A new eatery located in the Gateway Film Center is inviting diners to plunge into the depths of Jules Verne’s undersea world.
The Torpedo Room is the latest culinary endeavor by Elizabeth Lessner and the Columbus Food League, a family of independent restaurants that includes local favorites like Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace and Grass Skirt Tiki Room.
Lessner, founder and owner of the Columbus Food League, said the new restaurant was partly inspired by Verne, author of Victorian science fiction novels such as “Around the World in Eighty Days” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” She also said it was Verne’s 1870 novel, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” that inspired The Torpedo Room’s distinctly nautical appearance.
“I liked the images I saw in Jules Verne’s (novels),” Lessner said. “His whole thing was just kind of underwater and sort of dreamy … very strange. I embraced that and ran with it.”
Lessner said the location of The Torpedo Room in the Gateway Film Center supports the surreal, otherworldly feel of the dining space.
“Movies are all about escapism,” she said. “You go to a movie to sort of get out of your world, so I liked the idea of something sci-fi.”
Lessner started her career as a Columbus-based restaurateur in 2001.
“I was in my early 20s and I (was) enrolled at Capital University,” she said. “I ended up having the opportunity to buy a bar, so I dropped out of school and opened Betty’s (Fine Food & Spirits).”
Thirteen years later, Lessner has developed concepts for seven Columbus Food League restaurants.
Lessner said each restaurant concept pays homage to various aspects of the community in which it is located.
“They’re very neighborhood-driven and they are very space-driven,” she said. “When we identify a space that we want to go to, we spend a lot of time getting to know that block, getting to know that street, getting to know the immediate area … we really look at what (a) neighborhood needs in a restaurant.”
Lessner said developing a concept based on the Gateway Film Center’s architectural style proved to be a challenge.
“A lot of our spaces are in really old buildings that sort of lend their own characters and seem very beautiful, and I was going into (this) hyper-modern … and to me, a cold, stark and strange building,” Lessner said.
Lessner ultimately decided to emphasize the building’s modernity when developing The Torpedo Room’s concept and design.
“It was important to me to create a sort of experience in a space that was unique,” she said. “The goal is that when you’re in there, you sort of lose track of space and time and you feel like you are in this weird little hideaway.”
From Sriracha chicken wings to vegetarian portabella “bacon,” The Torpedo Room gives guests an opportunity to explore a wide selection of alternative takes on classic food favorites.
“We tried to stick to basics like sandwiches, pizzas and salads, then we tried to infuse stuff with sort of new ingredients that maybe people haven’t seen before,” Lessner said.
Prices for food are generally about $10, and The Torpedo Room offers a full bar and happy hour specials during the week, Lessner said.
Chris Hamel, president of the Gateway Film Center, said the cinema complex discussed the creation of The Torpedo Room with Lessner and the Columbus Food League “about a year ago, with the final concept coming together (in) late summer.”
“We love Columbus and wanted to partner with someone who is as deeply invested into making this a great place to live as much as making a profit,” Hamel said in an email. “The second goal was to enhance the experience for our film patrons and we knew Liz (Lessner) would provide these guests with a great product to enjoy before or after the movie.”
Hamel said The Torpedo Room is occupying a space that was formerly a seating area.
Christine Metzger, a fourth-year in operations management, said she was impressed by the Columbus Food League’s ability to transform the previous space into an entirely new concept.
“I thought (the Columbus Food League) did a pretty good job with changing what was just like a little lounge within the movie theater … and making it seem like a different place,” she said.
Metzger encouraged other Ohio State students to experience The Torpedo Room for themselves.
“It’s kind of the closest Columbus Food League restaurant (near) campus,” she said. “And I am a big fan of any local Columbus restaurant, so I think that this is a really good place.”
Lessner said she hopes The Torpedo Room will encourage growth in the South Campus Gateway area.
Four businesses, including Charlie Bear: Land of Dance, Gooeyz, Finish Line and Kildare’s Irish Pub, have all closed their doors in the Gateway since the beginning of summer 2013.
“My hope is that maybe this attracts some new business in the area,” she said. “I see this sort of revitalization happening in the South Campus Gateway and I want it to continue.”
The Torpedo Room is located at 1550 N. High St. The restaurant is open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., seven days a week.