“The physical transformation from beer and brats saloon to sultry Mediterranean restaurant is impressive.”
The Other Paper
Upon arriving at Barcelona Restaurant, most guests would be amazed to realize that the restaurant building 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 is 259 East Whittier while the current dining area is 263 East Whittier. 259 East Whittier 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 Hosters chose was Bill Deibel. The Deibels at 259 East Whittier was a prime location, 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 saloon keeper, the long building did not exist. Between 1904 and 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, and allegedly the two lanes are still intact about 4 inches underneath Barcelona’s current floor. When a guest 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. The corner building was turned into a pharmacy at this time. 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. In 1964, a biergarten was created. Although it was quite rustic in the beginning, with a gravel covered floor, four infant trees that barely offered shade, and guests resting their drinks on old picnic tables with peeling paint, it was a very popular hangout.
Tom Silcott, who owned Deibel’s from 1969 to 1985, worked to make Deibel’s more aesthetically pleasing to the customer 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 hired who was to be the most memorable entertainer at Deibel’s to date: the accordion playing former USO Ester Craw. Initially, the 4’8” Craw was hired for one weekend, but as she was hugely popular with the customers, she immediately became a Deibel’s staple. Silcott also fused the two buildings together to create one large restaurant. Silcott sold the business in 1983 to a trio of businessmen and in 1988, Patricia Snodgrass purchased Deibel’s. From 1993 to 1996, Deibel’s was run by Bill Bigalow, who also owned the Clarmont restaurant in German Village.
In 1996, Deibel’s was shut down and reopened under the name Barcelona by a local businessman. He updated the look of the restaurant by redesigning some of the interior although he maintained the integrity of the building by keeping much of the Deibel’s look. As Terry Libby noted in the December 19-25, 1996 edition of The Other Paper, “The physical transformation from beer and brats saloon to sultry Mediterranean restaurant is impressive.” 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. The bank of windows in the back of the restaurant were installed to the patio that open up the restaurant and flood the inside dining area with natural light.
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 part of the dining experience. The original tin ceiling is covered with a couple layers of paint and the wooden floor is 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 class artwork by the Columbus college of Art and Design Professor Dawson Kellog and oil paintings by local artist Michael Guinine.
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 in the top twenty restaurants in Columbus. In 2009, Barcelona moved up in the ranking to a “Top Ten Restaurant” by the Columbus Dispatch. Jon Christensen, renowned food critic for The Columbus Dispatch wrote “Barcelona is still going strong under owner Scott Heimlich. In the sometimes loud and usually busy restored Victorian space and its unsurpassed smoke free outdoor garden seating, The Executive Chef and his staff serve a weekly changing lineup of the best in meats, seafood and produce. The Spanish influence divides the menu into small and large plates and stirs in saffron, olive oil, garlic, and peppers whenever needed. The smooth, olive-oil topped gazpacho is a winner, and the current version of paella is the best yet.” Barcelona also has an award winning wine list that has been recognized in The Wine Spectator.
Barcelona continues to grow, adapt and evolve. The building is constantly being renovated and updated to preserve it’s history as well as stay fresh and relevant. Deibel’s had a fantastic run of over 60 years and Barcelona hopes to rival that run and continue to bring both outstanding and memorable cuisine, service, and atmosphere to its patrons.
Thank you to everyone that has helped over the years to compile this history and artifacts from Deibel’s. If you have additional information or items you wish to share, please reach out to us as we continue to expand on the history of Deibel’s and Barcelona.