Street Savvy: Columbus

This newly minted Indiana Cultural District builds on its reputation for cool design.

A civic building since the 1970s, The Commons weathered an emotional taxpayer remonstrance before its 2011 overhaul. Known as Columbus’s “living room,” the building now houses a wickedly cool(and free) indoor playground. Junior will get an early introduction to contemporary design by navigating the 40-foot-tall Luckey Climber, a series of curved wooden platforms created by a Yale-educated architect. Toddlers who get hooked can take heart—the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis will unveil a Luckey Climber next month. 300 Washington St., 812-376-2681,

At the KidsCommons museum, visitors can encase themselves in a giant bubble, “flush” themselves down a toilet slide, and play a harp with strings made of lasers. The facility is tiny compared to Indy’s Children’s Museum, but kids will be too busy climbing the rock wall to notice. 309 Washington St., 812-378-3046,

Owner Anthony Moravec considered every detail when restoring Zaharakos, an ice-cream parlor opened in 1900 and still known for its striking Green River sodas. The Tiffany-style lamps and tin ceilings are back, as are the 1908 Welte orchestrion and the old-school paper straws. The museum section has one of the world’s largest collections of marble soda fountains. 329 Washington St., 812-378-1900,

Columbus’s answer to Goose the Market is Savory Swine, a new full-service butcher shop that has quickly become a neighborhood hangout. Try a charcuterie platter or a deli sandwich, such as owner Lisa Abendroth’s signature tri-tip on ciabatta with salsa. 410 Washington St., 812-657-7752,

At Tre Bicchieri, the DeClue family takes “going local” one step further than the norm by growing the Italian restaurant’s herbs and vegetables on its family farm. “We just continue every year to be a little more self-sufficient,” says general manager Ike DeClue. Start with fresh-baked bread and end with the well-regarded tiramisu. 425 Washington St., 812-372-1962,

Columbus Area Visitors CenterTour
At the Columbus Area Visitors Center, the gift shop—recently doubled in size—carries certified Indiana Artisan handicrafts and a wide selection of books on (what else?) architecture. Guided tours of the town’s famous midcentury landmarks, including the Miller House and Garden and several churches designed by Eero Saarinen, start here. Arrive good and early to shop first. 506 5th St., 812-378-2622,

How does great architecture inspire other creative disciplines? Ask students at the Indiana University Center for Art + Design Columbus, which opened in 2011 as a living laboratory for interior design, fashion design, and graphic design. Check the calendar for exhibitions and wide-ranging lectures. 310 Jackson St., 812-375-7584,

A minimalist five-by-five grid of 25 limestone pillars, each 40 feet high, marks the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial. Walk among them, and the columns feel like an abstraction of city skyscrapers, writ small. Passages from letters written by soldiers are etched into the stone. Courthouse square, 234 Washington St.

Word on the Street

“People hang around downtown now. It’s what you’d expect of a place like Mass Ave or Broad Ripple.” —Karen Shrode, executive director, Columbus Area Arts Council

Photos by Katelyn Perry

This article appeared in the August 2013 issue.