High Street

Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH

Columbus Ohio’s Newport Music Hall, the longest continually running rock club in the US

At the time, it seemed kind of weird and cheesy to be lurking around snapping these pictures. I mean, who walked around in the late 90s taking pictures of buildings, with a camera that used actual film? But now, I definitely wish I had taken a whole lot more of them. As it stands, I only have a couple. Here’s the exterior of the Newport Music Hall circa I think 1999. And then below is the building which housed our treasured Maxwell’s Bar, and the original location for Magnolia Thunderpussy, before Campus Partners came along and completely demolished this entire district:

demolished building which once housed Maxwell's & Magnolia's

Shaffer building on High Street, home to Maxwell’s Bar and the original location for Magnolia Thunderpussy

Magnolia used to offer two dollar discounts on Tuesdays. The help was often the expected hipster class who’d ignore you at the counter and loathe to answer questions or show interest in anything even remotely mainstream – yet in some weird way, you kind of liked this. Now they are located in posher digs down the road, at 1155 N High Street, and have Taylor Swift at the top of their home page. It’s difficult to argue this is better.

Skully’s is another fascinating beast which has evolved to survive the Campus Partners wrecking ball. They too have transplanted to the Short North, landing at 1151 N High Street – right next door to Magnolia’s! Though there was an interim café location way up at Morse and High, they actually began life as an underground dive bar (literally, a subterranean location accessed from the sidewalk) on the OSU campus. In those days it was pretty much just a dank pool hall with four or five couches and an all-German Metallica tribute album on the jukebox. Now of course Skully’s represents an amazing and spacious music hall featuring live acts as well as themed dance parties.

Then there was The Edge. Another underground establishment along the bustling south fringe of campus, The Edge was OSU’s nighttime mecca, the spot to be in a locale chock full of them. During this era, the sidewalks along campus are lined with taut, waist high ropes and everywhere you look there are cops in riot gear hanging out by their paddy wagons, waiting for the next drunken fight, the next public intox. More often than not, the springboard for all this action is The Edge.

Standing in line the first time for that bar, I eye the cops, with their polished helmets reflecting shafts of overhead streetlight, their equally shiny badges, their perfectly pressed uniforms, their holsters, their guns. Rather than acting as some sort of deterrent, the menace they imply and the general atmosphere of mayhem lends an air of static electricity to the scene. That you are in the midst of something heavy, that this is the place to be.

Coeds also had its charms. That first trip to The Edge, actually, we grew tired of freezing our nuts off in the cold, and never made it inside on that particular occasion. We spy a plain, unadorned club right next door, a place called Coeds. And aside from the Swiss villa wooden decor of its front facade, its tucked away status lends it a feel of best kept secret, forcing our hand.

Curiosity piqued, we step inside. A swarm of bodies, and flashing lights of a thousand hues punctuate the dark. Two stories tall, there’s a dance floor upon each level, each teeming with a mob of females gyrating to Prince’s Pussy Control. Within their midst, we’re still treated as slime, pond scum or worse, but to see all of these girls in one place, from cute secretarial types, to sluts in tight black pants or miniskirts, punk rock chicks with spiky hair and eyeliner, you name it, seeing them all here offers some measure of encouragement. Music so loud conversation’s a technical impracticality, faces visible only as passing blurs – recognizable within a tight circle of maybe ten feet, but beyond that a rippling, anonymous ocean.

Upstairs, in the attic loft, there are mirror lined walls and a brass rail surrounding this packed dance floor. Swirling pinspot lights of every color throb along with the ferocious, ass shaking beats stemming from the DJ booth. Rising heat from the floor below, oblivious to that frozen tundra outside, warms the limbs and throat even while standing still, leaning against the railing as we drink beer and ogle females. Paul even gave this place his stamp of approval, an uncommon seal in those days.

We do eventually make it to The Edge, too, however, about a week later. Like most south campus clubs, The Edge is open only from Thursday to Sunday, yet this limited window of opportunity hasn’t damaged its appeal. On the contrary, interest in this hotspot is at an all time high, its cache bordering on the fanatical. The line’s halfway up the block again and on this occasion, as we’re standing in wait, it occurs to me that with all these bodies trapped in a basement bar with just one exit, if a fire breaks out we’re all seriously fucked. They’d be sorting out charred remains for days.

Pool tables were found just to the left of the entrance, offering one potential refuge. Meanwhile the standard sea of mirrors and strobe lighting take up the entire northern half of this trendy cavern.

