The Grumpy Troll Tavern
5213 Bethel Center Mall, Northwest Side
Bethel Center isn’t just another strip mall. It is a cornucopia of culture: From just one parking spot, you can access Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurants, several (several!) sports bars and two places devoted just to gaming. Someone should make a game out of visiting every storefront in this place — and one of the prime destinations should be The Grumpy Troll Tavern.
While it’s not exactly hiding under a bridge, it is hard to find. That’s part of the adventure.
Like the best neighborhood bars, the Grumpy Troll is exceptional for being unexceptional. There is nothing special about the surroundings (though skee-ball in a bar is a delight). In the evening, it’s a happy-hour hangout for a mostly over-40 crowd, but late nights are ruled by a younger, wilder gang.
Within moments of walking in, I realized I was the only person not having spontaneous conversation with anyone and everyone at the bar. Had I ambled into someone’s dim rec room? When my eyes adjusted, I realized the bartender knew everyone’s name and everyone’s order — and that she was running the place with quiet, perfect efficiency.
In the middle of my second beer, she placed an overturned shot glass in front of me and let me know Uncle Dougie would be buying my next drink. What a welcome. A longer stay might have earned me one of the familiar goodbyes delivered to other regulars heading out the door.
One tip: Microbrews (the list is short but mighty) are $3 on Mondays and during happy hour. Try the 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon.
Bethel Road Pub
1375 Bethel Road, Northwest Side
This Bethel Road standard comes utterly without pretense, and that is as refreshing as any cold beer on tap. The bar stools are a tad wobbly and the pool cues have seen better days, but the Jameson was poured generously and we had a wicked good time just hanging out. Order a pizza from Romeo’s next door if you get hungry, but mostly come ready to put your elbows on the bar and have a good chat. Live rock music only enhances the experience.
1480 Bethel Road, Northwest Side
Another jewel in the Bethel Center crown, this is a monument to viewing sports. There isn’t a seat in the place from which you cannot be constantly informed about the latest shot, hit, goal or slap-your-forehead error. Service is friendly, and the beer was oh-so-cold. Sink your teeth into hearty sandwiches or indulge in something that was born to be fried. The massive patio in warm weather is the ultimate backyard hangout.
Gallo’s Tap Room
5019 Olentangy River Road, Northwest Side
It’s not your average beer-and-wings joint, but it is a damned good place to get beer and wings. One of the wings flavors is “cockfight,” for Pete’s sake. The row of taps reads like a craft brew fan’s fantasy. This bar — tucked in another strip mall on Bethel Road at Olentangy River Road — has the pool tables and shuffleboard you crave in a neighborhood joint. And it brings atmosphere to the party: Lighting is mood-setting — not just dark.