Independence Day getaways: Yellow Springs

From the July 3, 2014 edition

Tucked neatly between a strict Christian college and the Dayton metropolitan area lives a little bubble of counter-culture unscathed by over-crowding and corporate sponsorship.

Yellow Springs has long served as the utopian-minded enclave in southwest Ohio, offering a respite for artists, poets, hippies and Bible college drop-outs alike (not to mention Dave Chappelle). As a John Waters-loving teenager attending a conservative high school in an adjacent county, Yellow Springs’ art galleries, nature preserves and free-spirited vibe were the perfect excuse to cut class and be irresponsible. Check out my favorite spots to play hooky — then and now.

Suds and grub

When you are in desperate need of a cold brew, let the neon “Ye Olde Trail Tavern” sign be your guide. Billed as “the second oldest restaurant in Ohio,” the wooden fixtures littered with dollar bills signed by patrons-past make for a cozy atmosphere. Belly up to the bar for a craft beer or glass of wine, or hit the solarium in the back for a sun-soaked snack. Pro-tip: Get the tie-dye fries now, thank me later.

Natural beauty

Clifton Gorge’s 268 acres at the east end of John Bryan State Park, and Glen Helen Nature Preserve are two perfect places to disconnect from reality in Yellow Springs. The limestone and dolomite gorges surrounding the Little Miami State and National Scenic River make for gorgeous vistas and lead to an inner sense of calm. Even on the hottest days, the gorge is always a few degrees cooler. While you’re strolling down one of the 25 miles worth of foot-paths in Glen Helen, make sure to hit up the “yellow springs” for which the town is named. But be careful roaming around the darker points on the trail, you might find some Bible College students violating their “purity commitment.” Trust me, it’s awkward.

The plural for vinyl is vinyl

This second-floor record refuge is a playground for both vinyl snobs and art geeks. Not only does the compact space pack some rare new and used records, but visually striking artwork from every concert you couldn’t go to hangs from the walls. Whether you’re into the Beastie Boys or Miles Davis, you’ll find something you absolutely can’t live without within the first 15 minutes. Word of warning: Don’t go in with all your cash; you will spend everything you have.

The little theatre that could

This single-screen cinema plays only a well-curated selection of films, ranging from documentaries about the Large Hadron-Collider, to Jim Jarmusch’s latest masterpiece, to screen classics like “To Kill A Mocking Bird.” The Little Art Theatre can get away with showing these gems instead of the summer blockbuster cash-cows because of community support. The theatre holds a non-profit tax status, and runs on tax-deductible donations more than ticket sales. Fun fact: I saw “Sideways” there with my best friend Andrew and his parents — nothing says “family and friends” like full frontal.

Eclectic class

The Winds Café serves up the seasonally inspired dishes of a Euro-fusion restaurant, without the hefty side of pretention. The menu changes bimonthly, and ensures garden-fresh ingredients for their artfully executed meals and small plates. A short, but expertly curated list of The Winds Café’s cocktail offerings highlights the no-nonsense approach to finer dining. Punctuate that with a patio, romantically lit with string lights, and you have the recipe for an intimate date night.