Bar, Live Music Venue Slated for Long-Vacant Building on Hudson
In the next year, a long-vacant building on Hudson will be transformed into neighborhood gem.
Bobby Miller has big plans for the one-time theater at 367 E. Hudson St. in Old North Columbus. Lovebirds will be many things in one: a bar, live music venue and coffee shop, with games (including bocce), plenty of patio space and more.
“I feel like this building, for people who grew up in this neighborhood, or people who lived here, it has some sort of weird aura to it,” Miller says. “That’s one thing I’m really excited about making this transformation, because I think a lot of people are going to be really interested just to see what it is and check it out.”
The building itself has had many lives. Miller runs down a neighbor’s research into the address: First it was a theater from its opening in 1927 until 1967, then a lull, then the roughly five-year XXX theater phase. Then there was a barbershop and hair salon, and evidence that the upper floor was used as a draft office during the Vietnam War, and it was a church at some point.
Miller says it has always been a dream to open his own space, and much of his career has built up to this moment. He put on his first show in Columbus as a concert promoter in 2004 at the now-defunct Little Brother’s and has been in the industry in some capacity ever since. For a while, concert promotion was more of a side-gig while Miller dabbled in other things, like a five-year run as a PBR rep.
When he left PBR in 2013, “I sort of took all the things that I loved about that job…and decided to turn that into my own business, which for me was the event parts, putting on the events, organizing events, putting on concerts,” Miller says.
He booked a few festivals and caught the attention of Ace of Cups Owner Marcy Mays, then serving as the bar’s booker for a number of years before COVID hit.
Being in the business of bringing crowds together was not ideal when it came to the pandemic. Finding himself with little to do, and a long-standing interest in the Lovebirds building, Miller discovered the address was owned by Nick Wolak, who also owns neighboring tattoo shop Evolved. The two had previously connected during the PBR days when Spacebar was KOBO and Wolak was part-owner. Miller says that over the years, Wolak had heard a few proposals for the Hudson Street building, but plans had never come together. Until now.
With Lovebirds, Miller will put the years of notes, travels, working with bands and ideas he’s been jotting down into action.
“It’s kind of fun to finally have a space that I can make my own and incorporate all these ideas that I’ve collected over the years and couple them with some of my own and hopefully make a really great space that people are excited about,” he says.
While some of the design has changed along the way, the feeling Miller is going for has always remained a constant. His goal with Lovebirds is to create a neighborhood gem and community bar that’s a creative and inclusive space – think plenty of plants and open, airy windows. And, of course, live music.
The ground floor will house Lovebird’s bar, which will run along the west side of the building. There will be games – shuffleboard and a gaming cabinet with 1,000 plus options as well as a retro-style photo booth. Upstairs will be Lovebirds’ stage and event venue. They’ve opened up the top floor by removing what was once the projection room, and will create a greenroom in the northwest corner of the space and situate the stage on the north side of the building, overlooking Hudson Street. Miller envisions opening up the north wall’s windows in the warmer months, giving passersby a look at the fun inside.
Miller is aiming for concerts three to four days a week, but will also utilize the space for other activities like karaoke and comedy nights.
To expand the square footage, a two-story addition will be built on the back of the building where a grass lot currently extends. The remainder of the lot will be transformed into Lovebirds’ patio, complete with bocce court.
Lovebirds will serve the full gamut of beer, wine and liquor, but hopes to make a splash through another type of drink selection.
“I think that we’re really going to try to play up a portion of our menu as mocktails,” Miller says.
He’s seen a lot of energy around folks who don’t necessarily like to drink, but want to go out and have fun and be social. There’s also more and more non-alcoholic spirits hitting the market to play with.
“People don’t have to feel weird or excluded if they don’t drink,” Miller says, speaking to the inclusive atmosphere he aims to create at Lovebirds.
It’s not the only non-boozy option on the menu. Lovebirds is also partnering with Honey Cup Coffee on its first brick-and-mortar.
Setting up shop in a converted vintage camper in the adjacent parking lot earlier this summer, Honey Cup will rule the Lovebirds roost by day. It was Miller’s vision of creating a gathering place for the neighborhood that got Honey Cup Owner Joel McPeak on board with the project.
He sees the shared space as a win-win: with rents rising in Columbus and only being able to charge so much for a cup of coffee, partnering helps reduce overhead, and the physical space to sit down and have a cup of coffee or post up and work creates something even better for the area.
A brick-and-mortar space will see Honey Cup flex its creativity with its menu. In addition to featuring more roasters, “One of the biggest things we’re going to be able to offer is a better pour over program,” McPeak says.
Classics such as chai, and more “dine-in” drinks will also be added to the menu – sippers like a smoked black tea that’s just better in glass (and safer to make in a building that is not a small camper). And with Lovebirds’ liquor license, some boozy coffee cocktails might also make an appearance.
When it’s time to open its permanent doors, Honey Cup’s trailer will grace another neighborhood with its presence.
“We’re going to move it somewhere and do the same thing we’re doing here,” McPeak says. “The biggest goal is find a spot where we can build a community and build a culture around what we’re doing, and that’s been the biggest thing that makes Honey Cup a success here.”
From coffee by day, to live music and drinks by night, McPeak and Miller are both excited about Lovebirds’ potential as a community gathering place. Miller is excited by the venue’s location in a densely populated area that borders Old North Columbus and southern Clintonville, bringing in a mix of creatives, musicians, artists and students, to young families and young professionals.
The area has seen steady growth over the last few years, from Rambling House and Rumba, to Evolved, Punk Pigs and the activation of the parking lot beside their building with food trucks, Honey Cup and the SoHud Collective.
“Because I feel like a lot of the character and a lot of the things that made old High Street across from Ohio State cool have been scrubbed away, and a lot of that has sort of migrated in this direction, and so I thought it would be cool to be a part of that and help build this area up,” Miller says.
For all the excitement it promises for the neighborhood, Lovebirds almost didn’t happen. Zoning code regarding parking put the project in peril and created several months of delays. Under current code, parking technically has to be on a building’s parcel – and Lovebirds has zero spots. The project and its zero on-parcel parking variance made it through the University Area Commission’s Zoning Committee and full committee with flying colors – and expected to do the same in front of Columbus BZA.
However, the variance failed it’s first go-round and thus began a major learning curve for Miller. It was back to the drawing board to change the plans, reapply and rally community support.
“In the end, I think it ended up kind of being a blessing in disguise,” Miller says. “We initially were going to do a covered stage on the back patio, so we had to lose that to create some parking on the back alley.”
Miller went back to the BZA with a parking variance plan that allows three alley spaces along the back of Lovebirds lot, including one ADA accessible space, and access to 15 spaces in the lot to the east, as well as the 13 spots behind Evolved that will be reserved for Lovebirds after hours. It passed, allowing the project to officially move forward. (Miller isn’t the only one to feel the city’s zoning code is outdated – a recent study shows the need for a re-write.)
In addition to the various lot spots, the area has sufficient on-street parking. A parking study was commissioned, finding that even at peak activity for the area, 35% of on-street parking spaces were still available within roughly a quarter-mile radius.
Miller knows change can be tough, and parking is always a hot-button issue but, “At the end of the day, would you rather have some new energy or do you want to just have this blighted [building]?”
Lovebirds is still awaiting its permits, but construction is expected to begin in November for an April 2022 opening. The venue has also booked its first show – comedian Neil Hamburger will take the stage May 3, 2022.
For more information, visit lovebirdsbar.com.
All photos by Susan Post