Don’t get lost. Or maybe do.
Change and redevelopment have dominated the area around The Ohio State University in Columbus, storefronts along the two main campus borders, High Street & Lane Avenue, turned over completely in large chunks after years of development efforts. Campus dive bars that once ringed the school (with amazingly colorful names like Mean Mr. Mustard’s and Mama’s Pasta & Brew) have dwindled, leaving behind a few stalwarts like Bier Stube and Thirsty Scholar.
But Out-R-Inn has survived, benefiting from a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” due to its offset location a block off of High Street north of campus. The Columbus dive bar is well embedded in the off-campus student housing-filled neighborhood that surrounds it. Out-R-Inn looks the part, itself a converted home opened in 1969. The front yard sits on an elevated plot that towers overs Frambes Avenue the bar’s front steps fairly steep, making for challenging terrain after a long night.
The name of the bar is embedded in the long rock wall that sets the bar apart from sidewalk level, a long awning covering a short patio that covers Out-R-Inn, its secondary overall space and a neighboring pizza joint. During busy days, particularly Ohio State home games, this front area quickly swarms with students and alumni crammed into every corner of the front yard and patio. An outdoor television hangs above the wall, somehow intact after decades of outdoor elements and overserved visitors.
But inside is where Out-R-Inn really shines, the hollowed-out floorplan feeling a bit like a cavernous, brick & wood castle. So unique is the footprint that it would be easy to get lost across Out-R-Inn’s handful of rooms and two floors, drinkers funneled immediately through a small doorway and tight hallways with a number of branches into new rooms and staircases. Some footpaths lead up and the rest terminate in the small bar in the middle of the house opposite a series of arched brick doorways.
There are places to sit at the bar, of course, but Out-R-Inn is built more for grabbing a drink and relocating to one of its many nooks and crannies rather than dwelling at the bar. The side room in the front of the house accessed through those brick archways is a space that factually contains chairs and tables, but in reality contains a throng of people casually positioned on, near and around the furniture. A long beam runs overhead here separating the original building from the expansion that now covers the area north of the prominent feature.
Digging further into the space inevitably leads to a pool room that itself unfolds into a back patio, an enclosed wooden pen of sorts with picnic tables and a back bar opened up on busy days. It’s hard to overstate the transformation of the space on an Ohio State home game day, the crowd thick and dense, especially on the back patio for a late summer game. Entire picnic tables are engulfed by circling crowds. This back area at one time included a basketball court, long removed in favor of extra space for open-air drinking.
The wood throughout Out-R-inn, especially on the Columbus dive bar’s second floor is weathered, worn and in many places covered with the Sharpie scrawls of decades of Ohio State students. Etched and printed wisdom is a bit more legible on the bar’s second floor thanks to its comparatively lower traffic, making for an entertaining tour of the space hopping from one ridiculous statement to another. The Out-R-Inn second floor can be a bit of a challenge, a pair of staircases along the winding interior path leading to the dive bar’s bathrooms and a maze of weathered, wood-lined rooms. Brick archways and wooden flooring drift in and out of this second level, including a sort of dart board alcove that holds the peak of Out-R-Inn’s graffiti display.
Out-R-Inn is famously known for its mug night, a practice that was discontinued after the COVID-19 pandemic but always threatens to return. Many an Out-R-Inn visitor or Ohio State alum has a souvenir mug stashed away somewhere. Purchasing the mug brought with it weekly access to domestic beer refills as low as $1.50, the kind of promotion perfect for a college campus to spark business on a slow night (mug night took place on Monday’s or Tuesday’s typically). Keep an eye out for the revival of the phenomenon.
Occupying a plot of land just far enough off of Ohio State’s beaten path, Out-R-Inn has thus far eluded the redevelopment that has engulfed the rest of the area. The tall red house on the hill, its 1969 opening date officially qualifies Out-R-Inn as an Ohio State institution, evidenced by the presence of countless plastic, branded mugs in the cabinets of past visitors and the equally compelling array of scrawled sayings lining much of the wood along the Columbus dive bar’s walls.