The neighborhood dive bar prototype.
The “popular” part of Columbus has rotated through the city probably a dozen times over the past few decades, the natural ebb and flow of neighborhoods coming into and out of fashion. Clintonville has weathered that storm well, a neighborhood in the heart of Columbus given a permanent lifeline by High Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, supporting a set of vintage homes and evolving businesses. India Oak Grill has been part of that fabric across the years, a neighborhood dive bar if there ever was one.
Structurally, there isn’t much to India Oak, a green and white building a couple of twists and turns removed from anything that could be called a main road. That the bar lives in the shadow of one of Columbus’ main highways seems fitting, the neighborhood dive bar nestled into its niche in the fabric of the city, somehow nondescript and welcoming at the same time. A low fence extending from the front of the building serves as the demarcation line of a simple patio housing a few metal tables.
Inside, the scene is as Midwestern dive bar as it gets, an L-shaped wooden bar extending the length of the space flanked by a set of booths along a center aisle. A cinder block-lined hallways leads back to a game area in the rear of the India Oak, a sort of dogleg right off of what is really just a rectangular space. And if that description sounds fairly basic, that’s because the India Oak is a bit of a template dive bar, but then visual stimulus and shiny new amenities really have no place in an authentic neighborhood dive bar anyway.
A deep draft beer selection complements a well-stocked beer fridge and a classic liquor array sits just below one of the TVs found throughout the India Oak. Dark painted cinder block sets off some of the well placed wall decorations throughout, including a shrine to Guinness just above the tap installation (a fine choice). The space feels clean, enough character manifested in beer signs and sporadic neon to be interesting, but largely streamlined as far as dive bars go. Just off the front door, a kitchen with a walk-up window fires out a decent selection of sandwiches, pitas and the like.
Columbus’ Clintonville neighborhood ranges from the ornate to the classically simple within only a handful of blocks, but the area is vintage in the best, Midwestern way. Homes built decades ago mix with slowly encroaching redevelopment of the High Street corridor to create something both relevant and timeless. It is easy to see that same vibe within the India Oak itself, a streamlined and simple dive bar experience that blends well with the resiliently relevant neighborhood that surrounds it.