It’s Michigan week. Actually it’s Michigan game-day eve. Time to pull out that special hatred of maize and blue in the name of Big Ten football and for 90,000 possessed people to forget their differences and become drinking buddies.Popular game-time drinking holes include the Varsity Club and the Cooker Restaurant, both on Lane Avenue. But I want to take you down to south campus on this day before the storm and give tribute, perhaps last respects, to the olde South Heidelberg.I say last respects because who knows how long this dungeon will be around. When the Ohio State University and the City of Columbus gave birth to Campus Partners in 1995, south campus bars began to shake. Papa Joe’s shook so hard it burst into flames and turned to ash, which turned into a gravel parking lot. Papa Joe’s was a beer guzzling and socializing institution, ask anyone that was here in the 1980s. But if you want to see a bona fide OSU landmark go order a draft at the South Heidelberg. The Heidelberg, 1532 N. High St., is olde school. The Liquor Control Agency’s records only go back to 1967 and South Heidelberg is on the record. The current owner of the Heidelberg says that a man came in once and claimed to get his drunk on at the Heidelberg back in 1947. Even for the ‘Berg to be around since 1967 says a lot. Most campus bars change names more often than Lloyd Carr changes his underwear.For those of you that don’t know the South Heidelberg, shame on you. It is located right next to Buckeye Carryout on the corner of High and 9th Ave. The old wood door swings open and the steps bring you underground, into the earth and underneath civilization. This place is literally a cave. Walls made of rock, floors of cement, you are not allowed to worry about outer appearances. In fact, you can barely even see the outer appearances because the lights are kept on dim, if on at all. I am pretty sure this is an effort to cut back on both the electric bill and the cleaning bill.Walk down the stairs and the Heidelberg version of a stage is to the immediate left. It is actually lower than where the audience sits, with a wooden railing separating the band from the crowd. The bar is straight ahead. Order a domestic beer and then check out the back caves where the pool tables sit and graffiti covers the walls.Pretty much anything goes at the Heidelberg. It is never overcrowded, unless the Allivin Daydream Band is booked. It’s always relaxed and the bartenders are always willing to listen to your roadhouse blues.Nine times out of 10, when I partake in the ancient tradition of swill consumption with my drinking buddies, this is the type of place I prefer to be: the roadhouse, the dime-a-dozen, local yocal, urban/suburban inn.The beauty of this place is the ugliness, the grittiness and the darkness. So while it makes me happy to see the attempt students have made this week to unify into one collective voice, I think the petition to save Panini’s misses the point. What we need to save in south campus is the unique character that it possesses. I am convinced that nothing symbolizes this character better than the South Heidelberg.The Heidelberg carries tradition, ask anyone who graduated from here, and they will remember the olde watering hole in the ground. While Papa Joe’s, Jouster’s, The Locker Room, Moran’s Speakeasy, Mean Mr. Mustards, Bub’s Pizza and Brew, The Pit and the Kool Kat Club, have all come and gone, the South Heidelberg has maintained what bartender Jeff Randall called in 1992 “a general concern for customers.”So while I do hope that the overstuffed sandwiches stay somewhere on this campus, I would love for the ageless Heidelberg to withstand the economic revolution the city and university has sparked, and remain the dirty, anti-glamour hole in the ground. It’s better than a national chain establishment and hole in my heart.
Michael C. Bender is goin’ to the roadhouse and gonna have a real… good time. His columns appear Fridays in the Lantern, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.