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Sarah Grace, Democratic candidate for the 94th District in the Ohio House of Representatives, holds hands with her husband, Todd Grace, as they wait for election results March 15, at Pigskin Bar and Grille. (FILE)

Local bars provide important gathering places for Democrats and Republicans

On a crisp October Monday afternoon, Court Street's bars are absent of their typical, college-aged patrons. But at the Pigskin Bar and Grille, there is a steady stream of people making their way inside.

There, professors and Athens residents gather with Sarah Grace, a candidate for state representative, who is making her way around the room. Meanwhile, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson chats with Lenny Eliason, one of the Athens County commissioners. New arrivals are greeted at the door with a smile and handshake from Athens County Democratic Party Chair John Haseley. All have come out to support Lou Gentile, up for re-election as state senator.

"This is a good location," Gentile said at his fundraiser. "And (Pigskin owner) Ric (Wasserman) is a good friend and supporter."

The uptown bars are important to the local political parties, as they provide party officials and supporters with a place to gather, raise funds and talk politics.

For the Democrats, that could mean any number of places. Haseley said there is not one place where local Democrats prefer to hold their events. Instead, they frequent restaurants and bars that are run by supporters.

"We like to show support for people who support us," Haseley said. "We like to return that support and we're especially interested in showcasing local businesses."

In addition to Pigskin, the Democrats often hold events at Jackie O's — at both the Taproom and Brewery. Haseley said the local Democrats had a hand in convincing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to make her Athens campaign stop at the Jackie O's Production Brewery and Taproom. 

"The campaign came in and asked for different options that could be possible to do an event," Haseley said. "(The brewery) was the first place we took them to and they liked it." 

But the Democrats frequent more than just Jackie O's and Pigskin. Later this month, a fundraiser will be held for Senate candidate Ted Strickland at the newly opened Starting Gates Bier Halle on 120 W. Union St.

"We have done letter-writing nights at the Devil's Kettle out on Columbus Road," Haseley said. "And then there was the mayor's bus trip that went to Little Fish Brewery on Armitage Road. We don't go to one or two places, we go to a number of places."

For local Republicans, there used to be one place that hosted almost all of their social events: the Oak Room, 14 Station St., where party members would meet for happy hour several times each year.

"We used to go there for years and years," Athens County Republican Party Chair Pete Couladis said. "There was an upstairs area where we used to have get-togethers. But it's been closed for a couple years now."

Couladis said that following the closing of the Oak Room about two years ago, the local GOP social events became less frequent, although they occasionally will have something at the Ohio University Inn. He is trying to get things started again and has booked the basement of the Red Brick Tavern for an event next week.

"Several people mentioned at our last meeting that we should do a social event," Couladis said. "We had a debate watch party at the campaign headquarters, but that's not a formal event."

He said several members suggested Red Brick Tavern. Despite a lack of parking and a lack of food, Couladis was excited for the event.

"I talked to (Red Brick owner) Dan DeLuca and he said he was glad to have us," Couladis said. "We'll invite Jay Edwards and some other candidates, it should be a nice social event." 


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