Watch the steps on the way in and the way out.
If the center of Ohio State’s drinking gravity is High Street, Neil Avenue is officially off the beaten path, home to converted rental property campus dive bar The Thirsty Scholar. Redevelopment has engulfed countless classic Ohio State bars, but The Thirsty Scholar’s comparatively remote location has thus far spared it. While The Thirsty Scholar sits across the street from long-time campus pizza spot Tommy’s Pizza, few other landmarks exist, the building nestled behind a gas station on the edge of an expansive off-campus student housing neighborhood.
The Thirsty Scholar looks like a home because it is, the space serving as rental housing throughout the 1950s when Ohio State’s main campus was a bit smaller and the neighborhood along Neil Avenue included a few more staff members compared to today’s student-heavy population. At some point during the 1960s, the structure was converted into the Black Forest Inn, a German-themed bar and restaurant famous for knockwurst and polish sausage.
The Black Forest Inn labeled itself a “Weinskeller” or wine bar, the space inside ornate by today’s standards complete with beer kegs sticking out of the wall and a grape vine-laden bar. Small tables complete with checkerboard tablecloths were scattered through the space, difficult to picture within what is today a fairly small footprint. The white and black lattice paint job seen outside today’s Thirsty Scholar was at one time replicated inside the Black Forest Inn. The German bar had a good run, lasting until 1997 when the space morphed into The Thirsty Scholar seen today.
Because it sits behind a gas station and looks like little more than a house with a sign, Thirsty Scholar flies a bit under the radar, especially in contrast to the more popular alumni hangout Varsity Club a block away. But that standoffish demeanor has its advantages, the vibe inside much more indicative of a classic corner neighborhood bar than a true college, frat-heavy haunt. The neighborhood that surrounds the structure isn’t necessarily known as the party core of off-campus housing, sparing The Thirsty Scholar from more stereotypical student drinkers.
A short staircase, challenging to traverse after a long night, leads into the Columbus dive bar from street level, leading to a small room that gets cramped early during Ohio State game days. The floorplan here is simple, a short bar on one side of the building and a few hightop tables distributed throughout the remaining space. By dive bar standards, the surfaces here are fairly new, a smooth modern bar in front of shelved liquor bottles. A small selection of taps are available to complement the classic set of domestic favorites found in the beer coolers under the bar.
A small, emphasis on small, cook station sits behind the bar, a menu consisting of exactly seven items posted above the cooktop. There is one move and one move only when grabbing something to eat at The Thirsty Scholar and it is referred to as “The REAL THRISTY Burger” on the menu, a one-pound burger in contrast to the lowly “The THIRSTY Burger” option, a measly half-pound version.
Once known for its all-you-can-drink weekly special, those days have sadly passed, but the shot selection is as eclectic as ever, fresh concoctions posted on occasion to the illuminated specials board inside. But the real layer of grime on this Columbus dive bar comes from the basement, less of a free-for-all than it once was, but still very much a room that feels every bit a campus bar basement. The men’s bathroom is particularly interesting down here, a combination of short urinal walls and a perpetually open door making for interesting and unavoidable eye contact. A handful of tables and a second bar can be found in the basement, the space almost exclusively used on Ohio State football home gamedays.
Basement eye contact aside, The Thirsty Scholar is a dive bar with some polish to it, its semi-secluded location and fairly chill student neighborhood making for a relaxed drinking experience by campus bar standards. But there’s something special about drinking in a converted house on the edge of a major university, affordable drinks mixed with decades of transitory student visitors making for something welcoming and unique.