Sunken bar, full kitchen, meatloaf on the menu.
Even for someone living in Columbus, it would be easy to pass O’Reilly’s Pub about a million times before ever realizing it exists. Sure, there’s a tall, green sign outside intended to dispel that kind of oversight, but this is a white building with a green awning and one door that we’re talking about. There might be a neon sign or two in the windows, but tinted glass serves to hide some of the telltale signs that a dive bar is afoot. And though it sits along High Street, one of Columbus’ main north-south routes, a long, skinny parking lot sets it off the street, again hiding it in plain sight.
But these are assets for a good Columbus dive bar, a hidden gem in a well-trafficked location that happens to be just nondescript enough to keep the crowds manageable. These factors combined have created one of the great Columbus dive bars, not the residential block house vibe of a Johnnie’s Glenn Avenue Grill, but cut from the same cloth nonetheless. The blank, stark exterior walls give way to warm, wood paneling throughout inside, punctuated by metal beer sign here, ancient framed photo there. The requisite Budweiser revolving lamp hovers above the bar.
But the signature feature here is the sunken bar, a dive bar feature that counts among this reviewer’s favorites, home to that awkward bi-level dance just before you sit down wherein the bartender stands at eye level across from something they’d probably rather not stare at. Wheeled, squat padded chairs line the bar, which stretches nearly the full length of the space perpendicular to the front door. And while that position can mean a cold blast of air on a winter night, it makes the bar the hub of all activity, traffic back and forth across the face of seated drinkers.
If the sunken bar is a favorite dive bar feature, a real jukebox with a reasonable price tag (15 songs $5) may be a close second. The song selection mixes in a little bit of new with a lot of classic old, which feels like the right selection for the space. The jukebox anchors one end of the bar, sitting alongside a handful of built-in booths that line the exterior wall throughout the space. Booths go so far as to wrap around the bar on both sides, creating a great dive bar dynamic that includes seated bar drinking, booth-style group congregation and not a ton of milling around in between.
The hunkered down appeal of the layout benefits from some unexpectedly amazing food kicked out of the kitchen behind the bar. This isn’t the kind of dive bar to feature a few staples to get people through the night. Daily specials connect back to comfort food favorites (meatloaf, anyone) and the full menu stays open late, meaning in a hankering for a fried bologna sandwich hits you, you’re in the right spot. And while this reviewer is always a little wary of recommending a dive bar that features a kid’s menu, O’Reilly’s strikes the right balance.
A small patio extends the space when the Columbus weather allows it. But O’Reilly’s is the perfect Columbus dive bar to hunker down at the sunken bar and maybe drink long enough to handle more than one meal from the buzzing kitchen in back. In contrast to its bare, white exterior, O’Reilly’s is a warm, welcoming, neighborhood-style dive bar inside, reason enough to stop and seek it out rather than let it fade into the Columbus city street blur.