The first question to be asked is why anyone would open an ersatz English pub in the most god-forsaken neighborhood of a chronically depressed Appalachian town? Dickens’ Pub may be the most harebrained entrepreneurial venture in Portsmouth’s history. A more appropriate name for it would have been (with apologies to Toro Loco) Dickens Loco. If the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location, then why the dickens would anyone open a pretentious pub in such a desolate, déclassé neighborhood, in the shadow of the Mitchellace building, a hulking, sorrowful reminder of Portsmouth’s industrial, prosperous past. Once the biggest and busiest shoelace factory in the world, Mitchellace is now the ugliest and emptiest building in Portsmouth. It is not surprising that in a short time, in a matter of months after the opening of the pub—after extensive and expensive renovations—a Brush Realty For Sale sign went up. Dickens’ Pub was throwing in the towel before even working up a sweat. But no one was foolish enough to take if off their hands, not at an asking price of $79,000. If Bauer or Kalb were still mayor, the city might have taken it off their hands and for much more than $79,000.
The other question that should be asked about Dickens’ Pub is who owns it? According to records at the Scioto County Auditor’s office, the owner appears to be BOB DICKENS of Franklin Furnace.
But when a business is registered with the state, the names of the owner or owners must be listed. The owner(s) can’t hide behind pseudonyms or clever anagrams. The records in the Ohio Secretary of State’s office reveal that B.O.B., with the periods in place, is an anagram for the initials of the last names of the three partners: David Basham (the father); Vicki O’Bannion (wife of silent partner, high school English teacher/part-time preacher Jerry O’Bannion); and Nicholas Basham (Third Ward councilman and obstreperous son of David).
The discrepancy between the County Auditor’s and the Secretary of State’s websites may simply be a consequence of the high school literary allusiveness that has been typical of the Dickens’ Pub from the beginning. It is also possible that BOB DICKENS was an example not only of literary allusiveness but also of an Appalachian elusiveness whose purpose was to provide a degree of cover for the owners. Teachers and preachers understandably might be hesitant to publicize that they are in the booze business. “Oh, what a web we weave when the name of our pub we first conceive.” Dickens’ Pub is a knock-off, if not a rip-off, of the Port City Café and Pub, where Jerry O’Bannion was not too long ago the Orson Welles of the Port City Players and the Billy Graham of Bible study nights. But the scuttlebutt is he had a falling out with his partners at the Port City Pub. Whatever the reasons, O’Bannion moved on. Whether financial irregularities had anything to do with his having to move on only his former partners know for sure, but as recently as November 2009 he was taken to court by Capital One Bank for an unpaid debt of $1,871. After failing to appear for the first court hearing, he subsequently settled out of court. The settlement was “without prejudice,” meaning Capital One Bank could take him to court again on this matter if he reneged on the settlement. It could be O’Bannion was a silent partner in Dickens’ pub to prevent his creditors from taking legal action against the new pub.
Since it appeared he owned the intellectual property rights to the Port City Pub, which became a social, cultural, and political center where the likes of recalled ex-mayor Bauer had a ball, O’Bannion’s being banished from it might have been traumatic. He wrote the play, so to speak, and was the star player in it. Rather than being a silent partner at Port City, O’Bannion was the master of ceremonies, conducting Quizzes and Bible study sessions. And then, suddenly, he was out in the cold. But he soon came in from the cold. Through his wife Vicki, the pub-less O’Bannion silent-partnered with David and Nicholas Basham and opened Dickens’ Pub. Having to settle for an English pub had to be a comedown for a hardcore Hibernian, but there is room for only one ersatz Irish pub in Portsmouth. Along with Nicholas Basham, O’Bannion counts himself a member of an imaginary “Irish Mafia.” Not to be confused with the I.R.A., the Irish Mafia is more Walter Mitty than Bobby Sands, more Private Tussie than Sergeant York. The fantasy life of frustrated public school teachers in Appalachian Ohio is poignantly made up of equal parts moonbeam and moonshine.
