One of the last shreds of the original Short North.
Columbus’ Short North district is in many ways the heart of the city, a description that would have seemed ludicrous only a decade or two ago when Columbus’ downtown core was a rougher, less developed area. And while the Short North has evolved to the point of perhaps too much gloss and too many upscale chains, Short North Tavern has remained steadfast in sticking to a formula that has worked since opening its doors in 1981.
Today’s Short North is a polished end product, the result of many years of city commitment, private investment and ultimately a critical mass of fun restaurants and popular bars. That was not the case in 1981 when Short North Tavern became the first bar in the area to even use the term “Short North” in its name, the very start of a movement that resulted in the high traffic district seen today. Times were so different back then that founder John Allen employed bouncers and enforcers of sorts familiar with specific downtown individuals, enlisting them to keep his business as trouble-free as possible.
The arts movement in Columbus proved the real impetus for change in the Short North, a community active in Short North Tavern’s early days. Everything from barbershop quartets to acapella groups graced Short North Tavern in an attempt to connect with the groups already frequenting the area. That same connection to the arts can be seen today in the rotating pieces displayed on the Columbus dive bar’s main wall, a canvas that famously morphs into a hand-drawn holiday scene during the holidays.
Short North Tavern’s adherence to those roots is what sets it apart today, a neighborhood bar that only really feels like a dive bar because of its stark contrast to the trendy, upscale offerings up and down the bar’s High Street home. High-end mixology spots and expensive restaurants dominate Short North Tavern’s immediate surroundings, the unassuming red awning and no-frills presentation within the dive bar a welcome change of pace.
Today’s Short North Tavern is actually the bar’s second location, a move in 1989 bringing it from a faraway land known as 660 North High Street to its current location at 674 North High Street. The space is perfect for the vibe established by the Columbus dive bar, a corner spot with large open windows providing a glimpse of the weathered features inside. Prime seating can be found in the form of built-in wooden booths that form two rows to the right of the front door. The spaces are cramped, of course, but provide the best view of what can be a very crowded bar floor during weekend nights.
Because of the Short North’s appeal for those headed out for the night and the growing population in downtown Columbus, evenings can be packed with young drinkers, but happy hour and earlier still caters to locals and regulars long drawn to the space. Elevated platforms in both windows provide seating with a view of the proceedings outside and a pair of dart boards in the rear of space create a bit of gravity toward the back of Short North Tavern.
A long bar runs along the north wall of the building, a classic mirrored structure with a pair of faint lights on either end that glow rather provide any usable illumination. A bit of lighting underneath the bar sets it apart and pairs with the table lamps on each booth, creating a soft atmosphere that again provides an excellent counterpoint to the comparatively ‘loud’ atmospheres found nearby. One of the few renovations over the years focused on a revamped kitchen, daily specials displayed each day in partnership with a handful of bar staples.
On its own merits, Short North Tavern is a comfortable, welcoming, corner neighborhood dive bar that would be a welcome addition to any part of town. In Columbus’ quickly evolving Short North district, Short North Tavern provides an even more crucial service, anchoring a part of Columbus fast adopting a reputation for expensive cocktails and fancy restaurants with the exact opposite experience. On a night when the sidewalks are caked with groups and couples seeking out pricey pasta dishes or $15 cocktails, drinking a draft beer sitting in the window of Short North Tavern is a welcome alternative.