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Local Haunts

The Columbus spirit scene is legendary, and not just for the intriguing elixirs your corner bartender conjures. No, there’s a less celebrated set of spirits you don’t always hear about from those behind the taps and bar tops, and they do much more than go bump in the night. Anyone who has ever worked a [...]
J.R. McMillan



The Columbus spirit scene is legendary, and not just for the intriguing elixirs your corner bartender conjures. No, there’s a less celebrated set of spirits you don’t always hear about from those behind the taps and bar tops, and they do much more than go bump in the night.

Anyone who has ever worked a closing shift alone has probably been a little freaked out at least once. Silence invites suspicion, and empty restaurants and bars only amplify it. Whether it’s the creaky floor in the kitchen or fear of the guy you cut off earlier lurking in the parking lot, our imaginations easily get the better of us.

But sometimes, maybe, it’s something more.

Cue Bucky Cutright, preeminent authority on local haunts, the places where we eat, drink, and frequent everyday with strange histories and supernatural happenings seldom spoken.

“I was a bit gloomy in my adolescence, and the stories coworkers would relate about mysterious noises emanating from empty banquet rooms or unexplained shadows and figures encountered in darkened hallways really stuck with me,” Cutright recalled, having worked in restaurants and bars himself since his teens. “After that, it wasn’t too far of a line between being fascinated with the experiences people were telling me about and connecting them with the historical record.”

That macabre convergence of history and mystery, coupled with Cutright’s passion and penchant for storytelling, were the inspiration for Columbus Ghost Tours. From seasonal Spirit Strolls and the more family-friendly Creepy Columbus, by far the most popular is Booze & Boos, a bus tour of our otherworldly underbelly.

“Before I knew it, I was plotting a narrative and a corresponding course through the downtown area, while honing my knowledge of the city’s dark past,” he explained. “Initial tours were just meant for friends. Everywhere we went, people would ask for business cards and want to know how they could sign up. It’s more like the business chose me than the other way around.”

Cutright’s costumed stagecraft and curatorial credibility aren’t ancillary. He confessed he had his own brush with the unexplained about a decade ago in the basement of a certain Short North establishment where employees have reported more ominous encounters, like the sensation of being shoved or having their hair pulled.

“I was sitting in this room after bar close with a friend and we were discussing the building’s hauntings. As we were talking, the fluorescent lights in the corner of the office began to flicker. This, in itself, wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” he explained. “It was when the flickering began to be accompanied by the sound of something clacking its nails and scratching down the wall that things became unnerving. We were both sitting within a few feet of this sound and could see that the corner was clear of anything that could make such a noise.”

The basement walls were solid stone so the sound wasn’t coming from the other side. But with abandoned drains and old pipes connecting several buildings in the area, Cutright rationalized the sound away as perhaps a rodent that must have become trapped. He even wrote a note for the owner, hoping to help free the poor creature stuck inside—until a closer look revealed otherwise.

“I inspected the corner and discovered it wasn’t a drainage pipe at all, but a support beam that was sealed off at both ends,” he said. “There was no squirrel or mouse in the pipe. The sound of claws scratching down the wall was coming from something else. When I realized this, all my hair stood on end as an eerie sensation overtook me and I quickly fled the basement.”

Cutright isn’t alone in his unease, and the bartenders at Char Bar—often the first stop on the tour—have stories that could scare you sober.

Built near a graveyard that was relocated to Green Lawn Cemetery, unmarked graves and decomposed bodies still turn up periodically amid perpetual Short North construction. Char Bar’s basement seems to be the center of unrest, once a funeral parlor that was on the first floor, later buried below street level when the road was raised to cross over the railroad tracks of the old Union Station. Rumor has it even Lincoln’s remains were there briefly. Following weeks of travel by train after his assassination to let a grieving nation bid farewell, even “Honest Abe” needed a little touch up.

“It was Christmas Eve and I was the only one closing up. I grabbed the padlock out of the cabinet for the back door and the remote for the TV and put them on the end of the bar like I do every night,” explained Zack Price. “Earlier in the evening, a few people asked me about the strange experiences some customers have had in the basement.”

Price gets those questions a lot, but was always a polite skeptic—before that night. While checking the bathrooms downstairs he felt a rush of air as he passed the dilapidated antique piano, like someone breathing into his ear. He chalked it up as only in his head, but when he got to the top of the stairs, the lock and the remote were gone.

“I know I put them on the bar. But after checking to make sure no one else was there, I found the lock back in the cabinet, and the remote on the counter,” he said. “I locked up fast and got out of there.”

Bartender Erin McIntyre’s experience was directly with the piano, which some say they still hear playing upstairs, even when no one is in the basement.

“As I was coming out of the restroom, the piano made a huge noise and seemed to move away from the wall a little,” she recalled. “I ran up the stairs and after a few minutes talked myself into going back down, even though I was alone. I’d only seen it move out of the corner of my eye, so I dismissed it and didn’t tell anyone.”

The next night, two terrified patrons, in separate incidents, also came running up the stairs swearing they too had seen the piano move away from the wall. The bartender on duty credited the spirits—not “the spirits”—until McIntyre arrived and shared her similar tale from the previous evening.

“There were three of us, who didn’t know each other, and we all saw the same thing,” McIntyre said emphatically. “At this point, the piano was a few feet away from the wall, and it took five people to move it back. That’s not anyone’s imagination.” 

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Food & Drink

Harrison West brewpub announces open date

614now Staff



The highly-anticipated brewpub coming to Harrison West finally announced its open date. Cleveland-based Saucy Brew Works will celebrate the grand opening of its 443 W Third Ave. establishment in early April.

