I have had the good fortune to visit Columbus, Ohio, several timesand there's a lot more to the 14th-most populous city in the country than The Ohio State University (and, yes, be sure to include "the").
In essence, it's a case of "the more things change, the more things stay the same"and by the latter, I mean that the levels of quality and fun have been unchanged for the decade (and more) that I've explored the city.
To be sure, there's a lot of change that constantly occurs here, and that's to be expected in a place where the population is exploding (with some residents moving from Chicago). But Columbus is just a five-and-a-half-hour drive (or 50-minute plane ride) away from the Windy Cityand a world of wonders awaits.
Luxury at LeVeque
Hotel LeVeque (50 W. Broad St.; www.hotellevequecolumbus.com ) is a 149-room boutique hotel in downtown Columbus.
Since 1927, the historic LeVeque Tower has been a shining star lighting up the skyline, and the hotel maintains that astronomical connection in several waysincluding having astrolabes and machines in rooms that cast astral projections.
Patrons might feel like stars themselves (the celebrity kind, of course) as the hotel attends to every whim. (When the fitness center ran out of sanitizer, it was replaced quickly.) In addition, there's the restaurant Keep, which serves breakfast and dinner (the latter including a lovely buckeye truffle for dessert).
Food and drink
Chicago may have an impressive culinary scene, but Columbus can certainly boast of many high points in the areas of food and drink.
A good starting point is the acclaimed and relatively new Chapman's Eat Market (739 S. 3rd St.; www.eatchapmans.com ). The joint was certainly jumpin' on the night I went with a dining companionand it's no surprise. The dishes are certainly enticing, especially the General Tso's cauliflower and the com tom (lemongrass pork shoulder over broken rice, chile cucumbers and pickled carrots). The cocktails (such as the Ohhh, What's That?, a concoction of gin, lavender, purple yam, citrus blend, aquafaba and soda) are equally intriguing.
In Columbus' popular Short North areawhich has undergone changes of its ownone stalwart business is Northstar Cafe (951 N. High St., among other locations; www.thenorthstarcafe.com ). Famed for its breakfast items that range from mushroom frittatas to the ham-and-cheese scone to the Everyday Egg Sandwich, there's something delectable for everyone.
Charmy's Persian Taste (inside the Hills Market, at 95 N. Grant Ave.; www.charmyspersiantaste.com ) offers delightful dishes such as mirza ghasemigrilled eggplant, egg, tomato and garlic, served with traditional Persian bread. Another fascinating aspect involves co-owners Rezi Haghiri and wife Sherry Bayegan, who came to the United States seeking asylum from their native Iran. (Haghiri told Windy City Times she's been to Chicago oncein 2014 to gain said asylum.)
Brassica (680 N. High St.; brassicas.com/locations/short-north/&; is another Middle Eastern spot (although arguably of the fast-food variety), and it's undeniably popular, as the line to order food is often out the door. (It's owned by the same people who run Northstar, btw.) Pita bowls and salads are assembled in a Chipotle-like atmosphere, with ingredients like falafel, chicken, brisket and vegetable. Grab a tahini chocolate-chip cookie and a minty pink lemonade to make a great meal.
And just down the street from that restaurant is the world-famous Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (714 N. High St.; jenis.com ). Chicagoans certainly know of Jeni's, which originated in Columbus (like White Castle, believe it or not), as well as its vast catalog of innovative flavors that include Powdered Jelly Donut, Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, among many others.
Pistacia Vera (531 S. 3rd St.; www.pistaciavera.com ) is a charming and enduring spot in the city's German Village area. People can order quiches and sandwichesbut the place is best known for its decadent pastries and sweet treats such as macarons (not to be confused with macaroons). The next time I stop here, I'll have to get the cocoa buttermilk cake. (Note: Patrons can dine here, but only outside because of self-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.)
The North Market (59 Spruce St.; northmarket.org/&; is a public market made of Ohio's best independent merchants, farmers and makers. From the vegan soul-food spot Willowbeez Soulveg to Flavors of India to the American Nut Co. (where I discovered addictive lemon-creme almonds), there's something for all.
Last, but certainly not least, on the culinary trail is the Budd Dairy Food Hall (1086 N. 4th St.; budddairyfoodhall.com ). The huge area (which, thankfully, has a large parking lot) houses such restaurants as Borgata Pizza, Pokebop, Cousins Maine Lobster and (my fave name) Cluck Norriswhich brags about having "ass-kickin' chicken." However, there's more than just food: People can relax on the rooftap, play games such as Skee-Ball and take part in events such as "The Big Bad Music Trivia Show with Mark Dantzer."
Oh, but wait: There's more. For those whose interests gravitate toward alcohol-related pursuits, the city has the Columbus Ale and Distillery trails.
Dozens of breweries make up the Ale Trail, and participants can pick up passports to get stamped at each stopwith a limited-edition T-shirt going to those who visit all 34 before May 1, 2023. Just a few of the participating businesses include Land-Grant Brewing Company, Endeavor Brewing & Spirits, and the new spot Combustion Brewery Clintonville (which opens in June).
As for the Columbus Distillery Trail, people can visit spots such as Middle West Spirits, Watershed Distillery and Noble Cut Distillery, among others.
