Iconic Campus Bar Changing Ownership
Future generations of Ohio State students will be able to keep making the same joke – telling parents they were at “The Library” – although this library doesn’t have books, but beers.
Quinn Allen, owner of Zeno’s and Dick’s Dive in Harrison West, will take the reigns of The Library Bar come January 5, 2020.
Fanatics and the nostalgic can fear not, though. For Allen, it’s important to keep the dive bar integrity of the long-standing campus joint at 2169 N. High St.
“With how little of what’s left of campus, this is a historical landmark in every sense of it,” Allen says. “[We] don’t want anybody to worry about The Library Bar changing; we want it to feel like home like it always has.”
In a campus area that has seen entire blocks of High Street reduced to rubble to make way for new, mixed-use developments (looking at you, 15th – 17th), The Library will remain an homage to campus days gone by.
“It’s funny, you see all the alumni come back that used to come here like say 20 years ago, or worked here or something, and say, ‘You drop me in the middle of 15th Avenue, I don’t know where I am,'” says outgoing Owner David “Cricket” Shaw.
The Library first opened in 1971. Shaw entered the scene in 1978, first checking IDs at the door, then working his way up to bartender, then assistant manager and onto general manager. There was a brief ousting, then a year and a half closure when the original owner lost the bar due to sales tax evasion.
When a new owner reopened the joint a year and a half later, he was looking for a manger, and neighboring businesses all said the same thing: get Cricket back. And back he came and has been ever since.
After running the place for a few years, the owner wanted out so Shaw bought in. Not much at the bar itself has changed since, but the surrounding area – and a few laws – have.
Shaw says one of the biggest changes over the decades has been losing the 18-to-20-year-old crowd. Up until the late 80s, these younger college students could consume 3.2% beer. When the legal drinking age became 21, the bar lost nearly three-quarters of its surrounding audience.
Campus-area businesses are also at the mercy of Ohio State’s schedule. The summer 2012 switch from quarters to semesters caused another noticeable shift in business. In the era of quarters when school didn’t start until late September, there were still weeks of football games before students flooded campus. The newer semester schedule also means an early May exit – just as the weather starts to turn and bring out crowds.
The Library has weathered it all, but for Shaw, the time and opportunity was right to pass the bar into capable hands.
“The pressure of being the only person for all these years, and I have to make every decision and everything that I pay for comes out of my pocket,” he says.
While the two have been talking about a handover for a few years now, it’s a lifelong chain of events that made the deal possible. Allen and Shaw connected because, well, Quinn was born. In the 70s and 80s, Quinn’s father, Dick Allen, owned and operated a multitude of campus bars. Owning similar businesses in the same part of town – it’s a tight community of players that know each other.
As Allen got older and started working at bars himself, he continued to stop into The Library and see Shaw. Then, a position working with a beer distributor put him at the bar’s doorstep weekly.
To now have the opportunity to take over the campus institution, “It was a very, very heartfelt project as far as getting my family name back on High Street, back on campus,” Allen says.
He knows there’s a reason bars like The Library have been hanging on for 30 plus years — no small feat for any small business.
“You see the trends of things – and history always repeats itself, comes full circle,” Allen says. “There’s a certain part of that timeline where people are looking at you like, ‘Why aren’t they doing anything to stay with the trend?’ Then as you come full circle, all of a sudden all these people are trying to open up divey-looking places.”
The Library’s carved wooden tables and graffitied walls are character that takes years to build. Allen sees people coming back around to simpler concepts for campus-area bars, and in his approach to The Library, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The only changes Library patrons should notice are some refreshes that make for a better experience. During a closure from January 5 – January 10, the bathrooms will get remodeled, a new draft system and point of sale system will get installed (meaning faster service), and a few more TVs will be added to the mix.
Hours will be the same. Happy hour, which changes daily, will be the same. Allen says for now, everything will feel the same, and as they get their feet under them, then they will think about minor adjustments – things like opening earlier on Sundays or adding a trivia night.
“It’s a huge responsibility on my end to be able to take care of this place and set it up for next 30 years,” Allen says.
This Saturday night, patrons can make one last toast to Shaw’s reign of The Library.
“This is a building, but [Cricket] in every sense of the word, is The Library Bar,” Allen says. “For the last thirty some years, Cricket is The Library Bar…if you come in here, you know who he is, just like if you went to Zeno’s, you know who Dick Allen was. To bestow that opportunity onto me, it’s like…you can’t take it lightly.”
For more information, visit librarybar.com.