The New Indy Must-Do List: 26 Experiences to Try
How many items can you check off?
GET YOUR ROLLER DERBY ON
Grab a Seat
Catch a bout with the Naptown Roller Girls, who deliver the pain from winter to May 3. Stake out your spot in the front-row “suicide seats” at the Indiana Convention Center or in the Marsh Blue Ribbon Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, grab a brew, and roll with it. naptownrollergirls.com
Lace Up Your Skates
Get fit with a derby-inspired workout. Derby Lite roller-skating fitness classes offer the fun and camaraderie of the game, sans the stress of competition or risk of serious injury. Bonus: You now have an occasion to wear fishnets and hot pants. derbylite.net
Knock Somebody Over
You’re ready to start throwing hip-checks with the best of ’em, because you’re joining a squad and becoming a roller girl, baby. Both Indy women’s leagues, the Naptown Roller Girls and Circle City Derby Girls, hold recruitment sessions throughout the year, and guys are always welcome to join the Race City Rebels, one of a handful of men’s leagues across the country. circlecityderbygirls.com, racecityrebels.com
Sample Sun King on a Friday Afternoon
The folks at Sun King Brewing Company (135 N. College Ave., 317-602-3702) want you to fill up your growler and go home—but you can hang for a hot minute before you head out. They hand you enough free tokens and tickets for a six-pack of sample pours—“We basically give you a pint of beer just for walking through the door,” co-owner Clay Robinson has told us—a practice that makes the tasting room a hopping pit stop for the end-of-the-week, outta-the-office-early crowd. The setup saves you from yourself: An absence of seating discourages lingering, and guests aren’t allowed to drink the beer bought onsite, meaning you’ll be driving off while it’s still safe to do so. You won’t be there for an hour. But you will leave happy.
Sway with Ann Dancing
Strangers eating chili on the patio at Old Point Tavern will stare. They will laugh. No matter. You came to sway with Ann, that LED siren lulling you into submission with her hypnotic undulating, back and forth, back and forth at the nexus of Mass Ave and Vermont and Alabama streets. The Cultural Trail’s first installation and perhaps its best-known, Ann never falters, a last vestige of a 2007 public-art project by world-renowned Julian Opie. So set your stems shoulder-length apart and bend those elbows for a look that says I’m just snapping to jazz from the Chatterbox. Then swing your hips to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right. If you bust some sweet moves, Ann (@Ann_Dancing) may even tweet about you.
Take in a Show at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club
The spirit of Edith Piaf lives on at this posh and polished nightspot inside a downtown landmark. Despite the grandeur of the setting, the true charm of The Cabaret (where national notables such as Ana Gasteyer and Betty Buckley have performed) lies in its intimate vibe, the feeling that you’re among friends—albeit your most stylish ones—gathered around a piano for an evening of martinis and song. 121 Monument Circle, 317-275-1169, thecabaret.org
Eat Something Weird at One of Lafayette Square’s International Restaurants
Daring gastronauts wishing to channel their inner Andrew Zimmern will find no shortage of exotic dishes on Indy’s near-northwest side, home to a cluster of global eats along Lafayette Road lauded by The New York Times, among others. Szechwan Garden (3649 Lafayette Rd., 317-328-2888) is a great starting place where diners can sample everything from lotus root and chicken feet to “aromatic beef heel” and, yes, pig intestines. Not feeling quite so adventurous? Try a tasty sardine banh mi at K & T Deli (3738 Lafayette Rd., 317-602-2416) or an octopus tostado at El Puerto de San Blas (3564 Lafayette Rd., 317-291-2800).
Get Tipsy on Vintage Cocktails, Because Everybody’s Noticing Our Scene
Old-timey drinks may be old news by now, but Indy barkeeps’ whiskey-tinged whispers of yesterday keep making headlines. The Ball & Biscuit (331 Massachusetts Ave., 317-636-0539, ballandbiscuit.com) has won a national award for its Hooch, and The Libertine Liquor Bar (38 E. Washington St., 317-631-3333, libertineindy.com), which mixes up a mean classic cocktail, landed on Esquire’s “Best Bars in America” list last year. So bring on the Sazeracs and Sidecars—just hold the bathtub gin.
