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  WINDY CITY TIMES

TRAVEL Hello, Columbus, Much more than a college town
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2018-09-18

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I've had the good fortune to travel to Columbus, Ohio, a few times—and I've convinced more and more people that it's a great place to visit.

Why is that? Because, despite some individuals' perceptions that The Ohio State University (and don't forget to put "the" in front of the school's name) dominates the city, there really IS a lot to see and do. After all, it is the state capital.

My most recent trip to Columbus involved doing some of the same things I'd previously done—but also involved some exploration, revealing new aspects of this charming city.

DIY and diversity

After checking in at Hotel LeVeque (50 W. Broad St.; www.hotellevequecolumbus.com )—which still looks and feels as fabulous as ever—I was in an LGBT media group that checked out the scene at The Kitchen (231 E. Livingston Ave.; thekitchencolumbus.com ), which employs a concept called "participatory dining." I honestly didn't see the point of preparing dishes myself (that's why I pay THEM), but the point of doing this became clear (even if it was clear that I'm not the next Rachael Ray): bonding. As we made such dishes as olive bread swirls, it was nice to have conversations with other people, even comparing cooking skills—and the items turned out quite well, if I do say/write so myself. (By the way, the five-year-old Kitchen has a newer event space, The Studio at The Kitchen, conveniently located next door.)

Then, it was the fabulous and friendly drag queen Plenty O'Smiles (aka Plenty O'Cookies; www.plentyocookies.com ) who took the reins and instructed us in the art of decorating cookies. She was incredibly patient, even with some of us stragglers (ahem). Be sure to book her; she really is adorable.

And from there we went to Club Diversity (863 S. High St.; clubdiversity.com ), a very laid-back space with friendly staff and stiff drinks—the kind of place where one could easily become a regular. (For a list of Columbus' LGBT clubs, see ColumbusGayBars.com .)

Clintonville, COSI and vets

The next day, I decided to hit a part of Columbus I'd never experience: Clintonville. What resulted were some nice surprises.

Clintonville is a large neighborhood, and it reminded me of Chicago's Andersonville—and I later understood why. I discovered after I arrived in the area that it's extremely LGBT-friendly, and many lesbians call the district home. (In fact, my Uber driver from Clintonville to my next destination happened to be a lesbian who said she and her wife hoped to move there.) By the way, those in the area must check out the wonderfully named Dough Mama (3335 N. High St.; www.dough-mama.com ), which not only has a nice selection of bakery items but an all-day menu that includes biscuits smothered in delicious sausage gravy.

And in a shift, this writer (who was a biology major in college) decided to check out the science museum COSI (333 W. Broad St.; https://cosi.org). Yes, there were approximately 5,000 kids when I went (and I might be lowballing that number), but hurdling the little ones was worth it, as this place has some incredible exhibitions, including the Dinosaur Gallery. (For the kids and kids at heart, there's now a "Hot Wheels: Race to Win" exhibit through Jan. 6.

Speaking of museums, our group was allowed to take an early look at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (300 W. Broad St.; https://www.nationalvmm.org), which officially opens Oct. 27, complete with a keynote speech from Gen. Colin Powell. We were informed that the facility will include timelines, interactive kiosks and 25 stories from veterans, among other things. (When asked if any LGBT veterans will be profiled, Windy City Times was told that the memorial/museum "scoured the country." I'm really hoping this results in at least one LGBT vet being profiled, after so many devoted time—and their lives—to defending this country.)

After that serious visit, things turned a bit lighter upon visiting Basi Italia restaurant (811 Highland St.; www.basi-italia.com ), with charismatic chef/co-owner Johnny Dornback. The menu is as audacious Dornback, with tantalizing items such as arancine fumo (with saffron, smoked mozzarella and crushed tomato marinara), braised beef shortribs and cannoli awaiting customers.

Short North sojourn

The area of Columbus known as the Short North is, simply, a treasure.

It may hold a special place in my heart because my initial stay in the city was a Hampton Inn in this neighborhood. However, to me, the Short North has practically something for everyone.

Now, the Hotel LeVeque doesn't have a spa (yet)—but Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph (620 N. High St.; www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/cmhdm-le-meridien-columbus-the-joseph ) has pretty cool spa suites, and includes a warmed marble seat that feels like heaven. And this hotel is pretty unique, as it has everything from innovative artwork to athletic gear that it loans its guests.

And no visit to the Short North is complete without stopping by North Market (59 Spruce St.; www.northmarket.com ), with dozens of merchants offering everything from chocolate-bacon donuts to Indian dishes to stone-crab claws—and there's a large dining area on the second floor.

Walking along the main strip of the Short North—High Street—reveals a cornucopia of stores and inviting opportunities. Big Fun (672 N. High St.; bigfuncolumbus.com ) has vintage toys (Albert Einstein bobblehead, anyone?), while Karavan (771 N. High St.; www.karavancolumbus.com ) had Turkish treasures I couldn't resist. Make your own customized candles at The Candle Lab (751 N. High St.; www.thecandlelab.com ); marvel at the leather goods at Fount (668 N. High St.; fountleather.com ); and pore through the vintage CDs at Magnolia Thunderpussy (1155 N. High St.; www.thunderpussy.com ), a 47-year-old store named after a San Francisco burlesque performer.

For a fantastic meal, Service Bar (1230 Courtland Ave.; servicebarcolumbus.com ) is definitely a place to hit. Among the cool dishes from Executive Chef Avishar Barua are Cheese & Poof (with fire-roasted pimento spread, pork rinds and barrel-aged hot sauce), lamb wontons, sticky pork shank (with papaya salad, sticky rice and Thai basil) and cinco leches cake.

Then, there is the Gallery Hop (shortnorth.org/arts-galleries/gallery-hop&, during which people visit galleries and witness the talents of street performers the first Saturday of each month. It's a can't-miss experience that's been going on for more than three decades (and, by the way, be sure to check out the many murals along the street, including a recent one of late comedian Richard Pryor).

However, there is still so much more to do in Columbus, including visiting nationally known attractions such as the Columbus Zoo and Franklin Park Conservatory, along with the renowned art museum Pizzuti Collection; and quaint neighborhoods like German Village. Columbus—take it all in!

Many thanks go to Experience Columbus and Weirick Communications for arranging this visit. Also, I'm grateful to Short North Trolley (www.shortnorthtrolley.com ), and very interesting co-founder Jeff Shugarts, for the transport.


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