While St. James Tavern now enjoys a steady stream of clientele, including patrons who visit the establishment as part of their Fourth Street bar crawl, its early years in Italian Village weren't as fruitful.

While St. James Tavern now enjoys a steady stream of clientele, including patrons who visit the establishment as part of their Fourth Street bar crawl, its early years in Italian Village weren't as fruitful.

"People were kind of scared to come here," said bartender James Westfall. "There was more crime in the area … [and] there just wasn't a whole lot of nightlife around here."

But St. James weathered the storm, and will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year with a party on Saturday, Sept. 24. The '90s-themed bash will feature rare beers, food from Street Thyme and a DJ set by Jason Thomas.

Although Westfall has only been part of the bar staff for about 3½ years, he became a regular patron shortly after moving to Columbus in 2004.

"I've always been drawn to it because it's like you can be anonymous, or you can come with a group, or you can come in and just chat with whoever's bartending," he said. "It's always been a good time for me."

While there have been some recent updates - "warm" red lighting, which matches the new felt on the pool tables, and local artwork on display - there are more familiar features that likely hold a million stories: The peace lily, at least 13 years old, that sits on the refrigerator, the old pool tournament trophies that rest on the shelves and the various plastic toy animals that visitors have hidden around the bar over time.

Then there is the old TouchTunes jukebox, which has taken the top spot in the Alive "Best of" poll. From Al Green and the Beatles to Wu Tang and St. Vincent, the music selection appeals to all tastes.

"But we do get complaints that you can't download anything and you can't play it from your phone," Westfall said.

And there's other technology that the bar has yet to embrace.

"We still use a dial-up [internet] connection, so … when we run a credit card you can't call the landline," Westfall said.

But St. James keeps its microbrews up to date, rotating Ohio beers like Columbus Bodhi DIPA and Jackie O's Mystic Mama IPA.

According to Westfall, working at St. James comes with its challenges, like the time the bar hosted a party for BrewDog after it announced plans to open its U.S. headquarters in Canal Winchester.

"There were four of us behind the bar," Westfall said. "I was like, 'Alright, I'm gonna step away, y'all.' I just went for a walk."

But the Warren native enjoys the unexpected nature of the job. "I will always be connected to [the industry] in some way," said Westfall, who studied literature and women's and gender studies at Ohio Wesleyan University.

And he has a vision for St. James during the next 20 years. "I want a similar structure in price and variety," he said. "But I might want to see a CD jukebox come back."