The 190-seat space, formerly occupied by Caffe Apropos, will feature a brewpub with both indoor and outdoor seating. Guests can enjoy specialty New Haven-style pizza, appetizers, sandwiches, and more alongside their brews.

In many ways, the new location will be similar to the flagship Cleveland brewery and brewpub. But, Columbus will have something unique: Saucy Coffee.

A craft coffeehouse owned and operated by Saucy Brew Works, the offerings will include a single-origin house roast, pour overs, espresso, and a specialty menu inspired by Saucy beers such as What’s His Nuts, a Vanilla Stout with Peanut Butter and Coffee, and Modern Crimes, a Toasted Coconut Porter.

"Saucy’s Columbus location in Harrison West has been a long time in the making,” said Brent Zimmerman, CEO and Co-owner of Saucy Brew Works. “We have deep roots over multiple generations in Columbus and wanted to make our entrance perfect! We are excited for Saucy’s next chapter in Columbus. Columbus has embraced us with open arms, and we love them too!”

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Food & Drink

Secret Swensons: Off-menu items you have to try

614now Staff



It was a dark time in Central Ohio two years ago when there were no Swensons drive-ins. Now, we've got four locations to choose from (Dublin, Polaris, Hilliard, and New Albany), and a list of off-menu items to spice up your next visit.

Because the restaurant begins cooking your food the moment you order, a wide range of customizations are possible. Pair this "kitchen-at-your-command" concept with Swensons “never say no” attitude, and you've got a unique cornucopia of hidden-in-plain-site item customizations available.

"Over the course of our 86-year history, eager and loyal customers (known as Swenatics) have found hidden treasures in our menu possibilities," Swensons said in a release.

Below are a few customizations you won’t find listed on the menu but are crowd favorites.


  • Grilled Cheese with Coney Sauce: For those who love a little bit of burger with their cheese.
  • Fish Sandwich “Galley Boy Style”: Galley-boy goodness isn’t only for burgers. Swenatics often order fish sandwiches or fried chicken “Galley Boy Style,” with two secret sauces (one tangy, one sweet) and cheese.
  • Egg Salad Sandwich with Cheese and Bacon: Although Swensons don’t serve “breakfast,” Swenatics have found a tasty breakfast hack by adding bacon and cheese to their egg salad sandwiches.

Crispy Extras

  • Broken Onion Rings: Think of an onion ring that handles like a fry. Swensons takes their onion rings and breaks them apart before cooking, which creates the perfect bite-sized piece. No more worry of half of the onion falling out on the first bite!
  • Ordering “Cajun-style:” Amp up the flavor by ordering something “Cajun-style.” The smoky, garlicky, and peppery Cajun spice can be added to any crispy extra or sandwich.


  • Swensons has 18 different milkshake flavors available, and you can mix as many as you want. Really. Some favorites include a PB&J shake (Peanut Butter and Grape), Mocha & Mint, Blueberry & Lemon, and Peanut Butter & Hot Fudge.
  • Swensons is always down for a dessert mashup. Try asking for a Hot Fudge Milkshake with a brownie or Xango (our cheesecake rolled in flaky pastry) mixed in.

Never been to Swensons? Check out the following tips to optimize your first visit:

  • Park facing the restaurant. Since all dining takes place within your vehicle, service revolves around your headlights. Turn them on and a Curb Server will come sprinting over to help you. Leave them off and they’ll leave you to enjoy your meal.
  • No need to leave your car—Swensons is a drive-in through and through. Once your order’s ready, their Curb Servers run it out to you on a nifty tray that either hooks to your window or the inside of your door, weather permitting.
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Food & Drink

Discount Date Destinations: Saturday Samplings at The Refectory

Lindsay Pinchot



Welcome to Discount Date Destinations, where we’ll bring you the best places in the city with date-night-worthy atmospheres and food and drink specials that won’t break the bank. In today’s installment, we head to The Refectory.

For many, The Refectory evokes images of elegant anniversary dinners and impressive date nights, and rightly so. The Refectory has long been established as one of Columbus’ best and most beautiful restaurants, serving contemporary American and classic French cuisine. It probably isn’t one of the first places you think of when you hear “discount,” but maybe it should be.

Every Saturday afternoon from 12pm- 3pm, The Refectory hosts Saturday Samplings, a weekly wine tasting event. For only $15-$20 per person, depending on the flight that week, you taste a selection of different wines and help yourself to light hors d’oeuvre while relaxing in the Refectory’s charming bar area.

When you’re done tasting, additional glasses of the wines are only $5 each, so you can stay and sip your favorites. Last weekend, my husband and I attended the first in a themed, two-part Saturday Sampling series: For the Love of Wine. We had a great experience.

The ambiance was wonderful, especially for a wintry Saturday. Upon arrival, we were given a warm welcome and tasting cards listing information about each of the wines we’d be sampling. At the top of the tasting cards was a question, “When did you first fall in love with wine?” which led to some entertaining conversation, both between the two of us and with the staff. The sommelier poured each wine as we were ready for it, giving us a little background on it and explaining what we could expect from the taste. Between glasses we snacked on an array of breads, cheeses, oils, and hearty dips.

The best part? None of the selections were too pricey and all were available for purchase from The Refectory’s wine shop. Our favorite taste of the day was only $12.99 a bottle.

Saturday Samplings is a fun, relaxed way to experience The Refectory where all wine drinkers, from newbies to decades-long aficionados, will feel welcome. For the Love of Wine (Part 2) is this Saturday, so grab your valentine and head to The Refectory for a cozy afternoon. When you’re done, buy your favorite bottle to take home and split snuggled up on the couch.

The Refectory is located at 1092 Bethel Rd. For more information, visit

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