Columbus, Ohio USA
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Zeno's Bar and Grill
A long bar and restaurant with a long history
By Christine Hayes
February 2002 Issue
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Dick Allen, Zeno's Bar 2001
Zeno's is the little bar that could. It stays open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It fought, and won, in court and in an election, to be the neighborhood bar on their side of the street. It sports its own parking lot – you get a spiffy yellow tag from the barkeep to display on your dashboard.
Located at 384 West 3rd Avenue at Pennsylvania, Zeno's has the longest bar in Columbus. Room for lots of folks. The long room has two levels: the bar floor, and an upper floor with booths. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, starting at 9 p.m., the upper floor has a DJ and dance floor, complete with disco ball and theatrical lights. The lights glint off the many mirrors. That's Dick Allen's collection of name-brand mirrors, and the knick-knack-strewn mirrors behind the bar.
Cylindrical lights with pert white bulbs shine over the booths, offset by the shamrock-green walls. Zeno's is an Irish-themed bar. St. Patrick's Day is the biggest day of the year. Corned beef and cabbage is served on March 17, amid the Irish step dancers.
What is served on the regular menu? "World Famous" chicken wings (Our own special recipe, big and juicy - Mr. Allen). Nachos and deep-fried veggies serve as the appetizers. Chicken, taco, chef's and garden are the names of the salads. There's a soup of the day; also, chili and onion soup daily. Clam chowder pops up on Fridays. Among the plethora of sandwiches, grilled salmon and the triple-decker club caught my eye. Cajun quesadillas spice it up among the regular quesadillas. Want pizza? Zeno's has it. Steak sandwich? Sure. The biggest sellers are the burgers and the subs.
Carrie Knight is the day cook. She also has a lunch special: ask for it. But how about those drinks? Happy hour occurs from opening to 7 pm daily. Hours are Monday thru Saturday 11 am - 2:30 am; Sunday 1 pm - 2:30 am.
As I walk into the linear spell of Zeno's hospitality, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" wafts through the room. I take stock of the amenities: TVs at either end tuned to sports, tall bar stools, large American flag, two video games, large gumball machine, an old-fashioned stand-up scale, juke box, popcorn machine. An antique vending machine that used to spit out "Zeno's chewing gum" no longer works ("Won't work with modern gum" - Mr. Allen).
There's a pool room (with its own bar) and a party room downstairs. The large trophy collection is from an era when Zeno's sponsored touch football and softball teams. I admired the couches on the upper level. They're from Mr. Allen's now defunct "Chameleons" restaurant in the Convention Center. The "Terrible Towel" behind the bar is signed by several Pittsburgh Steeler players and fans. The large photos behind the bar are of Champ Henson and John Hicks, who played with OSU's Archie Griffin. They were regular customers, personal friends of Mr. Allen.
What we know about Zeno's is that it's always changing. The prominent I-beams are original to the building's construction: they held up the heavy machines used in the creation of baked goods for the N.E. Shop Bakery. Their claim to fame: they made the first buns for White Castle. At the end of Prohibition, the bakery became the J & J Grill, which held forth at the corner for 50 years. Amid neighborhood deterioration, Zeno's tackled the job of renovation starting August 10, 1984, through the spring of 1985. The bar never closed. Customers sat near the sawing and the tearing of things down. Meanwhile, the gas station across the street became a candle shop. The icehouse nearby no longer sold ice.
Zeno's draws its name from one of its owners, Steve Zeno. Chris Miller is another partner; Dick Allen is the general managing partner. Mr. Allen grew up in Clintonville, graduated from Watterson. After some time in Delaware, he moved to Upper Arlington. He has three sons: one at OSU and two at Upper Arlington. He is proud of their state championship football achievements. They help him with remodeling, waiting tables, and cooking. His wife does the bookkeeping: truly a family business.
Three years ago a remodeling job went in: new pressed-tin ceilings over the bar, new bathrooms. But more renovations are on the horizon. The kitchen will get an overhaul, and a new menu before the fall.
Mr. Allen talks about "the troubles" as though we were in Dublin. This was a few years ago, when Zeno's had to fight a certain member of the neighborhood in court, just for the right to remain open. (There had been no complaints from others, either from parking problems or clientele behavior.) During the troubles, Zeno's could serve only wine. They lost patrons, employees numbered 10 instead of the former 30. But Zeno's won a local option election and got back the permit. They have the only permit in the precinct. And they acquired the "$100,000" parking lot to appease the adversary. And they're looking forward.
One customer they never lost was Jack Allman, who has been coming in every day no matter what. Mr. Allen reminisced about the days when legislators and lobbyists hung out, "Once the state budget was signed on that very round table." He's seen the neighborhood change, and he's weathered the storms of slum, boom time, gentrification, and renovation.
I'll drink to that! See you at Zeno's on St. Paddy's Day (or before).
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