Join the Burlesque Brigade
Have a Brew
Too shy to actually go to a burlesque club to watch dancers in pinup-worthy lingerie do their thing? Hit one of the trivia nights hosted by the Rocket Doll Revue at SoBro bar The Sinking Ship.
4923 N. College Ave., 317-920-7999, thesinkingship.com
Come to the Cabaret
So you’re ready to see an actual show. Now’s the time to head to White Rabbit Cabaret, where you might recognize your new friends the Rocket Dolls, who occasionally shimmy there along with the in-house troupe. Show up early to snag a seat where you can actually see the action. 1116 Prospect St., 317-686-9550, whiterabbitcabaret.com
Just Do It
Ever think about adopting a saucy new name and taking the stage yourself? If so, polish up your moves, buy some retro-chic unmentionables, and aspire to join Bottoms Up Burlesque, Creme de les Femmes, or one of the other Indy-area girl groups. bottomsupburlesque.com, cremedelesfemmes.com
Get Your Goose On
Try the Signature Sammie
Order the Batali, a tempting stack of Italian-style meats, tomato preserves, and hot giardiniera that earned Goose a spot on Bon Appetit’s list of the nation’s hottest sandwich spots.
Join the Club
The bacon club, that is. Members get exclusive samples of never-before-seen bacon flavors, like hot toddy, honey-jalapeño, and chocolate-chipotle.
Wield a Cleaver
Go to meat school. Owner Chris Eley instructs brave students on how to butcher whole animals, make fresh sausages, and even carve those tricky holiday turkeys.
2503 N. Delaware St., 317-924-4944; 407 N. Dorman St., 317-638-6328, goosethemarket.com
Read The Fault in Our Stars
The star-crossed love story of Hazel and Augustus—two Indianapolis teenagers who meet at a cancer support group—has been on the New York Times bestseller list for a solid year, and the sure-to-be-blockbuster movie adaptation comes out this June. Written by Indy resident and social-media star John Green, the book is to local millennials what Going All the Way was to their parents. And like the Dan Wakefield classic, it’s set right here in the Circle City, so keep an eye out for local landmarks. Sob factor: high.
Extra Credit Make a pilgrimage to the book’s real-life settings, including the Funky Bones sculpture at 100 Acres, the Ruins at Holliday Park, and the Speedway gas station at 86th and Ditch (yes, really).
Browse the Carmel Farmers Market
Look no further than the teeming throngs at this beloved Saturday-morning affair for proof that suburbia is catching a major fever for artisanal eating. Now in its 16th year, the market is making serious strides, boasting a record-breaking 2013 summer season with 75,509 attendees. The centrally located, sprawling lawn next to the Palladium was specifically designed to host it; this space allows ample room for some 60 vendors to encircle live musicians playing tunes for the guests perched on the green’s staircase and munching on cult favorites from the Walking Waffle Company, Hood’s Heritage Hogs, Caprini Creamery, Ruby’s Bakehouse, and many more. Free parking in the Palladium’s garage and in the Indiana Design Center’s underground facility, which doubles as the wintertime location, makes the area’s largest farmers market the most convenient way for Carmelites to indulge in the local foodie scene. carmelfarmersmarket.com
Hunt Fresh Art at The Alexander
Indy’s hottest hotel has a collection that’s something of a satellite location for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, showcasing original, commissioned works by artists who have been featured there, and in most cases they aren’t repeats from the museum’s collection. Some of the pieces celebrate Indy, like the Madame C.J. Walker portrait made entirely of black combs—it’s simply one of the coolest things you’ll see in the city, period. You’ll run across art in the bathrooms (Kim Beck’s Lot: Indianapolis) and the parking garage (Nick Walker’s graffiti stencils), and don’t miss the 99 vibrant Jorge Pardo lanterns that decorate the Plat 99 lounge. Need a guide? Stop by for an art tour during IDADA First Fridays. 333 S. Delaware St., 317-624-8200, thealexander.com
Take a shot at Free Basket
Get a little closer to the vivid tangle of blue and red arcs in the 100 Acres parking lot, and you’ll notice actual basketball hoops. The Cuban artists behind the installation not only fashioned a sculpture of curved steel to give the impression of a bouncing basketball, they also included two functioning rims and backboards, one higher than regulation and one lower. You’re welcome to weave through the sculpture and take some jump shots or layups—just BYO ball. 4000 N. Michigan Rd., 317-923-1331, imamuseum.org/visit/100acres
MASTER THE NEW PARKING METERS
No more running out to feed the meter! Or fumbling for change with frozen fingers! Here’s how to park it in style.
