Dan’s Drive-In is Columbus, Ohio’s Oldest Drive-In

October 8, 2010

Dan’s Drive-In | IG: @dansdrive_1881
1881 S. High St.
Columbus, OH 43207
(614) 444-7590
Open daily 7a-3p

Date of Original Visit: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Dan’s has long been on my to-visit list of Columbus diners. I remember doing a double-take years ago when I drove past it on South High Street. “Wait, there’s a diner there?” I said as I blazed by. But a little “research” for an article I was writing for (614) Magazine (back in 2010) first led me to this South Side mainstay.

ATMOSPHERE: Walking into Dan’s is taking a step back into a history that’s been carefully recreated in gleaming chrome and shiny red pleather. The “classic American diner” that’s boasted on the signs is indeed alive and kicking, although maybe in a little too neat-and-polished type of way.

A quick look around shows you that Dan’s clearly has its regulars, thus it fulfills part of the criteria for being an old-school diner. When my bro-in-law and I visited, we found the regular group of old guys all crowded around a table shootin’ the, well, you know.

A plaque near the front door gives you some context for the history of Dan’s. The lowdown is: Dan’s claims to be Columbus’ oldest drive-in, started downtown by Dan Manes in 1952. Later that decade, he moved it to the current location, and it’s changed hands several times over the years, including a few years ownership under Nick Bergados, chef of the now-gone Taverna Opa. Nick apparently headed up the revamp of the space.

To be honest, the redesign looks beautiful. It’s sparkling clean and colorful. Everything matches. The ceiling fans have sets of blades that turn opposite each other…

…a big display behind the counter showcases model cars, neon signs, flags, and brand name kitsch…

…and the walls and shelves are lined with little knick-knacks.

BUT… the end result is a beautiful diner that feels a little sterile. Yes, the building retains the old school shape and layout, but the decor is a little too placed, and you lose the charm of similar diners like Jack’s Sandwich Shop. Maybe there’s a lot of original pieces left from the 1950’s, but they get lost amongst all the shine.

FOOD: As with the decor, Dan’s gives you all the diner standards, in a pretty unassuming and straightforward manner. But there are no frills, aside from a couple of Greek specialties.

I ordered the Traditional Breakfast. All told, this includes two eggs, bacon, home fries or grits, and toast. Eggs were good, bacon and potatoes crispy, toast buttery. It all needed some salt and pepper to punch it up, otherwise it was just another not-bad breakfast. Washed this down with some decent diner brown coffee.

My brother-in-law ordered the Meat Lovers Omelet. He had actually ordered the skillet version of this, but the server misheard him. Still, he liked it, but said it was nothing to write home about.

Fans of bologna should love the grilled bologna and eggs. It comes with toast and your choice of potatoes.

The biscuits and gravy is chunky and nicely seasoned – an easy win for anyone who likes the dish.

Unrelated side note: Dan’s serves Frostop Root Beer on tap. Points!

SERVICE: I got to chat a little bit with current owner Lucky Sahota, and he seems very proud of the work they do at Dan’s. Lucky has owned a handful of restaurants around the world, most recently in New Zealand, and he has big ideas for the diner here. He plans, in the next year or so, to expand the true drive-in experience, and bring back car service, complete with girls on roller skates bringing you burgers and shakes. It would be great to see him really embrace the history of Dan’s and focus on bringing out even more of its original character.

OVERALL: Dan’s is a good stop to observe a bit of Columbus culinary history and have a decent breakfast. You can easily join the ranks of their regulars, and if diner culture is your thing, it’s worth at least one visit.

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I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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