28 Indy Hometown Favorites
They’re what we brag to visitors about. They’re what we love coming home to. Together, they make up our civic DNA. These gems, friends, are what make Indianapolis great.
Who says there’s nothing but corn in Indiana? Self-hating Hoosiers and those who have never stepped foot in the 19th state. For homers and tourists alike, we’ve assembled a list of events and eateries found in the Circle City—occasional corn permitted.
The State Fair
Two big changes mark this year’s Indiana State Fair: For the first time since 1947, fairgoers can imbibe beer and wine, and after a 18-month renovation, the Coliseum has a spiffy, more modern interior. All well and good. But it’s those things that don’t change year after year that keep us looking forward to August. The menu of deep-fried everything. The sweet ears of corn coated in buttery goodness that drips down your arm. The fuzzy chicks, adorable calves, and the litter of piglets snuggled into each other. The Midway rides that cause vertigo just by watching their crazy loops and spins. With the fair, we know exactly what we’re going to get. And as we browse the lovingly crafted 4-H projects with lemon shakeup in hand, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Peyton ate Patachou, Brad Stevens ate Patachou—we all eat Patachou (and Napolese, and Gelo, and Petite Chou). Yes, there are chefs and restaurateurs who challenge us more than Martha Hoover, and who consider it a calling to widen Indy’s epicurean borders. But no one feeds us ’round the clock as well as she does, and we should put down our chicken-salad croissants long enough to be thankful that Hoover has continued to expand her empire (which now includes a foundation addressing local hunger relief) at home instead of focusing on other markets.
Earlier this year, Indianapolis nabbed the No. 1 spot in a USA Today poll that asked: What’s the best city to hold a convention in? Now, being a great place for meetings may not seem like the sexiest of accolades. But there are perks to being Convention City, USA. Those squads of cheerleaders and flocks of navy-jacketed Future Farmers of America bring serious business to our city—in the next 10 years, some 5 million people will come to Indianapolis for an event. Plus, the publicity it buys us is priceless, since, in our experience, people who actually visit Indy tend to like Indy—and tell others about Indy. And sometimes the meetings are pretty cool cough*Super Bowl XLVI*cough. Just think of that the next time you’re queuing up behind Anakin Skywalker and other Gen Conners for your morning bagel.
The Greatest Spectacle in Hooky unfolds the Friday before every Indianapolis 500, when tens of thousands of folks who have skipped out on work or school to get to this concert rock out en masse. Not a race fan? Come for the headliner and to be part of the we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this party—the best kind of all.
Circle City Classic
This annual weekend celebration of historically black colleges and universities brings serious flair to downtown’s streets. The high-stepping marching bands at the parade are a highlight of Classic weekend, which also includes a pep rally, celeb visits, a battle of the bands—and, oh yeah, a big football game.
Every 1980s prom date worth its matching corsage and cummerbund rode the glass elevator to the top of the Hyatt Regency for dinner in the downtown hotel’s revolving rooftop restaurant. The white tablecloths, the mauve-on-burgundy color scheme, the pinkies-out menu of sauced meats and a la mode desserts—everything about the place screamed “special occasion.” But as the years passed and Indy’s dining scene evolved, the place became less special, and the decor grew as stale as a basket of day-old Parker Rolls. Until, in 2012, the high-rise hotel underwent a $20 million renovation that transformed the dining room into a champagne-hued space worthy of the spectacular 360-degree view of the city skyline—and possibly even a P. Diddy video. The buttery upholstery glistens with the sheen of silk, with white leather chairs curved around thimble-table conversation pits, and pillow-tossed sofas available for deep lounging. Even the view has been upgraded. Don’t forget to look up from your rack of elk and fresh fig salad when your window vista opens onto an overhead of Lucas Oil Stadium. You might have … the time of your life.
Victory Field’s Outfield
It’s the nether regions of this picturesque ballpark, often named one of the prettiest in the U.S., that we love best. That’s where you can spread out a blanket, unpack your cooler, and picnic on peanuts, Cracker Jacks, or whatever your heart desires. Best enjoyed on Fridays at dusk, when fireworks cap off the night, or any weekday afternoon you’ve managed to sneak away from work.