Sadly, if my research is correct, it appears that the No. 1 Chinese restaurant at 2036 N. High Street is now gone also. ‘Tis a shame in many respects. Though only dining here for one solid year and a half of my life, that stretch in all likelihood means that I’ve eaten there more than any other restaurant in the city. During my heyday I’d walk in and the counter girl would laugh, say, “General Tso chicken?” To which I would respond in the affirmative.

It was decent, and it was cheap, which were about the only two qualities that mattered at the time. Although one night shortly after this period of my life ended, my girlfriend Jill and I were watching the news and they rated this the worst restaurant in Columbus. She started cracking up and asked, “isn’t that the place where you guys ate all time?”

Yes indeed. And poor rating or not, I can’t say a bad word about No. 1 Chinese. Whenever a former haunt goes out of business, however, it’s hard to avoid feeling a little guilty, like if you’d patronized it more, they might still be around. So sorry, guys – hopefully there are no hard feelings. But we can’t all live on campus forever.

The first ever BW3 location once called this same block home – in the same building as No. 1 Chinese, more or less. Though you do read some conflicting reports on this topic, the original restaurant was absolutely opened at the corner of Woodruff and High in 1982. A pair of transplanted New Yorkers, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery were apparently hanging out at Kent State University when they came up with the idea. However, anything stating that BW3 – then known as Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck, preposterously enough, a name which would, even crazier, last almost 20 years – initially opened up shop at Kent State, this is simply untrue.

Even as of the late 90s, when I first begin frequenting this location, there are still printed materials around the building trumpeting its status as franchise numero uno. Sadly, just like the original Wendy’s location downtown (shuttered in March 2007), C-bus figureheads displayed little interest in preserving this semi-seminal piece of history, and it has since bit the dust. Sure, there is something at that address now, but it’s a completely different building, and it sure ain’t BW3.

To step back in the time machine a minute, as of early 1997, Tuesdays at Woodruff and High meant twenty cent wing nights with lines literally out the door, and nary a spare seat in the house. But we were always much more interested in the Wednesdays, where they clear out the space by a front window for this open stage acoustic jam night.

Nowadays what I suppose you might call the “replacement” location sits about two blocks north, just past Lane Avenue on High Street. Representing for all intents and purposes the heart of campus – the major campus intersection, if you will – this plot of land makes sense, the operation is snazzy and I’m sure it’s doing well. And time must march on. Still, with mostly flat and wide open land stretching in every direction, it isn’t as if Columbus represents limited space, an island like Manhattan where buildings must constantly be leveled in the name of progress. As such, you can’t help but lament the obliteration of these landmarks.

Speaking of obliteration, another mini-empire which seems to have completely disappeared is the whole Not Al’s series of bars around campus. Even my lazy efforts at research them online just now have turned up nothing about its origins or its fate. But at one time, just off the top of my head, I know there was a Not Al’s, a Not Al’s Too, and a Not Al’s Rockers, all close enough that one could theoretically stagger on foot to each of them within the same mad drinking spree.

Not Al’s Rockers was probably the most intriguing of the three – and my apologies to any locations I never knew of and/or have forgotten about. Located near the end of the line, where campus attractions begin to steadily thin south of Eighth, it’s a live music dive bar in every sense of both extremes. Live music a surprisingly difficult find at the time, the muted thud oozing through its pores is like a siren song to us the first occasion where we pass this place. Three dollars at the door and we’re ushered inside, privy to the Local Color experience.

A bohemian outfit gracing the minuscule stage, Local Color somehow cram a small army upon its meager surface. Just left of the entrance, amidst a sea of swirling red and green pinspots that would make Pink Floyd jealous, the band is flailing away, half a dozen strong. Fittingly, these dislocated hippies are slithering through Floyd’s seldom heard gem Fearless like ripples on a pond, and as we stumble our way past the queued throng beside the ladies room door, our eyes never leave the stage.

For a small time local act, it’s immediately apparent these cats have their ducks in a row. More than the half assed combos gearing up at Ruby’s each night, though for all I know Local Color plays there too. It would certainly seem their ideal locale, sticking, as they do, to golden 60s nuggets by the Dead and Country Joe. Normally this music drives us bonkers, but they pull it off with such splendid grace, often bettering the originals, that we’re hopelessly drawn into their hazy web.

Tight and musically competent, I feel they could do with a slimmer roster than that of the lead guitarist, the singer who strums an acoustic, the bass player, the saxophonist who picks up a rhythm axe when not blowing his horn, the keyboardist and the drummer, but whatever the particulars they impress. Their craggy faces, impenetrable and unreadable behind tinted glasses and facial hair, stake wordless claims upon the years these songs cover. Ponytails and jeans and faded tee shirts worn like badges of honor, war medals, further strengthening their unspoken bond with the crowd.

