The List: Things that *almost* put Columbus on the map
If we keep trying, maybe we’ll eventually get there
Service Bar executive chef and general manager Avishar Barua is set to appear on the new season of “Top Chef,” which begins airing at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday, April 1) on Bravo. As the first Columbus chef to partake in the culinary competition, Barua is in a unique position to (wait for it...) finally put our city’s food scene on the map.
For as long as people have experienced Columbus, or been a part of Experience Columbus, some within Ohio's capital have been obsessed with the idea of landing our Midwestern city “on the map.” (We’re not there yet. Go take a look for yourself. We’ll be here when you get back.)
While we wait to see if Barua’s exploits will finally have cartographers springing into action, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the other times Columbus almost made it onto the map. Bear in mind, some of these are genuinely great (hi, Nina), while others, well, you get the drift.
Just watch this, and then take note of the still-broken fountain left behind at Franklin Park in the wake of the $95 million event, which remains the standard bearer for high-ticket boondoggles designed to gain national attention for the city but instead end up as a joke that persists for decades.
Fashion Meets Music Festival
This music fest, which aimed to weave together the worlds of fashion and music, burst onto the scene in 2014 with headliner R. Kelly, an announcement that hit with a thud just months after the Village Voice recycled the stomach-churning sexual abuse accusations levied against the R&B singer, which had been long reported by Chicago journalist Jim DeRegotis but largely ignored by the public. That all started to change around this time, and FMMF eventually parted ways with Kelly in the midst of the ongoing community backlash. That this followed grandiose talk from organizers about the fest (you guessed it) finally putting Columbus on the map only added to the sense of schadenfreude. FMMF would wind up lingering through the 2017 edition, held at Fortress Obetz, but it never fully recovered from its year-one missteps.
In 2020, with the city in the midst of a racial reckoning that led to the statue of Christopher Columbus being removed from the Statehouse, someone started a petition to change the name of Columbus to Flavortown as a means of honoring the birthplace of Food Channel host Guy Fieri. The gag petition eventually generated more than 30k signatures and a slew of national headlines, but no real traction, and still no placement on the map. Forget it, Guy. It’s Flavortown.
Nina West on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
The city’s beloved drag queen has cavorted with cartoon bubbles in Disney-themed videos and inspired local lines of ice cream, but nowhere has her star shone brighter than during a prolonged run on the 11th season of this reality competition, placing sixth and earning Miss Congeniality honors. The run squarely placed West on the map, even if her hometown was again left by the wayside.
The potato salad Kickstarter
All Zack Brown wanted was some potato salad. So in 2014, as a joke sprung from a group conversation, he launched a Kickstarter to fund… the purchase of some potato salad. Somehow, the post went viral, generating more than 4 million views and raising more than $55k in donations. Brown took his internet fame in stride. “You won’t know how weird-looking you are until you go viral,” Brown joked to Alive in 2015. “Everybody just points it out.” Better yet, he shifted the donated funds that remained following the Kickstarter-terms-of-service-required potato salad party into a charitable contribution to the Columbus Foundation.
Getting MLS and NHL teams
You’d think having two professional teams would be enough to land Columbus on the map, which might be true if we were located in either Canada (hockey) or Europe (soccer, er, football).
“Son of Heaven” (aka AmeriFlora 2.0)
“Organizers hope an exhibition opening Wednesday of 26 centuries of Chinese art will propel this central Ohio city into the cultural major leagues.” That’s the opening sentence of a 1989 AP story titled, “Display of Chinese Art Boosts Image of Midwestern City.” Millions of dollars were raised for the traveling exhibit titled “Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China.” You can probably tell where this is going. The first sentence of a 1990 Seattle Times article sums it up nicely: “The debt-plagued Son of Heaven organization, which ran up a $2 million deficit during a nine-month exhibition of Chinese art in Seattle and an additional $1.67 million loss in Columbus, Ohio, will liquidate all its assets.”
OK, so this is more of a regional thing than a potentially national sensation, but a little over 10 years ago, a group of artists and musicians teamed up to convert the old Wonder Bread factory in Italian Village into an arts collective that would include a unique venue and performance space for local and national touring acts. The exciting new venture was dubbed “Wonderland.” Well, the plan fell through, and as is often the case in up and coming cities, the Wonder Bread factory is now an apartment complex.
Ohio State football
One of the most storied programs in the history of college football, and yet most people outside of the Midwest don’t realize the university is located in Columbus.
Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet
If there’s one thing that will get you on the map, it’s Hollywood celebrities, and in 2018, the funkiest member of the Funky Bunch bought West Side car dealership Bobby Layman Chevrolet, renaming it Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet. This was Wahlberg’s first dealership, and instead of taking his talents to the coasts, the movie star chose Columbus. The cartographer seemed to be standing over the map, pen at the ready. Alas, Wahlberg sightings have been few and far between. He’s probably too busy waking up at 2:30 a.m. to work out.