The Circle of Lights
… Or, what used to be dubbed the “world’s largest Christmas tree.” Frankly, we’re glad all that silliness stopped—we’re all for civic pride, but calling a bunch of bulbs strung from a stone monument a “tree” seemed like a reach. Besides, the holiday tradition is impressive enough as it is: 52 strands of 4,784 colored lights stretching down from the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, circled by larger-than-life toy soldiers and candy canes. The flip of the switch to light them up means that in Indianapolis, the holiday season is officially on.
Nearly 55,000 of us wend our way along the trail each month, whether we’re out for a leisurely bike ride, walking our dogs, or getting in some serious cardio. An IM poll last year found that 62 percent of the folks there at any given time are working out; the rest of us may be joyriding on cute cruisers or noshing on trailside treats, like chocolate-pretzel ice cream from Brics or fusion tacos from La Chinita Poblana. Whatever the draw, it’s clear: We’re simp
As sure a sign of spring as the first robin, the Broad Ripple Brewpub patio-dwellers emerge in April and while away the warm months with an IPA in hand, their gaze on the Monon Trail across the parking lot. Runners, rollerbladers, and dog-walkers make ideal scenery for those with no interest in such exhausting pursuits. The patio crowd contents itself to watch. These days, you can wait an hour for a four-top on a sunny day—this, in an area with dozens of other places to grab a beer. What clearer proof that the ritual has become something we are, not just something we do?
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Huge. Outsized. Ginormous. Just pick up the thesaurus, flip to the word “big,” mentally double that, and you have an idea of the size of the so-called large beer sold at the Rathskeller Biergarten. The cup is so voluminous that it’s a common prop in Facebook photos, hoisted high proudly by whoever’s about to drink it all. Or go down trying.
Red Key Tavern
The founder of this SoBro landmark may have gone to that great watering hole in the sky a few years ago, but Russ Settle’s rules still apply: No cursing. No standing. No leaning back in your chair. Cash only. Hang your coat up, son. And the commandments aren’t the only old-school touch here. A yellowing jukebox hisses Patsy Cline, Settle’s dusty model World War II planes dangle from the ceiling, and the furniture hasn’t been updated since a young Dan Wakefield regularly occupied one of the bar stools in the ’50s. Here’s hoping nothing changes. The Red Key appeals to generation after generation because it has what the ever-multiplying Irish-themed pubs and corporate bars of the city strive so hard to recreate: authenticity. You’re as likely to see politicians brokering deals in the back corner as you are to mingle with the local hipsters. So, a toast to Indy’s oldest neighborhood tavern! (Just watch your language and remain seated.)
Running—no, finishing—the Mini.
To say that it’s heavy on the horseradish does not do justice to Indy’s most written-up, televised, talked-about food. We all know—the stuff is intense. But after 112 years, and now that you can buy it by the bottle at Costco for crying out loud, is St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail still the star of the city’s culinary scene? Maybe it’s time to pass that torch to something more, well, nuanced. Something that doesn’t taste like, in the words of the Travel Channel’s Alison Stein Wellner, “what electrocution must feel like.” Then you take that cool, tomatoey first bite. You have a moment to savor the plump, perfectly chilled shrimp. You start to think maybe there’s not as much horseradish as you remember—and then YEOW, DO YOU REMEMBER, GOOD GOD, MAKE IT STOP.
Water. Water. Breathe. More water.
Now, what was that fool talk about this not being the best dish in town?
Indy’s star has blazed brightly over the last year as we’ve racked up national and international accolades; to name just one, we ended up on The New York Times list of “52 Places to Go in 2014.” We can thank the Cultural Trail for a lot of that. City planners from Paris to Portland have descended upon Indy to see how we crafted this eight-mile path for bikers and walkers—and have clearly gone home impressed with the results. “The fact that it is unique in the world has allowed it to stand out as few projects ever have,” says Jeff Robinson, director of marketing at Visit Indy. “With a movement afoot to make urban centers across the world more bike-friendly, the timing was perfect, and the story has drawn a lot of attention to Indy.”
