Once the site of a beloved barbershop, the bar continues legacy of neighborhood service

If you visit a Columbus bar less than 10 years old, it's likely the building housed a slew of previous businesses. Sometimes the spaces held other restaurants and bars. Other times you'll hear stories of once-active car washes, theaters or retail shops.

At Ohio Taproom in Grandview, customers remember when the establishment was a candy shop owned by a woman who lived onsite. Unfortunately, she hated children, they said.

“She had these glass jars that would stand on pedestals and you weren't allowed to touch them,” said Taproom employee Doc Cordray. “But that's where the candy was, so it's like, ‘Well, how are you supposed to get the candy?'”

Patrons have fonder memories of Franco Policaro's barbershop, which was open for decades. “We still have the old original pole outside,” said Taproom manager Kevin McAllister. “Sometimes we have people coming in asking for a haircut.”

They'll do it, but don't expect it done well, he said.

But it's that neighborhood feel that makes the 5-year-old bar appealing. People come in and find their yearbook photos on the wall, bring their dogs on the patio and pass their babies around.

“Someone just realized after four or five years we have a TV in the corner,” McAllister said. “We want people to talk to their neighbors and meet new people.”

Open since 2013, the Ohio Taproom has seen impressive growth. The business started out just offering growlers and samples before meeting requirements for a pint license: extra space, bathrooms and, oddly enough, a microwave.

“It's just kinda funny to us because we don't serve food,” McAllister said. “We tested it once. It works.”

Today, Ohio Taproom offers 118 Ohio craft beers (McAllister has been gradually adding brewery names to a mural outside).

“People ask me if I'm the owner,” said McAllister, who, like most of the employees, lives minutes away from the bar. “I find that is a great compliment because you so enjoy working here that you're dedicated.”

“This is like my zen area,” added Cordray. “I come here to relax.”

It takes about 10 people to pack the small space, but it's only unruly on St. Patrick's Day or after OSU plays Michigan in football. “It's only one of the few times I had to kick people out,” McAllister said. “And actually some of them were my friends.”

But the Taproom has no plans to increase its size. “We like the coziness,” said McAllister, who also described the bar as “a cross between ‘Cheers' and your best friend's basement.” “That's what we sell here.”