Columbus discovered America. Then, gays discovered Columbus. This cool Ohio city stakes claim as the third-most-welcoming GLBT town in the land (after—duh!—San Francisco and Key West).
Columbus boasts three-dozen gay bars. A gay men’s chorus. A gay hockey league. Gay tennis and bowling clubs. Creative positions with the big-name fashion brands headquartered here, from Abercrombie to Victoria’s Secret.
And who restored all those glam brick homes, the pride of German Village? Who keeps the Short North retail/entertainment district ahead of the curve? Who populates Franklin Park Conservatory, whose flora comes adorned with Chihuly glass? Who’s posing in the topiary garden, amid Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon…done in clipped shrubs?
German Village showcases red-brick houses from the 1850s, when one-third of Columbus boasted German heritage. Brewery workers occupied those narrow numbers, while their bosses got a bit more show-offy. Today, they’re reclaimed sans any trace of oom-pah, as proven in German Village Guest House, all contempo, from cool colors to hot java.
Shops like Caterina outfit the Village with imported home accessories. The Book Loft occupies a 32-room warren (map provided). It’s probably wise to stop first at nearby Pistachia Vera to lay in a supply of macaroons—the ones God eats in heaven, provided that He’s a foodie—in case you’re lost in the shelves for a day or two. Emerging, you’ll find Mojo right next door, ready with whatever restorative you require, from cocktails to coffee.
Or fortify yourself at North Market, housing food vendors of every stripe. The uncontested pinnacle is Jeni’s, goddess of ice cream, worshipped in flavors ranging from violet meringue to fig/goat cheese/cognac—cheaper than therapy, and far more effective.
Nearby lies Short North, a once-unsavory stretch reinvented as the coolest realm of real estate this side of SoHo. It’s anchored by Union Café, domain of sexy drag queen Nina West. It’s flanked by retail revelations like Revue (antiques, from Thonet rockers to ceramic pythons); Posh Pets for man’s best friend, or TORSO for the human variety (check out its, um, enhanced skivvies); Emperor’s New Clothes (“Life is fun. Dress the part”); Collier West (wacky jewelry, saucy cards); Flower Child (rags from the ’60s and ’70s); and Adore (sassy rehabs including watch innards as jewelry and jewelry atop pie servers).
Short North proves a perfect fit for Middle West Spirits, an all-organic distillery making primo sippin’ whiskey and OYO vodka that pushes flavor, not the antiseptic stuff, as gay blade Brady Konya, co-owner, demonstrates to drop-ins. Oh, beer’s your brew? Then Rockmill is your destination. In a horse barn of 1870, sommelier-gone-rogue Matthew Barbee crafts Belgian-style ales, including spicy Saison; Duvel, dark and lusty; and Tripel, hinting of dried apricot.
Locovores likewise dominate the dining scene. Barcelona brings a touch of Spain to German Village—gazpacho to paella, with tasty stops for lamb shank livened with smoked paprika aioli.
Steer to Short North for Rigsby’s, showcasing fare with an Italian accent, including calamari fritti and short ribs partnered with pine nut and Parm. The man can cook! And so, turns out, can his wife. She runs Tasi, brightening daybreak with huevos rancheros. For lunch, it’s homey meatloaf, plus mac and cheese.
At Surly Girl, a classic bar and grill, mind your mouth, or you’ll learn how the café got its name. Worth the good behavior: a rich posole stew; pulled pork tacos; a life-altering pizza with blue cheese, walnuts, craisins.
The Refectory is a paragon of fine cooking, served under the rafters of a former (betcha guessed it) church, where I worshiped the Dijon-kissed artichoke-and-crab cakes, then a perfect rack of lamb. The chef trained under French dining god Paul Bocuse. Yes, it’s that good.
So’s the salmon BLT at Black Creek Bistro. And the Green Cat sandwich, built of Swiss, guac, and Thai honey-mustard coleslaw. At dinner, think gnocchi mined with slow-roasted duck. That just about will hold you till breakfast, where it’s smart to show up at Northstar Café for way-too-good ricotta pancakes, turkey-sweet potato hash, or mushroom-Gruyere frittata.
Best for last: Skillet is my new amour. Here, in a pygmy-size hole in a German Village wall, Chef Kevin makes a religion of “local and organic,” played out in fare like pancakes with apples and Ohio maple syrup (oh, and Ohio bacon); omelets plump with mushrooms and Swiss chard; and the dish that revisits my dreams—Cheddar grits with collard greens and smoked pork. Be good, and I’ll give you a bite.
Better yet, visit <www.experiencecolumbus.com>, and come get your own.
GLBT Theater (Sept.)
12 along Short North’s
High Street alone, including:
(home of drag diva Nina West)
Stonewall Community Center