Drive east on 10th Street out of downtown, and you'll be greeted by a panorama of colorful storefronts and taverns with cheery names that belie their darkened windows and gritty interiors. These time-honored watering holes make for good hipster fodder when slumming on neighborhood pub crawls, but you might not return without 20 of your friends to stack the deck. Had you stopped in at the Tick Tock Lounge (2602 E. 10th St., 317-631-4182) just a few years ago, you might have done well to get a Bud Light on draught and a cheeseburger cooked up on an electric skillet in the back. But the experience might have left you wanting for decor—and a good dry cleaner to eradicate the smell of smoke from your clothes. Now, after two years of standing vacant, the Tick Tock has been given a facelift by longtime Indianapolis bar owners Wanda Goodpaster and Tammy Jones, who have added a clever pub menu, local brews, and a surprising selection of house-infused vodkas, including pepper, coffee, pineapple, and even a bacon version. Having heard the buzz about the over-the-top garnishes on the Bloody Marys and the mammoth tenderloins, we stopped in to experience the many ways this east-side institution had changed.
The place is definitely brighter and cheerier, with a long and spacious bar with a chunky wooden counter, and details such as a grandfather clock and a space-age jukebox you can access from your iPhone. Our waitress recommended that Bloody Mary, so we ordered a couple for the table, along with a vodka tonic featuring a tart, refreshing house berry vodka. So overloaded with skewers of snack items is the Bloody Mary, that our waitress brought it out with a plate and extra napkins. A quite spicy, well-mixed Mary comes topped with two full slices of bacon; a skewer of pepperoni slices, oversized pimento-stuffed green olives, and cheese cubes; and another skewer of perfectly crisp tater tots (which unfortunately you can only get on the Bloody Mary).
The menu features a short selection of sandwiches, entrees such as seared tuna, dinner salads, nachos, and starters. Again, on our waitress's suggestion, we ordered the tenderloin and the Reuben, though we were tempted by the pot roast sandwich on special. The Reuben placed the typical fillings of corned beef, kraut, Swiss, and Thousand Island dressing inside thick-cut marble rye that was a little less crisp and toasty as we might have liked it. But fries and slaw were perfectly fine accompaniments. The tenderloin is a massive hunk of pork that, rather than extending well beyond the bun, more than makes up for it in volume. Rather than the typical breadcrumb or cracker coating, the Tick Tock's tenderloin has more of a batter, which was strangely similar to the coating on the fish and chips. And while that coating is crisp and golden on the outside, it's a little gooey inside, and bracingly rich, while the pork itself could use slightly more aggressive seasoning. Onion rings, however, took to that same batter beautifully, though we vowed we'd go on a juice fast the next day just to make up for all the deep-fryer calories we consumed in one seating. A cheery clientele and friendly staff make the Tick Tock much more than an ironic stop on a pub crawl. You'll definitely want to tick off more than a few minutes off the clock the next time you stop in.