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RANKING KEY: on a scale of 1–5, 5 being the highest
F—Overall food quality, including flavor and varietyB—Bottle selection and variety of beers on tapT—TVs, quality, quantity, and placementS—The service team, ranked by speed and friendlinessV—The vibe—overall spirit and gametime readiness
F: 5 B: 5 T: 5 S: 5 V: 5
This 30-year-old icon across the street from the mall bustle of Castleton serves a lively crowd of first- and even second-generation regulars. “The establishment and I go back a long way,” says fan Mike Botkin—whose day job is directing production at this magazine. “It’s where I witnessed Bob Knight’s chair toss in 1985, among other great games since.” This place perfectly fuses gadgets with an intimate Indiana sensibility. Fans get hooked on favorites like deep-dish “Honest” pizza and “Herman style” wings that are first fried, then grilled—a preparation that creates a crispy exterior and a juicy interior. To wash it down, the receptive waitstaff offer game-watchers more than 100 domestic and import beers. 8617 Allisonville Rd., 317-842-1333.
F: 3 B: 2 T: 3 S: 4 V: 5
As its name suggests, this quirky retreat is a laidback alternative to the fancy new breed of high-tech sports bars that sometimes lack soul. Adorned with a collection of Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers and framed photos of local parochial-school ball teams and other random ephemera, the man-cave flair is just a part of the charm here. Twenty-four TVs and bottles of Miller High Life supply the rest. While waiting for grilled and spicy habanero wings, look around to see if local racecar heroes like Helio Castroneves and Jimmy Vasser are among the crowd. 814 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-253-5844.
F: 3 B: 4 T: 4 S: 4 V: 3
This brewhouse on the south side provides sports fans living below I-465 a chance to appreciate the camaraderie of a Colts or IU game without having to jockey for parking. With a matrix of six 40-inch zero-edge screens front-and-center, this Indiana outpost of a California-based chain offers the ultimate viewing atmosphere. The family-friendly dining room allows younger sports fans the chance to tag along and enjoy fresh and foamy handcrafted draft sodas (made onsite), while the 21-and-up crowd choose from 30 or so draft beers, including eight proprietary brews—with German, Belgian, Irish, Russian, and American styles offered, along with seasonal specials. Most sports-viewers can’t resist the Angus burgers. Knife-and-fork sandwiches, deep-dish pizza, and hearty salads round out the menu. 1251 U.S. 31 N., Greenwood, 317-881-3500.
F: 4 B: 3 T: 4 S: 5 V: 5
This northside haven for Colts fans makes no secret about its allegiances. Before you even enter the bar, a blue 1970 Mac firetruck greets you at the curb, and the color scheme continues inside. With a horseshoe-shaped bar, a huge HD screen framed by a goalpost, and a collection of autographed photos from past Super Bowl champs, it’s the next best thing to being within the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. Since opening in 2006, owner Randy Collins and his wife, Cyndi, can be found behind the bar starting chants and flipping on the firetruck sirens and blue lights after a big play. Regulars go for the breaded pork tenderloin and an ice-cold Bud Light. 7035 E. 96th St., 317-841-3901.
F: 2 B: 3 T: 4 S: 4 V: 4
Young Butler and IU loyals make up the bulk of the clientele at this Wisconsin-based chain’s Broad Ripple outpost. The spacious smoke-free bar and plethora of TVs make up for the overly greasy Gator Balls, a bacon- wrapped chicken concoction stuffed with pepper-jack cheese and jalapeños and then fried. The beer selection is somewhat limited, and weekends are young and rowdy, but there’s no denying the popularity of this corner outpost on the village’s main drag. “Any environment where you are high-fiving and hugging complete strangers at the end of a game makes for a great sports-viewing experience,” notes one regular. 910 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-252-5530.
F: 3 B: 3 T: 4 S: 4 V: 4
This game-day mainstay prides itself on wings above all else. Offering traditional or boneless varieties, B-dubs drenches them in your choice of 16 sauces ranging from the mild-mannered Sweet BBQ to a Blazin’ variety so incendiary they’re hard to eat. The spacious Broad Ripple and downtown locations pack fans in for IU games, and members of the Butler basketball team have been known to stop by their spot on occasion. Busy bartenders dole out a fine slate of 30 or so draft beers to a 21-and-up crowd in the bar area one room over. Multiple locations.
F: 3 B: 3 T: 4 S: 5 V: 3
The gleaming main-level bar has the kind of corporate polish that makes it just as appropriate for a suited-up business lunch as a stolen midday playoffs fix. Its large open dining room, chock-full of sports memorabilia, is smartly arranged with deep booths perfect for lingering away an hour or two. Sliders, beer-battered onion rings, and Buffalo Fire Wings are the bar snacks of choice here. The beer selection has a respectable mix of imports and domestics, including 12 beers on tap. Servers are enthusiastic and helpful—and know not to stand in the sightlines of any of the 28 new high-def TVs. In fact, you are more likely to hear the staff cheering between water-glass refreshing. 350 W. Maryland St., 317-405-6111.
