Columbus native opens downtown lounge

September 30, 2018

Already co-owner of Fabulous Forever downtown and longtime co-manager of Sahara Lounge, Nicole Saalfeld never thought about opening up a bar of her own until recently.

Saalfeld was chatting with her friend and Park Plaza proprietor Beth French, who suggested she open such an establishment in the lower level of the downtown building at 1354 27th Ave.

“She mentioned the space was going to be available. I kind of laughed at it, but when I got home, the wheels in my head wouldn’t stop turning,” Saalfeld recalled. “I thought about how Columbus is lacking something like that. So I talked to my husband and we decided to go for it.”

Cork & Barrel opened its doors recently and has already garnered the attention of residents by offering a variety of wines, domestic and craft beers, as well as its signature cocktails that will vary by season. It also features its signature Margherita pizza and meat and cheese boards.

“I’m just trying to expand their pallets, have people try new things,” she said.

New is the keyword. The Columbus native said she knows there are plenty of places to grab a drink or a small meal, but she has aimed to create a unique experience for customers of her venue that is across from Frankfort Square.

“I would say it probably targets more of a 30-plus market,” she said, noting people have already come in repeatedly for date nights and to hang out with their friends.

The uniqueness is apparent in the decor. The venue has four different rooms that are meant to capture a different vibe.

“I thought it would be fun to have a feel for each one,” Saalfeld said. “So I have different seating, different tables, different paint colors and things like that to try and provide a different spot for what kind of mood you’re in, who you’re with, things like that.”

The main space, just right of the entry, is where the bar can be found. It’s arguably the most “manliest,” the owner said, noting its prominent darker colors throughout. Just across the hall is a room that takes inspiration from a vineyard. The area boasts wine barrel tables and curtains that are meant to cozy it up. The standout, though, is the beautiful mural by local artist Rich Bohacek that gives one the idea he or she is looking out over a vineyard.

“The mural was definitely meant to give you that vibe,” she said of the work made by Bohacek, who also created the barback and the bar top, among other things in the establishment.

Nearby is a lower level equipped with more than a dozen board games, couches, tables and a fireplace that Saalfeld said has been popular with customers so far. But there’s no question that the ‘ma’am cave’ toward the back is her favorite space.

“I joke there are no boys allowed, but there have been boys in there,” Saalfeld said, with a laugh. “I needed to add my touch of pink because people who know me know I am obsessed with pink.”

Although starting and owning a lounge isn’t easy, Saalfeld said her years of experience in the service industry and as a business owner has helped. She has and will continue to work as co-manager at Sahara Lounge, which she said has done a great deal for her. In her 12 years there, she has been a waitress and worked her way up to her current role.

“That’s where I kind of got all of my knowledge. Jeff Thiele, the owner there, has been so great to me. He basically taught me everything I know, even on the business end, in terms of what makes a successful bar,” she said. “You can have the coldest drinks in town, but it goes much more than that. The customer service, the atmosphere you provide, it all ties together. So that’s what I want to do here.”

Saalfeld and her sister, Amy Soulliere, have been successfully running their thrift and consignment store Fabulous Forever at 2508 13th St. since 2012, which was part of the reason French approached her about opening the lounge.

“I just think the world of her. She’s intelligent, she’s a hard worker, she aims to please, she wants to make people happy,” French said. “I think the Cork & Barrel is just a whole statement about her. You walk in and you just see her in that. It really is part of who she is. She’s a welcoming and warm kind of person, but also very energetic and an entrepreneur.”

The space where Cork & Barrel is now once housed a bar/entertainment venue back in the 1970s and 1980s, according to French, who said she’s happy to see it being used like that again and that she’s visited the business with friends since it opened.

“I think it fills a need that Columbus has had for quite some time,” French said.

Cork & Barrel is open 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Its name came from Saalfeld wanting to capture what the business is about. The cork is meant to represent wine, while barrel symbolizes beer and hard liquor.

The owner said she’s pleased to be part of the growing effort to revitalize downtown, noting other businesses that have made the move to the district in recent years. Opening Cork & Barrel, in some ways, is still surreal for her.

“We’ve been getting some awesome reviews, so that’s pretty exciting,” she said. “It’s nice to see all of my hard work has finally paid off.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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