“I Wanna Go Back to Ohio State, to Old Columbus Town...”
Ohio State's campus is full of legendary bars, restaurants and campus spots – and we visit all of them.
This week, we talked to Tony Mollica – the owner and operator of Varsity Club – to learn a little bit about the history, the tradition and the legacy of one of campus’ oldest and most iconic sports bars.
History of Varsity Club
Varsity Club was founded in 1959 on the corner of Lane Avenue and Tuttle Park and is one of the oldest sports bars on campus.
The establishment was founded by a man named Bill Ganger, but since 1973 has been owned and operated by Tony Mollica and his family.
“We've been here a very long time,” Mollica said. “We've seen a lot of changes, but it's all been good. It's a great location.”
How Campus Changed
Located on Lane Avenue just north of Ohio Stadium, Varsity Club is at the heart of the Buckeye football gameday experience. And that's where Mollica has seen most of the change around campus.
Mollica said over the years, tailgating has become less prevalent and less entertaining, which he theorizes is because of increased restrictions.
“It’s been kind of a steady decrease,” Mollica said of the tailgating experience. “I’m not sure why. We had some great years with Tressel, but then you get different presidents in there and the rules change. But we’re still very busy for all Ohio State sports events.”
Best Buckeye memory
From the Woody Hayes days to the current Ryan Day regime, Varsity Club has seen a lot of Buckeye history, but Mollica says his favorite memory would have to be the 2006 edition of The Game which pitted top-ranked Ohio State against No. 2 Michigan.
“We actually made the opening of SportsCenter,” Mollica remembers. “They opened up SportsCenter with the Varsity Club and we made the front page of the USA TODAY.
“That was just a great day. Probably the best memory for me. That was the highlight.”
And it sure didn't hurt that the Buckeyes won 42-39 to punch their ticket to the national title game.
Building Buckeye community
Varsity Club may just be a humble sports bar, but it's helped foster a community of Buckeye fans since it opened its doors, and it's led to some loyal supporters.
“We have people who've been coming in 30 or 40 years,” Mollica said. “It's just what they do. It's almost like a tradition for many Ohio State fans – they'll stop in here at some point.”
Varsity Club and Buckeye sports go hand-in-hand.
“We've got 100,000 people right across the street,” Mollica said.
Above all, Mollica praised Ohio State fans’ loyalty.
“They're probably some of the most loyal fans I can think of,” Mollica said of Buckeye Nation.
While Varsity Club has a wide menu, their claim to fame is their Italian sub – called The Hot Sub – which has not changed for over 50 years.
“We've never changed the sub,” Mollica said. “When people come in, they say ‘what should I get?’ We sell more of that than anything.”
Mollica said they source their bread from a local Italian bakery and “the ingredients are great.”
One of the funniest stories Mollica can remember came when Texas journeyed up to Columbus in 2005.
There was a rumor that actor Matthew McConaughey had rented out the restaurant. The Varsity Club was soon swamped by incoming calls about whether or not it would be open.
“It was the best advertising of which we had no part of,” Mollica said. “It was great advertising. Great advertising.”
Located at the corner of Lane and Tuttle, Varsity Club is open every day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., serving drinks and food with a happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.