Best Bar: Zephyr Pub

The+Zephyr+on+April+6%2C+2015.+The+Zephyr+was+voted+as+the+best+bar+in+Kent%2C+Ohio.%C2%A0

The Zephyr on April 6, 2015. The Zephyr was voted as the best bar in Kent, Ohio. 

Mark Oprea

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Zephyr Pub

Shedding its niche, cultish image in recent years, Zephyr Pub has grown into a hotspot outside of any Hipster classifications.

After 14 years in business as a bar, the “Zeph” is bigger than ever. Darren Haggenjos, bartender at Zephyr Pub, said that the spike in universal popularity among bar-hoppers has to do with the bar’s serve-all operation.

“Personally I think that we pretty much cater to everyone,” he said, “all walks of life.”

With its karaoke nights, $2 monthly specials and unusual decor, the Zephyr owes its current popularity for trying not to be anything except itself. And, of course, its size — two bars, three floors — being a factor.

“I mean, we have one of the first and best patios in Kent,” Haggenjos said.

As far as any changes go, Owner Patty Restaine said that she wants to renovate the second and third floors of the bar and give them an “updated” look. Business is doing so well that Restaine is even looking to double her staff in the coming months.

Still, it’s clear that the Zeph crew maintains the incentive of their Portland-like motto: to “keep Kent weird.” The pub even sells T-shirts as embodiments of the Zephyr philosophy, screen-printed with such a reminder.

“Our view has always been weird. We’re not cookie cutter, and we don’t try to be that way,” Restaine said. “We’re proud of being one-of-a-kind.”

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Water Street Tavern

Being the only Kent bar with an accessible deli next door, the Water Street Tavern has been in operation for more than a decade and doesn’t seem to be fading anytime soon.

With Kent State and Cleveland Browns memorabilia lining the walls, Water Street is clearly one-part sports bar. (Josh Cribbs made a special appearance recently to watch a Kent State game.) Wednesday-night blues nights, featuring local legends, like The Numbers Band and Ian Penter, provide the bar with its other half. Many holiday celebrations, such as St. Paddy’s Day and Kent’s Halloween, have been broadcasted via webcam in the past.

“Yet we’re always trying to bring in something new and different, and following trends,” Owner Mike Beder said.

Just recently, Beder helped prime Water Street for the iPhone generation, pairing with bar apps Barkudo, a promoter for drinks on special, and Dash, which allows users to pay their tabs via their own devices.

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Ray’s Place

Racking up the “Best Bar” nomination for many years running, Ray’s Place is as close to the Kent identity as The Odeon is to New York City.

With its wood furnishing and Kent State fanbase, Ray’s Place, according to its fourth owner, Charlie Thomas, maintains its loved status for a simple reason.

“I practice the customer always coming first,” he said. “It’s all about (them) here.”

Thomas said that after he took over the establishment in December 1978, he aimed to shift its appeal as an “older-person bar” to something more all-inclusive.

The infamous “Shot Wheel,” in which customers spin for a free birthday shot, is a notable example.

“You have to constantly improve and stay ahead of the game,” Manager Tom Creech said.

In 2013, the Kent State University Press published a book written by Patrick O’Connor titled “Meet Me At Ray’s,” a historical look at the restaurant that has been around since 1937.

In 2013, Thomas expanded the restaurant to another location in North Canton, which, although carrying the iconic name, is 24 beer types short of the 64 the original spot boasts. As far as the future of the Kent staple, Thomas said he’s not going to stay stagnant.

“You never know,” he said. “I’m thinking about these things all the time.”

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected]