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Something’s Brewing in Westgate

The most exclusive watering hole on the west side isn’t a trendy bar or cocktail lounge filled with fake swag and fake laughs. There’s no Yelp review or neon sign. It doesn’t even have a name. That’s because it’s an invitation-only, semi-regular soirée of Westgate’s homebrewers — folks whose passion for potent potables created an [...]
J.R. McMillan

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The most exclusive watering hole on the west side isn’t a trendy bar or cocktail lounge filled with fake swag and fake laughs. There’s no Yelp review or neon sign. It doesn’t even have a name. That’s because it’s an invitation-only, semi-regular soirée of Westgate’s homebrewers — folks whose passion for potent potables created an ad hoc excuse to raise a pint with friends in a neighborhood rich in community, but short on gathering places. “A few Christmases ago, my wife gave me a homebrewing kit. I enjoy new beers and knew people who brewed their own, so figured I’d try it and see what happened,” noted Nick Bates, one of the group’s initial organizers. “Then I met other people in the neighborhood who were also homebrewing and experimenting in their kitchens.” What began as a one-time event has become a rotating ritual featuring a handful of bona fide microbrews. Brewers bring enough of their latest competitive concoctions to share, and everyone judges the entries in a blind taste test. These are just “flights” of beer, not enough for a sloppy lush– but definitely enough to provide social lubricant.

There’s even a trophy, the “Westgate Wort Award”. No one gets to keep it though. It too rotates around from winner to winner, kind of like the Stanley Cup. “Wort is basically unfermented beer. All beer starts as water, then you add your hops and malts,” Bates explained. “That sweet, initial product you have, in the brewing world, is called wort.” But beer wasn’t what drew Bates and his wife to the neighborhood from Harrison West. “We were debating about continuing to rent versus buying a home, and saw Westgate as an affordable place to live,” he said. “Though we didn’t have any kids at the time, we were planning to start growing a family. There’s a culture here that just fit.”

Robyn Mathews-Danforth echoed the sentiment. She and husband Andy Danforth were the hosts for the evening’s competition– and that new trophy was also his handiwork.

“Anything that promotes Westgate, that brings people into the community, is part of why we’re here,” she explained. Originally from Arizona, the unseasonable chill in autumn air didn’t seem to dull her spirits. “I’m still in Ohio because of this neighborhood.”

“I’m a pastry chef, so I came to brewing from a culinary background, where I’m used to looking scientifically at ingredients,” she noted. Her first foray into fermentation also started with a homebrewing kit from her spouse. “Not having been a serious beer drinker before, I really wanted to see what happens when you add cranberries, what happens when you add blueberries.” Westgate’s homebrewing community is more than just one night of bottles and ballots, with a spread that could hold its own against the best tailgate or cocktail party. “We actually started a Facebook group so we could share our experiences– when something goes well, and when something goes wrong,” she said. “I wanted a resource group for ingredients and where to find them, to ask, ‘Does anyone have a lagering system?’” Homebrewing is chemistry you can drink.

A lagering system isn’t quite as common a request as asking a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar or a snow blower. But there’s more than beer brewing in Westgate. It’s a different kind of community, one that only evolves when folks are forced to look inward because their surroundings fall short. A common complaint of suburban sprawl is that it has everything except community. Sure, you get your pick of grocery stores, fast food, and drycleaners. But homogenized housing tends to discourage neighbors from ever becoming more than strangers on the same street, quietly complaining about each other’s lawns.

That’s why a growing number of boomers and busters are following the millennial lead by abandoning the suburbs in favor of emerging, inner city neighborhoods written off until just recently. Victorian Village and German Village were once desolate and dilapidated too. But now Italian Village and Merion Village hope to follow in their footsteps.  Olde Towne East has been a work-in-progress for decades, with immaculate restorations surrounded by sketchy side streets. It’s a bit like Detroit– investing or living there is still a block-by-block proposition. But being minutes from downtown, bumpered by historic homes and an enormous park, is a tempting offer for anyone whose aversion to the suburbs has led them to look for something more authentic than big boxes and busybodies.

But these better-known neighborhoods aren’t the only destination for those handy with a hammer looking for something real. Westgate is what was once called a “streetcar suburb” back when mass transit held mass appeal. Just four miles down Broad Street on the other side of Franklinton is an unexpected enclave of homes that could easily pass for parts of Grandview or Clintonville. That’s no accident either.

