Tell your parents where you’re going. Or bring them. They’ll appreciate it.
The love affair between dive bars and whimsical names continues with The Library Bar in Columbus, just north of Ohio State’s main campus. The joke is, of course, the timeless pun of spending time at The Library, a theme reinforced by the occasional marketing material from the bar inviting students to come study at The Library. Opened since 1971, some of the students making that joke likely have parents who drank among the same cedar wood planks during their own time on campus.
There is some suggestion that a bar of some variety operated in The Library Bar’s space as far back as 1950, making it either one of or the oldest bar adjacent to Ohio State’s campus. Gentrification over the past handful of decades has eroded the dive bar supply surrounding the university, claiming nearby past favorites like Bernie’s and Larry’s. The Library Bar has, thus far, avoided the gaze of redevelopment, positioned just far enough north to carry on as usual.
Ownership of The Library Bar shifted in 2020, long-time owner David “Cricket” Shaw ultimately handing over the reigns of a place he first stepped foot into in 1978, checking IDs at the door. Working his way up, Shaw eventually bought the space in 1986 and changed little over the subsequent decades, the beer selection almost purely domestic and the interior décor largely untouched. Shaw’s ownership tenure stretches so far back that it includes a change in drinking laws in Ohio that resulted in slashed business for the dive bar as 18 to 20 year olds were up until the 1980s allowed to purchase 3.2 percent beer.
Shaw sold The Library Bar to Quinn Allen, whose father Dick Allen owned a number of campus-area bars including old favorite The Travel Agency. Due to the tight knit nature of campus bar owners, Shaw and Dick Allen were old acquaintances, making Quinn a natural successor given his success running Zeno’s, a fellow dive bar in Columbus’ Harrison West neighborhood. Quinn has maintained the original charm of the wood-covered space with a few improvements that include remodeled bathrooms, new beer taps and a few more televisions.
Outside, thankfully, the signature orange sign still hangs above The Library Bar’s High Street-facing structure, though fresh paint has been applied to the building’s exterior. Because The Library Bar is so close to campus and nestled right along prime thoroughfare High Street, weekend and even weekday evenings can mean packed crowds of undergraduates, obscuring some of the beauty of the space itself. Frequent theme nights that include country night, trivia, karaoke, mug night and yes, even beat the clock, draw significant amounts of students.
But to come to The Library Bar a little closer to opening is to see what all the dive bar fuss is about, the sheer age of the space allowed to shine thanks to countless decades of student commentary etched, carved and scrawled along nearly every inch of the space. Wood walls give way to wood floors give way to built-in wooden benches across two main rooms, creating that signature dive bar welcoming atmosphere. Unsurprising given the atmosphere, a few famous visitors have walked through The Library Bar’s doors, including Huey Lewis and Bob Seger (presumably not together).
The beer selection has expanded in recent years, branching out from domestic staples into local craft options. But persistent are two of the bar’s signature drink offerings, Hugs (Little Hug fruit juice containers infused with vodka) and Bookworms (Jello shots with gummy worms inside). Of course, Ohio State football home games make for dense crowds here, the basement renovated into a more modern, spacious drinking alternative intended to serve overflow drinkers. A small patio extends off the back of The Library Bar’s space and an even smaller plot for reserved parking sits adjacent to the patio, though naturally spots fill up quickly.
At many universities, the campus dive bar is an endangered species and Ohio State’s immediate vicinity is no exception. But yet The Library Bar persists, a glorious wooden shoebox dive bar that has benefited from a location just out of sight of redevelopment and decades of steady ownership protective of what makes the space so special.