The dive bar that shouldn’t be but is, and is glorious.
The Ruckmoor almost defies explanation, maybe the warmest, coziest dive bar in Columbus that on the outside looks like the “after” photo of an Irish pub that took on a series of ill-fated expansions. A vaguely British shield and entirely British lettering sits emblazoned on the Ruckmoor sign that sits on a busy road part of a massive highway exchange loop that has seemingly been under some sort of construction since 1885.
That a dive bar this pure can live in such a transitory place is a testament to the power of cheap drinks and dim lighting. You know this kind of location, an outcropping of hotels, chain restaurants and maybe a movie theater that grows like a barnacle on the side of some highway. It’s the type of place you’d find an Applebee’s, a Courtyard and a handful of gas stations. Along Columbus’ 270 loop, you can also find the Ruckmoor, a cash-only hovel of a bar sandwiched between a Mexican restaurant (for now) and a Motel 6 that might be in the conversation for best dive bar in Columbus.
The sign starts everything with a blazingly good omen that the Ruckmoor’s hours are illuminated and read “Open 5:30am to 2:30am.” Now I’ve never seen the inside of the Ruckmoor quite that early in the morning, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that a handful of regulars get off their overnight shifts and wait for the door to open. That’s the kind of bar this is, a rotating cast of loyal patrons that may very well have started coming when the bar opened its doors, as the sign again says, back in 1958.
Somewhere between now and then, the Ruckmoor featured on-site lodging, remnants of which can be found embedded in the bar itself in the form of Ruckmoor-inscribed room keys. And maybe it’s the hotel past talking, but the layout is a winding one, with new surprises around every turn. The main room is dominated by the fireplace and regal Ruckmoor “R” insignia above it, home to an ever-roaring fire that provides a glowing, cozy aura to the drinking. Short barrel-shaped, padded chairs circle equally short round tables, proving that the use of the word “Lounge” in the name is no mistake.
Further back lives something that might be best referred to as the “miscellaneous room,” an elevated back space that can rotate in its amenities, but seems to have settled on a beer pong table and a couch. The main attraction is, of all things, a ring game just off the bar itself, a feat of pinpoint accuracy and dexterity that requires firing a ring attached to a string in the ceiling at a hook a few feet away. The placement can be a bit inconvenient in the face of a stream of drunken stumbling, but the roar is a satisfying one when the ring finds its home.
The bar area is thin and long with just enough room for you and your stomach and not much else. The long wooden bar opens into the main room and makes an right turn down a long corridor that spills out into a pool room with two tables and predictably classic overhead lighting in the form of Budweiser pool lights. One last room unfolds off the bar area, an enclosed space that has at times been referred to as a smoking lounge, but is really more of a spillway for heckling, thanks to the windowed view of the adjacent pool room.
One special note about the Ruckmoor, a place that I hold in high regard. There is no better place in Columbus for a cold beer on an even colder Midwestern night when there’s snow on the ground. Christmas decorations fill the space, the fire is always lit, the diamond-patterned windows accentuate the glow of whatever light might be left in the day when you stop by, it’s the height of Columbus dive bar coziness and one of the best experiences for a drinker who values those kinds of things.
And that’s why the Ruckmoor can seem to defy explanation at times, a perfect dive bar in a less-than-perfect location, authenticity found just a few feet away from chain restaurants and budget hotels. But hey, no explanation needed, set an alarm for 5:30 am and experience the Lounge for yourself.