Hoosier Lobbying: Check, Please!

Restaurants, bars, and hangouts where Indiana legislators and lobbyists get down to business.

Editor’s Note: IM takes a behind-the-scenes look at how Indiana Statehouse lobbyists ply their trade in this revealing series of articles from the March 2014 issue.

It’s Just Lunch

Since the General Assembly lowered the daily gift-reporting minimum from $100 to $50 in 2010, steakhouses and other nice restaurants in Indianapolis have noticed a change in the dining habits of legislators. “We’ve seen a decline in lawmakers and lobbyists getting together for dinners, in favor of lunches,” says McCormick & Schmick’s general manager David Elden, noting a trend that’s attributable, at least in part, to luncheons’ lower tabs. All within walking distance of the Statehouse, the following eateries (St. Elmo needs no mention) remain popular destinations—even the ones that don’t serve midday meals.


McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks
Out of Sight. Elden says lawmakers and lobbyists often prefer a snug, curtained booth at this restaurant on the ground floor of the Hilton Indianapolis on the corner of Market and Illinois streets. Preferred dishes include the salmon saute and fish tacos. 110 N. Illinois St., 317-631-9500, mccormickandschmicks.com

Morton’s The Steakhouse
Entourage. The clubby Indianapolis version of the national Morton’s chain is popular with sizable groups of lawmakers and lobbyists, according to general manager Howard Mitchell. “Sometimes there could be anywhere from 10 to 15 people,” he says, adding that the two private dining rooms in the back are a “really good place for them to have a nice getaway.” 41 E. Washington St., 317-229-4700, mortons.com/indianapolis

Bourbon Street Distillery
Nothing Fancy. Noted for burgers, po’ boys, and pork tenderloins, the no-frills dive is a popular lunch spot for Statehouse types—particularly legislative staffers (who don’t typically enjoy the same level of generosity shown lawmakers). But while political sightings might be more common around noontime, “some do come in at 5 for a cocktail,” says head chef Todd Howard. 361 Indiana Ave., 317-636-3316, bourbonstreetdistillery.com


Eagle’s Nest Restaurant
Spin City. The revolving dining room atop the Hyatt Regency gives pols and lobbyists a grand perch overlooking the city. “It’s got great views, great service, and great food,” says food-and-beverage director Jeff Stewart. Game dishes such as bison tenderloin and elk chops have been the darlings during this year’s session. 1 S. Capitol Ave., 317-616-6170, indianapolis.hyatt.com

Keeping Tabs

Before closing in 2004, the Indianapolis Press Club, then located in the ISTA building at 150 West Market Street, was a nexus point for journalists, lobbyists, and state politicians. Legend has it that members of the press didn’t talk about anything that happened at the press club (pictured in 1933); in turn, politicians could speak freely and candidly with one another. No doubt for ethical reasons, journos weren’t in the habit of letting lawmakers drink on the house, but, says longtime member Mike Quinn, “If there was a friendly lobbyist nearby, he or she would likely pick up the tab.” The Press Club hasn’t yet found a new haunt (sigh), but the lobbyists and legislators have—several, in fact.


Winner’s Circle
Smoke-Filled Room. The Triple Crown Club, a members-only hangout within the downtown offtrack-betting parlor, is popular in large part because the facility’s gaming license makes it one of the city’s rare bars with indoor smoking. “It has a different feel than the main OTB,” says general manager Tricia Lavore, adding that cigars are a popular indulgence among her politico guests. 20 N. Pennsylvania St., 317-656-7223, otbwinnerscircle.com

Ike & Jonesy’s
Everyone Loves a Party. For more than a decade, the casual nightspot has been the site of an annual General Assembly kickoff celebration, held the first Tuesday evening of each session (except for 2014, when frigid temperatures forced a last-minute cancellation). Attended by legislators, staffers, and lobbyists, the event tends to be a let-your-hair-down affair, with DJs, dancing, and draft beer. “It’s always laid-back,” says bartender Jay Segerson; pols have been known to order in White Castle sliders for the occasion and jump behind the bar to help pour. 17 W. Jackson Pl., 317-632-4553, ikeandjonesys.com

The Columbia Club
Be Our Guest. With as many as a few dozen out-of-town legislators lodging there during any given session, the exclusive—and predominantly Republican—club is a natural location for end-of-the-day unwinding. The private French Room used to be a popular card-playing and cigar-chomping retreat (until the club instituted a smoking ban). Lobbyists can be found rubbing elbows here, too, although policy is often the last thing legislators want to discuss in the evening because, as one club member tells IM, “What goes on in the House stays in the House.” 121 Monument Circle, 317-767-1361, columbia-club.org

See more stories on Hoosier Lobbying here.

Schmooze It or Lose It An inside look at just how much—and, sometimes, how little—lobbyist lavish on our lawmakers.

Check, Please! The restaurants, bars, and hangouts where lobbyists and legislators get down to business.

Are You Not Entertained? Gifts from lobbyists that got legislators out of the house.

This article appeared in the March 2014 issue.

Additional reporting by Jeanine Cameron and Morgan Smith

Illustration by Daniel Stolle; Press Club photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society, MO625; restaurant and bar photos by Sarah Boyum and Tony Valainis.