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Password Please: Exclusive look inside Columbus’ top secret cocktail bar

Regina Fox

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Imagine strolling down Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets in Downtown Columbus and you notice an old-timey pay phone behind a glass door. 

“Hm, that’s funny,” you muse to yourself. “I don’t recall ever seeing that before.”

Curiously, you pick up the receiver and hear a muffled ring on the other side of the wall. A voice comes through your earpiece, inquiring about your name and member number. Then, one of two things will happen: either you’ll have no clue what the person is talking about, or, you’ll rattle off your personal code and be granted access to one of Columbus’ best-kept secrets: No Soliciting.

Photo by Brian Kaiser

If you aren’t among the roughly 320 individuals who possess one of those personal codes, it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of this secret, members-only bar, let alone been inside. And this, dear readers, is precisely why the talented and trusted Brian Kaiser and I, armed with camera equipment, pen and paper, pretended to be No Soliciting members for an afternoon. 

From the small foyer with the old payphone where members check in, what appeared to be a black panel wall slowly swung open (imagine Addams Family-style, but cooler) and I stepped inside.

Oaky and sweet smells greeted me upon entry. This was no mistake. No Soliciting’s unofficial official drink is an old fashioned smoked with cedar and cinnamon. (As a person who can’t usually palate bourbon with ease, I put this handsome devil down effortlessly). Bartender Chris Yoha purposefully scorches a bowl of the wood chips and spices before the bar opens. Smart. 

Photo by Brian Kaiser

The front bar area was sharp and sophisticated. The leather booths adjacent to the bar were adorned with vintage headshots of America’s greatest entrepreneurial spirits—Walt Disney, King Camp Gillette, Alexander Graham Bell. I imagined all the important decisions No Soliciting members made in those booths, all while their heroes watched silently over them. You see, most of the club’s membership is comprised of business owners around the city. 

About a year and a half ago, before No Soliciting was No Soliciting, the space was simply part of Rise Brand offices. But, it wasn’t long before CEO Troy Allen was persuaded by local business owners and close friends to open the space to the public…curated public, that is. 

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It began with 15 people close to Allen who are now known as the Founding Members. Wanting to create a space of like-minded individuals, Allen and his team began accepting applications with a vested interest in Columbus business owners. 

“It’s always nice to have that sounding board of other like-minded people when it comes to business owners to be able to talk to, share with, and understand perspective,” said Allen. 

Allen does not consider No Soliciting an eletists’ bar, but stands by the vetting process to protect the unique exclusivity it offers.  

The application contains all the normal fields—name, phone number, email—but further down, hopeful members are prompted to disclose more unique info, such as their expectations of being a member, what they would tell their 21-year-old selves, and who their reference(s) are. 

While there is a “Who do you know here?” tone, Allen says it’s not imperative to have a referral to get in. Rather than a name in the reference field, Allen can respect a “I’m looking forward to meeting someone,” response. He also shot down the notion that No Soliciting is a “boys club.” 

“The diversity that’s in here within the walls when we’re open is welcoming,” said Allen. 

Between members and their guests, Allen estimates the ratio to be a 50/50 split when No Soliciting is open. He guesses women make up a third of the membership, a number he’d like to see rise.

“The ladies who are members are kickass members, frankly,” Allen said. 

Photo by Brian Kaiser

Once members make a selection from the upscale cocktail menu, choose from one of No Soliciting’s 300+ bourbons, or order up a customized adult beverage from the skilled bartenders (all member purchases expensed to their house account), they can venture further into the venue where a stately lounge awaits.

Worn leather couches and armchairs are circled up and poised for conversation. Flags adorn the walls, concealing TV screens underneath. Animal hide rugs and foliage dangling from the skylight soften up what might be a masculine feel. The place has a tasteful sophistication that mentally and emotionally matured me at least a decade. I should’ve wiped the mud from my boots before, I scolded myself.

Allen gleaned inspiration from his experience as a member of Soho House, a chain of private members’ clubs around the world. He respects what the other clubs around town are doing—country clubs, the Athletic Club, the Columbus Club—and extended admiration towards local cocktail bars, as well. But, what he saw lacking in Columbus was a more elevated experience that combined the two.

“To me, there was a hole in this market. So, when we started to do No Soliciting, it was because of my experiences at Soho House…. I wanted people to get that same experience here on a smaller, more intimate level.” 

Above all, Allen’s main m.o.—besides intimacy, exclusivity, and quality—is comfortability. He wants his members to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness, all while enjoying the luxuries No Soliciting can afford upon every visit: excellent cocktails, exceptional service, compatible community, controlled capacity. 

This is the culture Allen and Rise Brands hope to reciprocate in Dublin’s Bridge Park. Not only will there be a second No Soliciting, but the flagship location will also be undergoing some major changes soon as the Rise Brand headquarters relocate to Long Street and are replaced by a full-service kitchen and event spaces for the members.

“Rules are made for people who aren’t willing to make their own,” reads writing on one of the main walls in the lounge. And with No Soliciting’s speakeasy-style access, hushed and humble existence, yet powerful presence in a select part of the community, No Soliciting is certainly willing to write its own.

