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Neighborhood Nostalgia: Ringside Cafe, one of Columbus’ oldest bars

Regina Fox

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In 1897, the Ohio State Buckeyes were in their seventh year of existence, the Lazarus department store in Downtown was entering its heyday, Samuel Luccock Black was the newly-minted mayor of the city, and the establishment at 19 North Pearl Street served its first glass of hooch.

Today, the Buckeyes are powering through their 129th season, shopping is reserved mostly for suburban malls, Mayor Ginther is at the top of Columbus’ political masthead, and the establishment at 19 North Pearl Street continues to sling spirits.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

Recognized as one of the oldest eating and drinking joints in the city, Ringside Cafe is a steadfast pillar of history in a city where development and progress often rise to the top of the agenda. The burgers are juicy, the beers are cold, the lights are low, and the nostalgia runs deep.

It all started in 1897 as the hangout for Columbus’ political powerhouses or, as Doreen Uhas Sauer, Education Outreach Coordinator of Columbus Landmarks and coauthor of Historic Columbus Taverns: The Capital City’s Most Storied Saloons describes it, a boys club. With it being located in such close proximity to the Statehouse, the watering hole attracted Democrats and Republicans alike, looking to talk shop over a pint or two. Whether it was the heated discussions that took place inside, faulty wiring, or another cause, the original building caught fire and burned beyond salvage.

At the time—around the turn of the century—property values along High Street were skyrocketing, squashing any hopes of the owner relocating. And so, it was decided to rebuild on the same site and this time, with a bit more intention. Two famed local architects, Carl Howell and J. William Thomas, took on the task of developing 19 North Pearl Street. At the time, the pair was also building the annex for the Trinity Episcopal Church at the corner of Third and Broad Streets, East High School, residences in Bexley, and several projects in Cleveland’s Shaker Heights.

“It’s unusual to see a bar designed by architects, much less ones that had such a varied career,” said Uhas Sauer.

Howell and Thomas adhered to the then-popular Arts and Crafts style during the rebuild—a trend out of England that celebrated the handmade aesthetic rather than machine-built. Several relicts of this design era can still be found today in Ringside including the dark wood features and carvings, the storybook-style Belgian stained glass windows, and intricate floor tiling.

For several years thereafter, 19 North Pearl Street was known as the Board of Trade Saloon and the Chamber of Commerce Cafe. The upstairs bar and downstairs Rathskeller remained the unofficial after-work clubhouse for local lobbyists and legislators. But, with the temperance movement beginning to take shape, the Chamber of Commerce starkly objected to having their brand associated with a pub. Instead of calling it quits, the decision was made to rebrand to The Jolly Gargoyle and remain open as a tea house and antique shop during Prohibition. According to Uhas Sauer, Columbus didn’t take the ban on alcohol very seriously with many of the city’s residence relying on the industry to make a living. Adrian Rosu, current owner of Ringside, even heard that the “tea” served at The Jolly Gargoyle “smelled a little funny.” But, if you were a lush living in the city during the 1920s and 1930s, there were options.

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“If you wanted to get a swig of a cheap alcoholic beverage, all you had to go was do down Front Street where there were theatres and pick it up from some wino who left it under a bush,” Uhas Sauer said. “If you wanted the expensive stuff, you’d go over to the Statehouse bushes where legislators ditched their bottles.”

The Jolly Gargoyle had a successful run through Prohibition, but the 1960s called for change. Clem Ambrose took ownership of 19 North Pearl Street and put a lasting stamp on the establishment. Being the “jovial, genial host” he was, Ambrose was attracted to the bar’s atmosphere because it reminded him of a bustling little New York deli. Also a New York City enthusiast, famed Columbus artist George Bellows had an affinity for painting scenes from NYC’s gritty boxing matches. Ambrose acquired a recreation of one of these scenes, specifically one that Bellows had painted himself into as if he was watching the contest of strength and toughness unfold—a ringside view, if you will. Naturally, Ambrose deemed the space Ringside Cafe.

Fast forward to 2019 and you can still find the very namesake painting hanging above the entrance of the quaint bar. And sometimes, you can still find Ambrose, too.

“Clem is supposed to be at the end of the bar,” said Uhas Sauer. “It’s the seat he always sat in. That’s the kind of thing he liked to do; he liked to be part of it all.”