F: 3 B: 4 T: 3 S: 4 V: 4
No matter your team allegiance, there’s a good chance you’ll feel welcome here. A scan of this wide-open space reveals the bar’s egalitarian approach to courting Indy’s sports fans: Banners trumpet the Colts, the Cubs, Notre Dame, the Reds, and the Boilermakers. The formidable bevy of nine burgers includes a Kobe beef version as well as a highly regarded Carolina burger drenched in bourbon barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, coleslaw, and crispy onion strings. As northside regulars begin to slip into a food coma around halftime, they rest it off on a couch near the back, watching first-half highlights on a flat screen just above. 8711 N. River Crossing; 317-574-0333; 49 W. Maryland St., 317-951-0033.
F: 4 B: 5 T: 5 S: 4 V: 4
This 14-year-old establishment was recently remodeled, and the new surround-sound system (composed of 17 high-output speakers, two subwoofers, and a 2,000-watt amplifier) makes the bar one of the best places in the city to watch multiple games. Twenty-something IU and Butler sports nuts arrive two hours early to find where their team will be on the big screen (logos are previewed on the 26 smaller flat-screens). The rounded banquette tables are the best place to sip the 50 drafts on tap and the 100 bottles from enormous schooners and nosh on a juicy mac ’n’ cheese burger, large enough to satisfy. We’ll have another round. 838 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-466-1555.
F: 3 B: 3 T: 5 S: 3 V: 3
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than this Zionsville tavern to watch the big game. With 25 flat-screen televisions and three 150-inch projection screens in a smallish but open space, it’s nearly impossible to have a bad sightline for any play. To ward off hunger, order the French dip sandwich—tender roast beef with a heaping portion of beer-battered deep-fried dill pickles. The range of burgers includes the highly regarded Devastator—a gigantic 10-inch-tall burger with the ingredients of three burgers: the Big Black and Blue Burger, the Ranch Bacon Burger, and the South West burger. Wash it down with a Bud or Bud Light. 6537 E. State Rd. 334, Zionsville, 317-769-5150.
F: 4 B: 4 T: 4 S: 4 V: 3
With nearly three dozen strategically placed televisions and a five-channel sound system, both locations of this Indy classic have the potential to get raucous during big sporting events. Large and small groups convene often; expect to see plenty of high-fives during Colts, Bears, and Huskers games. With its wood-paneled walls and dimly lit spaces, this bar has the feel of a neighborhood English pub, making it a cozy retreat to fight the winter chill. The tasty menu includes pulled-pork sliders and Newcastle Brown Ale–battered chicken tenders, paired with a side of crunchy thin-sliced onion rings. Eat batter, batter! 4901 E. 82nd St., 317-913-1264; 14490 Lowes Way, Carmel, 317-844-0075.
F: 4 B: 4 T: 3 S: 3 V: 4
Batting lead-off on the Mass Ave strip is The Front Page, a haven for fans of all stripes. IU and Purdue games pack in the fans, but general manager Ben Knapp notes that the bar also has sizable contingents of Chicago and Cincinnati enthusiasts who come out. “Cubs fans in the summer, Colts fans in the fall, and Pacers in the winter,” says Knapp. Check out the colossal shrimp cocktail appetizer, huge pieces with a deceptively tangy sauce, and the Lombardi burger. It’s a big one. 310 Massachusetts Ave., 317-631-6682.
F: 5 B: 5 T: 5 S: 4 V: 4
Don’t let the granite bar top and leather accents fool you. Though this family-operated spot doesn’t look like your average sports bar, its 106-inch projector, nine flat-screen TVs, and tasty bar menu make it a game-day draw for football and basketball fans alike. During big Butler, Notre Dame, and NFL championship games, it’s standing room only, and you may find owner Jim George high-fiving regulars and serving up blue Jell-O shots to anxious Colts fans. Try a pint of Bell’s Two Hearted, a basket of crispy onion straws—served with horseradish–sour cream sauce—and a hand-cut breaded tenderloin, with pork from Kincaid’s. 6935 Lake Plaza Dr., 317-577-1600.
