Top 5 Columbus Dive Bars

Timeless drinking in the Midwest’s fastest growing city

The Midwest holds a special place in the hearts of those who love dive bars, home to cities that combine the best ingredients to produce the best dives: long histories, hearty drinkers, industrial heritage, bad weather. While Columbus may not be an ex-manufacturing powerhouse like Pittsburgh or Cleveland, the ingredients hold up well in the Midwest’s fastest growing city.

The classic Columbus dive bar is a neighborhood institution, that one joint on the corner that has just always been there. The list below captures only the tip of the dive bar iceberg along those lines as Columbus is filled with timeless shrines to drinking days gone by. Equally timeless neighborhoods certainly help, from German Village, which can trace its immigrant-built history back to 1820, to the more recently reclaimed Short North, where a few stalwarts have avoided gentrification.

The list below captures our favorites, but Columbus is full of great options, all of which can be found in our Columbus Dive Bar Travel Guide.

1. Johnnie’s Glenn Avenue Grill

Johnnie's Glenn Avenue Grill - Columbus Dive Bar - Interior

1491 Glenn Ave, Columbus, OH 43212 | Google Maps

There may be no finer example of the classic Midwestern dive bar than Johnnie’s, a dive bar tucked away in a nondescript white building in the middle of a residential block. The sign over the door screams in red neon that this is Glenn Avenue Grill, but the regulars simply refer to it as Johnnie’s, an institution under constant threat of losing its unique status as a functioning bar along a street that nowadays probably wouldn’t allow one.

The stark white exterior of the building gives way to an environment inside that is anything but stark, from the classic Budweiser Clydesdale lamp hanging from the ceiling to the haphazard trophy case recessed into one wall. To get to the bathroom, drinkers have to stumble through what used to be, and kind of still is, the home’s kitchen. Come for the cheap beer, stay for the stories told by locals around the tiny bar up front.

2. Lisska Bar & Grill

Lisska Bar & Grill - Columbus Dive Bar - Inside

2665 E 5th Ave, Columbus, OH 43219 | Google Maps

If Johnnie’s represents the classic neighborhood Columbus dive bar, then Lisska Bar & Grill represents what used to be the blue collar post-shift stop (pre-shift too). The space is a time capsule, a tribute to the enduring image of a diner counter slash watering hole open at all hours of the day to catch workers going to and coming from every possible shift. The sign out front may be the finest in Columbus and the pricing inside, on both food and drink, might similarly be the best in Columbus as well.

From the broken payphone in the lobby to the shrine to a particular high school class of years gone by inside, little here as changed over the years. And though the flat top may not look active, it is always a moment away from being fired up to crank out a couple of simple but tasty sandwiches. The full experience must include High Life, in a glass, with maybe an egg sandwich on the side.

3. Ruckmoor Lounge

Ruckmoor Lounge - Columbus Dive Bar - Fireplace

7496 N High St, Columbus, OH 43235 | Google Maps

There are few things like a Midwestern dive bar with the word “lounge” in the name, and Columbus’ Ruckmoor Lounge honors that tradition well. As far as Columbus dive bars go, Ruckmoor may be in the strangest location, a building at the interchange of two well-trafficked roads in a part of town better known for chain hotels and the typical restaurants that cater to them.

But inside, Ruckmoor Lounge, cash-only of course, pulls on every dive bar string and then some, from the beer pong table set up on a carpeted, elevated stage to the ring game suspended from a beam in the front room. The centerpiece of the space is certainly the fireplace next to low tables with ancient, plush chairs, that might be the perfect Columbus dive bar setting for the inevitable snow and perpetual grey of an Ohio winter.

4. Beck Tavern

Beck Tavern - Columbus Dive Bar - Interior

284 E Beck St, Columbus, OH 43206 | Google Maps

Not to be confused with High Beck Tavern down the street, Beck Tavern (sometimes referred to as Low Beck for obvious reasons), is the dive bar king of Columbus’ German Village neighborhood. Beck Tavern sits along one of the cobblestone streets that tie together German Village, a short, squat building that resembles a home in the shire more than it resembles a thriving dive bar.

Just as Johnnie’s, this is a miracle of a location in the middle of a residential street thankfully adorned with a neon sign that reads “Beck Tavern. Liquor.” Inside, wood that looks like it could date as original the neighborhood surrounds every inch of the space, from the built-in, close quarter booths inside the front door to the elevated group drinking platform in back. Beck Tavern is the Columbus dive bar perfect for a low-key hang with cheap beer that just happens to be in maybe the most beautiful part of the city.

5. Char Bar

Char Bar - Columbus Dive Bar - Interior Bar

439 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215 | Google Maps

If some kind of deity were in charge of the great march of gentrification across Midwestern downtowns, someone must have made a considerable sacrifice at that altar to spare Char Bar. On the very edge of redevelopment within Columbus’ trendy Short North neighborhood, Char Bar has somehow persisted, preserving a history that dates back to a time when the city of Columbus was literally one story closer to the center of the Earth. That may sound like a typo, but a bricked-up arch in the bar’s basement is the remnant of what used to be a front door onto High Street when the building was constructed.

That being said, Char Bar’s basement is assuredly haunted, a decaying old piano the telltale sign. Though the notoriously-powerful Long Island ice teas sold upstairs may be in part to blame, it is not uncommon on a slow night to hear a few notes inexplicably waft up from the floor below.

Honorable mention must of course go to the string of campus-adjacent dive bars along Ohio State’s main campus in the heart of the city. Dick’s Den can make a case for most authentic dive in the city just north of campus, with another escapee from campus gentrification, Bier Stube, anchoring the south end of the district.

All told, Columbus dive bars live up to the high standard that comes with the term ‘Midwestern dive bar.’ A younger city than some of its timeless regional neighbors, Columbus still activates its deep roots and vibrant neighborhoods to create a thriving dive bar scene.

Back to Features
Published October 8, 2021

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