The Children’s Museum Carousel
It’s coming up on its 100th anniversary—the carousel that now delights kids of all ages at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis originally went up in 1917 in Broad Ripple Park. When the domed pavilion surrounding it collapsed and the mechanism was destroyed in 1956, the wooden horses went into hibernation until 1970, when they once again reared their heads, this time at the museum. For generations now, no trip there has been complete without racing aboard to the colorful steed of one’s choice.
Buzzer-Beaters at Hinkle Fieldhouse
Seeing any Butler basketball game at the most hallowed home court in the state is a Hoosier rite of passage. But to witness a true barnburner? Sublime. Pick a perennially close and highly ranked match-up—Marquette, say, or Villanova. Climb into the rafters, clutching your hotdog and popcorn. And if you’re lucky, before the game is over, the historic barn will vibrate with Bulldog faithful jumping up and down as the second half comes down to the wire. Against Gonzaga last year, the lead went back and forth before wing Roosevelt Jones swiped an inbound ball and sank a floater as the clock hit zero. Faces melted into screaming cheers, strangers hugged, and cameras flashed as the crowd rushed the court. Trust us, it’s worth whatever you have to pay for tickets on StubHub. This is a moment you’ll recount the next day to coworkers—and to your grandkids years from now.
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Crown Hill Cemetery
Just about every Hoosier has, at some point or another, paid respects at this historic resting place, where lie John Dillinger, Col. Eli Lilly, President Benjamin Harrison, and others. Poet James Whitcomb Riley—that’s the author of “Little Orphant Annie,” for you newcomers—is entombed on one of the highest natural hills in Marion County, which gives spectacular views onto the downtown skyline. At 555 verdant acres, Crown Hill is the third-largest private cemetery in the country. It’s an urban oasis for tourists, exercisers, cyclists, artists, and poets, and we think somehow, that’s exactly what its inhabitants would have wanted.
At Long’s Bakery, the most popular merchandise isn’t even put on display—everyone knows it’s there, all the same. Such is the allure of Long’s that Martha Stewart, the doyenne of all good things, lined up for some on a trip to Indy last year, then blogged and tweeted about it (the goods were deemed “great”). It was the kind of publicity most small businesses would die for, but then Long’s clearly doesn’t need any help in that department—just look at the legions of loyalists who regularly jam the westside bakery on weekend mornings. Some have driven for miles to get there, some look like they’ve just wandered over from bed, a few houses down. Doesn’t matter. At Long’s, most of us are after the same thing—glazed yeast, please—and all of us go home happy.
Under the Stars
No matter how many times you’ve seen them on TV, great flicks really glow when they’re beamed onto a big screen at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s amphitheater as part of the Friday-evening Summer Nights Film Series, which we’ve been flocking to since 1976. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (June 6) is more glam, Vertigo (July 11) more haunting, The Godfather (August 29) more majestic. So pack up a picnic—just no alcohol, please—and spread out your blanket when the gates open at 7 p.m.
A little night music goes a long way at Symphony on the Prairie, when the ISO decamps to Conner Prairie in Fishers for a couple of months for shows like Rhapsody in Blue (June 20–21) and the ever-popular Star-Spangled Symphony (July 3–5). From late July through the end of August, the symphony sets down their instruments to make way for visiting groups like the Beach Boys (August 22–24) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (August 30–31). The adults sit back and pour wine, the kids romp nearby, and somehow
everybody has a great time.
Gondoliers on the Canal
Listen carefully on a sultry summer evening along the Canal, and you just might hear the strains of “O Sole Mio” wafting from the water. Yes, we have gondolas in Indy, with the striped-shirted steerers to match. It’s the kind of thing that injects our city with a welcome dose of quirk.
In rescuing the RCA Dome roof and then Super Bowl banners to repurpose into cool handbags, wallets, and iPad cases, the non-profit group People for Urban Progress has defined the new Hoosier ethos: sensible, innovative, and inspired. PUP, a major cog in the Fountain Square wheel of hipster life, also salvaged seats from Bush Stadium and installed quartets of them at bus stops. Even as PUP has started selling its wares in other cities, everything it works with remains uniquely and proudly Indianapolis.
