Whitehall bar owner and bartender hope for customer growth in light of neighborhood renovations
840 Lounge is more than a Whitehall neighborhood bar where “Bud Light pays the bills,” according to owner and operator Don Hooker. It's also the meeting place of the “840 Morning Philosophers Club,” a group of patrons who gather there every Wednesday when doors open at 6:30 a.m.
“They come in and try to solve the world's problems,” daytime bartender Linda Sowers said. “Actually, it's their own problems.”
The problem-solvers are usually there every day; they just try to wear their 840 T-shirts on Wednesdays.
“It's like one big family,” Sowers said. That makes sense given the bar is a former house, which Hooker believes was built in the 1920s. Then, the space became an Italian restaurant.
“Back in 1977 I came here with my first husband and had dinner,” said Sowers, who was born in Germany but grew up in Pennsylvania.
The establishment operated briefly as a Chinese restaurant before Hooker's parents opened 840 Lounge in the late 1980s. They previously managed a bar and restaurant at 840 S. Hamilton Rd., and the name stuck when they relocated.
“Always a party” is the business' tagline — inscribed on the doormat and sign outside — but the bar has seen busier days. Many years ago, 840 served a large number of employees from the nearby Defense Supply Center Columbus (DSCC) and Kroger distribution center.
“They'd all get off at 4 or 5 p.m. … and they'd shut [the bar] down every night,” Hooker said. But the Kroger facility closed and most DSCC employees work from home these days.
“A lot of people passed away, moved away [or] they retired,” Sowers said of former patrons, some of whom live on in framed picture collages throughout the bar.
As clientele has dwindled, some of 840's traditions or regular events have tapered off or stopped completely. For instance, the kitchen is closed — back in the day, Hooker's mom used to serve steak dinners every Friday at 8:40 p.m. for $8.40 — though staff and patrons try to maintain a monthly potluck. Karaoke nights fizzled out and live music shows are infrequent.
But Hooker is hopeful. “They're doing a lot in Whitehall as far as growth,” he said, referring to some recent renovations taking place in the neighborhood. “We're pretty excited about that.”
“I've been playing catch-up since I started [in 2013],” he continued. “I've got a lot of ideas and plans for renovations and … decor.”
“We're trying different things,” said Sowers, who hopes the bar can add a patio. She is personally invested in the future of the bar; she's been bartending for several years but began patronizing in the late '90s.
“I always had a rule,” she said. “I don't work where I hang, and I don't hang where I work.”
“You broke your rule,” Hooker said.