If you’re looking for that place to see the big game—or be seen after the big game, look no further than High Velocity (“HV”) inside the exquisite JW Marriott hotel. HV boasts a self-described “media wall” of TVs and a sports ticker as well as the Skybox, a private room with modern couches, high-top tables, and a state-of-the-art sound system backing up its 85-inch 3-D screen and additional TVs. Sixteen beers are on draft, and 24 more come by the bottle. Nibbles include the huge half-order of ribs and the tasty trademark burger, with applewood-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese on a toasted brioche bun. When it comes to wings, the house Fire version as well as its Asian spin (topped with sesame seeds and coupled with a ginger dipping sauce) take all comers. 10 S. West St., 317-860-6500.
F: 5 B: 5 T: 5 S: 3 V: 4
This downtown smoke-free sports bar provides a blue-and-white haven for fans who couldn’t score a ticket; during home games, the place pipes in sound from Lucas Oil. Featuring classy “gender neutral” decor, the bar is decked in horseshoes and team memorabilia, and runs most sports satellite subscriptions on more than 60 TVs. The best part? This bar is strategically designed so fans can easily keep an eye on a different game from every seat in the house. The bar fare here is some of the best in the city—you’ll never again eat spinach-and- artichoke dip anywhere else—and the variety is unparalleled. The beer menu has an extensive list of local brews, including Sun King’s Wee Mac and Osiris. 110 W. Washington St., 317-631-2007.
F: 4 B: 4 T: 4 S: 4 V: 5
The back patio is a hit in warmer weather, hosting IU alums of all ages, but in the colder months, it fills up with NFL and college-basketball fans. Arrive an hour before a big game to get a seat, and come hungry, because the portions are big—The Big Crean burger has four slices of bacon, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, cheese, BBQ sauce, and one massive, thick-cut onion ring precariously balanced on two juicy patties. Not that hungry? The cheesy stuffed breadsticks or a spicy dozen of wings will keep you satisfied. 201 S. Meridian St., 317-638-9464.
F: 3 B: 3 T: 5 S: 5 V: 5
It began life as The Bulldog, and this SoBro bar still caters to the Butler faithful. But over the past two decades, it has become one of the best places in the city to watch professional sports—with subscriptions to the full NFL, NBA, and MLB satellite packages. The burgers and wings here are solid, although you’d do better to arrive early for breakfast, served until 1 p.m. on weekends. Not only will you have access to the rich biscuits and gravy, but you’ll have a much better shot at a table. This place fills up fast with college kids and Meridian-Kessler denizens. 5380 N. College Ave., 317-255-6376.
F: 5 B: 3 T: 4 S: 4 V: 5
Belly up to the granite bar at this 10-year northside fixture and find a stool in front of a bay of 50-inch sets to watch the big game—you won’t be disappointed. Though any fan of professional or college football and basketball would feel at home here, it’s a haven for hockey fans: The owners have a subscription to NHL Center Ice, which features up to 40 games a week. The huge and fresh wings come with your choice of sauce. We like ours slathered in Wild Bangkok Peanut sauce, capable of inducing serious head sweat. 4825 E. 96th St., 317-575-6364.
F: 2 B: 3 T: 3 S: 2 V: 4
You would be mistaken if you assumed that The Pub was the official bar of the Indiana Pacers. But you could hardly be blamed for doing so. Located directly across the street from the main entrance of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the cozy watering hole has been drawing fans of the blue-and-gold for about as long as the arena has. Even the unimaginative name seems to suggest that it is somehow just an extension of the venue—“The Pub at Bankers Life,” or some such thing. The party peaks just before tipoff, as ticketholders get lubed on game-day specials, and again immediately after the final buzzer, when they flood back in for a nightcap. But the homey atmosphere and strategically located TVs make it a fine place to stick around and watch the game, too. 30 E. Georgia St., 317-822-9730.
F: 3 B: 4 T: 5 S: 4 V: 4
Thanks to its Hoosier college-town beginnings, this brewhouse favorite attracts younger crowds of students and recent alumni from the likes of Purdue, Ball State, and IU, and it is a great place to watch just about any sport. Some 30-plus high-def TVs scattered throughout and 13-inch personal LCD sets stationed in every booth offer prime viewing possibilities no matter where you sit. Hungry fans are spoiled for choice, where the massive “Scotty’s Illustrated” magazine-style menu offers favorites like dill chips—beer-battered pickle slices with a horseradish sauce—and 7 Tidals buffalo chicken dip, with bleu, cheddar, and cream cheeses. Wash it all down with your pick from 32 draft brews, like Bell’s and Sun King. Be prepared: Regulars come very early to stake out a territory—fans have been known to hold down tables from opening to well into the evening. 1 Virginia Ave., 317-571-0808; 3905 E. 96th St., 317-574-0101.
Additional reporting by Daniel S. Comiskey, Amy Lynch, Megan Rohrer, Jonathan Scott, Julia Spalding, Evan West & Adam Wren
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.