The last emblem of the Short North without the shine.
There may be no greater contrast in Columbus between a dive bar and its surrounding neighborhood than Mike’s Grill, a decades-old shoebox of a bar holding on in the city’s upscale Short North district. Infrastructure improvements and rampant redevelopment have transformed the Short North, an area that was once a rough part of town, now arguably Columbus’ primary dining and nightlife destination.
Mike’s Grill provides one of the last gasps of authenticity to an area that sorely lacks the kind of no-frills drinking atmosphere found within Mike’s. Sources are difficult to come by around the opening date for Mike’s Grill, but the bar is present in a 1964 Columbus restaurant directory, pegging its history to at least that far back. Tales from regulars that have been published over the years tell of a much grittier Short North neighborhood at that time and Mike’s Grill was known as one of the area’s repositories of tough guys.
Though the word “grill” maintains its spot in the name of the Columbus dive bar, no food is served at Mike’s Grill though that was not always the case, hamburgers and hot dogs sold from windows out front during the 1970s. Mike’s Grill was even the focus of an effort during the 1980s to revoke its liquor license, undertaken by the Italian Village society in response to some of the rough customers known to frequent the bar. With those historical footnotes in mind, it is easy to see Mike’s Grill as a kind of Midwestern saloon, the wood out front, the shotgun style footprint, the worn surfaces throughout.
A visit to Mike’s Grill is a visit with a set of regulars, some of them long-time patrons of the bar over decades. Lining up at the penny-laden bar top, some of these loyal drinks have favorite seats, favorite stories, favorite inside jokes with the bartender. That vibe is part of the allure of the space, the kind of communal, authentic connection hard to replicate at an upscale Italian restaurant or dimly-lit martini bar.
Naturally, Mike’s Grill is cash-only, though it doesn’t take too much cash to work through an evening within the Short North bar. A few steps away from countless bars offering $20 signature cocktails, Mike’s Grill is refreshingly affordable. Happy hour here drops prices down to price levels that hover around $2 for selected options and the Mike’s Grill signature offering is probably the $1 Jello shot (keep an eye out for the suggestive signs marketing the shots throughout the space).
Notable is the beer selection at Mike’s Grill where local specialty varieties mingle with 40-ounce versions of domestic favorites. Rare is the bar even allowed to sell a 40-ounce version of anything, Mike’s Grill the only Columbus outpost engaged in the practice as far as this reviewer can tell. Between the prices and selection, Mike’s Grill is perfectly suited to a role as accelerator to the start of a Short North evening, diversion while waiting for a table somewhere else or triumphant conclusion to an area bar crawl.
The space has seen updates over the years, new flooring replacing what was once a deteriorating hardwood surface and fresh paint smoothing over well-loved surfaces throughout Mike’s Grill. The structure behind the bar is classic in its construction, a bar mirror atop elevated liquor bottles, but the end pieces are old enough to resemble a hutch you might find in a grandparent’s dining room. Vertical wood panel slats line the space, a handful of low tables and black chairs offering seating opposite the bar. An almost hidden back patio covered in picnic tables and string lights stretches off the rear of the Mike’s Grill building, a low-key hidden gem when Ohio weather cooperates.
Places like Mike’s Grill are hugely important links to the past, especially in a part of Columbus that seems to shift and transform on a yearly basis. Where the Short North is rich with upscale dining and drinking options, it lacks depth in exactly what Mike’s Grill provides, an unpretentious, unbothered spot to grab a drink and start a conversation.