“I wish my life were as fun as this Chinese propaganda film!” was one of many slightly inappropriate and definitely raucous thoughts that were blurted out during our three-hour visit to the far away world of wonder that is Strongwater Food and Spirits.
The 400 W. Rich building that houses Strongwater is among one of the most interesting and up-and-coming neighborhoods of Columbus, Franklinton. Abandoned warehouses offer perfect canvases for some of the finest graffiti and most beautiful paintings you can find in the city. As you open the simple glass door to Strongwater you’re immediately greeted by a grand lobby with beautiful orange and green leather mid-century modern furniture. Patterned orange and green linoleum with gold specks and incredibly high ceilings offer a glimpse into the beauty this building once was and is again. You walk up a few stairs and turn to see a HUGE painting on the far wall of a woman braving her way through a storm. And as one of many smiling servers greets you to offer you cocktails, you immediately know this is going to be a wonderful experience.
We sat at a high top table for four with the same barstools that were in my high school science laboratory, and marveled at some ’50s B movie about space which was being projected on the wall while the four of us each enjoyed a different cocktail. The Franklinton Mule (bourbon, house-made ginger ale, lime juice), the Gin Sweeney (gin, sweet and sour syrup, soda, lemon) and The Sweet Ohio (OYO Honey Vanilla Bean vodka, ginger syrup, lemon juice) were table favorites. Their spicy signature spirit – and the inspiration for the bar’s name – is the Strongwater Rye: Bulleit Rye infused with habanero pepper and port brined peppercorn. If it packs too much heat for you to enjoy straight, try it in a Franklinton Mule for a milder kick. In addition to great cocktails, several Columbus beers are featured along with other great craft beer options, with five taps behind the bar, another five in the event space, and a handful of bottled and canned selections.
Strongwater just started serving food earlier this month, with former Black Creek Bistro chef Will Johnston heading the kitchen and serving up healthy pub grub with plenty of vegetarian options. We enjoyed the dip trio to start the meal and each loved our sandwich choices. Since moving to Columbus I’ve been on a hunt to find a croque madame to replace my favorite in Chicago, and I believe I may have found it here at Strongwater. Sandwiches are served with Columbus made OH! Chips.
Midway through our stay Space Mayberry malfunctioned on the projector, and it was quickly replaced with a Chinese propaganda film from 1965 which the Internet tells me is called The East is Red: A Song and Dance Epic. While we were in definite like with Strongwater thanks to the fantastic food and drinks up to this point, the crazy musical about Mao Zedong had us all in serious love.
Once we finished our meals and the discussion loudly turned to talking about the Chinese Les Miserables, we decided it was best for all parties involved if we moved our third drink to one of the lovely offices that sit off of the main bar and restaurant. Strongwater features several offices that allow you to still admire the grand bar that overlooks Franklinton through a wall of windows but with a bit more privacy if you’re say, loudly yelling cat puns about history’s greatest communists/fascists. (Chairman Meow and Meowsolini? Comedy gold, you guys.) Each office is decorated with lovely credenzas, chairs, lamps and more keeping with the gorgeous MCM motif. Secret bookshelves in our office, with encouragement from our server, revealed books from the ’50s regarding opium, nymphomania, and all the other wonderful issues that plagued society before the Twilight series. The non-windowed walls are painted a lovely aquamarine that I happened to just paint my living room, and at this point I started to feel a little Truman show-y because seriously, did they build this place specifically for me? I think so.
Starburst clocks, antique hutches and plenty of other tiny touches and lovely details make Strongwater a fantastic place for dinner, drinks and any combination of the two. The bathrooms feature the same yellow paint and speckled linoleum from my Catholic grade school with matching lockers, and while our server said it was some sort of factory previously (she wasn’t entirely sure), it really seemed a lot more like Saints Peter and Paul to me.
The backbar is tall wooden shelves with two large windows overlooking an old railroad bridge, and several terrariums scattered on the bar offer nice touches among normal bar supplies. The Beta Band, Beck and Third Eye Blind reminded us all of college glory days, and somehow we devolved into reliving a raptor fight, college radio stations and more from the past. While we didn’t need more drinks at this point (three is enough) the server was kind enough to visit us even in the office, so we decided it was only right to have one more each.
Strongwater features fine cocktails, a gorgeous space, wonderful service, and so much more that I’m running out of synonyms to describe it. In a word I’d say it was perfect. We enjoyed the space as it evolved from featuring tons of natural light to warm lighting from candles, globe lights and string lights, and thankfully the fluorescent lights in our office remained off. The offices are first-come, first-serve, and I highly recommend enjoying a drink or two amid the soft glow of a ’50s lamp and book on nymphomaniac opium addicts if you can after dinner.
Since so many things about Strongwater reminded me of school and our night’s conversation verged on rated R most of the evening, I can’t help but quote a high school English teacher. We left Saturday Night Fever on Broadway in New York City after our senior trip and asked her what she thought of the show.
“As Henry David Thoreau said, ‘I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.’ There was just nothing there for me to suck.”
Strongwater offers you plenty of charming, kitschy marrow to suck.