As for the crowd, words can never do this mob justice. Body odor hanging in a ripe fog, whether male or female those wearing dreadlocks and overalls prevail in equal proportions. These chicks are by no means averse to sporting rampant armpit hair, nor are the guys opposed to donning what I’m guessing to be potato sacks with holes cut out for the arms and head.

“Look at the way they dance!” Damon howls, pinpointing a handful of specimens with the precision of those swirling red and green lights.

Truly a sight to behold, this jig. Pervasive enough to make us wonder whether someone at the door is passing out booklets detailing this single particular maneuver, and we’ve failed to pick one up. Throughout the bar everyone else except us is operating under the same mysterious spell, dancing in a like manner. Arms raised slightly, elbows bent, they shimmer their bodies up and down, swaying side to side, with an occasional three hundred and sixty degree turn thrown in for good measure. When inspiration strikes they elevate their arms and hold them there, though only as high as their heads. Then it’s back to the same routine.

Uncomfortable, we slide onto the only seating we can find, at a picnic table located near the sound booth. Situated in the center of the bar, it affords an enviable view of Not Al’s Rockers, in every direction, confirming our initial suspicions that this is in fact the only piece of furniture in the house. Aside from the bar, along one wall, and its few token stools, Not Al’s unfurls as one large concrete slab, whereby its occupants either dance or stand along the rear wall. Making no effort to conceal their continuous daisy chain of joints, those situated furthest from the stage lean against the wall with giant dopey grins, suffusing the room in that sharp aroma just a notch below the foul armpit smell.

Together, these elements lend the occasion more the feel of an outdoor festival than a Monday night at some run of the mill tavern. We stick out here like the proverbial bulls in a china shop, but care not the least, and in fact find this unfamiliarity, the newness of a community such as this, of unmitigated interest. Wholly fascinating, this submersion into their hippie subculture, if only for one night.

Local Color finishes Shakedown Street, and we respond with modest hand claps, with respectable hollers. But here, these cliched responses stand out like an animal activist’s paint splashed against a fur coat. They have the clapping thing down, but we’re not about to hear a woo! or an oh yeah! anytime soon, we’ll perish before someone sets forth the first whistle. Instead of what we’ve come to characterize as the standard classic rock response, these peculiar beasts toss off wild kingdom shrieks, and what might be snatches of bird song.

“What was that, a mating call?” Alan jokes, just before hooting like an owl.

But as we’re sitting on the picnic table, the fever and an all purpose weariness are crushing me, I can barely kept my head aloft. My left hand accidentally grazes someone else’s beer bottle and sends it spilling out all over the table, onto the floor, but the goodwill vibe of the place is such that the guy isn’t the least bit angry. Such that I would hand him a twenty, tell him to buy himself another drink, on me.

“I can’t believe you just did that!”  Damon gasps, eyes wide.

But the guy has a face I feel I can trust and sure enough, he returns with my change, thanks me.  No problem, brother. Maybe these hippies aren’t really our scene but their laidback kindness sure beats the snooty bitches we’ve encountered to date at those other clubs, and the assholes surrounding them.

 

 

 

 

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1990 1/2 Summit Street

 

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The three of us move into 1990 ½ Summit in January of 1997, and are the last people to call this address home. Examining the evidence, one might reasonably conclude that this was probably a good idea.

The dingy green and white tile of our kitchen floor is crudded over with black, ditto the bathroom. Whoever rented the place immediately before us – a bunch of skate punks, judging from the scuffed up hardwood floors and various stickers plastered all over the refrigerator – seriously ran 1990 ½ Summit Street to seed. Inexplicably, they left a dozen bags of kitty litter behind, too, but also this intricately carved wooden floor lamp that I swiftly claim as my own.

Mushrooms are growing in the light sockets; our bathroom window is nothing but a taped up sheet of plywood, and raccoon tracks are discernible along its eastern wall, between the sink and commode. Wiring proves a joke – we blow light bulbs at a record clip as days go by – and in the master bedroom, a leak is soon discovered so severe that Alan nearly kills himself one afternoon climbing all over the roof trying to remedy it.

A sad setup we’ve willed ourselves into, though typical of the campus area. By chopping up this once beautiful, spacious house, that faceless someone from decades past has rendered these four bizarrely construed apartments. In our case this means Alan, who owns a large bed and really nice stereo and more stuff than Damon and I combined, is to be given the master second floor bedroom. In actuality, with an ornamental marble fireplace and all, this should be the living room, but we’re not concerned with such trivialities.