1. Download the free Parkmobile app. Allow it to push reminders to your phone so you’ll get alerts before your meter expires. Connect the app to a PayPal account or a credit card. Make sure to have your license-plate number handy, too. After this initial setup—voila—you’ll always be able to re-up your meter from wherever you are, cell phone in hand.
2. If you’re thrifty, walk to any kiosk (it needn’t be the one closest to your car) and punch in your spot number to see if the person before you left any time. If you’re cold, get ready to feed the meter from the comfort of your driver’s seat.
3. Open the app, enter your spot number, and select an amount of time. Don’t overestimate—you can add more minutes later.
4. Never mind the 25-cent-per-use fee; by using the app, you’ll never again overfeed the kiosk out of confusion, so you’re coming out ahead.
Venture into the Catacombs
When City Market decided to let the public into its Catacombs ruins two years ago, the dirt-floored underground space instantly became the hottest basement in town—so much so that tour prices increased the next year, to $12. Built in 1886, the series of perfectly aligned brick arches is all that remains of a building called Tomlinson Hall, which burned down in 1958. The space is said to be haunted, but you’ll be too amazed by the Romanesque architecture to think about that. Indiana Landmarks tours start up again in May, though special events sometimes offer a chance to explore the area before then. So far, the Catacombs have hosted a pajama-party scavenger hunt, a preview dinner for Cerulean restaurant, and a screening of Fight Club. Follow City Market on Twitter (@IndyCM) to keep tabs. indianalandmarks.org
Pop Into a Pop-Up Shop
The very nature of pop-up shops means we can’t really tell you when or where to find one, but last year Indy reached a critical mass. Pattern magazine, Indiana Landmarks, 8Fifteen, 14 Districts, and Homespun all sprang temporary retail outlets on us in 2013. Broad Ripple’s 8Fifteen is making something of a habit of it, hosting the mobile surf shack Flaherty Brothers for one day last fall and Chan Luu jewelry for a couple of weeks before the holidays. Follow stores on social media for future announcements. In the meantime, The Inventorialist antiques emporium pops up in a new location every few months—currently a former 19th-century grocery store near downtown.
