I remember making a special trip into downtown Sandusky, Ohio five years ago to visit the Carnegie library there.
I still enjoy the vintage architecture that drew me to the city then, but my most recent visit there revealed a newly energized downtown with some new dining and beverage spots I don't remember being there just a few years ago.
Late-nineteenth century Sandusky gained fame as the "Ice Capital of the Great Lakes" with a local ice cutting industry providing much of Ohio with the ice needed to preserve food.
The city also had a thriving commercial fishing industry, was a stop along the Underground Railroad and was home to many gifted German and Irish stonecutters settling in the area.
The limestone lurking just below the ground's surface here helps explain the abundance of skilled stone cutters in the city and the presence of so many beautiful limestone buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Learn the history of many of these buildings by downloading a Downtown Architectural Walking Tour brochure.
I enjoyed learning about the Erie County Courthouse, a Second Empire-style structure originally designed by the architectural team of Myer and Holmes and built in 1874. The building had a mansard roof, many ornamental flourishes and a tall tower capped with a widow's walk.
By the 1930s, some folks called for a new courthouse, but the county found they could get grants from the government's Works Progress Administration and opted instead for an extensive renovation instead of demolishing the building. The renovation stripped the building's exterior of much of its decoration, sheathing it in a streamlined Art Deco-style stone layer and keeping just a few of the building's ornate details like arched windows on the lower floors. I'm not sure how I feel about the renovation, which was controversial at the time, but I'd be curious to tour the building's interior to see how that matches with the late 1930s exterior.
The official symbol for the city dates back to 1895 when Sandusky citizen Voltaire Scott erected a zinc statue of a boot-toting boy in a city park to beautify the space. The statue suffered damage after a 1924 tornado before being moved in front of the courthouse after its 1930s renovation. The original statue fell victim to vandals in the 1990s and now stands in the City Building's atrium. A replica statue now stands in front of the courthouse.
We checked the working floral clock across from the courthouse and could see that it was time to check out Sandusky's restaurant and bar scene!
One of the newest Sandusky restaurants is the Small City Taphouse with 45 different beers on tap, 200 varieties of bottled beer, a full bar and an appealing array of Asian and Vietnamese meals, small plates and sushi.
Owner Kha Bui opened Small City Taphouse in the heart of downtown just weeks before our visit. The place bustled with activity on a weekday evening as we sampled a couple of beautifully prepared and tasty appetizers, along with our drinks.
Our next stop was the ZINC brasserie, a French-inspired bistro owned by Chef Cesare and Andrea Avallone that debuted in 2007. It moved to a larger space on Water Street in early 2014. The Avallones also own CRUSH, a wine bar, and the Dockside Cafe, a seasonal concession at Sandusky's Paper District Marina.
I couldn't resist pretty much making a meal of the restaurant's Lobster Bisque En Cruote, a rich, sherry-laced soup in a pastry shell that I knew wouldn't leave me enough room for some of the great-sounding entrees or wood-fired pizza also tempting to me.
I did find some room for a side order of truffle fries to eat with my soup, though!
Our last stop of the evening? The vest-pocket-sized Volstead Bar tucked along Water Street. The bar has a speakeasy theme and specializes in crafting some of the classic cocktails served before, and after, the passage of the Volstead Act (a.k.a. Prohibition) in 1919.
The bar's small size, discrete signage and swanky vibe make you feel like you're at a small secret club, but the gregariousness of brothers Chad and Ryan Whaley, who tend the bar with Ryan's wife Nikki Lloyd, give the Volstead an easy-going atmosphere.
I'm not much of a mixed-drink fan, but I enjoyed my Moscow Mule, an ice-cold drink of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer served in an ice-cold copper mug.
The Volstead Bar, opened in late 2013, occupies part of the ground floor of a late-1800s building that saw prior use as a winery and as a high-end brothel called The Green Door.
Ryan and Nikki purchased the 3,300-square-foot building, gutted it and renovated it to house the bar, Whaley's public relations firm (Green Door Media) and the couple's home.
I wished I'd had time during my Volstead visit to learn more about the building's renovation and that it was light enough to take some decent photos.
I did find a site that allowed me to virtually tour the entire building with plenty of before-and-after images. Check it out and prepare to be wowed by the transformation wrought in this building. Amazing!
Want to learn more about Sandusky's history? Check out Sandusky, Ohio by Ron Davidson.
Thanks to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Visitors Bureau for sponsoring my visit to Sandusky, providing lodging at Cedar Point's Castaway Bay, meals, and help arranging visits to area attractions for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.