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The Dube Abides

Reflecting on the strange transition of a beloved landmark. When the beloved Blue Danube abruptly announced they were closing after 78 years, the news nearly broke hearts and local Facebook feeds. But early reports of their eminent demise were perhaps a bit premature. Yes, the most recent operator Bob Swaim had planned to hold on [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Reflecting on the strange transition of a beloved landmark.

When the beloved Blue Danube abruptly announced they were closing after 78 years, the news nearly broke hearts and local Facebook feeds. But early reports of their eminent demise were perhaps a bit premature.

Yes, the most recent operator Bob Swaim had planned to hold on into June. And the Margetis family, which has actually owned the building for decades while retaining rights to the name, quietly revealed plans to remodel and reopen the restaurant in the coming months. No one has offered much in the way of details or assurances, not wanting to become the victim or villain in this story. And neither narrative would likely allay fears about possibly losing yet another Columbus culinary landmark to a pretentious gastropub or gaudy watering hole with no soul.

Rather than dwell on what we don’t know, let’s celebrate what we do know about the Dube, hoping that a people’s history might sway both sides into preserving part of what makes The Blue Danube unique, instead of letting a cloudy and contentious transition turn into an excuse to sabotage or abandon what folks love most.

Gaye Spetka’s story stretches back to the early years, when her parents first got together following WWII. “It was more posh back then when my parents had their first date there. My father went to OSU after the war, and my mother was shocked when he ordered a beer,” she laughed. Spetka became a regular herself in the ‘70s. She was thankful for the chance to pass on the legacy before it may be lost. “It was a treat to take my niece and her now husband there to share the story of how her grandparents met. But so much of what I remember of the campus area isn’t the same; it’s ticky-tacky steel and glass structures and asphalt parking lots.”

Colin Dearth is among four generations of faithful patrons, marking family milestones at the Dube for decades. “My grandfather was an Army medic who came to Ohio State and met my grandmother. My parents were both juniors at OSU in the ’60s when I was born and lived right around the corner,” he recalled. Dearth grew up to serve in the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces, but didn’t forget simpler times as a teenager spent scarfing down fries smothered in chicken gravy with friends. “I’d come home and spend 20 minutes going over the menu, but still ordered the steak and eggs every time for like 10 years. And PBR pints for a buck-fifty? They may as well have filled up my trunk.” Now a father of three, he orders the vegetarian chef’s salad and hasn’t had a beer in years. “I’ve celebrated too many birthdays there to count. All of my daughters sat in highchairs at the Dube.”

Natalie Thomson was a waitress there in the ’80s, when the Margetis family previously ran the place. “My father played saxophone and we’d walk from Dick’s Den down to the Dube for a bite to eat afterward. I started working there when I was 17. Some nights, I was the only waitress working [as we got] closer to close,” she revealed. An anachronism in the age of the smartphone, Thomson also remembers when tenants from the adjacent apartments used the payphone as their personal phone number, and waitresses would run next door to let folks know when they had a call. The experience was a far cry from her eventual occupation as a chef, though formative and unforgettable. “I’ve worked in fine dining restaurants, but I still love a greasy spoon.”

Rico Sullivan also discovered the Dube in the ’80s as a teen, when he and his brother used to sell hot dogs during game days at OSU. “After the game, we’d all go to the video arcade, then The Blue Danube and try to act all hip like the college students we saw there. I fell in love with the fish platter back then,” he recalled. “We loved the atmosphere of the place.” Sullivan went on to teach martial arts and took his students there as well. His wife is originally from Pakistan and still considers it her first true taste of America. “My wife and I eat there and always get nostalgic about our first date. It was heartbreaking to find out they are closing. I have a lot of great memories invested in The Blue Danube.”

Dawn Chapman used to sneak into bars and clubs with her fake ID, but actually came to the Dube when she wanted to be alone. “Sometimes, you just need to escape everyone. I was very shy, so I’d go there to write, smoke cigarettes, and drink coffee. It’s also the first place I ever had a gyro,” she recalled. But it proved difficult to be alone for long at The Blue Danube, forging friendships that endure to this day — and others just for the night. “I always hoped to paint a ceiling tile. ‘Paint a tile and we’ll add it to the pile,’ they said, but I never got around to it. I used to make jewelry, and a few of my designs were inspired by certain ceiling tiles. Tile 32 is still my favorite.”

Mike Cavender found something strangely familiar at The Blue Danube since moving to Columbus in the late ’90s. “There are so many places where we used to go that are gone now. Places like North Campus Video and the Dube weren’t homogenized and still seemed a little rougher around the edges. That’s how I felt back then—rougher around the edges,” he explained. Though a “committed carnivore,” Cavender admitted their black bean burger was his first, and a pleasant surprise. His wife was already familiar with the Dube, particularly its infamous jukebox, when they met. But he’d long considered it a litmus test for whether a date was the right fit. “If you go there on a first date and are both into that kind of place, it’s probably going to work out.”