Hitch a Ride on the Conner Prairie Helium Balloon
You’ve never seen the city like this. At 380 feet above Conner Prairie, the view from the distinctive orange-and-yellow balloon spans two counties, from the Indy skyline to the Hamilton County courthouse. Tethered by 48 chains and fueled by enough helium to fill 200,000 party balloons, the basket made its first ascent in 2009, the 150th anniversary of Indiana’s first recorded balloon flight. 13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, 317-776-6006, connerprairie.org
Go Very, Very Vonnegut
Test the Waters
Check out the 38-foot-tall mural of Kurt Vonnegut on the side of a Mass Ave building. Get out of the car and walk all the way up to the wall to fully appreciate the image’s scale. You won’t even come up to Kurt’s shin. 345 Massachusetts Ave. (east side of building, facing Vermont Street)
Try It On
At the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, peck out something literary on the blue Smith Corona connected to the @KurtsTypewriter Twitter account. Writer’s block? A line from your favorite book will do. 340 N. Senate Ave., 317-652-1954, vonnegutlibrary.org
Join Indy’s Kurt Vonnegut Book Club, which meets monthly at the library. His cousin, a local attorney, has been known to make a special appearance. 317-652-1954, vonnegutlibrary.org/get-involved/indy-book-club
Ride Shotgun in an IndyCar
Sure, you could pay $499 for a high-speed racecar ride at the track. Or you could save a couple of car payments and go for the plenty-thrilling Street-Legal IndyCar 2 Seater experience at the Dallara IndyCar factory. For just $30, strap on a helmet and tuck into the back seat as the driver accelerates down the straightaway next to the factory in Speedway and spins into the bustling traffic on 10th Street. You’ll top out at a mild 45 mph, but buzzing about low to the ground and whipping around corners gets the adrenaline racing anyway. 201 Main St., Speedway, 317-243-7171, indycarfactory.com
Shut Down Zoobilation
Thousands attend the state’s largest black-tie-with-a-wink fundraiser. But when all of the lightweights have nibbled their last slider and called it a night, that’s when the real fun begins. Vendors start unloading their liquor stashes, and the party moves inside several big white DJ tents, where RumChata-sotten guests sweat through their tuxedo T-shirts and LBDs (embellished flip-flops are tossed in a community shoe pile) on the dance floor. When the last glow stick has dimmed, partiers funnel out the Zoo’s main gates to one last treat in the parking lot: gratis pizza by the slice and bottles of water, the perfect ending to a wild night—or morning. Want in? Pounce on tickets as soon as possible—if past years’ events are any indication, the June 13 party may sell out soon. 1200 W. Washington St., 317-630-2001, indyzoo.com
Party on Georgia Street
The vision for the Super Bowl’s Georgia Street makeover always included future events for conference groups and residents alike. Not much happened on the spacious mid-thoroughfare plaza right away, but lately the event schedule has picked up (along with a website for finding out what’s going on). Colts tailgate parties happen regularly in season, as do occasional food-truck gatherings. The place was a madhouse in August when Drum Corps International staged a free battle-style showdown between participating bands, followed a month later by Sun King’s inaugural CANvitational. Look for those instant favorites—and more festivals and concerts—to return this spring and summer. georgiastreetindy.com
Eat an Omelet Made with Indianapolis-Raised Eggs
This requires a bit of finesse. Even though hen houses have become nearly as popular as swingsets in the backyards of urban Indy, amateur egg-farmers cannot legally (without the correct permits, at least) sell their goods at farmers markets to the brunching public. So basically, you have to know a guy. Fresh-squeezed eggs are worth the trouble of obtaining, though. People say they taste “meatier” or gamier, due to the hens’ natural diet. Structurally, their shells are thicker and their yolks more vibrant (almost a deep orange), and the whites hold together more compactly, cooking up fluffier than your average scramble.
