By Jim Diamond
Tell someone you are traveling to Columbus, Ohio for a hockey game and the first response you get is usually something to do with Tim Hortons. And after all, who doesn’t enjoy a good donut? Sure Tim’s is good and all, but there is just something a little bit off eating at one outside of Canada. It’s what I imagine eating at a KFC outside of the United States is like. Sure you will still see the Colonel’s face on the big bucket of chicken, but those 11 herbs and spices will just taste different for some reason.
Anyway, more on the donuts later.
I have been pro-Columbus from the start. With them being Central Division mates with the Predators from their inception until the end of the 2012-13 season, when they departed for the Eastern Conference, there have been many opportunities to make the relatively short journey to Ohio’s capital. People ask, “Do you really like going to Columbus?” or if I tweet something about my affinity for the city I get asked if it is sarcasm. Given my occasional proclivity to tweet something sarcastic, I understand the second question, but the truth is that I really do like Columbus.
No it’s not Vancouver, New York, or any of the other major metropolitan cities that house NHL teams, but Columbus has its own charms and fun things to do, yes, even beyond Tim’s. The appropriately named Arena District is a cool area of town, located within easy walking distance of many hotels. The district, if I am allowed to take the liberty of calling it that, has a great collection of restaurants and bars that can take care of any hunger or thirst quenching needs that will likely arise during your stay.
One can’t miss place on the list is the R Bar, a true hockey bar that many NHL cities, sadly Nashville among them, do not have. The R Bar is just a 9 iron away from the front doors of Nationwide Arena. It is in its second location, having moved from its original space across the street from the arena. I miss the old place; it had a dive bar feel to it combined with the everything hockey interior and staff/clientele that made it feel just perfect. The new location is great too. It still has that dive-y feel to it despite being located on the ground floor of a modern looking apartment building.
For a non-hockey themed bar, hit the Tip Top, which is a few blocks away from the arena and never disappoints.
At The Game
The list of NHL cities that are within a reasonable driving distance of Nashville is pretty slim, basically consisting of St. Louis and Columbus – thanks for that Atlanta. Truth be told, last week’s venture to Columbus was the first time I actually made the drive as opposed to flying, and the drive isn’t bad at all. Well, save for the Interstate construction in and around Louisville which has been going on since what 99 or so? Anyway, depending on that traffic and weather, you are looking at five and a half hours or so, not bad.
Despite being close to 15-years-old, Nationwide Arena still has that new arena look to it and is a great place to catch a game. The in-game presentation is strong. The building takes on a Cheers like feel when anthem singer Leo Welsh is introduced and the crowd responds by yelling, “Leo!” And Leo has some pipes too; great anthem and he knocks it out in an expeditious manner as well, so bonus points for that man. The Nationwide DJ is one of the league’s best too.
Into every sunny day a little rain must fall though. And that rain inside Nationwide is the cannon. If you haven’t seen said cannon it is a unique addition to the main level. But when the Blue Jackets step onto the ice at the start of the game and for each of their goals, they go ahead and fire the cannon and well, it’s loud. One arena insider let me in on a secret that the actual cannon doesn’t make the noise and that the percussion element is located above the scoreboard, pointed right at the press box. So while it may not seem that loud to the spectators in the building when it is fired, I’m pretty sure my lungs switched positions in my chest the first time I was unsuspectingly subjected to the firing. Exacerbating matters is that some visiting media are put in a nice box that would normally be used for TV or radio broadcasters. The box is great, but I’m pretty sure that the physics of the percussion bounce off of the walls of said box, prolonging the fun. Since I was in the stands for last Monday’s game and sitting on the opposite side of the press box, the cannon really wasn’t THAT loud.
But good on Columbus. They have something unique to call their own when celebrating a goal. Just be warned that when you hear “For Those About to Rock,” get ready and try and keep your lungs in their proper place.
Go Have Another Donut
Prior to setting out on the drive back to Nashville, the thought of checking out the area in and around The Ohio State University seemed like a good idea. With it being just two days before Christmas, there was not going to be much activity in the area student-wise. The university is located just a couple of miles from downtown Columbus.
Driving down High St. you happen upon a business called Buckeye Donuts. What, you mean there are other places besides Tim Hortons to get donuts in Columbus? As a matter of fact, yes. And better yet, (whispers) this place is cooler and superior. Yeah, I said it. Come at me bro.
Walking in, I received a warm greeting from the dark-haired woman behind the counter. Speaking with a slight accent, it was like being welcomed into someone’s home. The sign says Buckeye Donuts has been there since 1969, so it felt nice being in a business that has been functional since way before Woody Hayes was punching Clemson linebackers. The décor is simple. To the right of the front counter are a bunch of round stools around a lunch counter type setup and another line of stools along the windows facing the street. The stools, floor, and pictures on the walls all look they could date back to when the business opened giving it a vintage feel.
The sticker on the box says, “Open Always, Closed Never!” so who knows how many drunken college students have sat on the very same stool you have over the course of the last 40-plus years.
There are many varieties of donuts available, I didn’t count, but I would guess between two to three dozen different ones.
Despite it being between the traditional times for breakfast and lunch, a steady stream of customers pass through the door and wait their turn. The woman handles the orders and if a sandwich or something else needs to be made by the gentlemen in the back, she yells it to them, sometimes in English, others in what my semi-trained ear believed to be Greek. Not that what language they speak to each other matters, it just adds to the familial and homey feel to the place.
During a break in the flow of customers, the woman wiped down the counters and swept the floor. While sweeping, she found a penny and asked if I dropped it, which I found very charming and thoughtful. I asked her if this was a family-run business and she proudly said that it was her family’s shop.
The staff offered candy canes to the kids who were in there. The woman also slid some extra donuts to the kids, “for tomorrow,” she said. It could have been the fact that it was close to Christmas and she was in the giving mood, but I’m pretty sure that it is more of a routine for her, like all of the kids who entered were treated as if they were one of her children or grandchildren.
Sadly, family-run businesses are becoming harder and harder to find and seem to be disappearing every day. With construction going on all around Buckeye Donuts, you hope that they place stays there forever and isn’t turned into condos or a Starbucks.
My new Columbus strategy is to take a morning run in the direction of Buckeye Donuts. You can’t feel too guilty about breakfast donuts if you actually run to the restaurant, right? And if you are responsible for getting yourself back to the hotel under your own power, you won’t eat so many that you feel like a sloth, right?
Not that I needed another reason to love the city, but I managed to find just that on my most recent trip there. Keep being awesome ‘Lumbus.