You know that you’ve come upon something special––a little-city diamond in the rough––as soon as you walk into Little Palace under its iconic neon sign. The restaurant space and menu translates Mad Men into Columbus in 2019, minus the casual misogyny and cigarette smoke: it’s glamorous without being affected, retro without being outdated, stylized without being stupid. In a few words, it retains all of the most desirable visual and epicurean elements of a mid-century cocktail lounge while maintaining a cool and not-at-all showy ethos.
The space itself is standout: raised booths against a wall of mirrored paneling provide intimate cozy seating in view of a gorgeously shiny cherrywood bar which is lit sumptuously by pendant lights. The neon, the booths, the lighting, are all of a time and place, and contribute to the total effect of the space.
It’s clear that Little Palace has an identity, which is different from a brand, and, I find, is more and more difficult to come by in some of the buzzy restaurants in developing downtown Columbus. Little Palace knows who and what it is, neither following trends nor promoting gimmicks, but strictly adhering to its own style guide. Also, everyone who works there is cool. Cool hair, cool tattoos, cool, lighthearted chatter as they bring you your menus and beers. Cool.
The menu offerings follow the same contours as the restaurant’s design: classic but refreshed neighborhood-bar standards, from thick-cut french fries to fried-chicken sandwiches all the way to char-grilled brussels sprouts and a deluxe mezze plate. The cocktails, too, play on signature formulas––a Moscow Mule with a twist here, a reimagined Old Fashioned there––and augment a truly superb craft beer list. My favorite menu item is the vegetarian gyro, which is basically like the best-girlfriend of sandwiches: warm, flavorful, and comforting, it is divinely reliable and always leaves you feeling full-but-not-too-full––satisfied.
Full of Love
All this to say that the food at Little Palace is uniformly good, and of course, the spot makes for an excellent dinner reservation; just as much, though, Little Palace is known as an after-hours hangout. And hanging there makes you feel cool, sophisticated, and relaxed. In late August I took my boyfriend, Chris, for a drink there. We sat outside and drank tequila cocktails and Chris ordered garlic bread––a standout of the stacked appetizer menu––ostensibly to share, but he ate every bit of that garlic bread, and talked with his mouth full: “This place is the best. I can’t believe I’ve never been here before. Why didn’t we have dinner here?”
The truth is that I only take people to Little Palace if I know for sure that I love them. It is probably true that everyone I have ever loved has accompanied me to the restaurant. I’ve been eating there with my mom and sister for years, and it’s a designated meeting spot for our closest family friends; many times, my best friend and I have leaned into each other over the table in one of those elevated booths, talking about whatever disastrous breakup or difficult career choice we were faced with at that time. It’s not that the restaurant is an especially comforting place: it’s that Little Palace is the Real Thing, a spot so singular that you (I) feel that only the most singular of people should be invited to experience.