With a total of 1,693 voters, Ugly Tuna (508 votes) barely squeaked past Too’s Under High (507 votes) and The O Patio (474 votes) in the category of “best deceased bar.” Mama’s Pasta and Brew held down last place with the remaining 204 votes — sorry Mama’s, you have always deserved better.
Frankly, I was surprised. Tuna might have been a campus staple for some, but I always assumed people went there for the cheap happy hour drinks and absolutely nothing else. However, there certainly were some qualities that set Ugly Tuna apart from every other campus bar.
Ugly Hour. The most literal and accurate name for a happy hour that has ever existed in the history of alcohol. It was a dangerous daily time frame from 8 to 10 p.m. when its well drinks were $1. “Strong” is a grave understatement in describing these beverages. They must have used an eyedropper to splash a bit of cranberry juice on top of your cup of iced vodka.
So this is where it actually starts to get ugly. The bar’s $10 credit card minimum combined with Ugly Hour was a recipe for disaster. Hey, bars: College kids don’t always carry cash. So basically, you go up to the bar only wanting one drink but you end up with 10 to split between you and your two friends. Maybe that’s why their tiny women’s bathroom was always covered in puke.
From a management standpoint, Ugly Hour managed to draw in large crowds on weekends with its drink deals. But from a consumer standpoint, that wasn’t always advantageous. The bar was large, but with a million people wedged in around it vying for 10 $1 drinks, there wasn’t much room to stand. If you were lucky enough to snag a table, then you were set — especially during the summer, because Tuna did have a great patio area. However, there weren’t heaters and we live in Ohio, so that’s only a bonus for three months out of the year.
I’m no real estate expert, but it seems like many businesses in the Gateway area are basically doomed from the start. Unless it is your intentional destination, whether it’s to see a movie at Gateway Film Center or to buy a new Tervis tumbler (?), there isn’t a lot of organic foot traffic in that area. Tuna was the last place I’d go to watch a sporting event, and it was much less accessible from campus than many other centrally located bars.
I do fondly remember a hilarious quirk about Ugly Tuna, and that was its bouncers’ seemingly intentional selectivity while letting in large groups of underage people. It seemed like the bouncers would go ahead and let six first-years in and deny their seventh group member, thereby testing the bonds of their flimsy freshman-year friendship — are his friends going to try their luck at Midway or go back to the dorm with him? Or does he have to take the escalator-of-shame ride alone?
Finally, let us never forget that Ugly Tuna was absolutely sketchy. That bar was definitely a place where I kept my hand over my drink and tried to be aware of my surroundings at all times. An Ohio State medical student went missing from Ugly Tuna in 2006 without a trace — Google the story, it’s actually really unsettling. I know that no establishment that serves alcohol to college students is completely safe, but Ugly Tuna always gave me extra special creepy vibes.
Ugly Tuna is gone but obviously not forgotten, as per the results of this Twitter poll. And it looks like a resurrection is possible — the bottom of their Facebook page currently says “We r looking for campus locations Hope to see u soon.”
I don’t know how to feel about an Ugly Tuna 2.0 — neither Too’s nor The O’s attempts at restoring their old bars in new locations really captured the essence of the iconic originals. Maybe sometimes it’s best to just let sleeping fish lie.