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Our Ode To Downtown Olly’s

Need an unpretentious local spot with a breakfast hearty enough to cure your hangover? Look no further than the bar where you started the night.

“Oh, there are people eating here,” a man in a Colts cap exclaims to himself as he carries his Corona bottle out to the patio for a cigarette. He shoots us an amused smile, a bit shell-shocked by the light streaming in the front windows or the fact that customers are sitting down to a meal when they could just as easily be working on their buzz. It’s Sunday morning at Downtown Olly’s (822 N. Illinois St., 317-636-5597), Indy’s 24/7 cheap-drinking, full-throated darts-and-karaoke draw, but for many of the patrons, it feels like it’s still Saturday night. How could it possibly be time for brunch?

It is for those of us who managed to make it home to our own beds and are now seeking some stick-to-your-ribs sustenance to get us through the day. Sure, we could find fancier fare just a few blocks down the road, farm-to-table plates of seasonal fruit waffles or root-vegetable hash with perfect poached eggs perched atop. Here, the sunny-side ups come flat on the plate, the way they were intended. Some dishes don’t even offer them, like the Green Flag breakfast platter I’ve ordered, which arrives with so much meat and starch, I’m already regretting it. But when I dig my fork into the gooey, peppery sausage gravy and finally discover a fluffy biscuit underneath, I know I’ve made the right choice. A tangle of lacy, crisp bacon to the side shows someone in the kitchen loves us. And almost dainty cubes of golden potatoes are enough to undo any damage done during the night.

It’s the kind of comfort Downtown Olly’s has been doling out generously to all comers for two decades. The place made its debut as a spiffy sports bar, with manly drawing-room decor you’d find at a local antiques mall: vintage hockey sticks, university pennants. But the macho ruse didn’t last long. Soon enough, the joint had morphed into the drag-queen dressing room and corrugated-aluminum tool-shed combo it is today, with screens rolling not the game or the scores but E! Hollywood rumors or the lyrics to songs no one needs to look at anyway. Old-timers, slumming hipsters, recently of-age gay men who could star at other posh places but prefer the lack of pretense here—they all find a home where the drinks are strong, the food won’t set you back much, and a party could break out at a moment’s notice.

Even in the morning, when karaoke doesn’t start up again for several hours, the regulars chime in on the chorus of “Jolene” or “These Boots Are Made for Walking” to remind each other they’re not here to be sad, the perfect ending to a night out—or a great beginning to another day.

A graduate of IU’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, Terry Kirts hails from a town in Illinois so small it didn’t have a restaurant until he was in the 8th grade. Since 2000, he’s more than made up for the dearth of eateries in his childhood, logging hundreds of meals as the dining critic for WHERE Indianapolis, Indianapolis Woman, and NUVO before joining Indianapolis Monthly as a contributing editor in 2007. A senior lecturer in creative writing at IUPUI, Terry has published his poetry and creative nonfiction in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Gastronomica, Alimentum, and Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana, and he’s the author of the poetry collection To the Refrigerator Gods, published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2011.
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