Along the long hall which leads from the stair landing and the filthy bathroom, filthy kitchen, in between these and Alan’s room, my own tidy corner of the galaxy lays. A snug little twelve by twelve alcove, hardwood floors but more or less warm, tucked, as it is, in the middle of our apartment. Drifting further, up a second flight of stairs which begins across the hall from my room, a third bedroom looms above, and a fourth beyond it. In the summer months this upper floor will turn unbearably hot, but for now this third floor’s a source of much welcome warmth.

Hack musicians all, the three of us compile our assorted equipment in the first of these rooms and dub it our jamming facility. Damon claims the other, in the deepest reaches of the third floor and directly above Alan’s quarters. His window, like the two in Alan’s room, looks down upon the steady roaring traffic of Summit Street, US 23, as it tears its way through campus en route to downtown.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the view of a dumpster pushed up against the back wall of a house, so that its residents might theoretically launch trash straight down rather than carry it out:

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If such a thing were to theoretically happen, that is. This is what the scene might look like. On a similar note, here’s what a kitchen at, say, 1990 1/2 Summit Street of a city called Columbus, Ohio could resemble if your roommate bought a store mannequin and you decided to attack it with duct tape and spaghetti:

Meanwhile, this is what the bottom of our stairs looked like, just inside the front door, following a night where we decided to launch potatoes and other food items from the landing above. Incidentally, this is not how the smoke detector ended up here. I don’t remember this, but Paul tells me I came home from the bar and was cooking some late night grub for us on the stove. The smoke detector started going off, which was on the wall just above, and while continuing to stir with my left hand, apparently I smacked it off the wall with my right hand without really missing a beat. It skittered around and somehow landed down on that first step. What can I say, that was a long time ago. I might not remember it, but that sounds about right.

 

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Damon does replace a number of electrical outlets that aren’t working, and mounts a fluorescent light on our kitchen wall in lieu of a bum overhead one, but our attempts at home improvement really extend no further. Unless, that is, you count the Bob Marley poster Damon stole from some hall at OSU, hanging in our kitchen with a bogus signature:

Thanks boys for the memories. Bob.

 

 

Ruminations On Trueman Boulevard

Bummed out as I’m sitting at the Starbucks inside this newly constructed Target, on Trueman Boulevard in Hilliard. Just watching the traffic zip up and down this fairly inconsequential street is enough to give me a bad case of the blues, thinking how it was deserted just a handful of months ago, and that the relentless march of progress cannot be stopped.

Before wrongly accused of hypocrisy – I’m guilty of biting the hand from which my food is delivered, sure, but not hypocrisy – let me state for the record that I work here. I sit at one of these tables every morning that I’m scheduled, for breaks and lunch, at these windows facing the street. And while watching interiors of cities as they are transformed and repurposed can be a thing of beauty, a marvel to hold up to the light and admire, something about plowing that which was formerly frontier will always bring out the inner treehugger, somehow, even when one wasn’t entirely sure such an inner voice existed.

Since the Target went up, they’ve built another strip mall on this road already, in between the Home Depot and Cheeseburgers In Paradise. A Radio Shack sits there, who knows what else. And of course this line of concrete shopping options will likely extend north clear up to Davidson Road, soon enough, where Trueman truly ends. In time, who knows, I can see Trueman being expanded until at least Hayden Run. As will Britton someday, too, Trueman’s vaguely parallel counterpart on the other side of the I-270 outerbelt.

Such developments are tolerable when population and lack of space demands it. But sometimes you can’t escape feeling certain acres are bulldozed specifically because they are new, because formerly occupied plots are considered passe. Such as, one other restaurant sitting across the outerbelt, one of those carbon copy “western” steakhouses (I can’t keep them straight, can’t remember which franchises I’ve frequented and which I haven’t as they all look exactly the same), sits deserted, it has been for a couple of years now. Texas Roadhouse was lined out the building when I was dating a girl in this neck of the woods eight years ago, but at present there’s nary a soul dining there. And a Chili’s just closed at this exit as well, demolished and replaced by another goddamn CVS – a development which would otherwise be deplorable, except that I happen to kind of respect that they at least used an existing retail space rather than dropping a bomb in some field on the edge of town. All of these establishments existed along a busy corridor, Cemetery Road, which is itself an exit off of I-270, yet none of those could survive. And even so, they’re still building a bunch of new restaurants along this stretch? I guess the failure of past tenants explains why movers and shakers involved with some of these newer companies declined to take over shuttered locations, but I wonder what makes them feel so confident about their own demographic studies and carefully razed coordinates.