Skyscrapers rising from flat fertile fields recall the cover of a sixth-grade civics textbook. But this classic American city surprises with its modern attitudes, and the city has been rated as one of the best places in the country for gays and lesbians to live.
Diversity has a long history in Columbus, composed as it is, of many ethnic neighborhoods. The city is also home to Ohio State University. With 60,000 students, this small city within the larger one has helped encourage a certain tolerant live-and-let-live ambience here, and in surrounding areas. Small wonder Columbus has the third highest per-capita population of gays and lesbians in the United States.
Port Columbus International Airport is six miles east of Columbus. A cab from the airport to downtown is the easiest way into town but there are also shuttles, buses and limo services. The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) public bus service can take you almost anywhere in the city.
If traveling beyond downtown, you’ll need a car to get around. Within the city, there's a useful bus running along Main Street between German Village and the Short North. Fares are $2 per trip, or buy a day pass for $4.50; a week for $25. A ticket vending machine is open 24 hours a day at their central office at 33 North High St, taking cash or credit cards. Find schedule information at the COTA website.
German Village. The oldest gay neighborhood has narrow brick paved streets shaded by vast spreading elms and lined by graceful houses that are more than a century old. Its architectural treasures were threatened by the wrecking ball in the 1960s, but were saved with the help of outraged locals. It still has a sizable gay population, and lots of gay-friendly cafes and bars.
Short North. In recent years, gays have spread out across the city, and with many settling in the Short North neighborhood. Old traditions, such as the farmers market, mix with the more recent art galleries and boutique shops. A good time to visit is the first Saturday of the month, when 40 galleries spotlight new and established artists.
The Arena District has Arena District has developed into a mainstream nightlife area downtown, home to bars, clubs, restaurants, cinemas, the Lifestyles Community Pavilion music concert venue, and Nationwide Arena, with concerts and sports events.
Local media and resources
Columbus Gay Bars does a good job keeping up with the LGBT scene; also with an archive of old/ now closed bars of years past.
CAPA, the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, operates a number of theaters around town, presenting a variety of stage entertainments. See the link for details.
Stonewall Columbus is the LGBT community center, with services, films, theater, social activities and advocacy programs. They also organize Pride Columbus, with a mid-June Saturday parade down High Street, a festival in Goodale Park, plus other events during the first half of June.
CUB, the Columbus Ursine Brotherhood, was the area social group for bears and friends, now "in hibernation" but with website still.
Network Columbus is a chamber of commerce for LGBT-owned and allied companies and professionals.
See our listings tab for map locations and website links to gay Columbus area businesses.
Good Downtown general-public hotel options include the Courtyard Marriott Downtown (35 W Spring St), serving hot buffet breakfasts, and the Red Roof Inn (111 E Nationwide Blvd; 614-224-6539), with budget-conscious rates.
For more luxurious indulgences at city center, try the Sheraton Columbus Capitol Square (75 E State; 614 -365-4500) near the Capitol Building, The Westin Columbus (310 High; 614 228-3800), once the 19th-century classic Great Southern Hotel, or the new Hyatt Regency Columbus (350 N High; 614-463-1234).
The Wayfaring Buckeye Hostel (2407 Indiana Ave) won't set you back as much, at $25-50 for dorm beds or private rooms. Gay-friendly, they're happy to help you get around with tips on local festivals, art exhibits, concerts and sports events.
See more Columbus downtown hotels and guesthouses at our map & listings pages. For less expensive motel options check the areas around exits off the major interstate highways, just outside the I-270 beltway, 20-30 minutes drive from Downtown.
Bars & clubs: German Village & Merion Village
Cavan Irish Pub (1409 S High St), friendly neighborhood bar, covered patio, karaoke, TV sports, Wednesday strippers, Sunday bingo, go-go boys, drag shows.
Club Diversity (863 S High St), piano and martini karaoke bar with gay and mixed crowd.
Toolbox Saloon (744 Frebis Ave), gay party bar, male strippers, drag and variety shows, karaoke, undies nights, TV sports, pizza/bugers.
Tremont (708 S High St) neighborhood gay bar, food, older friendly diverse crowd welcomes all; jukebox, stripper nights, karaoke, patio.
CLOSED: Columbus Fuel Bar (1312 S High St), neighborhood bar, drag & male strippers.
Bars & clubs: Short North
The Short North has long been one of the gayest neighborhoods in Columbus, with many shops, cafes, and bars on High Street between downtown and Ohio State University, each an easy walk from the next. Many gay-only businesses are gone now, but at most places along the strip people of all kinds still mix comfortably. See our listings for map locations and website links to these and more local bars.
Axis (775 N High), weekend dance club with internationally known DJs, 18-plus college crowds, jocks in the showers, sometimes erotic video stars and live performers, Saturday drag shows, plus Friday and Sunday all-male reviews.
Bernard's Tavern (630 N High St), the space where Union started out, now mixed but gay-friendly lounge, bar food menu of wraps, salads, burgers, pastas; beer and cocktails.
