No. 1 – The Ball & Biscuit

Best of the Many Speakeasies

It could not sit in a more prominent pub-crawling spot, at the business end of Mass Ave amid all of the Bazbeaux and Stout’s Shoes sidewalk traffic. And yet somehow this bar, walled in brick and lit by dangling Edison bulbs, feels like the perfect hideaway for anyone bent on a long, slow, booze-soaked evening. As every lounge in town rolls out its pre-Prohibition cocktail list—muddling herbs and berries until their wrists go limp—you get the feeling that it’s no shtick here. Founders Trevor Belden and Zach Wilks (the latter has since moved on to pursue his own line of infused syrups, Wilks & Wilson) have had their fingers on the slowly beating pulse of Indy’s premium drinkers from the moment The Ball & Biscuit opened in June 2010, offering plenty of brown liquor as well as old-school DJ nights and some serious charcuterie. Scruffy-haute designer Matty Bennett filled the space with deep leather chairs and cantilevered shelves illuminated by tea lights. And the back bar looks like an apothecary of fine spirits. (Those small oaken barrels stacked at the end of the copper-topped bar aren’t just for show; they contain the B&B’s housemade barrel-aged whiskey. Sample at your own risk.)
But good looks only get a place so far. The young, no-nonsense bartenders here take their pours seriously. The Harrison Sicilian combines an Indiana bourbon with a dash of amaretto, for a soulful after-work sipping drink. The Claret Cup is a sweet and boozy punch that contains the old-fashioned flavors of Gran Marnier and maraschino liqueur. Say “Surprise me with something,” and the ’tender might try out a potion that just came on her radar—like an herby artichoke liqueur concoction poured into a sexy coupe glass. Or she might divvy tequila, cucumber slices, Tabasco, and ice in a metal shaker, pulverize the combination with a big wooden pestle, and serve the off-menu Hot Carlita, a favorite among regulars.
In its “Best Bars in America” issue this year, Esquire finally got around to noticing what locals have known from the minute they walked into the B&B: No tavern, nightclub, pub, lounge, or saloon currently represents Indy better.
331 Massachusetts Ave., 317-636-0539

Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the January 2013 issue.