And grab a pancake ball at Katalina's across the street.
Harrison West doesn’t often come up as a go-to Columbus dive bar district, but the largely residential neighborhood not far from the city’s downtown core provides at least one destination dive, Zeno’s. Opened in 1984, Zeno’s is about as classic a corner neighborhood bar as it gets, an Irish-influenced bar than a traditional Irish Pub, the signature green awning that lines the building features one of the great dive bar caricatures in the city. Holding a shamrock in a beer, as you do, a man in a hat and suspenders provides a fitting welcome to the Columbus dive bar.
Zeno’s comes from rich dive bar lineage in the city of Columbus, founder Dick Allen who co-owned the bar with partners Chris Miller and bar namesake Steve Zeno owned a number of Columbus bars including fabled Ohio State campus spot The Travel Agency. The space now occupied by Zeno’s originally served as the Shoppe Family Bakery, the bakery said to provide the first slider buns to fellow Columbus business White Castle.
Post-Prohibition, the bakery transformed into the J&J Grill which operated for nearly 50 years before Allen’s purchase and subsequent renovation of the space. The bar never closed during renovations as patrons simply avoided areas being worked on. Updates at that time included the pressed-tin ceiling still visible above the bar area, one of the bar’s more eye-catching features. Allen sadly passed away in 2018, the bar now owned and operated by his wife Sandy and sons Quinn & Mitch. In true Dick Allen fashion, the tradition of owning multiple Columbus staples lives on, The Library Bar purchased in 2020 by Quinn Allen.
More recently, what was once an event space in the basement of Zeno’s is now Dick’s Dive, an homage from son Quinn to father Dick and his dive bar ownership legacy. The two businesses operate separately, though food from Zeno’s can be purchased within Dick’s Dive. The basement bar is new but constructed to feel old, the decorations sourced from decades of Allen family bar ownership and the beer selection heavy on old-school domestics.
Upstairs, green paint and half-wall wood paneling combine to create a classic corner dive bar atmosphere. The space is deceptively large, the long room split into two levels, a short step up leading to a long raised platform filled with tables and bench seating. A handful of built-in wooden benches can be found in the rear of the space, more low tables and chairs filling in the lower level. Some accounts suggest that Zeno’s may be home to the longest bar in the city and the counter is a long one, stretching the full length of what is a long footprint. Decorations are classic but not dense, mirrored beer signs mixing with framed shirts of Zeno’s days one by. A handful of trophies can be seen perched against the back wall.
The long beams that run overhead are relics of the days of bakery operations, the very much load-bearing structures said to have once held up the machinery required to produce baked goods. The bar itself is standard in its construction, mirrors mixing with illuminated, elevated liquor bottles. Over the years, the tap selection has expanded here, a long row of local and craft favorites now available. Zeno’s has even been known to collaborate with local breweries to produce signature, exclusive varieties. Outdoor seating was added in 2019, a long metal rail separating a healthy amount of green metal stools and tables making for an attractive drinking perch during decent Ohio weather.
To visit Zeno’s is to visit the best kind of neighborhood bar, the presentation a bit polished to qualify purely as a dive bar, the vibe welcoming and communal. Thanks to its heavily residential location, this is a spot locals walk to in order to grab a beer or catch a game (numerous screens, including a projection screen pulled down during heavy game days are available). And those traits combined with the always attractive option of an on-site basement dive bar alternative make for comfortable drinking surroundings.