Exile (893 N Fourth), men's leather and cruise bar, outdoor patio and smoking lounge, with karaoke, patio cook-outs, DJ dance nights, leather, bears' and sports fetish events; plus Fresh Meat amateur strip Tuesdays, and Sunday T-Dances with pizza and hot male strippers.
Level (700 N High St), gay-friendly upscale cocktail lounge and restaurant, American/International food, Saturday/Sunday brunch, Sunday Broadway and Disney Musicals.
Union Cafe (782 N High), popular, casual gay neighborhood cafe and cocktail lounge. Martini menu, modern American cuisine, patio, brunch, live performances.
Bars & clubs: Downtown
South of the train tracks that separate Short North from downtown there are still a few gay establishments these days.
Slammers (202 E Long) popular bar and restaurant, good food, great pizza, nibbles, salads, subs and wraps; welcoming women and gay male friends. Pool games, karaoke, special nights, live music.
CLOSED: Garage (40 E Long), Friday/Saturday gay dance club; Wall Street (144 N Wall), LGBT dance and show club of 28 years, queer burlesque, live music.
Bars & clubs: Rest of Columbus
A.W.O.L. / The Barracks (49 Parsons), mostly men, leather/rubber and skin nights, bear events, karaoke and video gay party bar, big screen TV sports events, patio, dance floor.
Back Door (1662 W Mound St, South Hilltop), gay dive bar, male strippers, drag shows, pool games, 18+ Thursdays.
Highball Tavern (1071 Parsons Ave), neighborhood bar, patio, karaoke, pool table, darts, Kickin Chicken food; Frisky Fridays hot male review performances, diva hostess.
South Bend (126 E Moler), mostly men, neighborhood gay drinkers' bar, drag shows.
PromoWest operates four funky local music venues, mostly aimed at the 18-30 set; often a crush of OSU students: A&R Music Bar (391 Neil Ave), The Basement (391 Neil Ave), The LC Pavillion (405 Neil Ave), and the Newport Music Hall (1722 North High). Their website has upcoming performance line-ups.
CLOSED: Club 20 (20 E Duncan), hole-in-the wall mixed neighborhood bar, cheap drinks, jukebox, karaoke.
German Village has good local restaurants and delis, some going back many years. These include:
G. Michael's (595 S 3rd St), restaurant and bar, memorable evenings over fine meals from seasonal menus.
Lindey's (169 E Beck St), fine American cuisine, lunch and dinner daily, in Upper East Side New York bistro-style setting.
For German fare apropos to the settlers for whom the district is named, check out:
Juergen's (525 S 4th St), bakery, restaurant/cafe, import store landmark of 40 years, with finest German foods. Holidays are celebrated with time-honored style and enthusiasm.
Katzinger's Delicatessen (475 S Third St), big menu that begins in German, then ventures far and world-wide with "crazy good food." They like chocolate, and the wine selections are good, with frequent tastings.
Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant (240 E Kossuth St), good source for bratwurst, spatzel, sauerkraut, pretzels, chicken noodle soup, strudels and other traditional meals of Bavaria.
The Short North also has a good selection of restaurants:
Deep Wood (511 N High St), named among ten best by the Columbus Dispatch; New American food worth going out of your way for - lunch or dinner. Desserts are good too, and the good wine list is reasonably priced.
North Market (59 Spruce St), a cornucopia of fresh food stands, bakeries, cheese shops and prepared food stands of many ethnicities between downtown Short North. Eat here, or take-out to park, home or hotel. Daily until 5pm (7pm Tues).
Northstar (951 N High St), healthy, hearty breakfast from 9am, weekend brunch until 3pm. Muffins to full plates of meat and eggs or pancakes. Lunch and dinner salads, burritos, and sandwiches, meat or veggie.
Rigsby's Kitchen (698 N. High St) Italian service: primi, secondi and contorni courses; pastas, gnocci, risottos, fresh fish and meat, vegetable side plates. Old favorites or new creations, master chef, remarkable in-house deserts too.
Till (247 King Ave), former Dragonfly, chef retains unique and quirky urban garden seasonal focus, ever-changing veggie/vegan and meat menu, mostly rave reviews. Pleasant patio, beer, wine and cocktails, Saturday brunch.
For map locations and website links to these, plus another 30 restaurants, see our maps & listings tab.
Club Columbus (795 W Fifth) modern facility whirlpool, gym, outdoor heated lap-pool, Sunday buffets, guest porn stars, steam room, dry sauna, video lounge, and rooms. Men 18-plus, always open.
CLOSED: Flex Columbus. Their Cleveland, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Phoenix facilities remain open.
Shopping in Short North
Piercology (190 W 2nd), professional, safe, creative and nationally recognized body-piercing, with a big selection of embellishments.
At Torso (772 N High + at Exile Bar), a dapper store with gifts and latest styles for working out, cruising, or clubbing, gay designer labels, underwear, lubes and accessories at good prices.