The Old Fashioneds: Well-Worn, Well-Loved Dives

Once upon a time, every bar was new. But when a bar does something right for long enough, it becomes a classic.

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0715_BARS_oldfashion_2Workingman’s Friend
234 N. Belmont Ave., 317-636-2067
» Opened in 1918
“I started when I was 15,” says third-generation owner Becky Stamatkin. “Since I took over in 2008, I’ve been putting a lot of money into it, but I’m trying to keep it the way my grandpa started it. Everybody loves the glass block, the old cigarette machines, and the Formica. We still do the burgers the way I was taught 36 years ago. There’s a knack to getting the crispy edges. We don’t do nothing fancy. I don’t have guacamole or California burgers. It’s a simple lettuce-tomato-mayonnaise-pickle-onion burger—the deluxe.”

 

0715_BARS_oldfashion_3Gas Light Inn
2280 S. Meridian St., 317-782-1250
» Building housed its first saloon circa 1900
“My grandma and grandpa were in the tavern business, so it was kind of in my blood,” says Joe DeMore, who bought the Gas Light in 2007. “I kept driving by this place, and it had a ‘For Sale’ sign. It was condemned and boarded up. There were holes in the floor. While we were working on rebuilding it, we found out about the spirits. Our tools kept coming up missing.” (The bar has since been featured on the television program My Ghost Story.) UPDATE: The Gas Light Inn closed in 2016.

 

0715_BARS_oldfashion_5Red’s Place
70 N. Baldwin St., Bargersville, 317-366-6036
» Opened in the late 1940s
“This place had two previous owners before Red Schoentrup bought it in 1968,” says Tom Umbarger, who purchased the tavern in 2014 after retiring from Umbarger Show Feeds (the family concern that operates the giant grain elevator in Bargersville). “I’ve lived in this town all my life, and I’ve been coming to this bar since I turned 21. I always told Red that if anyone ever tried to change this place, it would never fly. It’s just a country bar where people can talk about construction, trucks, and crops.”

 

0715_BARS_oldfashion_1Old Town Tavern
29 W. Main St., Carmel, 317-846-5545
» Opened circa 1975
“Before all the Applebee’s and Chili’s, I used to serve a lot of lunches here,” says Bruce Calabrese, owner since 1989. “I said, ‘You know what? I can’t compete.’ So I trended with what was going on: a younger group of people in the evening, happy-hour people in the afternoon, anything in between. The kids call it a dive bar. That doesn’t bother me at all. When I tell people how to find it, I say, ‘Look for the place with no windows.’”

 

0715_BARS_oldfashion_6Red Key Tavern
5170 N. College Ave., 317-283-4601, redkeytavern.com
» Opened in 1933
Jim Settle, son of longtime owner Russel Settle, took over after his father died in 2010. “I put my time in here, but when it was handed to me, it was a legacy that I had to try to live up to,” Jim says. “He had so many years in here … it’s an honor to take over. I think about that every day.”

 

0715_BARS_oldfashion_4Melody Inn
3826 N. Illinois St., 317-923-4707, melodyindy.com
» Opened in 1935
Rob Ondrish purchased the Melody with co-owner Dave Brown in 2001, after having worked there in the late 1980s. “Back then, there was no stage, there was no pool table—it was kind of an old-man bar,” says Ondrish. “The place has grown very organically, even from what it was when we took over. It just kind of evolved. People say, ‘You’re at 38th and Illinois; it must be a rough place.’ Honestly, it’s not. We have a self-disciplining audience. If somebody gets out of line, we can usually tell their friends, ‘Hey, get your dude in check.’ Because nobody wants to be excommunicated from The Mel, you know?”

 

0715_BARS_oldfashion_7Golden Ace Inn
2533 E. Washington St., 317-632-0696, goldenaceinn.com
» Opened in 1934
“My mother and father, John and Ann McGinley, opened the Golden Ace on March 1, 1934,” says Chuck McGinley, who owns the bar with his four siblings. “That was during the Depression, and they weren’t sure if things would go the way they wanted. My father was working for the New York Central Railroad, but he was only getting two days a week. When Prohibition lifted, my dad’s sister’s husband told them he thought taverns were really going to take off.”

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