The graffiti etched on tables inside Larry's Bar tells tales decades old. But there are plenty of stories it won't tell you. Like that Bob Dylan once stayed in an apartment upstairs. Rod Serling did, too. Also, that there used to be a bowling alley in the basement. Oh, and that the bar is haunted.
It's not easy separating fact from fiction in Larry's long history, admits third-generation bar owner Jon Paoletti.
"We've heard all sorts of rumors about us," he said. "Hey, I know there was a bowling alley."
The family-run business supposedly opened in the 1920s, shortly after Ohio Stadium's construction. Larry's became a bar when Prohibition ended, and next year will mark the drinkery's 75th anniversary.
Inside, Christmas lights flicker above shadowy booths and mismatched tables. Old photos and graffiti-scrawled seating areas reveal the divey bar's age, but Larry's cherry-hued bohemian atmosphere provides a relaxed getaway from the sheen of the area's newer super-bars.
Larry's cheap drinks, killer juke and arty ambiance garner a cult following of patrons. Rumor has it, years ago regulars even circulated a myth that Larry's was a gay bar to ward off lame outsiders.
"It doesn't matter who it is [in here], they like it better when it's less crowded," Paoletti said.
The bar draws a lively audience for its long-running Poetry Forum Monday evenings and karaoke sessions Saturday nights.
Larry's offers pinball and pool to pass time, but the CD jukebox is the major selling point. Lesser-known albums from Dylan and Zeppelin share airspace with juke rarities like My Bloody Valentine, A Tribe Called Quest and Interpol. Paoletti hand-picks the selections, but he's guided by customer input.
You can save a few bucks for picking tunes by stopping by during the daily happy hour, when select drafts and mixed drinks, like a rum and Coke or gin and tonic, run $1.50. Larry's clientele teeters toward graduate students, but Jager bombs ($4.50) are still a late-night weapon of choice.
Unlike some Campus bars, Larry's offers a fairly sip-worthy selection of beer. Draft options include Newcastle, Elevator's Xtra ($3.50) and Procrastinator Doppelbock ($4), but the bar also boasts choice bottles from Great Lakes Brewing Company and Samuel Smith, as well as 24-ounce Heineken keg cans ($4).
The bar plans a wealth of festivities for its 75th-anniversary celebration in January. Campus revitalization plans threatened Larry's existence at times, Paoletti said, but he believes the bar is now safely here to stay.
Who knows? Maybe for another 75 years.