Oct 7, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 40

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Out of Town: Columbus, Ohio
Out of Town: Columbus, Ohio
by Andrew Collins SGN Contributing Writer

It's still a secret to some - especially those coastal dwellers who mistakenly assume that Chicago is the only Midwestern metropolis with a cool Gay scene - but the progressive and prosperous city of Columbus enjoys a considerable "family" following. It's also home to a bevy of nationally acclaimed art galleries, several historic neighborhoods, and vibrant Ohio State University.

The fact that Columbus is within a day's drive of two-thirds of the population of the United States and has a major airport minutes from downtown makes it even more appealing, whether you're planning a weekend getaway or a longer excursion.

Greater Columbus covers a large area, most of it enclosed within the I-270 highway loop. But most points of interest for visitors are located within a rectangle that extends from just south of downtown, where you'll find charming German Village, to several miles north of downtown, past the funky Short North neighborhood to the campus of Ohio State University. In the heart of downtown itself, you'll find the increasingly trendy Arena District, a warren of hotels, restaurants, and clubs. High Street runs north-south, the length of this rectangle.

Downtown is anchored by the magnificent Ohio Statehouse, one of just a few in the country without a dome. The building's funding was depleted shortly after construction was begun in 1839, and by the time money became available, domes were out of fashion. The Statehouse is in the middle of a burgeoning theater area, whose restored structures include the Capitol Theatre, the Palace Theatre, and the Ohio Theatre.

From Capitol Square, Broad Street leads west to Ohio's Center of Science & Industry, which overlooks the Scioto River, a picturesque waterway fringed by attractively landscaped parks. Or head east on Broad to reach the Columbus Museum of Art, a highly acclaimed regional museum. Continue east of downtown along Broad Street, toward the gentrified neighborhood of Bexley, to find one of the most impressive indoor/outdoor botanical gardens in the country, the Franklin Park Conservatory.

Bordering downtown is the Short North, a neighborhood that as recently as the mid-'80s harbored drug dens and prostitutes but whose century-old redbrick architecture now supports an arts community and a retail and entertainment district that acts as the Gay community's unofficial hub. Right on High Street, An Open Book carries Gay-themed periodicals, music, movies, cards, gifts and more - it's one of the finest such shops in the country.

Continue north of the Short North along High Street, and you'll reach the brand-new Gateway retail and dining center (which opened in September). From here, it's only a bit farther north to Ohio State University, a virtual city in itself. Tours are available of this immense campus. One must-see is the respected Wexner Center for the Arts, a frequent host of Gay exhibits and events - the museum recently underwent a major expansion and renovation, completed in September.

German Village, which is just south of downtown, fell into disrepair in the middle of the century. In the face of plans to demolish the neighborhood, concerned residents created the largest privately funded historical foundation in the nation and preserved this 233-acre haven of cobbled lanes, wrought-iron fences, flower gardens, redbrick cottages, and two-story homes. The Huntington Gardens in beautifully landscaped Schiller Park bloom with perennials from spring through fall. Oktoberfest is a great time to visit.

One of city's greatest strengths is its fantastic restaurant scene. Right in German Village, there are several great options, such as Barcelona, a snazzy and fun Mediterranean restaurant with a queer-trendy following. Also try Katzinger's Deli, which has long been renowned for its massive sandwiches and wonderful soups and cheesecakes, or artsy Cup-O-Joe, a fab coffeehouse that draws students, yuppies, and the like.

In the Short North, head to the hip Burgundy Room to sample fine wines and contemporary tapes. A romantic Gay-popular eatery that excels in contemporary and classic French cooking, L'Antibes employs a polished yet friendly staff. Loosen your belt to sample rich and tantalizing fare like pan-seared sea scallops with tomato-orange coulis. Check out Betty's for its contemporary renditions of traditional comfort food (with Asian and Latin influences) and excellent microbrewed beers and fun cocktails. This campy spot is a fave in the Gay community.

