Though a campus area institution situated a beer stein’s throw away from the place where I work, it inexplicably takes me a good ten months to mix Woody’s into my rotation of treasured haunts. I had entered this cramped, cheerful and vaguely Buckeye sports themed bar a couple of times prior to this night, though the precise point of my conversation can be traced to an October evening where a bunch of us stroll over after shutting down our restaurant.
Clearly, it’s a safe bet to say this place was probably named after OSU football legend Woody Hayes, as close to a godlike figure as this university has produced. And there is a fair amount of Buckeye memorabilia dotting these walls, though not enough to make it obnoxious. Not that this likely would have mattered anyway – situated as it is in this strip mall on Olentangy, midway between and bracketed by the Applebee’s at one end and our Damon’s on the other, this place has emerged as the afterparty club of sorts for employees of both establishments. On a good night, which is to say most of them, the staff at these two restaurants easily numbers well over half of the Woody’s patrons, often rendering it a standing-room-only space.
The only reason it’s taken me so long to join the fray is that I had been working mornings only for the first nine months of employment at Damon’s. Shortly after going full time there, however, this impressively rowdy dive is reintroduced to me – properly introduced at last, you might say – and from here there’s no turning back.
I have heard from multiple credible sources that our bartender John H banged some girl back in the tiny enclave with the ice machine one night, a stunt causing both of them to emerge with a ton of dust covering their clothes, a round of cheers mere seconds thereafter. And while nothing this scandalous ever happened to me within these walls, it certainly became the pushing off point for many an outrageous night, not to mention the incubator for countless conversations and the inevitable subsequent pairings, as outlandish as they have might appeared mere hours earlier. Fat Bottom Girls was a selection on the jukebox we often punched whenever our busboy Scott entered the premises, owing to his charming preference for such. Another friend and coworker who shall remain nameless – at least for now, heh heh – wound up sleeping with a manager we couldn’t stand, mostly because they were the last two left there one night.
The evening of my indoctrination, John H, Sherrie and I stroll over to Woody’s together. Sherrie, oddly enough, had occupied an apartment downstairs from me in the same house on Summit Street, then wound up a few months later waiting tables at Damon’s. As we are all arriving in stages from the restaurant, the three of us are somewhere in the middle of the pack, still able to claim three consecutive seats right at the bar. Per usual, the grab bag of faces here counts employees from our restaurant as roughly half of its mass. Even the lone bartender on duty right now, John Rocci, used to work at our restaurant, quitting there not too long after I started, around the beginning of the year. He’s a stocky guy with close cropped brown hair and glasses, cannons for arms, he used to work banquets but surely finds the windfall here much higher.
John and Sherrie decide on beers but I opt for a mixed drink, the ever potent Long Island Iced Tea. Here the bar only comes up your knees, as the floor’s sunk in behind so the bartender’s face to face with you when sitting down – a nice touch that makes this place seem less a pub than the living room of someone’s house. The light here is warm, ambient, too, brighter than most but not blinding, with one large screen playing the day’s sports highlights, a fantastic jukebox, one pool table and two electronic dart boards and various Buckeye football paraphernalia lining every remaining inch of the walls.
Joanne is next to enter, and while roommate Sarah Berry had tonight off after working this morning, the third resident of their apartment, Jane, trails right behind Joanne. It’s hard to imagine a duo much more different than Sarah and Joanne, and indeed, as the latter appears to have way too much class, appeared from the outset way too self-assured to last in the dining room for long, Joanne has already been whisked almost exclusively into that more “serious minded” sorority of the clubhouse girls – our only hope is that she doesn’t become one of them, that we can somehow maintain her as an ally in their midst.
As for Jane, I’m guessing she might register somewhere between those other two, although in appearance she definitely hews closer to Joanne. Equally tall and blonde as Joanne, though Jane’s hair is curlier, her smooth, round face more compelling, the pull of her green eyes twice as magnetic. She’s a dead ringer for my ex-girlfriend Heather, also, to a spooky degree, and as they stand behind the rest of us – the only room remaining in the entire establishment – I hear them talking and think that if I once dated someone who looked like that, then I stand a chance with any of these girls, too.
