The New Downtown: College Avenue
This article is part of Indianapolis Monthly’s The New Downtown package, which includes a guide to five hotspots, a few big city problems, and a look at what’s next for the city. For more content on navigating the new downtown, click here.
In the Cultural Trail’s early days, planners talked up a detour behind a few Mass Ave pubs as a “little pocket of Europe.” Just after the Park Avenue stoplight, the trail curls right then left, over a buried device that releases a perfume of English roses, into a quiet canyon of old brick buildings, past restaurant patios, and onto College. Enchanté, indeed.
That hidden-in-plain-sight allure now extends to a trail-adjacent triangle formed by Mass Ave, College Avenue, and New York Street, plus a few adjoining blocks. For years, commuters sped through this area via College, not giving a second thought to the patchwork of warehouses and boarded-up buildings just outside historic Lockerbie. Developers did, though, realizing that Mass Ave didn’t actually offer many places to live. Under-the-radar townhomes and rentals quietly cropped up, then boom—Sun King’s tap room gave us a reason to stop, Circa apartments made a bombastic arrival onto College with its brick-and-bright-yellow facade (plus a makerspace and other scruffy-cool amenities straight out of Portlandia), and the offshooting 800 block of Mass Ave (the end where R Bistro once sat all by its lonesome) came alive. Lately, buzzworthy restaurants and bars keep luring us away from Mass Ave’s eaten path. With several in-the-works projects bound to increase the busy street’s intimacy, College Avenue is close to graduating with honors.
Who’s Moving In?
Car-Free Millennials – On an entry-level salary, it’s hard for one person to afford downtown’s standard $1,100 per month for a new one-bedroom apartment (plus extra for parking). But how can Millennials resist? To swing a pad at Circa or the forthcoming 747 College apartments at St. Clair Street, some must sacrifice a car and rely on Pacers Bikeshare, Uber, and BlueIndy.
Just Passing Through
The microbrews are fine, and the ambitious menu surpasses pub-grub standards, but what crowds love most about St. Joseph Brewery (540 N. College Ave.) is the literally glorious setting: a renovated Catholic church.
Tucked away in an industrial strip, Cirque Indy (617 N. Fulton St.) offers classes in aerial silks, which feel more like a novel and challenging upper-body workout than real acrobat training. Into it? There’s also a static-trapeze session.
The 100-seat IndyFringe Basile Theater (719 E. St. Clair St.) always stages something inspired (and often experimental) during First Fridays. And the free Jabberwocky storytelling sessions (March 8) feel like indie Ted Talks.
Eat – Your Instagram feed must be flooded with the hydroponic herb wall at just-opened Vida (601 E. New York St.), a fine-dining foray from Indy’s Cunningham Restaurant Group (Mesh, Bru, Union 50).
Drink – The regulars at Lockerbie Pub (631 E. Michigan St.) leave their coolness at the door, making the dive a pleasantly unpretentious place for a game of pool.
Live – Boxy and modern Lockerbie Lofts (640 E. Michigan St.) opens this spring with 215 apartments (studio, $990) and the latest urban amenity: a dog-wash room.
A discussed remake of this Art Deco jewel and the surrounding IPS bus lot could resurrect a dead block of College with 10,000 square feet of street-level retail. Wheels are turning, but adaptive reuse of a historic property takes a very … long … time.