From a listening booth for vinyl records to a giant engine hoist doubling as a display rack, details are starting take shape about the Garage Food Hall, with about two months until its grand opening. Some of the massive Mass Ave development project’s vendors signed a lease for a spot in the brand-new Bottleworks District over a year ago, but their dreams are only now starting to seem real as build-outs inside the Garage fall into place for an early January opening.
It’s true that it’s all happening under the cloud of COVID-19—one that might darken from a winter spike in case numbers, right as the ribbon is cut. But you can only rain on this parade so much. That gorgeous Art Deco Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, empty and forlorn, is close to fulfilling its vast yet improbable potential as a new entertainment zone built into the coolest historic buildings in town.
Current COVID-19 restrictions allowing indoor dining only at tables would delay the Garage’s counter seating, one of the food-and-drink vendors’ critical features. Eight of the 19 businesses currently plan on having boothfront seats. Poke Guru owner Adam Odgaard is excited to teach customers about sake and envisions talking to the curious who sit there… eventually.
Hard Truth Distillery’s bar will have to upend its stools until something changes, too. As of now, Garage-goers will sit at the food hall’s communal tables, which account for most of the facility’s 500-some seats. (About 100 of those are counter seats.) Odgaard, for one, is trying to make the best of a situation he can’t control. “I’m going into this with the understanding that it will not be as busy as it could have been without COVID,” he says. “I know how hard these individual operators are working to build something unique and forging ahead.”
The pandemic hasn’t dampened the Garage’s ambition. It’s not the area’s first modernized food hall, in the trendy mold of Chelsea Market in New York, Ponce City Market in Atlanta, and Stanley Marketplace in Denver. The basic idea is for a cooler, better, boozier version of the traditional food court, with a lively industrial atmosphere also on the menu.
The food halls inside Carmel’s Sun King Spirits and the Fishers Test Kitchen brought the concept to Indy writ small, but neither has the benefit of the Bottleworks Garage’s repurposed industrial space. The Garage will not only pack into its 36,000 square feet more vendors than either of its Hamilton County-parts, but the setting itself will be a draw thanks to the preserved original architecture (white terra-cotta exteriors from the Coca-Cola days) and interior grit (most recently, the spaces were used to repair IPS school buses).
Operationally, the Garage’s development team led by manager Nicole Ulrich got ideas from visiting markets around the country—vendors might be able to take orders from customers in line on an iPad, for example. Otherwise, the Garage is shaping up to be a total original and not a copycat. A breezeway, or “spine,” will bisect two halls, and diners should be able to see most vendors and tables from that area.
Hendricks Property Group, the Wisconsin-based developer also known locally for the Ironworks project on 86th Street, has a designer working directly with each vendor to create a custom build-out, finding ways to preserve building features like explosion-proof light fixtures (from the old bus-painting area) and an original boiler. An old-timey engine hoist is returning to Becker Supply Company as a merchandise display. (In Brick and Mortar’s barbershop, an original sink and light fixtures were scratched from the final design, to the disappointment of owner Brandon Burdine.)
The urban, industrial setting is a curious choice for Becker, an outdoor-lifestyle collection for the young camping-and-hiking set (think campfire mugs, or a “ROAM” tee with a pine tree forming the “A”). The local owners, Leena and Jake Middaugh, have operated online and as a pop-up in the Fashion Mall, with the Garage space now their first permanent location. They say the building’s re-use dovetails with their environmentally friendly ethos.
“We’re the same way,” says Jake. “With shipping, always trying to re-use stuff as much as possible. We operate a screen-printing shop at home, and we’re constantly re-using bad shirts, stuff around the house we’d normally throw away.” The couple says they have also discussed with Hendricks ways to promote a green lifestyle to Garage customers, through events like clean-up days and T-shirt recycling drives.
Brick and Mortar and Square Cat Vinyl are among the other retailers going in, which will help distinguish The Garage from dining-only halls. Square Cat Vinyl, a record shop, will have its own listening booth. Brick and Mortar plans to sell Japanese knives, candles, men’s grooming products, its own private-label apparel, and the antiques currently on display at the original Delaware Avenue location downtown. World War II flags, brass trinkets, carnival and circus prints: “Everything will have a price tag,” says Burdine, adding that his vintage aesthetic is one reason Hendricks wanted him in The Garage.
For him, the draw was personal—he grew up across the street in Chatham Arch, and played street hockey with friends in the parking lots. “Being able to be in the building I grew up looking at is the coolest thing,” he says.
Even without a such a personal connection, visitors are likely to say the same thing when The Garage is open for business.