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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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The Interview: Wil Haygood

Author / Journalist / Curator Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Author / Journalist / Curator

Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in which the Tigers won championships in basketball and baseball 55 days apart, eclipses them all.

“I would never like to be called an activist,” says Wil Haygood when asked if he might consider himself such. “That’s not my game. I’m here just to find a good story. It’s my calling to be objective. I could never just tell one side of the story.”

Yet, in reading his latest book, Tigerland, and immersing the reader in the strife East High faced in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the “feel-good” triumph of two championships takes on a higher purpose. There’s so much more to the story. It’s the tale of a segregated city getting its first African-American principal in Jack Gibbs. Of the white basketball coach Bob Hart, choosing to settle in an East side neighborhood he was warned against. The players, and mothers of players, who persevered in the newly developed housing projects despite overwhelming odds. Haygood may not want the title activist, but Tigerland could easily serve as guide in how to counter civil unrest, especially now, fifty years removed.

That objective journalism is becoming more of a rarity is troubling. Haygood’s storytelling is a resistance, and in Tigerland it’s a redemption story brought “from the shadows” that is uniquely complex and distinctly of Columbus. He insists there are many more stories of Tigerland’s ilk which must be exposed. The uncovering of a zeitgeist forgotten is a theme consistent with Haygood’s recent curation of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. In I, Too, Sing America (also an award-winning art book), he chose to spotlight lesser-known writers and artists of the era that continue to play “an enduring role in moving us forward.” How that dais influenced the cultural rise of African-Americans in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where the sub-plots in Tigerland play out, is palpable in Haygood’s words.

In talking with Haygood, he’s acutely aware of how Tigerland’s legacy and the continued re-awakening of the Harlem Renaissance add to the social discourse that accumulates to this day. Our interview here is abridged, if only because we spent a taut 45 minutes veering down rabbit holes created by the vivid representation Haygood paints of Columbus, Ohio in 1968. Fortunately, it’s a conversation that has and could last for generations.

In an interview you talked about Tigerland not being the story “you were born to write, but a story that the rest of the world needed to hear.” Why is this now such an important story?

Wil Haygood: When I traveled around the country, to about 25 different cities talking about this book, people constantly asked me if the release of Tigerland was intentional given how timely the story was. It just happened that it was the 50th anniversary of the famous Olympic protests by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Colin Kaepernick narrative was playing out, the President of the United States was attacking black athletes for their social activism—these were the things on the mind of so many people on this tour. Of course, I didn’t time it, but this story is just so topical, it’s so rich with drama, it just calls for very enlightening conversations with the people I met across the country.

I love it for the locality, and learning about a Columbus I never knew existed. So I’m curious to know if the heroes in this book, Bob Hart (East’s white football coach), Jack Gibbs (East’s first black principal), and the Tiger athletes, have always been heroes in your eyes, especially growing up? Did Columbus, en masse, know the history being made on the East side of town? 

WH: The city was so segregated that it was hard to give the East side its proper due. A figure like Jack Gibbs—he’s someone who you can almost make a movie about his life. It took so much perseverance and so much focus for the student body of East High to do what they did in that 1968-69 calendar year that I thank the literary gods for the foresight to return to my hometown and pull this story together. Frankly I kept waiting for this to be written by someone else, given the amount of high school sports stories that are on the shelf. I’m not trying to rate this story against any of the others, but I do think that it’s a book with a sports theme. It’s also a book that’s about far more than sports.

Was this your favorite book to write?

WH: That’s a tough question, but here’s how I’ll answer. As a little boy, I lived in the North side of the city. When I lived there East High was a mythical place and I had never laid eyes on that school. But I knew about it because it seemed to be this spiritual epicenter of the East side. It was where you had a lot of black teachers, an all-black student body. Your uncles, aunts, and cousins would always be talking about East High School. It constantly grew in my little boy mind. I lived within walking distance of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, so I would always beg my mother to let me go watch the team play. You had to be there. It was a lot wrapped up inside of me as I approached this book, because in a real way I was writing about my heroes. I’m sure that my history and emotions played a part in me wanting to do this book.
What memories do you have of Columbus during that time, that reminds you that no place was isolated from the racial and social unrest of the events of that era?

WH: In the summer of 1968, the very summer of after Martin Luther King’s assassination, my mother moved her five children to the Bolivar Arms housing project. Within weeks of moving there, there were riots on Mt. Vernon [Avenue]. I, as a 13 year old boy, saw National Guard tanks right through my screen door. It was a very frightening summer for me to wrapped up in that racial turmoil. I did not know that urban unrest on the North side of town. That street was integrated, our neighbors were white. Then I was thrust into this community on the East side that was feeling pain—the pain of a lack of good housing, a lack of jobs. The whole environment of urban America was set right outside of my front door.