While Rosu can’t corroborate Uhas Sauer’s paranormal tale exactly, he admits he believes his bar is haunted. From being in the basement and hearing commotion upstairs when the place is empty, to security footage capturing strange lights moving through walls, to restroom doors opening at will, Rosu and several members of his staff have had experiences they can’t explain. But after calling Ringside his own for 11 years, Rosu doesn’t get too shook up about such oddities anymore. What Rosu feels more strongly about is holding the key, literally, to an important piece of Columbus’ history.

“Columbus is definitely an up-and-coming city, but they’re really good about keeping a lot of the architecture intact. It’s good to see.”

Ringside Cafe is located on 19 North Pearl St. For more information on the restaurant, or for hours and operations, visit ringsidecolumbus.com.

When I'm not weaving a beautiful tapestry of words, I'm likely digging through jewels and vinyls at an antique shop near you.

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Rye In July

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Rye in July featuring the Algonquin! We teamed up with Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve, and local bartender Ben Griest from Giuseppe’s Ritrovo for this tasty Rye, perfect for July! Today's Rye is featuring the Algonquin, with notes of spice, tobacco, and fruit balanced throughout this cocktail - it's sure to please!

The Algonquin

**SPONSORED**

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Milestone 229 overcomes 2020 challenges, to reopen soon

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Every industry has taken a hit this year. It’s cliche to generalize it. With that being said, some businesses have taken more damage than others.

Milestone 229, located on the river’s Scioto Mile, was forced to closed in March along with all the other restaurants across Ohio, as the restaurant industry took a hit despite the uptick in carryout orders.

Just as things seemed to be coming back to normal, as restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen, the protests demanding change during the Black Lives Matter movement brought an unexpected rioting component that had devastating effects for Milestone 229.

The downtown, upscale eatery with the playful fountain for kids and adults alike, took an extra hit when rioting, looting, and vandalism broke down the windows of the restaurant on Thursday, May 29. Milestone 229 was supposed to reopen the upcoming Monday.

Photo by Julian Foglietti.

Griggs has tried his best to stay positive through it all, finding some valuable and much-needed help along the way.

“A good friend of the restaurant, Cathy King, executive vice president of Wasserstrom, started a GoFundMe page for Milestone 229. We are using that money to help relaunch the restaurant.  We also had many friends and family come down the morning after the riots to help clean up the broken glass.”

Doug Griggs, co-owner of Milestone 229


Now, recovering once again, Milestone 229 is set to open back up on Wednesday, July 8. The fine-dining establishment will offer patio and dining room seating, as well as a new curbside pickup. Co-owner Doug Griggs said in an email that the restaurant was able to keep the majority of its patio seating and over half of its dining room seating. 

Milestone 229 has a new venue revamped for the summer as well. You can view it here.

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And the winner of the (614) National Ice Cream Month poll is…

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Columbus has been a culinary hotspot for pretty much the entire 21st century. But what if we told you that you, Columbus, were just as obsessed with fine dining as you are with devouring ice cream?

Jeni’s. Whit’s. Greater’s. The list goes on. But out of the everlasting, Willy Wonka-esque fountain of ice cream stores that exist in Columbus, which one is the favorite of (614) readers?

In reverse order, here are the top seven ice cream choices in Columbus!

7. Cream & Sugar – 2185 Sullivant Ave.

6. Velvet Ice Cream – Your favorite grocer

5. United Dairy Farmers – EVERYWHERE

4. Johnson’s Real Ice Cream – 2728 E. Main St.; 55 W. Bridge St., Dublin; 160 W. Main St., New Albany

3. Whit’s Frozen Custard – Find Ohio locations here

2. Jeni’s Ice Cream – Find Columbus locations here

And after 12 rounds, the winner of the (614) ice cream championship belt is…

1. Graeter’s Ice Cream – Find Ohio locations here.

Photo by Julian Foglietti.

And it just so happens that Graeter’s is celebrating its 150th birthday this month! Celebrate in style with them by buying this specialty birthday cake ice cream. In addition to selling the ice cream online and at a Graeter’s near you, you’ll also be able to pick some up at Kroger, Giant Eagle, The Fresh Market, Dorothy Lane Market, or Jungle Jim’s.

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