Virginia shows up next with her boyfriend Brian, also from New York City, and they claim two recently vacated seats to my right. Brian’s moved here months ago in pursuit of a degree from our illustrious university, and with nothing better to do, Virginia recently joined him. She’s not in school but thinks she might soon be.
Nonetheless, Brian I instantly begin to see as the lame duck boyfriend. He currently holds office but won’t for long. He yawns and stares at his drink, he looks around the bar, bored, but never says more than a handful of words. Meanwhile Virginia’s hanging over me all night, she’s an unceasing bullet train of chatter, she has a hand on my shoulder and tells me her life story, start to finish. I breathe in the pine scented perfume billowing from her sweet, open neck, I make eye contact and suck in every detail, from the fine blonde hairs on that neck all the way down to the tiny gap between her two front teeth when she smiles. The provocative manner in which she’s unbuttoned the top two notches of her white dress shirt, tie removed, showing just enough cleavage to flip over cars and burn buildings to the ground.
“You don’t smoke?” she says, puffing on a menthol.
“No,” I explain, “this might sound crazy, but I never learned how to inhale.”
Behind us, the mob of people becomes further compressed as more and more employees shuffle in. Cooks, the clubhouse bartender, supervisors and the infamous clubhouse bitches, they’re all here now, everyone’s got pocketfuls of cash and you can hear the rising pitch of voices, gaining steam as well as intensity, as the night steadily spins further and further out of control. John H buys the two of us a shot of Wild Turkey, which means for me returning the favor with another round, and then here comes Maria, one of those clubhouse bitches I’ve long since written off, she wedges between us, buying shots of Jagermeister for herself as well as John and me.
A new experience for me, too, this Jagermeister. Set against the harsh background of those twin whiskey shots before it, Jager goes down like a cup of melted licorice, smooth, instantly addictive. Picturing some of the hardcore maniacs I’ve known who swear by the drink, it’s easy to see why they drink nothing but, how they can polish off a whole bottle in one good night. Still, I order a second Long Island, and we kick this show into high gear.
“Here,” Virginia says, sticking one of her Parliaments in my mouth, lighting it.
“No!” I hear Joanne squeal behind me, as she throws her arms around my neck, “don’t start smoking!”
“Don’t worry,” I laugh, “she’s just teaching me how to inhale.”
Distracted here, it doesn’t register at first that John H’s hands are also full, now that the tall blonde Jessica slithers into the bar. She works in some professional capacity back there in the Windy City, and dresses as such, even in attending this shoddy dive bar. With only the sheer magnetic force of her attraction she pulls his focus, unwavering, at the expense of everything and everyone else in the room. Jessica buys herself and John and me a shot of Wild Turkey, as we toss these back and do our best to imitate this whiskey’s namesake.
“Gobble gobble gobble!” we cheer, clinking the one ounce glasses together, the simplest toast of all time.
Right at this moment, Amy K and Erin stroll in, delirious with the money they’ve raked in on the clubhouse floor. Jovial and plump, plainly attractive, these two share one half of a duplex up in Dublin, just as they share the same essential personality. Amy K has silky black hair and great people skills, and while technically a manager at this point, there are still nights like this where she’s called into duty waiting tables. Whatever the occasion, when she laughs it’s this infectious, thunderous howl, which everyone loves, her mouth flying open as wide as my beloved table 61. As for Erin, whom everyone calls Ewok, tonight she’s wearing her long, straight hair in a ponytail that stretches halfway down her back, now that we’re off the clock, and like always the expression she’s sporting behind those oval shaped glasses suggests untold secretes, a sneakiness, or maybe just kinkiness. Tonight it’s outright jubilation as she won three of the four quarters in our employee football pool, netting her a tidy windfall of $300 in addition to all the loot pouring in from her tables.
