in what is so far still an old-school part of Columbus.
Striking, of course, is the blazing neon sign inscribed “Why not?” Though the classic wooden sign above the door looks like it may predate the discovery of lumber, it’s the neon sign below that gives the dive bar its signature, the kind of question that can only be answered by an ice cold High Life from the bar. Inside, Dick’s Den is a profoundly wooden space that doubles as jazz club and dimly-lit, unassuming dive bar oasis. Bands cram onto a tiny stage in the bar’s second room on an almost nightly basis, a string of jazz musicians that both draw a crowd and serve as classy background to a dive bar conversation.
The main bar stretches from the front door along a skinny first room with just enough space for a line of chairs at the bar and that’s about it. Christmas lights illuminate this wood-paneled and well-windowed first room that features what looks to be a painted but original stamped ceiling. The walls feature framed photos of patrons past, a community pinboard for dive bar-friendly announcements and a number of collages for dive bar events of years past (look for the marathon board on the way to the bathroom).
Besides the stage, the second room spills out from the first, an open space with low tables and seating to accommodate the jazz club setting. The walls here feature not only the faded photographs seen throughout but a series of trophies along the ceiling. A fading mural depicts a classic Dick’s Den evening with drinkers milling about an open space. Even the colors of the mural resemble wood tones, making for a very consistent application of light and dark browns throughout Dick’s Den that make the space feel warm despite Ohio’s sometimes anything-but weather.
There are a handful of modern touches throughout, of course. The beer selection does include the occasional craft selection from a local brewery, but the cooler sits under a chalkboard proclaiming the house special to be a High Life and a shot of tequila. All things exist in balance at Dick’s Den. A small pool room sits a couple of steps up from the back room, offering an even more secluded dive bar drinking location if Dick’s Den needed such a thing. That the room comes complete with a rabbit-based mural proclaiming the bar’s “Why Not” motto only accentuates the vibe.
Dick’s Den’s stature as dive bar royalty in Columbus and the state of Ohio is not difficult to understand after setting food inside. This is a wood-paneled, campus-area, neighborhood bar that has been open since the 1960s and hosts jazz bands on the regular. Even on a cold evening, the space, the people, the feeling, the walls, they create the kind of coziness that only a good dive bar can achieve. For those undecided about stopping by, kindly refer to the neon sign out front.