How much do you think Columbus has progressed since the time of Tigerland in accepting inclusion and fostering growth in underprivileged neighborhoods like the East side?

WH: There has been a lot of maturity and growth in this city. I’m very proud of a lot of things that have happened. There is no big city in this country right now that doesn’t have social problems, but I think Columbus has done a much better job than some cities certainly in creating a peaceful dialogue over the years. I think that there have been stories that haven’t been championed as much as they should have. There is a gap in what the young people of Columbus know about the city’s past. Another fact from the book is that during that school year in 1969, East High sent more kids to college than they ever had before. Those are stories people need to know.

As a teacher of many students who come from broken homes and neighborhoods, I’d love to know what advice you give to young people?

WH: Since the release of the book I’ve spoken to Somali students in St. Paul, Minnesota, to white students in rural Maryland, black students in Dayton, Ohio. I tell students that on their darkest day, on that day when they feel like the world is not loving them enough, that they need only to take inspiration from these East High Tiger athletes. Eight of the twelve basketball players’ mothers worked as maids, many of them did not have fathers living in the home, two of them had fathers in jail, and none of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But what pushed them and helped them succeed was a championship attitude before they dribbled a basketball or swung a baseball bat. They knew they wanted to be successful. They can lean into this story and they can rise up. Sports is a very gentle way to open the door to talk about poverty, racism, and sexism. You want to hear about how the winners won and how the losers dealt with losing.

Wil Haygood will be the first featured speaker of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Carnegie Author series on Jan. 27th. Register for free at Eventbrite.com.

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Remembering Chris Bradley

What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven? I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven. When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven?

I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven.

When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. I was new to King Avenue United Methodist Church, and Chris was just a nice guy corralling his young son in the milling area, which was full of other people I didn’t know. He was the dad that everyone wanted, standing with a watchful and proud eye and who was always ready for a hug and kiss. Such a stunning smile, I thought. Almost like a trademark. He was the friend everyone wanted to be with, adding a buoyancy, an accessibility, a welcomeness to the conversation. Sharp ties. This guy’s got some sharp ties. The more I observed, the more I wondered. Somehow, he seemed like someone I knew, or should know. One day, I decided to engage Chris in the only awkward conversation I knew him to have.

“So what do you do?”

“The weather on Channel 10.”

The dots started to connect. My face became warm. I started wearing hats and sunglasses and avoiding Chris for a couple weeks, hoping he’d forget me. But that wasn’t possible with the gregarious Bradley-Krausses, and eventually I grew to know and adore this charming and very musical bunch: Chris (who was an adopted child) his husband Jason, and their two adopted children Spencer and Maria—four people connected not by blood, but by their love for each other. The Bradley-Krausses became activists simply by being a family and living out their love for each other and their community with endearing authenticity, creating bonds that have extended beyond the loss of a family member.

In their dying, some people give the rest of us life because they illuminate what life should be about. Chris Bradley’s death from an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia was one of those moments. We can sometimes strangely forget the worthiness of our own lives—the reality that life is indeed more than existence and schedules and tasks. Chris fought for his life because he knew life was worth living. And we should also fight every day for this rare and precious privilege to be alive: to understand all that we can, say all that we can, and be all that we can for however long we are called to do so. Life itself is a terminal illness, and once in a while we are granted a remission from that affliction in being allowed to witness a soul such as Chris love life so much that we cannot help but fall in love with it again.

Weather is defined as an “act of God” because it is completely out of our control. Death is also out of our control. Both tend to depress people. I imagine the great faith in God Chris maintained throughout his life and illness is why he could confront both these inevitabilities with awe, never letting either of them overwhelm him, make him become bitter, or lessen his spirit.

Weather is what makes our planet alive. Chris is now a part of the rain that will nourish the beloved gardens around his home. He is part of the sunshine that will smile on his husband and children. He’ll be in the iridescence of every rainbow we post on Instagram and part of the joy of every Columbus kid’s snow day. Each time we marvel at the mercurial, if not downright wacky amalgamation of temperature and precipitation that is Columbus weather, we will remember our Chris Bradley.

Welcome to the incredible green screen of heaven Chris. You’ve still got a job, we’re still watching, and I have my derecho plan. Thanks for that.

