Grand Prix: Columbus is in two weeks and now is the time to plan out how to have a great time in my home city. It will be a weekend filled with cards, but first, you have to figure out how to get there, where to stay and what to eat! Columbus is full of fun and helpful Midwesterners; I look forward to sharing a fun city with lots of fellow Magicians. Almost every place that I talk about has the address listed, so you can print out this article and bring it with you and just program in addresses into your GPS when you are ready to stop by. I’ve got all the bases covered in this week’s article, so let’s jump in!
The Lay of the Land
Columbus is at the crossroads of Ohio. Nearly every major highway crosses through it, which makes it an ideal place for the event. The highway system includes an outer belt, I-270, that runs all the way around Columbus. To get into the main part of the city and close to the convention center, you will probably be taking 670, which generally goes East-to-West through town. You can also take I-70/I-71, which has a very confusing interchange in the middle of the city – it’s called Dysfunction Junction for a reason. Running North-South is Rt. 23, also known as High Street, which stretches from downtown, all the way to the exburbs in the adjoining county and beyond. If you don’t mind traffic lights, you can get just about anywhere on High Street.
Taking High Street north from downtown, the first neighborhood you will encounter is the Short North. It is a revitalized area, full of galleries, coffee shops and interesting restaurants. The Short North is the gem of downtown Columbus and it’s worth a visit. It runs five blocks, up to 5th street (the American Apparel marks the boundary waters) and then turns into a buffer neighborhood between the Short North and the campus area.
The Ohio State University campus is a huge fixture of northern Columbus, and its local economy is geared toward college students and young adults who want cheap beer, good entertainment, dancing and late-night food. If you are hungry after a long night of playing cards, you are sure to find a place still open along High Street late at night, slinging burritos or burgers. Students are gone for the summer, which means that most of the bars will have manageable crowds. You also won’t have to put up with much rabid Buckeye fandom from students of The Ohio State University (the “The” coming from losing a lawsuit against Ohio University, instead of the reasons OSU fans claim). More on the university district in the food and drinks section!
Southeast of the Convention Center is the Arena District and Brewery District. While metro Columbus is emptying out of residents and nightlife, these two areas are recent and enjoyable additions to the sights of the town and are in walking distance of the Grand Prix. Though the Columbus Blue Jackets are not playing hockey that weekend, the Arena Grand theater is nearby if you want to take in a film.
How To Get There
Because Columbus is laid out on a spoke-and-hub highway system, it is simple to drive into. If you want to fly in, Port Columbus International Airport lies on the east side. It is sufficiently far away that you will need to rent a car or endure an expensive cab ride to get to your hotel; however, some hotels, particularly downtown ones, will run a shuttle to the airport, or can arrange to pick you up. Port Columbus tickets can be expensive, which is why I suggest you shop around with your flight if you are going to be traveling cross-country. The Dayton International Airport is about an hour away from Columbus, and you can save $50 or more by flying into there – if you are splitting the cost of a rental car with friends, it’s a dynamite way to bring costs down.
Another option that I strongly suggest is taking Megabus. If you are coming in from Chicago or Indianapolis, it is simply the best way to travel into Columbus. Currently, fares are $50 for a round-trip ticket that drops you off in the middle of downtown Columbus. The buses are clean, filled with college students and they have free Wi-Fi. Think about it- MODO drafting on the way to the event! Once in Columbus, you will need to take a taxi or a bus to get to your destination (we have terrible public transit), but it saves you the trouble of driving downtown.
Where To Stay
Though staying in the attached hotel with the Convention Center is the best option, many readers might want a more economical place to stay. Since Columbus has a good highway system, you can look at a map and figure out good spots all along I-270 that will lead to the Grand Prix. Your considerations should include how long it will take to drive in the morning and evening, what level of comfort you want, and what your budget will be. One underutilized hotel area is at the intersection of I-270 and Rt. 23 on the north side of the city. There are at least five hotels there, with some budget options at $45-55 per night and nice restaurants and bars nearby (the best sushi in town is at Sushi-ko at the plaza there). The drive from the north side is about twenty-five minutes to the convention center on the weekends. Employ caution and read lots of online reviews before booking hotels along certain portions of the outer belt, including the northeast side and the south side; “dodgy” is charitable description of some of the lodgings.
What To Do
Columbus offers nice attractions to see during the day, if you arrive a few days early and are looking for diversions. The Columbus Museum of Art (480 East Broad Street) is small but dense; it has deep collections of impressionists and several works by Edward Hopper (a personal favorite) and Roy Lichtenstein, a Columbus native. If you go to the art museum, check out the Canzani Center on Cleveland Ave north of the museum. It is a free gallery of the world-renowned Columbus College of Art and Design and displays art, sculpture and fabricated arts on the cutting edge of design.
If book-hunting is more your thing, check out the Book Loft (631 South 3rd Street) in nearby German Village. With over twenty-six rooms of books, this firetrap of a store is incredible for hours of browsing for specialty titles. If you want to get out and about in the city, check out Franklin Park Conservatory (1777 E. Broad St) for incredible greenhouses and composed outdoor gardens.
This is the section we’re really concerned with, right? While there are no really close-by gaming stores, there are plenty of places to sling cards and chill out. For the under-21 crowd (or the do-not-enjoy-bars crowd), the Shi-Sha Lounge (2369 North High Street) is a hookah bar on the north end of campus that is open until at least 3am most days and has ample space and a good atmosphere for playing Magic. They serve Middle Eastern food and drink, as well as plenty of hookah flavors. Ohio has a state-wide no smoking law, so hookah bars are basically the only place that you can light up indoors.