Walk Your Dog at Mutt Strut
Each spring, the Humane Society of Indianapolis turns the world’s most famous racetrack into something resembling a dog-breed encyclopedia brought to life. During Mutt Strut, taking place April 26 this year, the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval opens up to thousands of pet owners and their four-legged friends, who leisurely stroll the two-and-a-half miles, pausing for pit stops to lap up water from plastic kiddie pools. For the essential photo finish, pose with your pooch at the Yard of Bricks. Or, heck, kneel down and give it a big, slobbery kiss. indymuttstrut.org
Build a Sandcastle at Saxony Beach
A jaunt to the beach no longer requires a plane ticket—or a drive to Lake Michigan. When you want to feel sand beneath your toes, all that’s necessary is a trip to Fishers. Really. Despite its unlikely location in a housing development, Saxony Beach offers sun-worshippers 300 feet of shore alongside a 20-acre lake. From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, channel your inner architect by building a sandcastle; unwind with a morning yoga class; or take to the water on a rented kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or pedal boat. The scenery might be more suburbia than St. Thomas, but no matter: Life is still a beach. 13288 Pennington Rd., saxony-indiana.com
Knock One Back on The Handlebar
About 20 U.S. cities have a service like the HandleBar, but not all of them allow drinking onboard. Indy’s laws do, which might explain why you can rarely drive downtown anymore, day or night, without spotting a group of revelers pedaling the 16-person trolley along Mass Ave, hooting and raising their red Solo cups to passersby. The demand is so high that the owners have doubled the fleet to four bars-on-wheels this year. Bookings just opened up for the season, which starts March 15. Make sure to reserve at least two weeks in advance for prime weekend nights, and look for a new route to downtown breweries. (And here’s a tip: If you stop pedaling, expect an onlooker to call you out.) $300 to $400, 317-620-1448, handlebarindy.com
TALK LIKE A BEER GEEK
A different dialect is spoken in Indy’s new brew-loving community. Here, some annotation to help you sort out what the citizen critics of HoosierBeerGeek.com are actually saying about …
… Workingman’s Pilsner, Fountain Square Brewing Co., 1301 Barth Ave., 317-493-1410, fountainsquarebrewery.com: “It’s crisp, with a touch of bready1 sweetness and finished with a classic bite of noble hops.2” —Chris Corr
… Tripel de Ripple, Brugge Brasserie, 1011 E. Westfield Blvd., 317-255-0978, bruggebrasserie.com: “A hint of that smoky ‘beer poured on an open grill’ thing3 … but I really had to go digging to pull banana4 out.” —Mike Atwood
… Apollo’s Space Flight double IPA, Union Brewing Co., 622 N. Range Line Rd., Carmel, 317-429-6345, unionbrewingco.com: “The smoothness of the finish belied the big ol’ ABV punch5 on this one.” —Megan Saur
1) The fermentation of yeast and grain doesn’t just produce alcohol—it also makes bread dough rise (and imparts a reminiscent flavor in some beer).
2) The conical flower clusters of the hop plant give beer its bitter flavor. The aromatic “noble” varieties originate in Europe and have a distinctive tang.
3) Some malted grains are roasted over a wood fire before fermentation, which can give the beer a “smoky” character.
4) Although bananas are not typically used in brewing, phenols produced by yeast common to Belgian-style beers can have notes of the tropical fruit.
5) ABV, or “alcohol by volume.” In this case, 8.9 percent—about twice as much as Bud Light.
Eat Your Way Through Indiana … at the State Fair
The woman and her liquid gold beckoned from across the State Fair’s DuPont Food Pavilion. Would you like to try some honey? she cooed. Regular honey, whipped honey, soaps, lip balms, beeswax. She was with Anderson’s Wildflower Ridge, and we couldn’t resist buying a jar of honey peanut butter, the spread as addictive and sticky-sweet as a crushed-up candy bar. Just peanuts and honey! the woman assured. If we hadn’t been heading for the crushing spins of the Orbiter ride, our purses would have been full of more Indiana-made products available in the Pavilion store—Burton’s Maplewood Farm syrup from Medora, Sweet Poppin’s specialty popcorn from Kokomo, Steckler Grassfed cheese from Dale, just to name a few. And who doesn’t love being locally loyal these days? That, along with a renewed interest in where our food comes from, spurred Fair officials to devote the Pavilion to homegrown goods two years ago. They even brought in Dig IN and Indiana Artisan board member Brian Blackford as program manager. Blackford, who calls the space “Food Network in a building,” would like to see a variety of fresh produce up for grabs and more events like the Caleb France chef’s dinner the Pavilion hosted in 2013. “Our whole goal is to support agriculture,” says Blackford. “One of the best ways to do that moving forward is through food.” So forget the funnel cakes and the Lemon Shake-Ups: This is what a celebration of Indiana farming should look like.
So you’ve climbed the Monument, munched on corn at the Indiana State Fair, had your mouth set afire by a certain shrimp-cocktail sauce. But what are the modern-day rites of passage? We have answers: The New Indy-Must Do List.
This article appeared in the February 2014 issue.