Donations in the memory of Chris Bradley can be made to The Columbus Foundation. Visit columbusfoundation.org/fund/bradley/3730.

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A League For All

It’s draft day for your fantasy football league. As of now, everyone in the room is friends as they share insider tips, sleeper picks, and the laundry list of avoidable athletes. But in a few moments, the friendships joined by football end, and those faces in the room now become your week-to-week enemy. If this [...]
Mitch Hooper

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It’s draft day for your fantasy football league. As of now, everyone in the room is friends as they share insider tips, sleeper picks, and the laundry list of avoidable athletes. But in a few moments, the friendships joined by football end, and those faces in the room now become your week-to-week enemy.

If this sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. After all, it’s fantasy football. But anyone who plays in a fantasy league knows one thing: winning is everything and a year of bragging rights over your closest colleagues is a feeling comparable to very little.

With the highest highs of winning comes the lowest of lows of losing. It doesn’t matter if you have crafted the perfect squad from top to bottom—injuries occur, athletes are traded, and expectations for your sleeper picks were just a little too high. Thus, your league dues are simply put into the pocket of your frenemies, or worse, the random people you met online when you joined that Yahoo league at the last second.

“The traditional way of just giving isn’t really a lot of fun … You make the gift and then it’s over with…By gamifying giving, what you’re leveraging really is the experience of feeling good about giving to a cause, but having fun while you’re doing it.”

This situation happens all too often in the fantasy sports world. The week-to-week challenges offered on FanDuel are often saturated with fantasy pros who make a living off competing against the common sports fan, and the long-term season ends with only one true winner, so your odds of coming home with the cash are slim. However, DraftMates, a fantasy sports app dedicated to raising funds for 501(c)(3) charities, is a chance for the casual fan to delve into the fun of winning, bragging rights, and trash talking—arguably the best parts of fantasy sports—while also giving back to the charity of your choice.

Created by Matt Golis, a Miami (OH) graduate and a Columbus-native, DraftMates was a dream that started in the Bay Area and made its way to Columbus. With the San Francisco traffic, the cost of living, and the struggle to build a team to design this application, Golis said he started to toss around the idea of moving back home.

“It was really difficult to hire a team with that type of a model,” Golis said. “[There] just aren’t the rabid sports fans like there are in
Columbus in the Bay Area.”

Fast forward roughly five months and now it’s Golis, a team of six members, and an office in New Albany.

By creating your league through DraftMates, each league member will pay the traditional dues to the commissioner, but instead of that money going into a pot for a winner-takes-all style competition, each member picks a charity to represent their team. If your team wins the league or in a weekly face-off, 85% of the profits will go towards that charity. The other 15% is spread across DraftMates for operations, and you know, keeping the lights on.

The idea, Golis explained, is something akin to a “gamified GoFundMe.” While fundraising services like GoFundMe as well as Facebook’s donations feature offer a chance for people to donate money to essentially anything—medical bills, a new car, your Aunt Suzie just needs a vacation and can’t afford it—DraftMates takes a different approach that allows the user to feel like they are getting an experience out of their donation.

“The traditional way of just giving isn’t really a lot of fun,” Golis said. “It’s kind of like you put your credit card information in online and you just say ‘donate now.’ You make the gift and then it’s over with…By gamifying giving, what you’re leveraging really is the experience of feeling good about giving to a cause, but having fun while you’re doing it.”

By doing this, it accomplishes two different things. First, if you are winning, you get the pleasure of knowing you are the champion and the charity of your choice will benefit from it. On the other hand (and this is what fantasy sites like FanDuel can’t offer), if you lose, your money is still going towards a good cause and not your buddy’s drinking money.

And the FanDuel experience is actually what Golis is trying to stay away from. DraftMates is for the casual sports fan, and even if you aren’t an avid sports watcher, the app offers an auto-draft and auto-pick feature that will take all the stress out of it for you. The idea here is not to cultivate a community of charity gambling, rather, a chance for people to have fun doing what they were already doing, while also giving back.

While as of now DraftMates offers fantasy leagues for the NFL and NBA, Golis said they are working on rolling out options throughout 2019 for many different sports varying from March Madness with college basketball to the PGA. Who knows? Your next office March Madness bracket could be held through DraftMates where each buy-in benefits the charity your office selects. At the end of the quarter, inning, or day, the participants have fun competing, the charity is able to raise funds for the things it needs, and everyone gets to be a winner.

DraftMates is available on Google Play or the App Store.

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