When I was a teenager, I started hanging out at a hole-in-the-wall dive bar on campus called Bernie’s to see punk rock shows. About 12 years later, an old friend convinced me to go to a local show at the old watering hole where I randomly met Matt Jensen, drummer of local punk band The Scratches. Jensen performed that night first with his side project (going by band name Earthworm Tim at the time), and later with The Scratches, who put on a punk rock show truly fitting for the atmosphere. It wasn’t until later that I realized I also knew the band’s bass player, Darby Antle; having met him at ComFest many years earlier. Since seeing The Scratches for the first time, my girlfriend and I have seen them around town several times, playing venues all over the city and truly paying their dues.
I sat down with Mr. Jensen recently to discuss some of the best venues in Columbus to see local bands, and it was only fitting that we started with Bernie’s.
Location: 1896 N. High St. (North Campus)
Crowd Type: Punk. Says Jensen: “If you want to feel like you’re going to a true punk rock show, you should probably go to Bernie’s. You’ll probably get your teeth kicked in and a broken nose.”
Music Scene: Mostly locals. Some touring bands, but not as many as there used to be. Punk rock is the mainstay, but on any given night you can find anything from alternative to hip-hop.
Bar: Bernie’s bar is tiny, crowded, and usually only staffed by one person at a time, but it’s probably the cheapest domestic beer you’ll find in the area.
Average Admission Price: $8, and the occasional free show.
Food: Though colloquially known as just Bernie’s, its full name is actually Bernie’s Bagels & Deli/The Distillery. During the day, Bernie’s is just like any other campus deli serving affordable sandwiches, soups, and sides to Ohio State University students.
Parking: Not the best. If you’re lucky enough to find a meter on or near High St., you had better take it. Otherwise, you’re relegated to driving through neighborhoods filled with frat houses trying to find a spot to wedge into. If you have money, (what punk rocker does?), you can park at the OSU Union parking garage across the street for a few bucks.
Stage and Sound Quality: Much like the bar, Bernie’s stage, if you can call it that, is small and backed into a corner. Rising only a few inches off of the ground, it puts enough distance between the fans and bands for nominal comfort and boasts two large PA speakers. Though the sound quality is not the greatest, the performing bands sound very authentic and live- which only adds to the experience.
Takeaway: Bernie’s is the place to be if you want to see an authentic punk rock show. Find a decent place to park and bring a few bucks for beers, and you’re likely to have a hell of a night.
Venue: Scarlet & Grey
Location: 2203 N. High St. (another North Campus favorite)
Crowd Type: College crowd. Shows are ages 18+, with a big presence of students from Ohio State University.
Music Scene: Anything goes. You might have touring bands, locals, electronica and dubstep, and acoustic music all in the same weekend. S&G’s slogan is “we treat bands like rockstars,” offering a green room backstage with private bathrooms for performing artists as well as couches and a TV, which helps bring a lot of bands (and their fans) coming back.
Bar: You can expect a fully stocked bar with average “campus” prices. There are generally a few staff on hand who offer good service and treatment.
Average Admission Price: $7, with several free shows each month.
Food: Just like Bernie’s, most people leave the “café” out of the Scarlet & Grey Café’s name. Though the menu is small, patrons can choose from pizza, burgers, fries, and wings, adding to your typical college campus bar experience.
Parking: Parking is available on many of the side streets off of High St., and will usually require driving around 3 or 4 blocks on a busy night to find a good spot.
Stage and Sound Quality: The stage at Scarlet & Grey is noticeably big, with drum risers and enough room for a full-sized band to perform with all of their instruments and have room to move around. Jensen says that S&G has some of the “best lighting and sound” of the many venues The Scratches have performed in Columbus.
Takeaway: Scarlet & Grey is a good venue for an all ages (18+) show, has a great atmosphere for the performing bands, and you can see touring artists there without having to go through the hassle of TicketMaster.
Location: 543 S. High St. (Brewery District)
Crowd Type: Post-college adults there to hear local music. Located between downtown Columbus and the Brewery District, Jensen usually finds the crowd to be around 25 – 30 years old.
Music Scene: Mostly local rock, alternative, and punk bands. Just like Bernie’s, you’re likely to hear a lot of unique music from Columbus’ underground scene.
Bar: Micro-brews, local-brews, and popular domestics are staple finds at Victory’s bar. Prices are a little higher than your typical dive bar, but remain standard for any local music venue in town. Fully stocked and spacious enough for comfortable seating.
Average Admission Price: Free
Food: Adjacent to the music room, Victory’s offers an in-house pizza place with subs, sides, and all your favorite pie varieties. Prices are average and service is tableside.
Parking: This may just be one of the most convenient venues for parking. Because most of the businesses in the area close down at night, Jensen finds the area to be “safe, with great parking at the meters on High St.”
