In 2017, a Yelp analysis deemed Columbus, Ohio to be the nation’s #1 market for the cultivation of the more and more vaguely defined…”hipster” market. This sort of meant that if you intended to open a millennial-friendly business, or were hoping to peddle apartments (preferably in converted warehouses) to said demo, this was pretty much the place to do it.
A long time swing state, Ohio seems to have troublingly tipped a bit over into the Red recently – though that doesn’t seem at all apparent in cities like Cleveland and Columbus. The latter has poured civic financial support into programs for the arts (surely much to the horror of local 45 supporters); and, well, the city is ever excitingly abuzz with university students. These days, Short North / Clintonville is where most of the action is.
Into all this hipsterifficness has recently debuted the extravagantly named Canopy by Hilton Columbus Downtown Short North. It’s the 12th entry into the hotel giant’s new-ish boutique brand, which takes a particularly artful approach to 21st Century hospitality – evident to us as soon as we entered the cavernous lobby, with its lively Central Market House restaurant greeting guests with an immediate dose of dazzle.
Short North is characterized by an astonishingly long stretch of North High Street, which seemed to be home to about 450 restaurants and bars. Naturally, for a town full of students, there is a fussy coffee culture – which meant our first stop on our recent visit would be One Line Coffee, where we learned the rarefied but approachable art of “cupping.” It’s rather like wine tasting, except the people doing it (in this case, One Line partner Mark Forman) actually seem quite a bit more serious about it. As several of their top – and quite aromatic – varieties were put before us, we detected notes of flowers, fruits and nearly anything else you can imagine, thus coming to more deeply appreciate the fragrant qualities of really, really good coffee. The honey latte was a particular fave.
The aforementioned support for the arts was evident straight away in the so many public murals lining Short North’s main drag. Featured artists included Andrea Meyers, April Sunami, Melissa Ayote and the ideologically driven Omar Shaheed, born in nearby Youngstown. We were most taken with Terry Norman’s vivid portrait of Richard Pryor, who seemed to be stuck somewhere between laughing and wincing – which is really just what you’d expect of him.
Columbus also has destination worthy exhibits going on at any given time. At the nearby Hammond Harkins Galleries, a text based show by Jenny Holzer was/is currently running. And the Dublin Arts Council is showing Cuba in Columbus, an homage to the cultural exchange the city shares with the controversial Caribbean island, until November 15. Also worth a stop are the Sean Christopher Gallery and Studios on High Gallery.
The sheer number of restaurants along North High was nothing if not apoplexy inducing. For lunch we opted for Harvey & Ed’s, which was something of a groovy take on the classic Jewish deli; but to give one an idea of the pace of change in Columbus these days, the 16 month old eatery is already temporarily closing, to be morphed into a new concept by its owners.
But local epicures have been congregating in great numbers at North Market, which is humming away at any time of the day, and is actually about to expand into nearby Dublin. Of course, food halls can be crowded, dimly atmosphered places, where the sights and smells sort of blend together and overwhelm each other. Yet this one was very much a civilized affair, with space to move around, and plenty of light flooding in from all sides.
Being early afternoon, we were tempted to settle into the Barrel & Bottle wine bar – but opted instead for a fix on another kind: lavender ice cream at Jeni’s Splendid. which we quickly added to our last-meal-on-earth list. One should make a point to stop at Hoyo’s Kitchen, a popular Somalian spot in the market that stands as a symbol of the 60,000 strong local Somali population.
Just up the street, the chic little MMELO was an absolute treat, literally, for our Belgophilic hearts. A chocolate shop with a level of creativity and style (this was basically confection as fashion) as to surely have them upping their game in Brussels and Zurich, they were so of-the-moment as to feature KETO, vegan and gluten free options; but their wildly designed and ridiculously decadent Chocolate Tea Cakes exhibited little concern for all that trendy tweeness. Carmelized Banana Caramel with Pecan? Why of course.
Later, we found the late afternoon scene at Seventh Son Brewing Co. to be impressively energetic – and the Qahwah Turkish coffee stout, as well as the Goo Goo Muck tart IPA very much to our liking. The latter, named for the Cramps song, hinted at their excellent taste in music – which was confirmed by several obscure new wave gems coming over the soundsystem, including Devo’s “Pink Pussycat.”
Nearby Wolf’s Ridge was actually a pretty sophisticated affair, at whose Taproom we sampled a very strong (10.4%) Coffee Vanilla Dire Wolf Stout and a Hefe & Wedge Orange Hefewiezen, both of which will forever alter your notion of creative brewing. The elegant but energetic dining room turned out international fare like Sakura Wagyu strip steak, Chinese 5 spice duck, braised oxtail, and Faroe Island salmon with roasted root vegetables. They weren’t at all offended when we ordered up a a few bottles of wine with dinner.
No surprise, cocktail culture has reached Columbus, and Antiques on High is Seventh Son’s urbane spot for artful tipples like the Draft Punk (cognac, Lillet Rose, orange blossom, tonic) and Yuzu That You Do (tequila, mezcal, Choya Yuzu, sherry-vermouth, grapefruit, citrus, orange blossom water).
Which brought us full circle back to the Canopy, and its new Goodale Station rooftop bar – where we were given a little pre-opening preview and mixology class. Created in partnership with NYC’s exalted drinks alchemists Death & Co, it offered heart-racing views of the dynamic city below – a city which had intrigued us enough to want to return sooner than later. Especially if it involves more chocolate.
Perhaps Hilton’s most intriguing new brand, Canopy has been populating the international hospitality landscape from Portland to Iceland with a singular panache. Not at all attempting to be scenestery, rather they build hotels around the local DNA, making for a unique experience from city to city.
In Columbus, however, they might not be able to not make a scene, with the October 17 debut of the hotel’s much talked about rooftop bar Goodale – and those aforementioned Death & Co created cocktails. Though we departed before the opening, we were more than satisfied with the feasting we undertook at Canopy’s Central Market House restaurant, where chef Tripp Maudlin (a Michael Mina alum) focuses on simplicity and flavor. So unfussy dishes like sweet potato & coconut soup, ricotta & shishito tartine, spiced lamb flatbread and the curry chickpea bowl all seemed as exciting as much more complex fare.
Elsewhere, the hotel is rife with thoughtful amenities: to wit, a dedicated shower area, should your room not be ready upon check-in; and the Retreat lounge, complete with brick-walled terrace – which feels more like a living room than a shared work space.
The stylishly un-showy rooms had attractively muted color schemes, and carpets flowing into wood floors, giving them a bit of a comfy, residential feel. Prodigious windows framed the handsome downtown Columbus skyline.