After visiting Tree Bar for the first time, I feel like my cool points increased ten-fold, but getting there was a chore. I drove around in circles, completely lost, trying to find the place. As my frustration grew, so did my intrigue. I heard this place was awesome; apparently in one of its previous incarnations, it was named one of Esquire Magazine’s best dive bars in America. Its mysterious location only seemed to add to the appeal. It was like foraging for some cool, unknown gem.
I finally found it wedged at the intersection of two alleyways behind Chambers Road. Once I finally arrived, owner Ryan Haye and I joked about the location. This place is “hard to find and harder to leave,” he said.
At its core, Tree Bar is a music venue. The late Andyman Davis owned it from 1999 – 2008. Haye worked with Andyman at CD101 and was a frequent patron of the bar during that time. Through the years, some impressive acts have frequented Tree Bar and currently, it boasts an average of four to five concerts a week. Oh, and in case you’re curious about the name ‘Tree Bar,’ there are the remnants of an old silver maple tree stump smack-dab in the middle of the bar.
I went at a pretty benign time – 7 p.m. on a Sunday night. A band was setting up and there were only a few other patrons in the bar. But if I had to imagine the bar’s typical clientele, it would be uber-hip; the place just drips of irony and cool, of mustaches, skinny jeans and nerd glasses. That said, however, Tree Bar seems like the kind of place that’s completely accessible to everyone – A place where hipsters, working men and wasps can intermingle. Haye told me that the bar reminded him of the old worn-in bars where he hung out with his steelworker dad back in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
After soaking in the atmosphere, I settled in to try Tree Bar’s new cocktail menu. Haye enlisted the help of Chris Manis of Basi Italia to craft the menu and let me tell you – he did not half-ass it. With five cocktails on the menu, and priced at a very accessible $6 – $9, there is a libation for everyone. As it turns out, Haye is passionate about Bourbon, but the menu is varied and balanced enough to please all palettes.
The five carefully curated drinks on the menu range from a cucumber-lime-ginger vodka concoction called the Stiffler Mule Variations (nice Tom Waits reference) to the extremely manly, smoky, bacony bourbony deliciousness that is the Silver Maple Smoke (an homage to the bar’s namesake tree).
My cocktail sampling journey began with the Aperitif Richards Cocktail. Light and refreshing, this drink is made with Hendricks gin, Aperol, Regan’s orange bitters, topped with Prosecco and garnished with an orange twist. Fancy schmancy! It is feminine and smooth, like a beautiful woman — the perfect drink for a naughty housewife or a gaggle of bachelorettes.
Next, I tried the Manhattan Radio Fire made with Knob Creek Rye, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Whiskey Barrel Bitters and Hellfire Habanero Shrub, garnished with a lemon twist. This drink seriously tastes like the holidays; like I should have been drinking it while sitting in front of a fire in a log cabin that smelled of pine cone and fresh-baked pies.
But perhaps my favorite cocktail on the menu was the Sunny Side of the Street, named after a song by The Pogues. Made with Getriede-Kummel Caraway liqueur (!!!), Tangueray gin, fresh lemon juice, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, organic agave syrup and garnished with a lemon twist, this drink instantly made me smile. Seriously, it’s as if someone figured out the recipe for happiness and put it in a fancy cocktail glass. Upon first sip, I wanted to jump onto a couch like crazy Tom Cruise and profess my love for booze. This lovely beverage is probably the second-most unique drink I’ve ever had. Next to the Silver Maple Smoke, of course.
There was a child-like giddiness in Haye’s voice when he first told me about the Silver Maple. “It’s as if you bottled leather,” he said. Or perhaps my favorite description was “It’s like Clint Eastwood in a bottle!” This cocktail, made with Elijah Craig 12 yr Bourbon, Russian Caravan tea from ZenCha, house-smoked organic grade B pure maple syrup, fresh lemon juice and black walnut bitters, is your answer to all those floofy, girly, pink drinks consumed by Carrie Bradshaw wanna-bes. Are you a man’s man? Do you like the smell of leather-bound books? Do you eat raw animal flesh? Is Ron Swanson your hero? Do you like to build shit? Then the Silver Maple Smoke is just the drink for you! Seriously, this cocktail tastes like a campfire. Or bacon. Or both. It is utterly delicious.
The coolest thing about all these cocktails isn’t their fun names or even the complexity of their flavors. It’s that each drink has been carefully crafted with the finest available ingredients. Tree Bar freshly squeezes its lemon and lime juices, smokes its maple syrup in-house and uses the best local ingredients. But because serious cocktails take a hot second to make, Tree Bar is currently only selling the drinks from 7 – 9 p.m.
In addition to kick-ass cocktails, Tree Bar also features 26 – 28 craft beers. Apparently, Haye’s partner Roni Stiffler is quite the craft beer connoisseur. But if you’re broke and can only afford $2.50 PBRs, they’ve got you covered, too.
The bottom line? The fact that I’d never been to Tree Bar before seems like an egregious oversight. I’d like to think that I’m a pretty cool broad, so how was I so painfully oblivious of what is, quite possibly, the city’s best bar? Quel Horreur! If you like music and good beverages, or you simply have a pulse, you should get to Tree Bar STAT. That is, if you can find it.
Tree Bar is located at 887 Chambers Road.
This is a guest post by Molly Borchers. Molly moved to Columbus two years ago from Washington,
D.C. and she’s been enjoying the city’s libations ever since. Molly began studying wine four years ago, attending wine tastings and classes, conducting tastings in her home, and reading as many books on wine as she could get her hands on. She even poured wine at a wine bar part-time for a summer. When she’s not out on the town imbibing culture, wine and cocktails, she can be found in a yoga studio doing headstands. Check her out online at mollyborchers.com.