barcelona restaurant & bar

our story /

history

tradition & integrity

serving decades of patrons at 263 east whittier

“The physical transformation from beer and brats saloon to sultry Mediterranean restaurant is impressive.“

-Terry Libby
The Other Paper

Upon arriving at Barcelona Restaurant, most guests would be amazed to realize that the building they first entered is over one hundred years old. The integrity of the building has been maintained for the past century as very little has been physically altered. Barcelona is actually located in the fusion of two different addresses: the corner building with the turret was 259 East Whittier while the current dining area was 263 East Whittier. 259 is the older edifice as it was built in 1895 by the Brunswick Company, who also fabricated the incredible oak bar that still serves as the focal point where drinks are poured at Barcelona nearly a century after its completion in 1907. After the building was finished, The Hoster Brewing Company purchased it as a brewery and the tavern keeper that Hoster’s chose was Bill Deibel. Running a tavern apparently ran in the family as one of Bill’s relative’s, John Deibel, opened a café and pool room named Deibel’s in 1890 at 279 South High Street. The Deibel’s at 259 East Whittier was a prime location in that era for it was situated at the end of the streetcar line. On the northeast corner was a baseball park; on the northwest corner, the Gerke building, housed a bakery; and on the southwest corner was a doctor’s office. When Bill Deibel first became the saloonkeeper, the long building did not exist. Between 1904-1908, 263 East Whittier was constructed and its primary use was as a recreation center/ sports bar. Towards the back of the structure was a bowling alley, of which the two lanes are still intact about four inches underneath Barcelona’s current floor. When one purchased a beer, they received a token to bowl one game. The front of the recreation center was dominated by pool tables and a one-chair barbershop. Deibel’s thrived as a sports bar until just before prohibition went into effect in 1919. Legend has it that pre-prohibition, Gerke, the baker across the street, was fed up with the legal selling of spirits to the public and purchased the bar, which was located in 259 East Whittier, out from under Deibel. Gerke’s daughter, Lorena Caldwell, inherited the building and turned it into a pharmacy. During prohibition, Deibel leased out the recreation center located at 263 East Whittier and it became a Piggly Wiggly. At repeal, Deibel took back the recreation center and the grocery store was once again turned back into Deibel’s, a fully functioning social hall. By this time, Bill Deibel had become friends with many of the local politicians and Deibel’s became closely connected with City Hall. In fact, Bill began the Hog’s Head Club, which was a buffet lunch complete with pig’s feet, pig’s knuckles, sauerkraut, and beers. The Hog’s Head Club became the place to be in the 1930’s for lunching politicians. Bill continued to run Deibel’s until his death in the early 1940’s. His fireman son, Dick, managed Deibel’s for awhile and then sold the business to Blackie Blackburn. According to the stories, when Blackburn was the owner, Deibel’s became somewhat of a shoddy beer place. Plaster walls were tinted yellow with nicotine and the bathrooms were primitive at best. In the men’s room, a single shallow trough served all the male customers and on busy nights, an overflow was not uncommon. In 1964, Phil Henry and Bob Lumpe, two men who had previously been in the business of building ski resorts, purchased Deibel’s. Henry and Lumpe began the tradtion of playing silent movies, starring Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kapers, in the back half of the establishment. The duo hired pianist Maury Bowsher to accompany the films playing from the sixteen millimeter projector staunchly settled against the east wall. Henry and Lumpe are also credited with creation of the glorious patio dining area of Barcelona. They contracted with Caldwell, who still owned the pharmacy, and installed a biergarten. Although it was quite rustic in the beginning, with a gravel covered floor, four infant trees that barely offered shade, and guests rested their drinks on old paint peeling picnic tables, it was a very popular hangout. Tom Silcott, who owned Deibel’s from 1969 to 1985, added the door to the biergarten, which is still in use today, for previously patrons had to walk around the building to enter the outdoor eating area and food could not be passed to the outside. Silcott worked to make Deibel’s more ascetically pleasing to the customers by “prettying