Scrounging for Customers
The dead-end location of Dickens’ Pub meant that from the start it had to scrounge for customers. One of the first groups it tried to attract was Shawnee State students. It tried luring them by hosting a quiz contest between Shawnee State students and faculty. What a gripping, absolutely ripping attraction that must have been! We’re talking Shawnee State, people, not Oxford. A wet tee shirt contest would have been more appropriate.
One of the first Dickens’ Pub flyers
Next. the pub latched on to the Recall the Mayor crowd, which consisted largely of disgruntled city employees who were afraid of losing their jobs. Instead of a quiz contest between the employees and the Mayor, the pub offered city employees half-price drinks. The pub was crowded but how do you turn a profit selling drinks at half price? Even David Malone, the mathematically challenged President of City Council, could tell you that doesn't add up. And are the proprietors of Dickens’ Pub aware the Port City Pub lost a number of patrons because of its polarizing politics and its proselytizing? The only thing worse than having to listen to Sue Lonney karaoke would be to listen to Jerry O’Bannion explain the gospel.
A notice posted on the Dickens’ Pub website
The recent announcement of the addition of a Juke Box, a symbol of popular American culture of the 1940s, as well of NFL TV happy hours on Sundays and Monday, is evidence that those who foolishly opened an English pub in Portsmouth’s industrial wasteland now realize that Guinness Stout and the Union Jack are not going to do the trick. Marley’s ghost has to move over and make room for the ghost of Howard Cosell, and Guinness has to bow to Budweiser.
A flyer recently put on the windshields of vehicles in Kroger’s parking lot
The latest word is that there has been a falling out among the Bashams and the O’Bannions, or a falling off since a ladder may have been involved. Falling-outs, or falling offs, seem to be endemic to ersatz pubs. An announcement recently appeared that there is a “new” Dickens’ Pub, and David and Julie Basham (David’s wife and Nicholas’ mother) are the “new” proprietors.
Give Me Some Men Who are Stout-Hearted Men
As a sign of just how desperate Dickens’ Pub has become, the most recent group it has tried to attract is the Shawnee State University Retirement Association, even inviting that gray haired group to hold their meetings in its premises. If the retirees accept, that would probably be the first time any people in a bar have followed Robert’s Rules of Order. “I move we have another round of Guinness.” “I second the motion!”
A recent notice in the Shawnee State University Retirees Association Newsletter
An “Under New Management” sign can give the public hope that a faltering or failed business may be replaced by one that’s better managed. But is this really a change in management at Dickens’ Pub? Isn't it still Bashams as usual? And won’t Nicholas be a silent partner, even if, in his case, “silent partner” sounds like an oxymoron. The Secretary of State’s website still lists Basham, O’Bannion, and Basham as partners, and the Auditor’s still misleadingly implies BOB DICKENS is the owner. Maybe the websites will be updated. But in the meanwhile the depressing possibility is that Nicholas Basham might someday end up as mayor, continuing the tradition of mayors Bauer and Kalb, those klutzes, who drifted into politics after failing as a graphic artist and grocery clerk, respectively, and then served as the tools of our few multimillionaires, who have succeeded like Wall Street bankers by capitalizing on Portsmouth’s poverty. The only thing I’m aware Nicholas ever was successful at was suing his employer, the Northwest School District, where he is no longer employed. And now he is presuming to suggest ways to reorganize the health department and resolve the city’s budget crisis, bringing his experience at the badly mismanaged Dickens’ Pub to bear on public policy?
Are we talking about a bar or a loony bin? Will they next be inviting Seventh Day Adventists to hold services at the “pub”? If only there was a real Bob Dickens who could write a novel about all this. Since it is the age-old tale of human folly, Bob Dickens might call the novel Nicholas Nicklepate, or, because it leaves such a bad taste in the mouth, Great Expectorations.
The Mayor's Not for Burning