On the grounds of what used to be a Confederate prisoner of war camp, then sold off in the interim to an ambitious colony of Quakers after the Civil War, are streets and houses built by some of the same urban planners and architects behind two of the city’s more famous, family-friendly communities. Unlike Grandview and Clintonville, years of struggle in the surrounding area and an absence of economic development left Westgate residents lacking a lot of the robust retail and name recognition their sister settlements offered. But instead of selling out, Westgate residents dug in. No curated grocery stores or food co-ops? They started their own farmers market. Stagnant restaurant scene? They created a rotating food truck schedule. Slipping real estate sales? They started an annual Home & Garden tour. Left out of the Columbus festival craze? They organized Summer Jam, a free day-long arts event featuring local music, food, and crafts. Seriously, just ask anyone who lives here. Where else in Columbus can young couples with kids buy a Craftsman-era home for a bargain, in a community that is proudly working class, diverse, and creative– all built around 50 acres of parks and playgrounds, only minutes from downtown? Westgate is essentially Sesame Street with backyards instead of brownstones. That’s what brought Seth VanHorn back to the capital city after a decade of moves through some of the country’s more notable neighborhoods. “I was drawn back to Columbus by some of the cool things going on here, the low cost of living, and neighborhoods like this,” VanHorn noted. “I liked Austin’s vibrant downtown scene, it’s a college town — you know ‘Keep Austin Weird’. But in the ten years that I was gone, Columbus has really grown up from a small Midwestern town to a city with so much more to offer.”

“I looked at several neighborhoods near the core of downtown– Weinland Park, Olde Towne East, Merion Village– but Westgate won out,” he explained. “I’ve done some homebrewing myself and am really impressed with the quality of the beer, and the welcoming vibe of the event and the people who live here.”

That close-knit community won over Eric VanOrder, who returned to the West side after a stint in the Navy.

“There’s a renewed camaraderie bringing together people who have lived in Westgate for years,” he noted. VanOrder was the winner of the first Westgate Wort Award, but wasn’t competing this evening. Any endeavor dependent on just the right time and temperature doesn’t always turn out as planned. “I ended up brewing a beer only a father could love, so I decided I’d stick to judging this time.” A little daring didn’t deter John Salvage, a homebrewer with 15 years of experience entering the competition for the first time. “I’ve mostly just brewed for my own enjoyment, and giving beer to friends for Christmas has been a tradition,” Salvage said. “I brewed a ‘butter beer’, which is obviously inspired by Harry Potter. I’m more of a malt fan, but I put in some butterscotch candies and added some lactose for more mouth feel, so it’s smooth going down.”

The evening happened to coincide with Land Grant’s second anniversary party. So while most had their fill, after the trophy was awarded and the last of the entries were imbibed, some headed toward downtown for one more round — and surely some inspiration for their next batch of backyard brew.

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Arts & Culture

Columbus rockstar lands spot on eccentric putt-putt show

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Photo by Medusa Lullaby McGee

Reality shows sure do attract their fair share of eccentric contestants, people who seem too bizarre for this world. That usually comes with the territory when you’re dealing with naked people trying to survive in the woods or game show contestants swallowing every species of worm imaginable.

Heading into its second season, extreme miniature golf competition show Holey Moley--hosted by NBA All-Star Stephen Curry and comedian Rob Riggle--does not sell you short on its bounty of peculiar putters. Columbus rock star Lizard McGee of indie rock band Earwig fits the mold of quirky golf professionals, internet influencers, and celebrities who are chosen for the show to a T.

“I was definitely not a shoo-in when I started, but I pushed the Rock Star angle,” McGee said. “The sharp David Bowie-inspired suit that I wore helped.”

It can be gathered that part of McGee’s selection on the show had to do with his work on the appropriately-named new duo The Müligans. The golf rock band (I thought math rock was going too far) also features Nashville singer-songwriter Trapper Haskins. McGee is also a suitable pick for the show given that he has a true Scottish-style 9-hole course on his remote property in Southern Ohio.

While waiting for the show to air, be sure to check out the debut single from The Müligans, “Heart Shaped Bruise.” The introspective track helps the listener gain the experience of getting hit by a wild golf ball, the perfect segue into Holey Moley’s uncontrolled chaos. You can download the song for free on Bandcamp by clicking here.

You can also watch a music video, which also serves as a Holey Moley promotion, by clicking here.

