When I first moved to Indy, in the mid-1990s, I lived just north of 49th & College, a decidedly sleepy intersection in SoBro, a moniker then in use by only the hippest of locals. We were, in fact, south of Broad Ripple, but you would never know it. I yearned for a spot down the street where I could drop in for a drink or a snack, maybe even a bar where at least a few of the patrons knew my name.
Ah, I was born too soon. Some 15 years later, Indy’s beer scene is booming, and a handful of craft-brew enthusiasts have populated my old ’hood with pubs and tasting rooms featuring almost entirely Hoosier ales and lagers, perfect for a tasting pub crawl on a warm autumn Saturday.
We stopped first at Upland Brewing Company’s tasting room, Indy’s outlet of the popular Bloomington microbrewery that’s been producing porters and IPAs since 1998. More a throwback to the bohemian coffeehouses of a decade ago than a bar, this is the place to sample seasonal beers or fill up a couple of growlers for the evening’s house party. While pints are now available nightly, for first-timers a flight of short pours is the way to go, and we tasted everything from the light and citrusy Wheat Ale to the deep, dark, slightly bitter milk stout. At a smattering of mismatched tables, neighborhood folk whiled away the hours chatting or playing board games. Big, chewy pretzels from A Taste of Philly are the only sustenance offered inside, but food-truck regulars park outside—Scratchtruck on Thursdays and Saturdays, for instance—and we can’t resist Scratch’s grilled cheese with red-wine braised short rib, which Upland will gladly let you eat inside.
Spirited by our sudsy first course, we strolled up the street to The Sinking Ship, the gently gritty pub that famously survived a protest by a neighborhood group this summer over the renewal of its liquor license. For a bar that opened just last spring, this storefront tavern with everything from mannequins to nautical pewter plates for decor has the feel of a neighborhood joint that could have been around when I lived two doors down. The wry beer list features everything from Flat 12 porters served in canning jars to Falls City, the Louis-ville original, on draft.
A nicely edited menu includes a smoked-pork salad and the self-proclaimed “Indy’s Worst Pork Tenderloin.” The real showstoppers here are the stuffed cheeseburgers, which take 30 minutes to cook, owing to their two-thirds pound of beef and generous fillings. Though the menu promised it would “explode in your mouth,” we took the chance with a “Blew Damon” (and refused complimentary bibs). What arrived was actually a big, juicy, and not-over-the-top burger with just the right amount of bleu cheese and bacon on a toasted bun, less a pub gimmick and more something you might find in fancier digs.
We caught a much-needed breather on the walk up to Twenty Tap north of 54th Street, a collaboration between Broad Ripple Brewpub brewer Kevin Matalucci and his wife, Tracy. The newest of the neighborhood’s pubs, this bright and friendly watering hole has already drawn a loyal following since it opened in August. An abundance of hard surfaces, especially banks of wood-paneled booths in the dining room, mean the place can get pretty loud on weekends. True to its name, at least 20 regional beers are offered, everything from Indy’s Sun King to New Albanian from southeastern Indiana to Two Brothers from Warrenville, Illinois.
Former Pizzology pizzaiolo Rob Coates has put together a wisely simple menu of burgers, salads, and sandwiches. Pickled beets and cheese curds with aioli make for especially intriguing bar fodder. The wee kitchen was experiencing some challenges when we stopped in (the fryer, for one, was busted). Fortunately, a couple of us had already been in to try a salty-sweet grilled chicken sandwich with provolone and fig jam, as well as the meaty, pink-in-the-middle Italian burger with rich fried sopressata, gooey mozzarella, and roasted-garlic aioli. Had so many hearty, updated dishes and custom beers been available back when I lived there, I would have appreciated my little slice of SoBro a whole lot more. Thankfully, I can always visit.
Upland Brewing Co. Tasting Room
4842 N. College Ave., 602-3931, uplandbeer.com
Hours Sun.–Thurs. 4–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. noon–midnight
The Sinking Ship
4923 N. College Ave., 920-7999, thesinkingship.com
Hours Mon.–Sat. 1 p.m.–3 a.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.–3 a.m
5408 N. College Ave., 602-8840
Hours Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m
Photographs by Tony Valainis.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.