When I stepped into the new Arch City Tavern and viewed a layout identical to nearby Bernard’s Tavern, I wondered if Arch City shouldn’t be called “Bernard City Tavern” instead. Then I saw a charming arch-themed design scheme.
Arch City righteously celebrates a turn-of-the-20th-century nickname Columbus earned for light-festooned arches, which used to line old High Street (in case you haven’t noticed, tribute arches have been erected over the past decade). This new bar’s “arch-works” peak out in a huge and elaborate, charcoal-toned mural fuzzily depicting a streetcar-era Columbus. In a clever twist, a scaled-down facsimile High Street arch spanning the bar’s back area thrusts into the mural’s picture plane, thereby describing a dialogue between past and present that partly characterizes Arch City Tavern.
Certainly, ACT’s music — QFM-style “oldies” — is stuck in the past. And its friendly, even endearing service seems almost old timey, too.
Food and drink-wise, ACT consulted with a talented chef and pioneering local beverage director both once employed at Latitude 41 (among other prestigious locales). While the chef has moved on, the dishes he designed have been re-enacted mostly OK at ACT. Similarly, I assume the complex, multi-ingredient cocktails ($7-$12) are more focused when made by their creator (whom I’ve seen shaking drinks at ACT, but not when I was ordering).
For instance, a pastis-heavy Ohio Country Sazerac and Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon (not on La Grand Jatte) both had nice, citrusy accents but were very sweet. The signature 862 Old-Fashioned No. 1 tasting of cinnamon fading into chocolate and the aptly titled The Columbus Experiment (an aromatic explosion of lemonade gone wild on cardamom, anise, clove and OYO bourbon; it has a local history-referencing name) were better deals. There’s also a Belgian-happy, terrific line-up of about 50 beers, about half of them on tap.
Salads ($7) are a solid choice. I enjoyed the every-bite-is-different, Mediterranean-leaning Bibb with earthy/sweet red and gold diced beets, artichoke hearts, crisp apple, toasted almonds and a mild, un-creamy, anchovy-spiked Green Goddess dressing. Even better was the Heirloom Spinach, which, along with neat-looking red leaved spinach, had plenty of elements — warm and sharp bacon dressing, goat cheese, cherries and walnuts — to please people not usually enamored with salads.
While my rich and comforting Lobster Mac ’n Cheese ($12) had a great smoky flavor from gouda, its generous, big claw meat chunks were chewy. There was also a bit of shell in there.
Served in a cute little pot, the mussels in my Moules Frites ($12) weren’t obliterated by a thankfully light blue cheese broth enlivened by chopped fennel, watercress and bacon. This came with a mini silver bucket of floppy, truffle-oiled hand-cut fries that should’ve been crisper.
Similar semi-crispy fries — minus the bucket and truffle — accompanied the good Arch City Burger ($13). Outfitted with a basil-y “chili aioli,” fresh avocado, crispy bacon and Muenster cheese, it sported a fine beefy character.
Also flavorful was a rewardingly unconventional Fig Pizza ($14). Its light, crisp and toasty crust — which was puffy and golden brown along the edge — held a garlicky, no-tomatoes sauce plus a salty, rich, sweet and zesty combination of prosciutto, pine nuts, goat cheese and figs all topped by arugula.
With items like that, and some food and drink fine-tuning, this still-new, past-honoring place might have a decent future ahead of it.