Columbus jazz membership Dick’s Den reopens June 2 with all workers returning

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Dick’s Den will reopen on June 2nd, confirmed co-owner Tim Ackerman earlier this week.

Live music is not going to return to the famous Old North Columbus Bar right away, however.

Columbus’ main jazz venue closed on March 15, 2020, along with most of the other non-essential Ohio businesses. Ackerman and his business partner Aaron Snyder kept the windows closed even when Governor Mike DeWine allowed bars and restaurants to reopen with strict restrictions and limited capacity two months later.

The owners have observed COVID-19 infection rates remain stubbornly high and tens of thousands of Ohioans are dying from the disease, and they decided not to compromise the safety of their employees and customers, Ackerman said in an interview.

“We have been waiting for our employees to get vaccinations,” he said. “Now 100% of our employees are vaccinated and are coming back.”

And with coronavirus infection rates now falling, the duo decided it was time to welcome customers back to the leisurely and somewhat old-fashioned dive.

Few are looking forward to June 2nd more than Dick’s Den bartender Krista Williams.

“I’m already on schedule,” she said on Wednesday.

Williams, who goes by the pen name Krista Kitty, bartends and organizes Circus of Cool, a regular show that combines jazz with poetry and performance art. She directs the event and occasionally sings, recites poetry, and performs a burlesque routine.

“We’re family,” she said of the staff. “We may have had a crazy year last year, but we always had the light at the end of the tunnel that Dick’s Den would survive and reopen.”

Jobless checks and a bartending job at Nationwide Arena helped Williams pay her bills, and regular Zoom meetings with her Dick’s staff kept her sane.

With a nondescript exterior and unpretentious decor inside, Dick’s retains the appearance of a neighborhood watering hole. A wooden sign with the name of the bar hangs over the entrance, but for years long-time guests have identified the neighborhood building with a neon sign in the window that reads “Why not?”.

Dick's Den in the University District will reopen on June 2nd.Dick's Den in the university district

Few bars in central Ohio compare to Dick’s, Williams said.

“It just has an atmosphere like no other bar,” she said.

The tavern’s proximity to Ohio State University draws a mix of students and faculty, and the bluegrass and jazz shows for which it is known attract a wide variety of music fans, Williams said. The mix ensures a diverse customer base that enables exciting conversations.

“We always study there,” she said. “It feels like we’re getting our own education by going to Dick’s Den.”

Ackerman and Snyder acquired Dick’s in 2015. Since they own the building that the bar is in, overheads are low so they can keep the bar closed for more than a year without leaving the store.

Ackerman considered asking for proof of vaccination for entry, but decided that logistics would make such a policy nearly impossible.

“I don’t even know how to monitor this,” he said.

The bar doesn’t need masks, Ackerman said.

“We will, however, strongly recommend masks for non-vaccinated customers and continue to follow CDC guidelines,” he said.

“I’ll probably wear a mask when I’m bearded,” he added.

Dick’s won’t have live music at first, but Ackerman said they plan to bring it back soon.

“We want to make sure that the bands can be taken care of,” he said. “You were hurt just as much as we were.”

But Ackerman said he wanted to make sure the bands were back in comfort before planning shows.

The intimate venue has a reputation for being one of Columbus’ best jazz clubs.

But Dick’s also has a regular bluegrass night and plans the occasional rock band.

“We try to book between 70 and 80% jazz,” said Ackerman. “When we took over, we started pushing the envelope a little farther. We thought we should book them all, but then an old bartender took root that there are 100 rock shows in Columbus but no jazz venues.”

Dick’s will also do its part to encourage Ohioans to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine.

Anyone who provides a vaccination card will be entered into a prize draw and two entrants will get free entry to all shows for a year, Ackerman said.

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@PatrickACooley