The University Impact District Review Board has signed off on the new owner’s plan to restore and reopen the iconic Blue Danube restaurant at 2439 N. High St. in the University District.
The Blue Danube restaurant, the University District landmark that closed in 2018 after decades of hazy late-night discussions over comfort food and beer, as well as the site of dates and marriage proposals, will see new life again.
Jay Harkrider said he hopes the ’Dube, as it is affectionately known, will reopen by fall.
"Reopen it and kind of carry on that tradition," Harkrider said of his plans.
Read more: Landlord reveals details for future Blue Danube
"Our thought is to try to maintain the historic integrity of the building, the interior of the space – kind of bring it back to life," he said. "We don’t want to erase what it was."
The University Impact District Review Board signed off on his plans for the building, at 2439 N. High St., on Feb. 27.
Harkrider hopes to tap into the fondness that longtime patrons had for the ’Dube, while attracting new customers.
"I don’t know that there’s one person I talked to who doesn’t remember going to that restaurant," he said.
As for Harkrider, he said, "I did go there." He used to live close to the Ohio State campus and now lives near Grandview Heights.
He does plan to update the restaurant.
On the North High Street façade, the existing deteriorated wood paneling will be removed and replaced with blue enamel porcelain tile, according to the University Impact District Review Board.
Crews will enlarge the storefront to restore the building’s historic character. The existing neon sign will remain.
"Additionally, the front windows will be operable," the board said.
Denise Rosati, who owns and has operated Rosemary’s Hair Salon next door for 39 years, said she is excited that the restaurant will see new life. The building has been empty since the ’Dube closed on June 17, 2018.
"There was a time a lot of us did go over there to eat and drink," said Rosati. Her recollection of the food: "Everything would be peppered to death."
Architect Tim Bass, who is working with Harkrider on the building, said, "In grad school I’d go over there and get an open-faced roast beef and green beans for $2.50."
Bob Swaim was the last owner of the Blue Danube, buying it in 1995 from George Margetis, who has owned the building through a limited-liability company.
According to historian Doreen Uhas Sauer, the late Lee Brown, an area resident and Ohio State associate professor of philosophy, once mused about the ’Dube’s bartenders: "There is the Daytime George, the Nighttime George, and the Sometimes George."
According to older residents who frequented the Blue Danube, it previously was a white-tablecloth restaurant with authentic Hungarian cooking. There was a pianist who played a baby grand piano for diners’ listening pleasure, Uhas Sauer wrote in an email to The Dispatch.
Uhas Sauer mentioned The French Special, a dinner for two of White Castle sliders and champagne that could be ordered for $125. Every month, two or three were sold, and they might have been popular for this reason: It seems the ’Dube was a place to become engaged.
One painted ceiling tile above a booth indicates where the marriage proposal was made, she wrote.
Harkrider said the place transitioned into more of a bar that catered to Ohio State students.
"A greasy-spoon type of place that appealed to everybody," he said.
The site itself has an interesting history.
The Blue Danube location close to a century ago was a store operated by Piggly Wiggly, the Southern grocery chain. The stores were located in neighborhoods to accommodate streetcar riders who lived nearby and needed to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home, said Uhas Sauer, who also leads the University Area Commission.
In 1928, Piggly Wiggly pulled out. The location became a household goods store and an automobile dealership before it became a restaurant in 1940.
The Blake Avenue side of the building has a mural of the Budapest, Hungary, skyline and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Harkrider said he plans to ask neighborhood residents whether they want the mural to stay.