It’s more difficult than ever to be a true “jukebox hero” in Columbus.
Gleaming, download-powered “juke-bots” flash advertisements for Clear Channel’s latest installation of slop pop hits, inundating users with a seemingly endless selection of artists, genres and songs. Many argue the infinite supply of options is homogenizing the bar scene, as opposed to a defining nightlife experience.
It makes sense bar owners would favor download-driven jukeboxes over their traditional counterparts. Parts for traditional jukeboxes are nearly impossible to find, and maintenance costs can grow exponentially. Adversely, juke-bots charging up to $1 per play can become quick cash cows. Even though an establishment can restrict the types of genres that can be played on their download jukebox, the connection created between strangers that only occurs when an obscure B-side bursts through the speakers is gone.
The tangible pros are heavily outweighed by the tangible cons, which can account for the strong love/hate relationship most bar owners (and their staffs) have with their traditional boxes. Still, a few Columbus jukebox purists are holding on to tradition and keeping their music in the bar, rather than in the clouds, despite the additional headache. Here are a few of our favorite jukebox joints that prove keeping it old-school has its perks.
Little Rock Bar
944 N. Fourth St., Italian Village
Ranging from George Jones to British new wave, many of the albums in Little Rock Bar’s rotation are from owner Quinn Fallon’s personal stash.
“By installing a jukebox that can get any song at any time, every bar is going to be the same bar,” Fallon said. “In my years as a bartender I have learned that people can have really bad taste. By limiting their options, it saves us all a lot of heartache.”
But it isn’t just the personally crafted song selection that sets Fallon’s jukebox apart from others; it’s the price. The jukebox is totally free. The bill acceptor works, but every dollar that goes in, goes straight to Fallon’s favorite charity.
“In a time where you can get any song ever written on your phone, it seemed silly to charge for a jukebox with a finite number of options,” Fallon said. “So any money put in the bill acceptor goes directly to CD102.5 For The Kids.”
Fallon was a long-time friend of Andy “Andyman” Davis, and has supported the CD102.5 For The Kids charity (of which the “Andyman-a-Thon” is the main event) in various ways throughout the years.
Fallon’s dedication to local causes is matched only by his dedication to the local music scene. Fallon isn’t only active in the local music scene; most of Columbus’ rock scene regulars are on his payroll. And he keeps their albums in heavy rotation.
“Four of my bartenders and I perform in local bands, and I make sure to keep our albums on jukebox. So at any time you could hear The Girls!, The Whiles or The X-Rated Cowboys’ Greatest Hits over the sound system,” Fallon said.
For Bar Manager Joe Peppercorn, the test of a well-curated jukebox is the reaction it evokes, be it good or bad.
“I have a love/hate relationship with that thing,” Peppercorn said. “Some of the music I love, and some of it makes my skin crawl. It’s like your best friend who has that one character trait you absolutely can’t stand. But that’s what a good jukebox does. It makes you feel something.”
According to Fallon, the CDs are changed often to keep the selection fresh. Though he has made some exceptions for Madonna and Wanda Jackson, top 40 pop need not apply.
One artist, however, will always hold a couple spots in his jukebox.
“I have three George Jones albums on my jukebox right now,” Fallon said. “I refuse to be out George-Jones-ed by anyone.”
185 E. Livingston Ave., German Village
As a neighborhood bar with legions of regulars, Club 185 is sticking with what works. That includes the jukebox.
“[Owners] Randy and Tina [Corbin] wanted to keep as much originality as possible,” General Manager Trisha Rolfes said. “We are a relaxed, neighborhood bar that people have been coming to for years, and the jukebox reflects that.”
According to Rolfes, the classic jukebox adds to the ambiance and draws patrons into the bar.
“People have a respect for it,” Rolfes said. “Customers are always flipping through the CDs and playing their favorites. It definitely gets a lot of love.”
The jukebox has been the source of many bar-wide sing-a-longs — and also driven the staff crazy.
“We simultaneously love and loathe the jukebox,” Rolfes said. “A Journey song will come on at night, and everybody in the bar will sing right along with it. But some of the songs we hear constantly, and now we can’t stand them. We had to take off Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah.’ The staff and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
In addition to the jukebox, Club 185 keeps a stocked cigarette machine and analog photo booth that creates classic black and white photo strips.
“You should see some of the left-over photos from the night before,” Rolfes said. “You can definitely tell how far into the night they were taken.”
1479 N. High St., Campus
At the Bier Stube, if it isn’t 20 years old, you probably won’t find it on the jukebox.
Owner Craig Kempton’s love for tradition is apparent when scrolling through the pages of carefully curated albums. The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and The Doors all have a permanent spot in rotation. To Kempton, this selection tells what the Bier Stube is all about.
“I am big on tradition, and I swear I will keep an old school jukebox until the day I die,” Kempton said. “There used to be a time when every bar had a specific sound, and you knew which bar you were going to based on what music you were looking for. I don’t like the idea of being able to play any song at any bar.
According to Kempton, the fact that the typical top 40s tunes can’t be played is a draw for most of his customers.
“People who live on campus but don’t want to listen to the same songs played at bars in The Gateway or wherever, come here,” he said.
Though Kempton makes the final call on everything that goes into the Bier Stube’s CD collection, he does occasionally bow to the will of his bar-goers.
“There are some things I will never take off because they get so much play, like Jimmy Buffett or Journey,” Kempton said. “But whenever I hear Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man,’ I want to die.”
The jukebox is so much a part of the Bier Stube, it has its own anthem. And yes, it’s on the jukebox.
“Members of The George Elliot Underground are regulars here, and they’ve been asking me to put one of their CDs on the jukebox forever,” Kempton said. “I told them I would, but only if they named a song after this place. Sure enough, they named a song ‘Bier Stube.’ How many places can say that?”
The Blue Danube
2439 N High St., Campus
The venue that boasts the best jukebox in the city didn’t get there on accident.
The clientele and staff played a key role in curating Columbus’ favorite CD collection. Though it’s currently out of commission, the North Campus mainstay’s CD jukebox still gets more action than the TouchTunes.
“The Dube has a history tied to rock and roll,” said Bartender Bryan Penn. “There used to be a music venue across the street, so naturally this place attracted musicians, writers and creative types to work and hang out here. With that kind of clientele, it’s almost a requirement to have a great music selection. The Dube and the jukebox selection are a product of Columbus’ alternative rock roots.”
The Blue Danube’s CD jukebox is still on display, but the bill collector is currently covered. Blue Danube owner Bob Swaim agreed to install the download box, under the condition that he could keep the CD box for its aesthetic and nostalgic appeal.
“There is something about flipping through the CD pages, seeing a track you haven’t heard in 15 years, and remembering how much you loved it,” Swaim said. “That gets lost when you step up to a download jukebox. People, walk up to that old CD jukebox to scroll through the pages before they even look at the download jukebox. And, I just like the look of it.”
The diversity of the famous music selection can be largely attributed to the staff, but Swaim keeps a few spots reserved for his favorites.
“I told the staff, 80 of the CDs they could choose as they pleased,” he said. “But the other 20 were mine, and they couldn’t touch them.”
Those 20 stalwarts range from Sinatra to a Riverdance compilation. The staff picks cover everything from punk rock to Daft Punk.
“There was a time when people played Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ so often the entire staff started calling it ‘Around the Dube,’” Penn said. “I heard that song every 20 minutes for a while.”
Despite the down-side of song overload, Penn truly believes in the jukebox system of music selection.
“It’s actually a really democratic system if you think about it,” Penn said. “Whoever has the dollar is the DJ.”