It's no Pumpkin Show, but The Derby is a dive bar classic.
Even for residents of central Ohio, a visit to Circleville is typically limited to the city’s annual Pumpkin Show, an intense ritual of carnival food, daily parades and a celebration of all things pumpkin. Even the Circleville water tower bears the shape of a pumpkin. But on non-festival days, Circleville embodies a classic small town Midwestern vibe down to the classic main street and ancient storefronts.
Circleville dive bar The Derby sits on the edge of the city in one of those time-tested storefronts, the exterior as simple as it gets down to the plain white door and simple sign that includes the name of the bar in red script. Next to a bit of PBR neon in the front window, a small sign jutting out of the building demarks The Derby’s immediate surroundings as part of a DORA (designated outdoor refreshment area). City areas in Ohio under DORA jurisdiction permit to-go drinks carried throughout the area, a simple but compelling enhancement to a stroll through Circleville’s small downtown core.
Details on The Derby’s history are scarce, but a small town spot like The Derby probably doesn’t need a deep backstory to communicate the feeling inside. Even before setting foot into The Derby, it is easy to picture the amenities inside, from the ancient wooden floors to the pool table in the rear of the space. The Derby lives up to every preconceived notion, the shotgun-style space inhabited by a long bar and a handful of short tables to fill in the space.
As a hub for local regulars, The Derby comes with all of the benefits of a neighborhood dive bar, from the daily Yahtzee gambling game to the ugly sweater parties each December. On this reviewer’s first visit, the Circleville dive bar was sporadically populated by a small number of regulars atop padded stools next to the bar. Televisions and liquor bottles line the area around the bar back, decorations minimal by dive bar standards.
Some updates have obviously been made to The Derby over the years, wood paneling that runs halfway up the interior walls clearly newer than the floor underfoot. The walls and ceiling have been painted. The neon signs are mostly new. But no matter the amount of modern touches inside a place like The Derby, the draw of the dive bar remains. One such example is a weekly karaoke night each Friday and the accompanying $2 beer happy hour that runs before.
Drinking options in Circleville can feel a bit limited, and there are certainly more polished options to be sought out, but few things convey small town Ohio dive bar drinking better than a spot like The Derby. Down to the fringe downtown location and assembled set of regulars, The Derby certainly scratches the dive bar itch when passing through or visiting Circleville.