There’s something special brewing at Addella’s on Oak

The neighborhood tavern in Franklin Park has become an increasingly essential cultural hub, hosting listening parties and live shows that reflect the personality of co-owner Karrio Ballard.
The scene at Addella's on Oak
The scene at Addella's on OakCourtesy Karrio Ballard

The celebration didn’t last long when Karrio Ballard finally opened the doors to Addella’s on Oak in October 2020, the restaurateur and musician struggling with the realities of launching a neighborhood tavern at the early height of the COVID-19 pandemic

“We’re just under a lot of pressure to make this work, because if not, the alternative isn’t pretty,” Ballard told me in November 2020. “And hopefully people will notice that and find a way to support us where they see fit. But I definitely haven’t had that moment where it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, we finally did it.’”

In recent months, however, the scene at Addella’s – located in Franklin Park a stone’s throw from the East Market and Columbus Brewing Company’s newly opened East Side taproom – has started to take shape, with the space evolving into an increasingly essential cultural hub that plays host to a mix of listening parties (from rappers such as Trek Manifest and OG Vern), live shows (Harmonic Soul, Cherimondis J), DJ-led musical tributes (J Dilla, Outkast) and music-themed event nights (hip-hop trivia, hosted by rapper the Catalyst, and the “Lyrics to Go” open mic night).

“I think when you open a place, no matter what you want it to be, the people kind of decide, in some regards,” said Ballard, better known to many in the Columbus scene as the rapper Zero Star, in a mid-March interview at Addella’s. “Obviously, you give the parameters, but what it becomes from that is that. I think there were so many restrictions before that I was just worried about day-to-day operations. But then, as things started to get back to normal a little bit, and we got our full liquor permit, all of those things coming together kind of allowed us to loosen our tie a little bit, metaphorically speaking.”

The culture developing at Addella’s is at least partially attributable to Ballard, whose hip-hop roots are reflected in everything from the cassette tape wallpaper wrapping posts in the space to the streaming playlist, which Ballard spends countless hours curating, believing (rightly) that the vibe of a room can be shaped by its soundtrack. 

“This is really me, in a physical form, giving you something in a brick-and-mortar form,” he said. “And I think other artists relate to that, because other places generally aren’t owned by artists of any kind, and that’s maybe the one advantage we have. We don’t have the million-dollar budget that some places have, but I have this authentic thing, and you can try as hard as you want but you’ll never be able to duplicate the feeling we give people when they step in here. … Speaking from an artist standpoint, they leave here feeling appreciated and respected for what they bring to the table, and that’s not always the case.”

DJ Pos2, who has helped brainstorm and curate events at Addella’s, including “Lyrics to Go,” said the scene there has taken shape organically over the last year or so. “It started as a bar and [restaurant] and has really transformed into a music [hub],” Pos2 said. “And it happened naturally, where it started to find its feet. And that’s something you can’t make happen. … But now it does seem like something is starting to form.”

Even Addella’s kitchen has become an extension of Ballard's music-world connections, with word breaking this week that Demetrius Howard, aka rapper and producer Soop, would take over kitchen operations beginning this weekend. (Howard previously launched FishBurger alongside Randy Keyes.)

Ballard said many of the decisions that have helped this culture take deeper root in the space were initially made out of necessity. “‘Lyrics to Go,’ that was Pos’ idea, but our Wednesdays were slow, so, shit, let’s do something to try and liven it up a little bit,” he said.

Owing to Ballard’s history, as well as the personalities of those helping to brainstorm and host events, these business decisions have cultivated an environment in which creative connections can spark. And it’s that vibe, that hard-to-describe feeling, that crackling energy of possibility, that has helped begin to transform the once-humble neighborhood pub into something more.

“And I think what you’re seeing … is that energy of people, of artists, being some of their most genuine selves because they’re in a space that allows that,” said Ballard, who compared the sensation with how he feels when he visits New Orleans, a place that allows him to relax to a point where his true self can fully emerge. “I liken it to that. Not to say we’re anybody’s favorite place in the world, but we allow people to feel that level of [comfort]. And again, that’s something you really can’t fake.”

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