Weekend Recess

In Columbus, Ohio, repeat a time-honored tradition among scholars.
Crystal Smith Hammon

Imagine yourself traveling for months to get a fresh take on life or curb burnout. Unless you work in academia, that may be more of a dream than a practical consideration. For the rest of us, there’s the weekend sabbatical.

Known for architectural gems and historic neighborhoods founded by immigrants, Ohio’s state capital and home of Ohio State University has everything you need for an inspiring break from routine — nature, art, innovation, social justice, ideas, books and food.

Here’s a sketch of how to reboot, refresh and seek a different point of view in the Buckeye state’s largest city, Columbus, Ohio. A good weekend sabbatical is more a flight of fancy than an itinerary. Wing it and you’re bound to add your own discoveries.

Friday night reset

Dial in to the city’s creative energy by arranging to stay at the unique South Wind Motel. This Midcentury-modern motel was built in 1959 and designed by the American architect Harold Schofield, who gave it low-to-the-ground, horizontal lines that are characteristic of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School style. Over several decades, the South Wind Motel declined into seediness and was a neighborhood eyesore until 2021.

That’s when Kelley Companies, a Columbus real estate developer known for preserving historic buildings, purchased the motel, which has 22 rooms and three suites. They spent the next year restoring its original glory, only this time with an eye toward sustainability.

Renovating this iconic motel in historic German Village was a labor of love for Michael, Ben and Claire Kelley, three siblings who orchestrated the project with their father Tim. Their great grandparents were German immigrants who settled in the neighborhood, and their grandparents were lifelong residents. “Right across the street, is Planks Bier Garden,” says Michael Kelley, who manages the motel. “My grandmother is a Plank and that was her brother’s bar. The family still owns it, so our family is rooted to this specific block.”

The South Wind Motel is five minutes south of one of the best values in downtown Columbus, happy hour at Due Amici’s. Located in the heart of the city, the restaurant has a chic, industrial interior and often features live music during the latter half of happy hour. From 3-6:30 p.m., pay half price on beer, wines by the glass, Moscow mules, small plates and pizzas. Ponder why they call the grilled lamb chops with Brussels sprout slaw “a small plate.” For most of us, it’s a meal. 

If your visit falls on the second Friday of the month, pivot from happy hour to Franklinton Fridays, a monthly art crawl and music series in the Franklinton Art District. The district stays open late on the second Friday for artist talks, workshops, exhibitions, comedy shows and concerts. “It has become a full-on festival feel every single month,” says Johnny Riddle, executive director for the Franklinton Arts District. “One of the things that makes our district unique is not only that you see cutting-edge exhibitions and artwork in the galleries; you can also peek behind the curtain and see the creation of the artwork in open studios and maker spaces. If you feel inspired to create, those maker spaces and non-profits offer workshops so you can create here in the arts district.” 

Saturday expedition

Use your room’s Chemex® coffeemaker to practice the vintage ritual of making pour-over coffee. Then bundle up for a 15-minute stroll to the local axis of firm foundations, breakfast at Skillet, Rustic.Urban.Food. (Yes, it’s punctuated just like that.) There, an ordinary egg is crowned by seasonal ingredients purchased from local farmers and producers.

Try the seafood and grits, and you’ll be free to roam the Discovery District all day without running out of fuel. The region’s most significant assets in art and education are clustered in this aptly-named corridor. 

The first stop for bibliophiles and people who love architecture should be the 150-year-old Columbus Metropolitan Library’s (CML) main library. Give yourself a few moments of awe in the atrium. Named in 2022 by Fodor’s Travel among 11 of the most beautiful libraries in the United States, the CML’s original Beaux-Arts style of architecture is juxtaposed against a contemporary, 800-seat reading room with sweeping views of Topiary Park. It’s the only park known to replicate figures in a painting, in this case, one by artist George Seurat.

The reading room is the scene for one of CML’s signature programs, an impressive author series that brings best-selling writers to Columbus. Fans of the Netflix Bridgerton series, get tickets for Sunday, March 5. The featured speaker is Julia Quinn, author of the popular, historical-fiction series that inspired the show.

Explore local Black history at the nearby Lincoln Theatre, which opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1928. “It was built to address the diversity, equity and inclusion of that era,” says Lincoln Theatre Executive Director Suzan Bradford. “The Lincoln Theatre’s architects, designers and visionaries of that time [segregation] wanted to make sure that the Black community had a venue where diverse and African American artists, actors, singers and dancers could come and perform.” One of the theatre’s most coveted experiences is Backstage at the Lincoln, an intimate concert that brings the audience close to the artists. They also host Community Conversations, open talks about significant world and regional topics.

One of the city’s most inviting places is the Columbus Museum of Art (COMA). When most of Columbus lost power on one of the hottest days of 2022, the museum’s hospitality was on brilliant display. COMA opened its air-conditioned space to anyone seeking relief from the heat, with no admission fee. From now through March 3, you can see Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak, the first major retrospective of work by the author/illustrator since his death in 2012.

After all that, you should be ravenous for dinner. Sprint to The Thurman Cafe in German Village for one of the best (and largest) burgers you’ll ever have. You may want to nosh on a light snack before you go. Thurman’s, as it’s known to locals, doesn’t take reservations, and the wait can be long. Kudos to you if you can scarf a whole burger.

Sunday wrap-up

Treat yourself to a swanky brunch at The Guild House. A table by the grand windows next to High Street is an ideal perch for spying downtown dwellers as they walk dogs or complete their Sunday morning jogs. Feast on a classic paragon of brunch, a reimagined eggs benedict, or culinary improvisations like buttered lobster and eggs.  

Save your last stop for the crown jewel of Columbus. The Book Loft is one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. It started in 1977 with only a few hundred square feet inside a German Village historic building and grew into a spacious, 32-room odyssey of books. “We are really happy to see so many young readers,” says Sales Manager Glen Welch, explaining the liveliness of the book business. “There’s no way our generation reads as much as Zoomers and Millennials.” Leave yourself plenty of time to meander and see where the journey takes you. The Book Loft is stocked with bargain books, literary-themed gifts and jigsaw puzzles.

 Photo: In 2022, the main library of the Columbus Metropolitan Library was named among the nation's most beautiful libraries. (Photo courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library)