Despite the brisk bump in business, as the days slipped toward the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next, the Dube’s most recent incarnation just couldn’t hold on any longer. In fact, the Friday after the initial announcement, they had to close early because the kitchen ran out of food and had to restock—perhaps a hint in hindsight foreshadowing the final week. As for the iconic neon inside and out, that Grilled Cheese and Dom Pérignon special, and the fate of those famous ceiling tiles, no one seems to know for sure what will stay or go. When asked prior to the unexpected last call, a bartender simply replied, “Bob’s got a lot on his plate.”

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Sells Brothers Circus House fails to sell, so now is your chance!

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The Sells Brothers Circus House, located at 755 Dennison Ave. near Goodale Park. (Photo by Julian Foglietti)

Need a COVID-19 distraction project and have a cool $1 million on your hands? If so, do we have the opportunity for you!

Originally built in 1895 by Peter Sells, one of the founders of Sells circus, the three-story house features 12 rooms–including five bedrooms, four bathrooms, and four half-baths–a detached two-car garage, and an in-ground pool. It sure would be nice to be a pool owner in 2020, right?

The historic Sells Brothers Circus House, located on the edge of Goodale Park at 755 Dennison Ave., is scheduled to hit the auction block again on WednesdayonWednesday, July 22 at noon because a minimum bid was not reached this past Wednesday. However, the second auction will take place, regardless of a minimum bid limit. 

Weston Wolfe, CEO of Wolfe Insurance Group, was the last person to purchase the mansion in 2016 for $1.55 million as a way to boost his insurance business. While this particular gambit did not work out for Wolfe, the foreclosure auction does create an opportunity for another to grab this historic Columbus landmark for a relative steal. The auditor value of the property is over $2 million, likely below even the current market value.

An opening bid was set at $933,334. 

You can check the bidding status for the Sells Brothers Circus House here.

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Columbus’s John Tortorella Coach of the Year finalist

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Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella / photo by Lori Schmidt

The NHL has announced that Columbus Blue Jackets head man John Tortorella is a finalist for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award. If he beats out Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Alain Vigneault of the Philadelphia Flyers, it will be the third time Tortorella has taken home the honor. 

He’s been a finalist for the award four times.

Not many seasons have been like this one, though. 

Before COVID-19 interrupted the Blue Jackets season, Columbus went 33-22-15 despite losing 419 man games to injury. 

Among those missing significant time for the Blue Jackets: last year’s leading goal scorer (Cam Atkinson), the team’s All-Star defenseman (Seth Jones), and All-Star goaltender (Joonas Korpisalo). 

Even as players fell to injury, the team rose to ninth place in the Eastern Conference, which qualified them for the modified postseason, which is scheduled for next month.

Columbus will face Toronto in Toronto for a best-of-five Stanley Cup Playoff qualifying round, the dates for the first games of which are set.

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Prior to that, Columbus will face Boston July 30 at 7 p.m. in an exhibition game. 

It won’t be long after that, Tortorella will learn if he is the NHL’s coach of the year. The winners of this year’s NHL honors will be revealed during the Conference Finals.

Hear captain Nick Foligno's thoughts on the Stanley Cup Playoffs below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6OyEsL0h68
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Ohio high school fall sports are on…for now

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Interim Executive Director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Bob Goldring today announced that, as of now, fall sports are going ahead as scheduled. The decision as to whether to cancel play over COVID-19 concerns will be left up to individual schools. 

Goldring added that this could easily change. He talked about the fact that the governor might make a ruling that affects the ability of athletes, particularly those in contact sports, to play. 

There has been some discussion of pushing back the start date of sports in which the most contact occurs, particularly after This Week Sports reported an unknown number of local high school football coaches had suggested moving football to the spring, while having baseball staged in the fall.

Goldring did admit they have been looking at options and said they would be naive not to do so, especially because 80 percent of their revenue comes from ticket sales. Without games being played, tough decisions will certainly have to be made. 

 “The fiscal part of things is very much on my radar,” Goldring said. 

As to whether fans would actually be able to buy tickets and attend games if they do go ahead? Goldring said that, too, is ultimately a local matter. 

OHSAA may cut the minimum number of games a football team is required to play to qualify for the playoffs to account for the possibility of only some games being canceled. 

The board of directors is also still pondering the question of whether athletes can take the field if they are relying on virtual learning and aren’t allowed into the classroom. 

Right now, though, they are proceeding as if the fall season will kick off Aug. 1.

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