up” the biergarten and also, in his spare time, chipping the yellowed plaster off the brick foundation that is still exposed today. Silcott continued the silent movie tradition with Bowsher still on the piano, but with the changing times, Silcott noticed a sizeable difference in beer sales once the lights were dimmed: consumption of beer declined while the amount of illegal substances inhaled accelerated. Silcott was literally watching his profits go up in smoke. Therefore, to rejuvenate the business of the front bar, Silcott hired who was to be the most memorable entertainer at Deibel’s to date: the accordion playing former USO Ester Craw. Initially, 4’8” Craw was hired for one weekend, but as she was hugely popular with the customers, she immediately became a Deibel’s staple. In time, the silent movies in the back were phased out with Craw playing in the front and a new duo of musicians in the back accompanying Bowsher. The new players were Adolph, a stone faced eighty-ish banjo player, and Max, a tall man with a patch over his right eye, who kept patrons entertained with the penny saw or whistle. Silcott undertook several renovations to the building. The largest was in 1981 when Deibel’s was closed for six months. Silcott bought 259 East Whittier, the building which housed the pharmacy, so that the original Deibel’s could be recreated with the bar being placed back in its initial location from 1895. Silcott also fused the two buildings, 259 and 263 East Whittier, together to create one large restaurant. Silcott finished his renovations in a timely manner so that it would be opened again by Saint Patrick’s Day, which was Bill Deibel’s birthday and his favorite holiday. When Bill was alive, this Irish holiday drew in mass crowds of customers. Bill greeted each female patron with a green carnation and the festivities lasted late into the night. When Silcott hosted his first St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Deibel’s clientele filled the grocery store parking lot across the street. When the president of the supermarket drove up for a surprise visit, he was initially pleased that he could not locate a parking spot. Believing he would encounter a full store, the president was angered at finding it nearly deserted as all the car owners were at Deibel’s. He decided to hire a cop to shoo away anyone not parking to shop for groceries. Once Silcott discovered the human parking obstacle, he made the police officer captain of Silcott’s bowling team, which assuaged the parking problem for the time. Silcott sold the business in 1983 to a trio of businessmen. In 1988 Patricia Snodgrass purchased Deibel’s and she reinstated the highlighted entertainer Ester Craw and her accordion, which continued to delight crowds for several years. From 1993 to 1996, Deibel’s was run by Bill Bigalow, who also owned The Clarmont restaurant in German Village. In 1996 Deibel’s shut down and was reopened under the name Barcelona. The look of the restaurant was updated by redesigning some of the interior, the integrity of the building was maintained by keeping much of the Deibel’s look. Gone are the long tables, booths, and stained glass but in their place are updated custom made chairs and tables, track lighting, and lovely ironwork railings created by the Fortin Company. Also installed, was the bank of windows to the patio that open up the restaurant and flood the inside dining area with natural light. The hand painted tapestry hangs were the silent movies used to be played and large mirrors open up the back of the restaurant. Scott Heimlich, the current owner, purchased Barcelona in 2002. Heimlich strongly believes in maintaining the tradition and history of the building itself. He believes that the building is so visual, it is a part of the dining experience. The original tin ceiling is just covered with a couple layers of paint and the wooden floor uneven after decades of patrons walking across it. Heimlich incorporates artwork that he deems complimentary to the atmosphere and in the in-house collection boasts glass artwork by Columbus College of Art and Design Professor Dawson Kellogg and oil paintings by local artist Michael Guinane. Under Heimlich, Barcelona thrives as one of the top dining establishments in Columbus, Ohio. Barcelona consistently wins the vote for “Best Patio in Columbus” and was once again named a Top 10 Restaurant by the Columbus Dispatch. Barcelona also has an award winning wine list that has been recognized in The Wine Spectator. Deibel’s had a fantastic last run of thirty years and Barcelona hopes to rival that run and continue to bring both outstanding and memorable cuisine, service, and atmosphere to its patrons.