Across the street from the Convention Center is Vine Street, home of several trendy Columbus bars. If you want to hit the clubs with Chapin and Kibler, they will probably be along this stretch. From Gaswerks to Lodge Bar, there are several places to hear loud hip-hop and dance music and meet the, ahem, local attractions.
If dive bars are more your angle, then the Campus area is rife with them. Local favorites include The Library, Little Bar, and my personal favorite, The Thirsty Scholar (home of $1 PBR tallboys!). If you are looking for merriment on Saturday night, park yourself on High Street and start walking; you’re bound to find somewhere that looks good.
Columbus is also home to the Columbus Clippers, a minor-league baseball team. Take in a game on Friday at Huntington Park (330 Huntington Park Lane), an all-new stadium located in the Arena District and near many nearby restaurants and attractions. The Clippers will be playing Buffalo on the Friday before the Grand Prix, and taking in a baseball game before the big event sounds like a perfect way to get your mind off of the cards for a bit.
Food and Drink
The first place to mention is definitely North Market, which is across from the Convention Center and home to many local food stalls. Get ethnic foods or hometown favorites at a very convenient location. If you go, you must try Jeni’s Ice Cream, which is at the North Market as well as 714 N. High St. Jeni’s has exploded in notoriety in Columbus in the past three years. It has some of the best artisan ice cream in the country, and on any day, you might find Thai peanut butter chili ice cream, vodka-cucumber granita, bourbon butter-pecan or lavender and wild berries. Jeni’s sources locally and I cannot speak highly enough of what they do.
In the Arena Distict is Buca Di Beppo, a small chain Italian eatery that specializes in large-table plates and dining. They are happy to accommodate tables of eight or more, but I suggest calling ahead if you are going with a large group. Nearby, on 295 Marconi Boulevard is BD’s Mongolian Grill, a favorite with Magic players who come to Columbus for events. BD’s has a large buffet with raw meat, veggies, sauces and spices, and diners assemble plates and take them to a large grill, where staff members cook up meals in front of you. If you go, get the unlimited plates deal, so you can make many combinations of stir-fry.
If you are on the north side, check out the Blue Danube (2439 North High Street). The ‘Dube is a Columbus institution, open very late with an extensive bar, plenty of fried awesomeness and hand-decorated ceiling tiles. They have a great jukebox with actual records and the atmosphere is quiet and laid-back, perfect after a night at a loud venue.
Do you want to crush another buffet, but you’ve already been to BD’s? I invite you to Schmidt’s Sausage Haus (240 East Kossuth Street) in (you guessed it) German Village. Featured on Man vs. Food and inventor of the Bahama Mama sausage, Schmidt’s serves up an unlimited buffet of sausages, all German-style and all delicious. There’s sauerkraut and mustard, if you’re into diversifying the sausage experience, and giant cream puffs for dessert. While you’re there, get a Spaten lager from one of the cute waitresses in dirndls; go big and get the 1-Liter krug!
If Jeni’s is the best ice cream in town, then Pistachia Vera (541 South Third Street) is the best dessert maker in Columbus. This little shop in German Village makes world-class pastries and sweets. Check out their website and start planning what you want! They are open daily at 7am, which means you can pop by for breakfast before the gaming starts for a homemade croissant or tart.
If delicate European morsels are not your thing, take a trip out to Thurman’s (183 Thurman Avenue) on the south side. Here, you can get a beer and all-American pub food. Thurman’s is a local after-tournament establishment, since they are open late and serve great, greasy food. If you eat the signature Thurman burger (¾ lb of beef, with ham, cheese, bacon and onion rings), you have the honor of being able to put a signed dollar on their wall. Eat the off-menu Thurmanator (double [!] the Thurman burger) and you get to sign your name directly on the wall. There’s no reservations at Thurman’s and the locals rightly pack the place. You might have to wait if you are in a large group, but the delay is completely worth it.
If you are tired of road food and caloriffic restaurant food, there’s a Giant Eagle (777 Neil Avenue )supermarket near the convention center. Stock up on water bottles and grab a lunch for the tournament at the store so you can be prepared for a long weekend of gaming. You can also buy beer and wine there, but Ohio is weird about hard liquor sales. Supermarkets can only sell diluted spirits, and you need to seek out a State Store to get high-octane beverages. This has perennially been a problem for gamers who have come in for Origins or the many Columbus tournaments and want to relax (or get nutz) after the event. The closest State Store is Mid-America State Liquor Agency (200 E 5th Ave), which is a tiny and mildly-scary store. Because of Ohio’s blue laws, they cannot sell liquor on Sundays (but stores can sell beer and wine), so plan ahead if you are interested in that.
Quick Hits and Side Attractions
If you are traveling with a significant other who is not interested in spending all of their time with gamers, they might have fun:
-Shopping at Easton Town Center (160 Easton Town Center), a large, outdoor mall on the east side with trendy shopping, a movie theater and fine dining.
-Going to the Columbus Zoo (9990 Riverside Dr., Powell OH) and the attached Zoombezi Bay water park for a day of fun.
-Photographing heirloom roses at the Park of Roses at Whetstone Park (3923 N High St.)
-renting a boat, canoe or kayak on Hoover Reservoir or Alum Creek Reservoir for a day of boating.
Getting Your Final Preparations Ready
In the lead-up to the Grand Prix, you should have your route planned, your lodgings figured out and a rough idea of where you want to eat. You should already have your deck and sideboard mostly picked out and tested by now. If you plan to change decks at the last minute, be sure to bring a stock of extra cards, as most dealers are not often equipped with some of the more obscure Legacy sideboard options. There are a few stores in the Columbus suburbs, but you have to travel a distance to all of them and you are not guaranteed to find what you are looking for.
I look forward to seeing people at the Grand Prix! If you have questions or comments on what to do in Columbus, email me, find me on Twitter (@legacysallure) or reply in the comments below!