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Traveler: Bloomington

Stop rushing through your trip to Bloomington and check out its major improvements.

You’ve mastered Bloomington 101, heading down for a game or a show and driving back up 37 late at night. It’s time to graduate to a higher level of B-town appreciation and spend a weekend in the state’s coolest community. You’ll need a full afternoon to explore the on-campus Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art (1133 E. 7th St., 812-855-5445). Famously designed by I.M. Pei in 1982, it just reopened after a three-year, $30 million makeover created more gallery space, a conservation lab open to the public, and a skybridge that was part of Pei’s original design but never built until now. Find the Picassos and the Pollocks, then grab a bite in the lovely light-flooded cafe.

You could simply pop by another new attraction—the Graduate Bloomington hotel ($159/night; 210 E. Kirkwood Ave., 812-994-0500)—because it has the feel of a student union, drawing in townies and gownies alike to hang out in the cafe and communal workspaces. But checking in is better than just checking out the hip digs for a few minutes. It’s like a funhouse of Indiana cultural references, including basketball hoops as light fixtures and a Jack & Diane Terrace. There are too many nods to count, but one you can’t miss is the huge display of cookie jars in Poindexter’s restaurant, an homage to the world-record collection in Metamora; look for the jar your grandma had.

The lobby of the Graduate Hotel

Now that you can afford more than Dagwood’s subs, have dinner and cocktails at Cardinal Spirits (922 S. Morton St., 812-202-6789) and see what Dean Wirkerman, a chef with Culinary Institute of America credentials and training at Per Se in New York, is cooking up. Bloomington has a nationally renowned comedy scene, and Alex Moffat from Saturday Night Live headlines January 16, 17, and 18 at The Comedy Attic (123 S. Walnut St., 812-336-5233). You won’t feel too old at the Social Cantina (125 N. College Ave., 812-287-8199), an upscale bar with 135 choices of tequila.

Hungover or not, you’ll benefit from some quiet time at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (3655 S. Snoddy Rd., 812-336-6807). Take a walk around the 90-acre rural property and find the Buddhist monuments. Then spend an afternoon shopping on the courthouse square. At The Book Corner (100 N. Walnut St., 812-339-1522), pick up a tote bag with a map of independent booksellers around Indiana; each place offers a pin meant to be attached to the bag. Gather (116 N. Walnut St., 812-287-8046) has the hip-and-handmade market cornered., and Andrew Davis Clothiers (101 W. Kirkwood Ave., 812-323-7730) has a serious designer-shoe collection. Get a from-scratch Nutella hand pie and macchiato from The Inkwell (105 N. College Ave., 812-822-2925) for the drive home. And rub that stamp off your hand.

Fernandez began writing for Indianapolis Monthly in 1995 while studying journalism at Indiana University. One of her freelance assignments required her to join a women's full-tackle football team for a season. She joined the staff in 2005 to edit IM's ancillary publications, including Indianapolis Monthly Home. In 2011, she became a senior editor responsible for the Circle City section as well as coverage of shopping, homes, and design-related topics. Now the director of editorial operations, she lives in Garfield Park.
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