Stage and Sound Quality: The stage is a little small, and forget about seeing the drummer once the fog machine comes on, but Jensen describes the sound system and lighting as an “awesome experience for both fans and audience.”
Takeaway: If you want your audience to have a good time, be well fed, and have a great selection of drinks, Victory’s is the place to be.
Venue: The Basement
Location: 391 Neil Ave. (Arena District)
Crowd Type: A marketer’s dream. Being a part of the PromoWest family, the Basement attracts fans of all ages who attend to see national and international touring bands. Jensen feels “you’re more likely to find a commercial target audience there than locals just there to drink and see their friends’ bands.”
Music Scene: DJs, indie, electronic, pop-punk, rap, etc. Mostly touring bands, but PromoWest is very good about getting locals to open, such as when The Scratches opened for Anti-Flag last month.
Bar: Long and shallow, the bar offers a lot of seating and several TVs to watch the stage or something else on television. Jensen describes prices and selection as “typical for any music venue, with big brand drinks and quick service.”
Average Admission Price: $13 plus TicketMaster fees.
Food: Though the venue itself doesn’t provide food, it is connected to the A&R bar upstairs which serves Mikey’s Late Night Slice; arguably one of the most popular food truck enterprises in town.
Parking: Jensen describes parking in this area as another safe bet, with parking garages across the street on Neil Avenue as well as a large lot behind the venue.
Stage and Sound Quality: Being a part of the PromoWest family, The Basement offers “a nice stage with great lighting and a professional sound engineer.” The stage is sunken, unlike almost any other venue in Columbus, but still provides an interesting experience.
Takeaway: The Basement is not your local mom-and-pop venue. It is professional, commercial, and you’re far more likely to walk into a show from a touring band than a local.
Venue: Ace of Cups
Location: 2619 N. High St. (Just north of North Campus)
Crowd type: Without sounding cheeky, the crowd type at Ace of Cups is your typical college hipster.
Music Scene: Popular local groups, some touring bands, mostly indie and alternative. The Scratches played there once, so sometimes pop-punk.
Bar: Ace of Cups is certainly unique in this article as it probably provides the most imports, micro-brews, and other rare finds for beer connoisseurs. Prices are what you would expect to pay for an imported lager from The Netherlands, but having a wide selection is a distinctive factor.
Average Admission Price: $7, and the occasional free comedy show.
Food: Though AoC has eclectic food finds such as sweet coconut rice porridge, easter pie with kale salad, and vegan empanadas, Jensen was quick to remind me of the cornerstone campus establishments in the area such as Hounddog’s Pizza and Mikey’s Late Night Slice. Ray Ray’s Hog Pit & BBQ also delivers to AoC’s parking lot each weekend.
Parking: There is a small parking lot available, but once it fills up, you’re back to circling the neighborhood to find a side street to park on.
Stage and Sound Quality: Jensen described the sound quality as good, with a big, wide stage which gives the audience a better chance at visually seeing the bands.
Takeaway: This is a bar for the in-crowd. Micro-brews, indie bands, and food you’ve never heard of will leave an inimitable taste in your mouth.
Location: 2590 N. High St. (North Campus, across the street from Ace of Cups)
Crowd Type: A “noticeably younger crowd, with hardcore, pop-punk, and other alternative bands.” When discussing the crowd, Jensen and I both felt that the crowd was very inclusive and friendly.
Music Scene: The Spacebar definitely caters to local bands, as the one time that I was there, members of local bands who were not performing that night made up a large population of the audience and even staff. Jensen describes the music as having “a lot of locals, some touring bands, and other popular bands from the Midwest. Lots of acoustic, alternative, and pop-punk.”
Bar: Fitting to their name, this venue has an excellent bar tucked away at the back of the room. “There are a lot of craft beers on tap as well as popular domestic beers.” Prices are average or even a little higher than average, but you definitely get what you pay for.
Average Admission Price: $7, and the occasional free show.
Food: Though the venue doesn’t have food available, the building is right next door to Mikey’s Late Night Slice (which I’ve plugged three times now in this article).
Parking: There is a small lot, but typical to campus, you’re more likely to find a spot on one of the residential side streets.
Stage and Sound Quality: Jensen describes the stage as “big and open, with good sound quality.” He also mentioned that the owners of the venue were still in the process of acoustical soundproofing, as the Spacebar was recently renovated from now-closed venue Kobo.
Takeaway: “It’s a nice little place to play or see a show, with a good atmosphere and newly-renovated improvements upon the old venue.”
You can catch The Scratches at their next performance at Vans Warped Tour in Cincinnati on July 16th on the Ernie Ball Stage or tune in to 99.7 The Blitz Local Stuff to hear their latest studio single, “Left Sunk In.”