10 Things You Never Knew About the Indianapolis Gondolas

The owner was in your favorite movie from 1986!
Indianapolis may be thousands of miles away from Venice, but mentally teleporting there isn’t such a stretch while watching those men in stripes balancing and singing on the tip of a gondola, rowing folks along downtown’s canal. So just who are these guys? We caught up with Jeff Hutson Favorito, the owner of Old World Gondoliers, now in its 12th summer season, to spout off 10 things you may have wondered, but never asked, about Indy’s most unusual job.

1. Gondoliering isn’t easy. Fully loaded, each boat tips the scales at about 2,000 pounds. “It’s very strenuous and requires a lot of core strength,” Hutson Favorito says. “I sleep well at night.”

2. They get gondolier-fit. Their preseason routine involves lots of stamina-building cardio, coupled with fierce rowing a few weeks before opening for business.

3. Can’t sing in Italian? Can’t join the team. To become an Old World Gondolier, singing—very well—in Italian and English is a must. Most gondoliers are professional singers who have offseason gigs on cruise ships or in other productions.

4. Speaking of singing … Hutson Favorito, an Indy native, crooned in Europe as a child performer and was cast as the lead singer for the Las Vegas shows Enter the Night and Chippendales.

5. Rolling Stone once photographed the owner. Among Hutson Favorito’s proudest accomplishments: Decades ago, while living in Los Angeles in his 20s as an actor, he was selected among hundreds to pose in the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue as the artist Prince, for a “Looks that Shook the World” feature, shot by famed photographer Matthew Rolston. “I look nothing like Prince,” he says, crediting the costume and makeup departments for the transformation.

6. You can spot him in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Hutson Favorito appeared in one of the classroom scenes with Ben Stein. “They added acne and glycerin to my face to make me look more greasy” and to up his teen quotient, he says. Hutson Favorito says he’s been invited to attend an outdoor screening of the film at the Indianapolis Museum of Art August 28, which happens to be the 30th anniversary of the date Ferris played hooky in the movie.

7. Apprenticeships are available. Most years, Hutson Favorito selects a pair of promising rookies to train for two years. Would-be gondoliers must audition their Italian-singing skills, as well as complete a strength-and-endurance test. Each of his six gondoliers did apprenticeships before permanently coming aboard, as did Hutson Favorito himself more than 25 years ago in Venice under the tutelage of a professional gondolier.

8. The boats are authentic. Handmade by one of the few remaining Venetian gondola builders, the gondolas Hutson Favorito buys must be ordered three years in advance before construction can even begin—itself an eight-month process. He says each boat runs around $150,000. “It’s typically four years before you see a return on your investment in a gondola,” he says. “You really have to have a passion for this.”

9. And they are high-maintenance. Each gondola’s oar is attached to an ornate Venetian rowlock called a fórcola. To keep the wood petrified and splinter-free, each must be wiped down weekly with a diesel-soaked rag.

10. Gondolas are proposal-magnets. “We are the No. 1 proposal destination in the Midwest,” Hutson Favorito claims. On average, he says, approximately two marriage proposals take place on the boats daily. Among the most elaborate proposals he can recall: A man attached a message in a bottle to a remote-control boat, which he steered to the gondola for his beloved to read.