No Soliciting memberships carry a $1,000 annual fee. While the club is currently not accepting new members, you can be added to the waitlist at nosolicitingbar.com.

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Classy Trashy: Fast-food classics inspire upscale creations

Mike Thomas

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For better or worse, fast food is something of a Midwestern tradition (and who are we kidding—it’s probably for the worse). While often viewed as a guilty pleasure in today’s increasingly health- and fitness-minded society, fast food chains still dominate much of our landscape—not to mention our diets.

In many households, it’s the simple and easy option for busy working parents. For others, it’s the best you can do for the price. Unpretentious, easily-accessible, ready when you are—fast food remains a familiar touchstone for millions. 

When he opened Service Bar, Chef Avishar Barua wanted to bring that same approachability to the food on his menu. “We were trying to make dishes that I had a lot of experience with, but it’s hard to translate some of that experience into a dining room,” Barua remembers. “I grew up in the Midwest, and I know how hard it is to get my family to eat stuff.” 

This is where tinkering at Taco Bell some years before came in.

“When I found out about the Cheesy Gordita Crunch I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Barua explains. “That’s everything—every contrast you want, every flavor. I thought it would be really cool if you put it in a Doritos Locos shell.”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

The Dorito-infused gordita he conceived of that day became Baura’s go-to order when visiting the ostensibly-Mexican-themed fast-food chain. Later, it served as the inspiration for one of Service Bar’s most iconic menu items—the Cheesy Brisket Crunch.

“At face value, it seems like an upgraded version of the Taco Bell taco,” says Barua of Service Bar’s take on the fast-food standard.

Featuring house-smoked brisket, Barua’s creation mimics its fast-food counterpart with a South American-inspired sauce of serano and nora chiles, smoked cheddar from Middlefield Original Cheese co-op, and shredded iceberg lettuce—all in a hard shell made with Columbus’ own Koki’s Tortillas. To reproduce the Gordita’s signature outer shell, Barua looked to the traditional Bengali frybread of his youth—a staple in his mother’s cooking. 

“We’re trying to recreate that memory of biting into that super-crunchy taco, with all these things encapsulated from all these experiences into one very identifiable dish.”

Barua’s approach to cooking centers on creating points of entry through familiar presentations. In his kitchen, there is no clear distinction between high-end cuisine and lowbrow junk food. There is only good, and not good.

“People will always bring up ‘modern cooking’ or ‘fusion cooking’ —it’s just cooking, man,” says Barua. “You can just say, ‘I think this is food that I’d like to eat, and I want to make it and try to translate it.’ ” 

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This view is shared by A&R Creative Group head chef Tyler Minnis, who incorporates upscale twists on fast-food favorites on the menu at The Market Italian Village.

Chef Minnis has found that fast-food presentations can serve as useful points of access for patrons when it comes to some of the market’s more formidable offerings. 

“I think it’s an easier way to introduce certain ingredients to people that they might not normally be adventurous enough to try,” Minnis explains. “You might see something and say, ‘Oh, I know what that is, and I like it, so why not try the rest of it?’ ”

It was this approach that led to the creation of one of the standout items on the Market’s brunch menu. With a thick-cut slice of mortadella in place of the Canadian bacon and the funky goodness of taleggio replacing the usual slice of processed American, The Market McMuffin improves dramatically on its counterpart from the golden arches. 

In addition to making upscale ingredients accessible to the masses, Chef Minnis finds that fast-food twists help to keep the tone of the menu light. 

“Myself and my staff take this stuff very seriously, but at the same time, we try to have fun with it,” Minnis explains. “If not, there’s not really any reason to be cooking. You might as well do something else.”

For these chefs, dishes such as these constitute more than just a cheeky highbrow take on supposedly lowbrow food options. They are a valuable resource in encouraging diners to test the limits of their palates through forms they are already comfortable with. What’s more, these dishes represent an expression of one of the Midwest’s most authentic food traditions. 

“We were once classified by Anthony Bourdain, R-I-P, as a place that was a bunch of strip malls separated by Applebees,” chef Barua says. “That’s what he said about Columbus, Ohio. And you know what, maybe we are, but it’s cool. We can all identify with things here. We can all have memories, and we’re not pretentious assholes.” 

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New supper club opens in the Short North

614now

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Short North now has galleries, bars, restaurants, apartments, businesses, and a supper club, literally. Ampersand Asian Supper Club is officially open in the Brunner Building at 936 N. High St.

The fast-casual restaurant offers Japanese dishes like Donburi rice bowls, nori fries, miso soup, pork chashu, and teriyaki chicken. Ampersand hangs its aprons on Ramen, though. At $18 a bowl, the ramen options range from Smokey Shoyu, to Miso, to Fungus Among Us.

See the full menu below:

The bar program offers Japanese spirits, whiskey, and vodka among others.

Ampersand is owned by Megan Ada, who is also behind Asterisk Supper Club and Sunny Street Café in Westerville.

Ampersand is open 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM Saturday and Sunday, and 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Sunday. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

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Quiz: Which Columbus brewery are you?

614now

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