Nearby, hip Liu Pon-Xi can be counted on for exceptional Asian food, such as Kobe beef tataki and roast duck in a Thai curry sauce with coconut milk. And the Coffee Table is a long, narrow, and cruisy space with tall windows and sidewalk seating - it serves tasty desserts and snacks.

And don't miss the wonderful food stalls at North Market, which is usually swarming with local queers. There are two ice cream parlors in Columbus currently dueling it out for top honors. Right in North Market, there's Jeni's, which has truly unusual flavors (consider goat cheese with sour cherries or wild berry-lavender). But Denise's, in the Lesbian-chic Clintonville neighborhood, has arguably even richer and more delicious ice cream and some pretty offbeat flavors, too, such as burnt sugar and chai tea. Also in Clintonville, Mozart's Cafe serves tasty European-inspired pastries, sandwiches, salads, and coffees.

The name of restaurateur Cameron Mitchell is synonymous with great dining in Columbus, and he has several restaurants spanning a range of culinary styles, including Cap City Diner, the Columbus Fish Market, and downtown's M, the most chi-chi member of the Mitchell empire. A favorite restaurant of the Gay community that's also downtown, The Vine serves dependable American fare (and especially great breakfasts and Sunday brunch), but it's also a hit in the evening for cocktails.

In the heart of the Short North, Axis is the city's hottest and hippest Gay disco, with a nice-size dance floor, an intimate (though often packed) upstairs lounge, and some of the best drag shows in the Midwest. The same owners run nearby Havana, an intimate video bar drawing a mostly professional and young crowd, and Union Station, a handsome and festive Gay bar and restaurant that caters to a similarly smart-dressed bunch of Lesbians and Gay men. Other Short North bar options include Downtown Connection, a hopping queer sports bar with an eclectic jukebox, and High Five Bar & Grill, a cool music club that often books bands of Gay interest and pulls in a mixed hetero-homo crowd.

Well-traveled comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer has called downtown's Wall Street her favorite hangout in the country. This spacious, two-level, mostly Lesbian club is especially appreciated for its theme nights, which feature everything from drag to stand-up comedy. Also downtown, the Columbus Eagle is a laid-back, unpretentious dance club that appeals to a broad range of ages and styles. Don't confuse it with the Eagle in Exile, a rather dark forbidding bar that caters to leather daddies and enforces a strict dress code.

Tradewinds tends to be one of the cruisier venues in town - it's also popular with leather-and-Levi's types. Garrett's draws fans of country-western music for two-stepping and has karaoke some nights. Summit Station is a lively Lesbian chat and show bar with a local but loyal following. And Woofs is a popular and relatively new "bear" bar with weekend strip shows. For late-night fun, revelers head out to The Box, a pulsing after-hours disco that's open Friday and Saturday nights into the wee hours (the club was known as Millennium until September 2005). Club Columbus and Flex Columbus are the city's Gay bathhouses.

If you're looking for a hip and intimate hotel, try The Lofts, a sophisticated boutique property that's adjacent to and run by the much larger Crowne Plaza. It's on the edge of the Arena District and occupies a historic 1882 warehouse. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed brick, sleek custom-designed beds and furnishings, and bathroom walls decorated with actual New York City subway tiles. Downtown's Westin Columbus is a National Historic Landmark that's been fully restored to its 19th-century character - it's arguably the cushiest lodging option in town.

Rooms are large and comfy at the Hyatt Regency, and just around the corner, the moderately priced Hampton Inn & Suites sits right in the southern end of the Short North and is also an excellent option. There are also two charming B&Bs close to the Short North, both of them popular with the Gay and Lesbian market. Occupying a lavishly restored redbrick Victorian house, 50 Lincoln B & B has eight warmly furnished rooms. Its sister property, Harrison House B & B is nearby in the historic Victorian Village area. This stunning 1890 Queen Anne mansion contains four high-ceilinged rooms with fine antiques. Either property offers guests an introduction to Columbus's rich history, charming architecture, and warm hospitality, all of which combine to make this one of the country's most inviting - if underrated - Gay destinations.

Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA and nine additional travel guides. He can be reached care of this publication or at

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