Jul 22, 2015

Bell Bar: It's back from the dead, complete with cheap pints, doughnuts, sloe gin and (maybe) nurses

The Bell: No graffiti so far
The hairy guy's report:

The website for the local band Drift Lifted talks about "gritty, beer-caked bars" and "graffiti’d bathrooms." But the bar where we found the band's vocalist one afternoon wasn't gritty or beer-caked at all and was sorely lacking in bathroom graffiti.

"It's my parents' bar, not mine," he explained.

The bar is the Bell,
a classic corner bar with big windows looking out over Columbus and Lincoln. It recently rose from the dead after closing abruptly Dec. 31. Austin Woods, the rock singer, tends bar there (but doesn't sing) during the day.

A neighbor recently reminisced to us that the Bell, which
had been in business since at least just after Prohibition, had long been a hangout for her uncles. "I'm sure all their ghosts are still in the same seats," she said.

We sensed no ghosts but we did sense a good bar that never should have closed, if only briefly. 

Matt and Gina Woods bought the Bell in May and finally reopened it in early July, after what Austin says was a serious cleaning. Maybe some grit and graffiti will creep in over time to
Bartender Austin Woods
make him happy.

We'd never been in before, so we can't vouch for allegations of previous grime. We also can't say how the atmosphere may or may not have changed. One of the regulars said it had been a family-oriented bar, with kids and their parents. "Can't ever remember a problem," he said.

City directories show it was named the Bell Bar since at least 1950. A bell hangs on the wall behind the bar, though nobody we talked to seemed to know whether the bell or the bar's name came first.

Decor includes the usual beer signs and big TVs. An assortment of old cans and bottles, found in cleaning up the joint, sits above the bar, right near the bell. Included are cans of Pfeiffer and E&B, two long-gone Detroit brewers.

On tap are Miller Lite, Bud Light, Molson's (each $1.50 pints) and a fourth tap with some sort of craft beer (Leinenkugel Summer Shandy when we stopped in, $2 a pint). Assorted cans and bottles include PBR for $1.25, other domestics at $2 and craft beers at $3. 

Mixed drinks are available, though Harry had no luck trying to get a Manhattan; there was no sweet vermouth. But a couple who showed up got Bloody Marys, complete with olives and pickles. Austin said rum and Coke, Jack and Coke, and 7 and 7 are common.

We usually find something to gripe about at a bar. But we're hard-pressed here to complain. Maybe we're getting soft. A lack of sweet vermouth doesn't even count; it's not the sort of place
Inside the Bell
you'd expect to get a Manhattan. One of the state lottery machines was broken, but we can't blame the bar for that; maybe the state folks will get around to fixing it after they figure out how to fix the roads.

And Harry finally -- perhaps inspired by the friendly scene and finding himself hanging out with young rock musicians (Cody, one of Austin's bandmates who also doubles as a Bell bartender, showed up) -- summoned his bravery and got a shot of sloe gin. 

It had been decades since he last tried sloe gin. It was a night in a dorm room, in his early days in college, and he hadn't yet taken whatever class teaches you about savoring drinks instead of guzzling them. By the time he realized the alcohol was kicking in, it was too late. We'll spare you the details, but it wasn't pretty and it was a good thing it was his own dorm room.

The next time Harry came across sloe gin, he didn't even like the smell. And he forgot about it all these years until he realized not long ago that he didn't even remember how it smelled. So when
Good advice posted on the wall
he noticed a bottle of it at the Bell, he tried a shot, discovered that nothing bad happened, and that's that. He'll probably never drink it again.

Typical bagged snacks are the only food usually available at the Bell, though bringing in outside food is welcome. D'Angelo's Pizza (which is closed Tuesdays) is right across the street and Grampa Tony's, which is a couple short blocks away, will deliver. Tony's even has liver and onions.

We say bagged snacks are the only food usually available, because the day we stopped in Gina showed up with a box of doughnuts and dropped it on the bar. Harry asked, "What's a guy got to do to get a doughnut around here?" and Gina slid the box down to him. How's that for a happy hour?

The Bell has a good pool table (50 cents a game), a dartboard and the assortment of lottery games (when the machines work). It's open 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, except for opening at noon on Sunday.

What goes on at 7 a.m.?

If you wake up too early someday and want to get out, Austin says third-shift nurses at the hospital down the street often show up after work. "And they're ready to drink," he says.

Harry will still be in bed.

See Doc’s report on the Bell Bar: Everything old rings true again 

  The particulars:
  Bell Bar
  1314 Columbus


Anonymous said...

Glad to see the Bell is up and running again. Haven't stopped in yet, but will be sure the next time I'm in the neighborhood.

Bear said...

My Dad played Blooper Ball for the Bell in the late 60's early 70's and all the guys had their wives and children come to the Bell after the games and they would buy us a pop and chips then give us quarters to play the pinball machines and shot pool. Good times and great memories. That was the first place I went for both of my first legal drinks... one at 18 then again after the age limit went up at 21. Thanks for bringing back good memories. I'll be stopping in and taking my Dad and Mom!!!

Joe Hiltz said...

New owners same great bar. Was home to me along time ago. Still feels like home. So happy to see it back open.