Classic Columbus Haunts: Ringside Cafe

  • Photos by Jodi Miller
From the 10/06/2010 edition

First meal served: 1910

Down memory lane: Nineteen North Pearl Alley has been the site of a downtowner and political insiders' tavern since 1897, when the Board of Trade Saloon started slinging booze at that address. After the BOTS burned down in 1909, the short and stout brick building currently holding forth at 19 N. Pearl opened up as the Chamber of Commerce Cafe and Rathskeller. It then spent some shady, speakeasy days during the Roaring '20s under the evocative name of the Jolly Gargoyle. 

Eventually, the little political playground became Clem's Ringside in 1960 when Clem Ambrose purchased it. In 2008, the Ringside's current owners (who are convinced the place is haunted) gave it a much-appreciated polishing up, but smartly kept its wonderfully preserved, original features.

Between the aisles: Put 'em up, because this small, brawny and saloony joint has fistloads of manly wood and boxing-themed accents. There's artifacts like a "ringside" bell beside the original, carved English oak six-seater bar, pictures of pugilists, a brawling George Bellows painting plus a heavy bag hanging near the entrance.

Lightening the masculine load are rather out of character, but nonetheless pretty Belgian stained-glass windows depicting what seem to be Elizabethan scenes. But another stained glasser - a segmented window of an elephant precariously posed next to a donkey - hints at how the Ringside might've accrued its duke-it-out mood and theme.

On the plate: Your appetite won't be saved by the bell if you order the specialty of the broom-closet-sized kitchen - huge and homey hamburgers. Named after famous boxers, they're big ol' juicy and greasy handmade black angus patties - real knock-you-out bun destroyers. The sear-crusted heavyweights are paired with good homemade chips - handcut shoestring-y fries can be subbed for an extra charge.