If you plotted all of the places most likely to see a run on bacon-infused vodka, the scruffy corner of 10th Street and Temple Avenue probably wouldn’t even make the map. And yet, here amidst the scratch-and-dent appliance stores of Indy’s near-east side, a reborn Tick Tock Lounge—considerably less dubious than it was during its pool-hall days—has set out its daily-specials chalkboard, lit up the Stella Artois sign, and staked out its territory in designer cocktails.
Diner-style, batter-dipped tenderloins and lacy-edged burgers headline a revamped menu of slightly elevated tavern standards—most entrees plated with a token curl of leaf lettuce and a slice of fruit for color and a few molecules of nutrition. An addictive smoked tilapia dip as rich and creamy as a cheeseball comes with a handful of packaged club crackers for scooping, though the wise diner orders a side of sturdy housemade potato chips to do the job. Onion rings and chicken fingers are encased in the most shatteringly crisp batter, and straightforward marble-rye patty melts and Reubens are held together with toothpicks while, on an ambitious note, nightly specials have ranged from prime rib au jus to chicken cordon bleu. But the star of the show at Tick Tock—the item that has clogged Instagram feeds since the 60-plus–year–old brick-fronted bar reopened in April—is none other than its Bloody Mary. Nowhere else will you hear a server inform you that “Your Bloody Mary is coming out soon. We’re just waiting on the tater tots.”
Do I need to tell you that it is well worth that wait? Tick Tock’s version of the tomato-juice cocktail begins with house-infused jalapeño and bacon vodkas pulled from decorative glass steeping jugs behind the bar. The base is chunky and garden-sweet, goosed with black pepper and little heat pockets of horseradish and poured into a pint glass that serves as a decorative vase for a bouquet of garnishes: cubes of cheddar skewered with pepperoni and jumbo pimiento-stuffed olives; a slice of chewy bacon; a conga line of hot-from-the-fryer tots. Just don’t judge the drink by its seemingly desperate attempt to be the life of the party. The combination of flavors is both potent and pala-table, the presentation more than just a gimmick. Co-owner Tammy Bellamy-Jones (who, along with longtime business partner Wanda Goodpaster, purchased the bar in September 2011) says the Bloody Mary was her son’s (manager Derrick Judkins) idea: “I told him, ‘This is never going to work, Dear.’ But it’s been a hit.”
The bar hummed with Cream Ale–sipping hipsters, those coal-mine canaries of emerging commercial pockets.
Bellamy-Jones, who co-owned her first bar, Vern’s Place on East Washington Street, at age 25 and has kept a tab going in the old-school hospitality business for 20 years, has a special kind of telepathy for running respectable dives. Her family owned the endearingly slope-floored Evalee’s Diner, keeping downtown office workers in beef Manhattan and peach cobbler for 23 years. She helmed a Beech Grove watering hole, The Grove, for a decade before opening downtown’s karaoke-themed hangout, The Living Room, and then taking on Southeastern Avenue saloon The Road Dog (which she still owns). When one of her elderly patrons at the Dog mentioned that she was selling a little rundown bar on East 10th Street called the Tick Tock, Bellamy-Jones—a graduate of Arsenal Tech High School—had another business venture in her crosshairs.
Getting in at the mid-level of a neighborhood caught in the upswing of gentrification has its benefits. The residents of Cottage Home, Little Flower, and Irvington—the same clientele that loads up at Pogue’s Run Co-op and takes Zumba at the Legacy Center—quickly made Tick Tock their favorite watering hole. On a recent Thursday night—its parking lot maxed out with shiny crossover SUVs, a Trek road bike U-locked to a street sign out front—the bar hummed with Cream Ale–sipping hipsters, those coal-mine canaries of emerging commercial pockets, and preppy eastside homesteaders talking into their smartphones: “We’re at the Tick Tock. Come meet us.”
But you can only clean up a tavern so much before you start stripping off its patina of authenticity. Tick Tock is wise enough to keep its past just a couple of whiskey shots away.
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue.