384 W. Third Ave., Harrison West
This Harrison West bar looks intimidating from the outside. There are only a few slim slits of window on the all-brick building, and one of the red-and-white striped awnings bares an illustration of who I’m guessing is Zeno, a cigar-smoking sunglass and bowler hat-wearing hard-ass. It gives off this vibe that says “We’re a front for some CIA underground operative, but sure, come in and have a drink. But don’t eavesdrop or speak until you are spoken to. We’re watching you.”
If you are not yet acquainted with the awesomeness that Zeno the Hard-Ass will bestow upon your evening, it’s easy to judge by appearances and instead head to the area’s more boisterous bars likes Hampton’s on King or Harrison’s on Third.
Let me introduce you. Zeno’s is so fun. Here’s what you’ll find: game-showing TVs, a pool table, Keno, a popcorn machine, lots of beer, big cheap shots and friendly bartenders. Behind the bar cheesy Ohio State paraphernalia (hello, poster of halo-hazy Jim Tressel and Woody Hayes) hangs beside a black and white picture of Chuck Berry. The jukebox spits out Johnny Cash followed by Tupac. Yes, welcome, friends.
Zeno’s has a lot of bar food and dinner options, as well, but I have yet to stray from the pizza, which always has a cheese layer that is a couple of centimeters thick. Eat, drink and be merry at the sociable bar or at one of the many upper-level booths that are secluded and intimate enough for CIA operative discussion. Just saying.
Harrison’s on Third
335 W. Third Ave., Victorian Village
The atmosphere at Harrison’s is at once comfortable but cool with massive booths, dark wood, TVs, dim lights and cold, cold beer. The daily happy hour food deals are worth a stop alone. Get ready for Monday with $1 sliders on Sunday or ease into the weekend with half-off appetizers and martinis on Thursdays. Plus, there are always a lot of attractive young people at Harrison’s, but not in your Park Streety I’m-wearing-high-heels-even-though-I-have-to-walk-five-miles-to-get-here sort of way.
724 N. High St., Short North
This is where non-ironic fringed leather vests, scrunchies, cheap canned beer and a deer-hunting video game reside. Mike’s is the smallest of small-town dives right in the heart of the city’s most hip strip of street. A stop at the cash-only spot is a relaxing change of pace from the hyper-self-aware options in the neighborhood. Kind but grizzled veterans of life are always waiting with a story. Bukowski wannabes, hillbillies, homeless, drunk reporters — anybody can get a drink here and feel comfortable as long as they don’t reek of pretension or Axe body spray.
The Shrunken Head
251 W. Fifth Ave., Victorian Village
The link on The Shrunken Head’s homepage to the video “In My Coffin” by gothabilly band Cult of the Psychic Fetus is an indication of what visitors will find here. This is the best place to see live gothabilly, punkabilly and upright bass slappin’ played by dudes named Billy.
Rocking ruckus is the bar’s bread and butter, but there is plenty else to do here throughout the week, like learning to swing dance, laughing at stand-up comedians, even listening to lectures by local scientists. Light your Camels on the Tiki-lit back patio and grab a PBR tall boy. Ladies, check out the huge framed poster of Bettie Page and punching bag in the bathroom. Rock ’n’ roll.