Over 50 Years of Tradition Continue at Varsity Club

Game Day Saturday at the Varsity Club

Nestled on the corner of Lane Ave. and Tuttle Park Drive on the campus of The Ohio State University is a small brick building that comes alive during OSU game days. For the last 53 years, one restaurant has opened its doors, ready to carry on the tradition of what it means to be a Buckeye: Varsity Club.

In 1959, Don Swales purchased a bookstore and turned it into a restaurant. In a January edition of the Ohio State University’s newspaper, The Lantern, he placed an advertisement for the new pub. It would be the only advertisement to this day that the Varsity Club has ever placed. Since then, the Varsity Club (or V.C. as it’s generally called) has been a staple on the OSU campus for game day action.

“We’ve always been, based on our location, a pregame, postgame, tailgate. We call it a tailgate party because that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Tony Mollica, general manager since 2004.

As it stands today, V.C. is the oldest standing bar on OSU’s campus after the closing of other establishments like Larry’s, said Mollica. He also said that V.C. remains because of those fans who remain loyal to V.C.’s traditions. Word gets around by mouth and patrons who have been going there for years pass along the word to their children, and so on.

“It’s 70/30 or even 80/20 loyalists,” Mollica said. “It’s an alumni crowd.”

Mollica said V.C. likes to keep what the pub stands for to being simple, but also a destination for fans who are looking for a great place to hang out during OSU games.

For alumni and non-alumni alike, the simplicity of V.C. is what makes it attractive. A scarlet and gray striped awning adorns the entire front of the building and the entrance is one rustic, wooden door. Once inside, you’re transported into Buckeye heaven where pictures of Woody Hayes, Archie Griffin, Ohio Stadium and St. John Arena grace the walls.

The main restaurant is separated down the middle by a wall, with a long wooden bar to the right-hand side. Several flat-screen TV’s sit a few feet above the bar and behind it sits an array of liquor of your choice. Bench-style booths with wooden seats line the walls along the back and both middle sides, with more flat-screens sitting on the wall above each booth. Normal four-seat, square tables, and longer tables that accommodate larger parties, are spread out in the middle of the room to the left.

“When I first started here, one of the things I liked was the wood,” said Kari Pollarine, a server at V.C. since 2004. “It’s a cozy, Cheers-vibe. Kind of like a clubhouse.”

The Varsity Club has been a meeting place for many fans for many years but it wasn’t until the last ten years that things really got ramped up for the pub when it came to pre-gaming. There were so many police officers who had to direct traffic on Lane Ave.

during home football games that Mollica said Columbus city officials asked if they would close off the back parking lot to alleviate the congestion of cars trying to drive along Tuttle Park Drive. In doing so, it opened up room for about 1,000 more people to congregate, also allowing for a jumbotron TV, and a stage for local acts to play, like Shucking Bubba Deluxe and The Danger Brothers.

A picture of the back alley during a home football game sits alone on the section of wall that runs down the middle of the restaurant. It’s a scene of scarlet and gray, people’s hands thrown up in fists of victory, most clenching a beer in the other. Game days at OSU can get crazy, said Kelly McCurry, a server since 2008.

“It was definitely a shock the first football game that I was here,” she said. “We open up at 8 a.m. for home games and people are lined up out the door. It’s nuts. It’s crazy how dedicated people are.”

Mollica concurred with McCurry and said night games are their best, followed by 3:30 p.m. games, then noon games, with the exception of the Michigan game. He also said he’s looking forward to a couple of marquee matchups this season, especially when Nebraska visits the ‘Shoe for the first time.

The Varsity Club isn’t just limited to insanity on game days, though. Mollica said that, although game days are the busiest time of the year, the restaurant is still open for business after the football and basketball seasons end.

“We do well when there are concerts in town,” he said, alluding towards shows performed at the nearby Schottenstein Center.

Although lunch business during the week has been hampered a bit when Panera Bread opened next door, said Mollica, V.C. is still open for lunch and offers specials every Monday through Friday.

“You want a burger and fries, you’re going to come over here. You want a beer, you’re going to come over here. You want a pizza, you come here,” he said.

Their menu features an array of delectable delights, including fried zucchini, fried mushrooms, boneless wings and cheesy garlic bread as appetizers.

Build-your-own burgers, Hawaiian chicken sandwiches and their hot sub, dubbed as V.C.’s famous sub, are some of the other mouth-watering dishes served up on a daily basis.

If you’re there for dinner, try their spaghetti and homemade sauce or a plate of their chicken parmesan, served with an additional plate of spaghetti. And of course, no restaurant/pub would be complete without serving up pizza. You can get one of their “almost famous specialty pizzas” of a deluxe, vegetarian or Hawaiian, or you can make up your own pie, choosing from an array of toppings like green peppers, hot peppers, pineapple, sausage, bacon and ham.

It’s been 53 years and counting for the Varsity Club. Amazing considering they’ve advertised one single time since opening their doors. At this rate, I’d say they’ve got another 53 coming.

About: Andy Evans

I'm a 34-year-old journalism major at Ohio State, minoring in criminology. I enjoy time with friends and family, watching OSU football and basketball games, watching true crime shows, and sitting on the couch vegging out and watching a movie I've seen a hundred times before. Once I graduate, given what I enjoy doing in my spare time, I'd like to write in either sports, arts and leisure, or some sort of crime beat.