Columbus Dick’s Den Jazz Club reopens June 2 with all staff returning
Dick’s Den will reopen on Wednesday, co-owner Tim Ackerman confirmed this week.
However, live music won’t immediately return to the historic Old North Columbus bar.
The main Columbus Jazz Hall closed on March 15, 2020, along with most other non-essential businesses in Ohio. Ackerman and his business partner, Aaron Snyder, kept it closed even as Gov. Mike DeWine allowed bars and restaurants to reopen with strict restrictions and limited capacity two months later.
Homeowners have seen COVID-19 infection rates remain stubbornly high and tens of thousands of Ohioans die from the disease, and they’ve decided not to risk the safety of their staff and customers, Ackerman said .
“We were waiting for our staff to get vaccinated,” he said. “Now 100% of our staff are vaccinated and come back.”
And with coronavirus infection rates now on the decline, the duo decided it was time to welcome customers back to a comfortable and somewhat old-fashioned dive.
Few people are eager to reopen more than Krista Williams, the bartender at Dick’s Den.
“I’m already on the schedule,” she said.
Williams, who goes by the pseudonym Krista Kitty, is a bartender and hosts Circus of Cool, a regular show that combines jazz, poetry and performance art. She hosts the event and occasionally sings, recites poetry and performs a burlesque routine.
âWe are a family,â she said of the staff. “We might 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.”
Unemployment checks and a job as a bartender at Nationwide Arena helped Williams pay her bills, and regular Zoom meetings with her Dick colleagues kept her sane.
With an unpretentious exterior and unpretentious decor inside, Dick’s maintains the look and feel of a neighborhood watering hole. A wooden sign with the bar’s name hangs above the entrance, but for years longtime patrons have identified the neighborhood establishment by a neon sign in the window that says “Why not?”
Few bars in central Ohio compare to Dick’s, which opened in 1964 or 1965 and expanded in the 1970s.
âIt just has an vibe like no other bar,â Williams said.
The tavern’s proximity to Ohio State University attracts a mix of students and faculty, and the bluegrass and jazz shows it is known for draw a wide variety of music fans, Williams said. The mix forms an eclectic customer base that provides engaging conversations.
“We are still learning there,” she said. “It’s like we get our own education by going to Dick’s Den.”
Bassist Matt Paetsch performed in his first shows at Dick’s Den and continued to perform there every Sunday with the Wally Mitchell Jazztet until the venue closed last spring. The bar continues to give up-and-coming musicians a place to hone their craft, he said.
âCountless musicians have made their debut on this scene and cut their teeth there,â Paetsch said. “It is a vital part of our community.”
For jazz and bluegrass musicians, “I think it’s the right size for the type of music they’re trying to play,” he said. “I played in bigger venues playing jazz, and the amplification sometimes hurts the acoustics.”
The diving is also a hangout for non-performing musicians, and Paetsch said he was eager to hang out with Dick’s to catch up with some of the performers he hadn’t seen in over a year.
Ackerman and Snyder took over Dick’s in 2015, and because they own the building that houses the bar, the overheads are low, allowing them to keep the bar closed for over a year without going bankrupt.
Ackerman considered requiring proof of vaccination for entry, but decided the logistics would make such a policy nearly impossible.
âI don’t even know how to control this,â he said.
The bar won’t need masks, Ackerman said.
However, “we will strongly recommend masks for unvaccinated clients, and we will continue to follow CDC guidelines in the future,” he said.
âI’ll probably wear a mask when I’m a bartender,â he added.
Dick’s won’t have live music at first, but Ackerman said they plan to bring it back soon.
âWe want to make sure the groups can be supported,â he said. “They were hurt as much as we were.”
But Ackerman said he wanted to make sure bands were comfortable performing again before scheduling shows.
The intimate venue has a reputation as one of the best jazz clubs in Columbus. But Dick’s also offers a regular bluegrass night and occasionally schedules a rock band.
âWe try to book between 70% and 80% jazz,â Ackerman said. âWhen we took over, we started pushing the boundaries a bit more. We thought we had to book everyone, but an old bartender told us there were 100 rock concerts in Columbus, but that there were no jazz venues. “
Dick’s will also do its part to encourage Ohio residents to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine.
Anyone who provides a vaccine card will be entered into a raffle, and two participants will win free entry to all shows for one year, Ackerman said.