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Unless you’ve been hiding under a Budweiser truck, you’re probably aware that craft beer has become kind of a thing in Indy. With 35 breweries in the 10-county area, there’s nothing “micro” about the scene. Sun King may wear the crown, but places like Bier Brewery, Black Acre, Flat 12, Oaken Barrel, Fountain Square Brewery, and Triton drink with the best of them. Even in places where you might expect them to be muscled out by large distributors (Victory Field, Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse), craft breweries have been trickling in. Refreshing? Like a pale ale on a hot day.
Indy Art Fairs
Broad Ripple Art Fair
When: May 17–18
Where: Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St.
The Vibe: Families, couples—everyone—enjoying an art- and music-filled springtime walk in the park.
Good to Know: Get first dibs by attending the preview party the night of May 16.
Details: 317-255-2464 or indplsartcenter.org
Talbot Street Art Fair
Where: Talbott Street between 16th and 20th streets
The Vibe: Urbanites and hip-
sters strolling (and shopping) the streets of historic Herron-Morton neighborhood.
Good to Know: Stop by the INDIEana Handicraft Exchange on June 14 right in the Harrison Center at 1505 North Delaware Street for more shopportunities—and air conditioning.
Details: 317-745-6479 or talbotstreet.org
Penrod Arts Fair
When: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. September 6
Where:Indianapolis Museum of Art grounds, 4000 Michigan Road
The Vibe: The culturati (and everyone else, really) relishing the last of summer, along with dance performances, music, and art—natch.
Good to Know: “Indiana’s Nicest Day” ain’t free—tickets are available on the website.
The LOVE sculpture—still one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.
Getting Stuck Behind Horse-Drawn Carriages
Some would call sitting in traffic behind a horse’s rear an annoyance (or much worse). We like to look at it as an opportunity to stop and smell the, um, roses. Besides, isn’t it kind of sweet that, Central Park or no, people still love to clip-clop around Indy? Peggy Best, owner of Yellow Rose Carriages, says her chariots are usually filled with couples about to be engaged, celebrating their anniversaries, renewing vows, or just simply out on the town. “Romance is a big one for carriage rides,” she says. But during the summer months, families and old folks take rides to enjoy the weather, Best says. In the winter, it’s families marveling at the Christmas lights. All year long, the tradition is a reminder of the magic that downtown still holds.
Ethnic Restaurants in Lafayette Square
Driving up Lafayette Road northwest of the city center is a bit like browsing an outsized international food court. Will it be a Mexican buffet lunch or super-authentic spicy Szechwan classics for dinner? Maybe a banh mi or a soft and cheesy pupusa? The shopping mall that lends the area its name, Indy’s first enclosed mall, which opened in 1968, may be nearly shuttered, but plenty of enterprising upstarts have moved in, offering affordable, adventurous staples from spots as diverse as Ethiopia, India, and Cuba. With its ever-changing, always-undiscovered feel, this is the part of the city to take out-of-towners to show the breadth and vibrancy of Indy’s international culture. And if you’d rather make your dinner at home, markets such as Saraga International Grocery will help stock your larders with the staples needed for pad Thai or pollo mole.
Shapiro’s Delicatessen sold more than 37,000 Reubens last year, but this legendary sandwich stacked with “extra heavy” Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese imported from Europe, and the deli’s signature homemade corned beef didn’t even show up on the menu until the 1970s. At first, it wasn’t even grilled. “My great-uncle Max’s wife Ann found a sandwich griller that worked on our hand-cut rye bread,” says company president Brian Shapiro. “That became the real start of the Reuben at Shapiro’s.” The restaurant also features a New York version with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. But it’s the classic that’s the most popular, grilled to order and perhaps the only item on Shapiro’s menu that’s delivered to your table by a hairnet-clad employee shouting “Reuben” over the din of the regulars at this century-old institution. Is there another sandwich that’s as much a taste of Indy? “We sell the most on Colts football Sundays,” says Shapiro. With a Reuben this rich and iconic, is there any wonder why?
This article appeared in the 2014 City Guide.