When faced with the choice, go for the spicy sauerkraut balls.
The Columbus neighborhoods of German Village and Merion Village boast arguably the most scenic backdrop in the city, brick-laden streets winding among beautiful homes and hole-in-the-wall businesses. Hey Hey Bar & Grill is one such business, a dive bar occupying a building built sometime around 1900 that served as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Rumor has it the name of the bar comes from the common phrase “hey, hey the beer is here” during illegal, Prohibition-era deliveries.
Hey Hey Bar & Grill leans Irish, though it would be a stretch to call it an Irish bar. The green trim paint out from plays off of the signature sign easily seen up and down its Whittier Street location, the name of the bar sitting above a rotating marquee that has almost perpetually read “Sauerkraut Balls” (more on those later). There is a front door here, but it is seldom used in favor of the side door down the small road that borders the bar and provides its chief on-street parking opportunities. Shamrocks can be seen here worked into the metal bar coverings to the bar’s windows that read “Hey Hey.”
Inside, Hey Hey Bar & Grill is almost universally covered by exposed brick walls, allowing the age of the structure to shine through. A long bar runs the length of a main room that also includes a line of padded booths complete with pillows. The beer selection behind the bar has expanded over the years, now spilling over into an auxiliary kegerator that holds a microbrew or two. A large chalkboard depicts that day’s offerings, the taps rotated frequently among popular and niche draft beer varieties.
Fascinating is Hey Hey’s relationship with food, the kitchen in back a long time staple of the Hey Hey experience cranking out daily specials and a handful of classics scrawled on handwritten menus produced weekly and sometimes daily. Owner Sue Gall, who purchased Hey Hey Bar & Grill with husband Tim in 1982, chose to take a step back from operating the kitchen, turning it over to what has become a rotating set of pop-up operators. Today, Two Fatt Indians operates out of the space, offering a traditional set of Indian specialties. A pair of wooden benches bookend the side door, one of them inscribed with “Tim & Susan” in honor of the Galls and their ownership of the Hey Hey.
But the real food story here is the bar’s signature sauerkraut ball recipe, one that has been published over the years and has drawn such a following that Hey Hey Bar & Grill operates a mobile food pop-up that travels to Ohio’s many local festivals during the summer. When the kitchen in back was operated as a pizza restaurant, sauerkraut balls remained on the menu. And today, amid the many Indian dishes cooked up by Two Fatt Indians, sauerkrauts remain available as the timeless Merion Village delicacies that they are.
Hey Hey is a work in progress, the divey nature of the space refined by a new surface here, a fresh coat of paint there. The bar’s back room displays this phenomenon in microcosm, an area once lined with mismatched couches, broken furniture and what looked to be a defunct stage is today largely reborn, the booths along either side fixed up and the elevated live music stage once again a destination for the occasional live music showcase. The backyard has seen similar improvements though it remains a bit more rustic, a horseshoe pit and hodgepodge of metal chairs available for enjoying Ohio’s summer months.
The Hey Hey Bar & Grill is a product of its surroundings, one of Columbus’ most historic districts complemented by one of the city’s oldest dive bar-inhabited buildings. Steady family ownership and operation over the years has served to further highlight the structure itself, creating a beautiful dive bar drinking experience amid exposed brick, live music and yes, sauerkraut balls.