“I had a blast and I’m very happy with how I perform on the show,” McGee said. “It’s encouraged me to set even bigger goals for myself. The sky’s the limit.”

The second season of Holey Moley tees off this upcoming Thursday on ABC at 9 p.m. Make sure to tune in a week later to see McGee’s wacky performance on the season’s second episode.

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Veggin’ Out: Vegan chik’n and waffles from Lifestyle Café are a must-order

Mitch Hooper

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Veggin' Out is a new series from 614Now taking you around the city finding vegetarian and vegan options that break the traditional mindset of eating plant-based. While there are plenty of great spots serving greens and salads, this series is focused on a different approach: plant-based food that serves to bridge the gap for meat eaters as well as vegheads looking to simply satisfy a craving.

With all the restaurants around the city specializing specifically in chicken and waffles, it's only fair vegetarians and vegans have an option, too. And thankfully Lifestyle Cafe, located on 891 Oak St., is here to balance the scales.

Lifestyle Cafe is an exclusively vegan restaurant started by Shanna "Chef Bae" Dean and Dawn Dickson where the menu spans breakfast, lunch, and dinner with options ranging from vegan breakfast BLTs to vegan shrimp quesadillas. But, the focus today is on the most important meal of the day, breakfast. And more specifically, we are looking at one of Chef Bae's specialties: the gluten-free Lifestyle Waffles served with oven-fried soy-based chik'n topped with red pepper infused maple syrup and vegan maple cream.

Photo by Olivia K. James

The dish starts with the waffles; a careful combination of Red Mills Gluten-free Flour with a cinnamon and coconut sugar brûlée. They are crispy on the outside while still light and fluffy on the inside. There's also many flavors complementing each other in this dish; the sweet coconut and the spicy cinnamon pair nicely with the sweet and spicy red pepper infused 100 percent maple syrup. It's all rounded out with the vegan maple cream which is drizzled atop the creation.

And not to be forgotten, there's also the vegan chik'n Chef Bae and her sous-chef Christi Jackson are making nearly every day (except Monday). While the chik'n is oven baked, it's exterior is crispy and salty just like its real meat counterpart would be had it been deep fried. And again, those flavors come back complementing each other. This time it's the chik'n providing salty contrasts against the sweet ingredients as well as soaking up some of the spice from the red pepper maple syrup.

Photo by Olivia K. James

As mentioned above, Lifestyle Café is open nearly every day of the week except for Mondays. During social distancing and shelter-in-place, delivery through third-party services are available as well as curbside pick-up.

To keep up with Lifestyle Cafe, visit facebook.com/PlantBasedLifestyleCafe.

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Coronavirus

To mask or not to mask, that is the question

614Now

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As we near the Ohio peak of the coronavirus outbreak, government leaders are working to develop the guidelines around the re-opening of the local economy. One of the areas of debate is shaping up to be around the public wearing of masks.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that all New Yorkers will be required to wear masks or have their mouth and nose covered while out in public and where you cannot maintain the 6-foot social distancing rule. The governor said there could potentially be civil penalties if there is widespread non-compliance. 

As for Ohio, so far both Gov. DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton have only 'strongly suggested' the wearing of masks while out in public. However in Thursday's press conference, DeWine said wearing masks, "will be part of what we do until we're done with this virus in a year or so."

That has business owners expecting mandatory mask rules to be part of re-opening guidelines which the Governor says will begin slowly, starting May 1.

Despite the official urging as to the importance of wearing masks in public, a quick trip to the supermarket shows compliance rates fairly low as of this date. This may be due to the relative shortage of mask availability or to public confusion surrounding early declarations from public health officials, including the U.S. Surgeon General, that 'masks do not work for the general public'.

Yet Gov. DeWine in remarks Friday said the wearing of masks will be commonplace by both workers and consumers and 'part of our daily lives for some time to come'.

Adding to the confusion, the Surgeon General doubled down in comments to FoxNews Tuesday saying, ""What the World Health Organization and the CDC have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks," Adams told Fox News' "Fox and Friends." "There was a study in 2015 looking at medical students. And medical students wearing surgical masks touch their faces on average 23 times. We know a major way that you can get respiratory diseases like coronavirus is by touching a surface and then touching your face."

Despite the changing narrative, state officials are widely expected to make the wearing of face masks part of our lives for the near future. The only question is whether this will come in the form of a legal declaration with enforcement penalties

Now it's your turn to tell us what you think...

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