The Sycamore, the petite New American bistro nestled on the cozy corner of Sycamore and East Sixth deep in German Village, fashions itself something of a neighborhood tavern, but the reality of the restaurant is a little more sophisticated––and a lot more sumptuous––than the plastic pitchers of Bud Light and dented dartboards that that distinction usually brings to mind. Rather, The Sycamore is an enlivened, inviting, intimate space featuring unique cocktails, worldly epicurean offerings, and a ubiquitous crowd of young and good-looking patrons. A grubby pub this is not, but one of Columbus’s best––and best-preserved––dining and drinking hotspots.
The impulse to self-categorize as a “tavern” is not without its logic; after all, The Sycamore was once The Sycamore Cafe, a German Village institution described as “a crusty dive bar.” When Columbus restauranteur Chris Crader (founder of Harvest Pizza and Cosecha Cosina, among others) revamped the space in 2013, he imagined an elevated menu, a reinvigorated craft-beer program, and a lively wine list existing dynamically among the Cafe’s old comfort- and bar-food standards, and elegant banquettes and a spacious patio interacting with the original painted-tin ceiling and cherrywood bar. The Sycamore is, essentially, The Sycamore Cafe 2.0––and not just because of the name change. It’s clear in every element of an evening spent at The Sycamore that the restaurant takes its humble heritage quite seriously. While the menu does feature a coffee-braised Ohio short rib and a $28 seafood pasta which boasts no fewer than three varieties of shellfish, its standout just might be the guacamole, which is made with only three ingredients. Similarly, the cocktail list is full of concoctions with coy names (one herb-assisted whiskey drink, for example, is called Sage Against The Machine) and the mostly-local, seasonally-rotating beer list is superb, but still, you can––and I do––order a Blue Moon.
The restaurant’s interior matches that of many upscale urban eateries––think marble-topped tables, sleek barside seating, and plenty of the Village’s signature cool-before-it-became-cool exposed brick––but the small size of The Sycamore (it seats fifty, tops) invokes the cozy closeness of a pub, hold the sweaty pool players and cigarette smoke. If The Sycamore is no longer the dive it once was, then perhaps it suggests a new, shiny, stylish––but still comfortable––model of what the neighborhood watering hole could be.
Places like The Sycamore are places you keep coming back to. Worn-in but never boring, dynamic without being overwhelming. Like a dive bar, but better, and so much more special.