Noble Cut Distillery (750 Cross Pointe Rd.; noblecutdistillery.com ), which I had the pleasure of visiting, specializes in flavored limoncello (80 proof), flavored whiskeys (liked salted caramel) and vodka. All of the items I tasted were quite smoothand, as a bonus for LGBTQ+ people, the distillery sports the Progressive Pride flag, a nod to founder Tony Guilfoy's aunt. (CEO Shawn O'Reilly was an extremely knowledgable and genial host.)
A little shopping
No excursion is complete without at least a little shopping. Thankfully, Columbus offers a wide variety of shopsincluding many that are LGBTQ+-owned.
Two such shops are side by side in the Short North Arts District. Samson's Men's Emporium (772 N. High St.; samsonmensemporium.com ), run by the always smiling Travis Samson, feels like an issue of Esquire magazine that's come to life. It offers timeless and refined men's items that include leather, jewelry, shaving products, outerwear and even barware. Torso Menswear (772 N. High St.; torsomenswear.com ) offers items that whimsical, in-your-face fun and/or even naughty. Think Andrew Christian underwear, LGBTQ+-themed T-shirts and bars of soap that read "Gay Soap."
One might not think of purchasing books while in Columbusbut I'm here to advise you to check out at least two spots. The Book Loft of German Village (631 S. 3rd St.; www.bookloft.com ) is a labyrinthine business that you could easily visit for an entire afternoonin fact, it's one of the country's largest independent bookstores (with 32 rooms of bargain books, and they're all new). The books cover almost every conceivable genre, including manga.
And then there's Two Dollar Radio (1124 Parsons Ave.; twodollarradio.com ), which is substantially smaller than The Book Loft but is just as compelling. Owner Eric Obenauf would be the first to admit that the books in his store/vegan cafe aren't for everyonebut if you're in the market for literary jewels by underground writers, this is your spot. Two Dollar is an enticing business that's as laid-back as Obenauf.
For those who are into vintage and even campy items, Flower Child (now at 233 E. 5th Ave.; flowerchildvintage.com ) is a must-visit shop. Actually, "shop" might give short shrift to this place, which has items spread over more than 30,000 square feet. Around every corner is more great vintage, hand-selected and displayed as it would have been when originally sold. Offering clothes, jewelry, furniture, music, candy and even skin mags that span decades (1930s to the 1980s), Flower Child is a cool time-traveling experience. (By the way, there's a felt-and-vinyl chair that I came so close to purchasing. To the purchaser: Treat it well.)
One of the most beguiling sites I visited in Columbus is far removed from downtown. Otherworld (5819 Chantry Dr.; otherworldohio.com ) is an immersive art experience that occupies 30,000 square feet in a strip malland will probably be very popular on Halloween.
That's because Otherworld bears a striking resemblance to various horror movies (including Resident Evil) as well as the Upside Down in the Netflix series Stranger Things. Then again, other aspects will take you to an electronic forest where you can almost see fairies hiding behind branches. More than 40 creatives with backgrounds in programming, metalworking, animation, sculpting, digital fabrication, creative writing and other mediums have worked to put together bioluminescent dreamscapes. "Just be sure to touch everything," a couple told a friend and myself. You shouldyour experience will definitely be enhanced.
One of the most intriguing neighborhoods in Columbus is Franklintonand to stay it's been transformed is an understatement.
Considered one of the more undesirable places to live/visit in the city, the area's change happened in large part because of the efforts of former Mayor Michael B. Coleman (who ran the city from 1999 to 2016). A stone's throw from downtown, some of the highlights include the science museum COSI; businesses just as plant shop Jewel Weed and Body Beautiful (where one can take intimate portraits); and the Franklinton Arts District.
Another interesting site is the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (300 W. Broad St.; nationalvmm.org/&, which can be an emotional visit for many. Among the displays is the "The Twenty-Year Exhibition," which shares the diverse experiences of Veterans who served during the Global War on Terror. Moving through the exhibits program, "Veterans Among Us," there are 14 thematic alcoves highlighting key themes and moments in veterans' journeys and incorporates personal stories. There's also a Remembrance Gallery on the mezzanine level that is a space for reflection and recollection of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. (Unfortunately, there's no part of the museum devoted to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"yet.)
Lastly, after ALL that, relax at a park. Schiller Park is a 23-acre municipal park in German Villageand it is the second oldest such spot in the city, after Goodale Park. While watching all the wildlife (mainly squirrels, ducks and Canada geese), take a gander (get it?) at the spectacular statues, aerial and otherwise, on loan by Polish artist Jerzy Kedziora.
Another cool spot to visit is John W. Galbreath Bicentennial Park, which features, among other things, a performing-arts stage and the Scioto Mile Fountain. While there, consider seeing Columbus another wayby kayak or paddleboard, courtesy of Windrose Outdoor (windroseoutdoor.com ).
Bicentennial Park is one of two dozen stops on the Columbus Outdoor Trails Pass. Explore beautiful spots like Indian Run Falls Park's Emerald Trail and Wolfe Park's Alum Creek Trail.
As you can hopefully see, Columbus has so many options, inside and outdoors. Special thanks go to Weirick Communications and Experience Columbus for arranging this visit.