Drinks are flying everywhere and there’s a manic expediency to our consumption, as the clock is not our friend, closing time draws near. First Joanne and Jane split, then John leaves with Jessica and though I feel I can sit here three days talking to Virginia, her man’s about ready to doze off on his bar stool and they too stand up to say goodbye.
“I’ll see ya tomorrow morning, Jay,” Virginia says, throwing her arms around me in a hug.
“We’ll do it again sometime!” I cheer, shaking Brian’s hand with an unbridled sarcasm.
The last two left, Sherrie and I close the gap of that cooling seat behind us, last occupied by our fearless leader John H. Shrieks of goodwill, the chatter of a thousand conversations behind us like a burst of soothing white noise, and buried somewhere deep in the mix the tireless spins of that faithful jukebox, moment by moment these sounds wither away and die. Sherrie picks up the baton of recital from dear Virginia and begins telling me her life story, as we polish off our drinks in rapid fire procession. Tales of drug abuse like the three day speed binge that coalesced with her and some friends hanging out at Ruby’s, whereby she runs around the bar shrieking her head off for no reason at all. Tales of heartache, past lovers, not to mention her most recent flame – also named John – a tall stringbean with piercings all over his face who lasted about three days in our dining room kitchen.
“I love him, but…..he’s got problems, let’s just put it that way,” she laughs, the trademark Sherrie chortle that leaves her overbite hanging out twice as prominently as before.
One by one the rest of the Damon’s crowd filters out, all the cooks and supervisors, all the clubhouse bitches. In fact as the house lights come on we’re the last two sitting there period, as engrossed as I am with her stories and these amazing mixed drinks, we close the place down.
Ours is a purely platonic end to the evening, I should mention, as we are only friends, coworkers, and interested in nothing else. Future nights and future companions, however, will bring with them a wide range of other outcomes. Many a late evening hiding out as much is ever possible in this place, in a corner booth, ordering a succession of shots for Cary every time I head up to the bar for a beer, because she’s still only twenty and these are much less likely to get us busted. The night Tiffani professes her love for me and like an idiot I don’t exactly know how to handle this information, am in fact chuckling in pure jackass mode as I wave goodbye and exit with a few of my cronies – am doing so as she shouts this out the door, in fact, across the parking lot. Or the time a bunch of us showed up here for last call, and I admitted to A-Bomb that I never actually slept with Alison, I couldn’t figure out why everyone thought I did – a conversation he was too drunk to remember the next day, anyway.
But this isn’t to suggest these only involve the females, my compelling memories stemming from this place. This would be the site of my first ever Columbus karaoke appearance, such as it was, a mostly dreadful rendition of Fight For Your Right sung with my roommates Damon and Alan. Also the entirely sober moment where I finally worked up enough nerve to tell a bunch of my coworkers that I basically write all the time and at that point had completed one novel. Or the to-that-moment dull winter night where Alan and I were talked into an Applebee’s party at some apartment across town, the home of a waitress he already knew somehow and bumped into with me at Woody’s, a party that devolved into this major fight where only the presence of John Rocci and a couple other banquet employees from my restaurant kept us from getting our asses stomped. After which, from the following evening – why but of course, we returned to Woody’s the very next night – and ever onward, Rocci jokingly referred to Alan and me as The Slugging Crew.
Sadly, the good times can never last, and over the years our increasingly less frequent visits seemed justified, as the bar became lamer and lamer. During these occasions you would actually find yourself becoming more nostalgic than usual, because there was nothing else to prop up your interest in the bar – nothing interesting was bound to happen now, a realization that compounded the gloom. Which of course made one less inclined toward future visits.
It’s now been about ten years since I’ve set foot inside that establishment. And while I keep meaning to check it out again, though it would surely bother me should this place ever disappear, I haven’t been able to bring myself to do so. It seems better to imagine it’s rebounded to an interesting, vibrant dive again, where others are creating their own magical adventures, and leave it at that.