Indianapolis is a place you hear about constantly if you’re a sports fan. From the Indy 500 to Larry Bird (Reggie Miller, if you’re in my age group) and Peyton Manning SB team of 2007, the “Hoosier State” capital is hallowed sports ground. It has been the bullseye of the news cycle lately, notably for the retirement of Colts QB Andrew Luck.
I can honestly say beyond sports, I didn’t know much about this city, other than the fact that it seems like I know a million people from there. Impossible, since it is the 17th most populous metro area in the country with about 2 million in population, but their residents certainly infiltrate everywhere else in the Midwest. Indy is about the size of Kansas City, and similar in many ways. There are great neighborhoods, a friendly sense of community and an unmistakable pride in their hometown.
Gentlemen (and gentle ladies), start your engines…
This will come in a later post, but IND airport is one of the best. It’s open, modern and hell if it doesn’t do a good job welcoming you to town. From the jetways to HUGE banners and photo ops, they do a great job marketing their city. It’s no wonder, Indianapolis attracts millions every year for their #1 renowned event, the Indianapolis 500 NASCAR, multiple smaller races like the Brickyard 400 (this year, hosted by Florida Georgia Line question mark?) It’s also one of the smaller market areas to have hosted a Super Bowl, in part due to their state of the art, behemoth of a stadium, Lucas Oil.
Driving into downtown (get a rental car while in Indy it’s much cheaper than uber), Lucas Oil is right at the cusp of the entertainment and commerce core, and you can’t miss it. No other stadium looks like this, like a giant manufacturing plant from the Industrial revolution. It is just blocks away from the central district, which makes it great for fans looking for a one stop place to eat, drink and play. Although, you know the kind of stuff that’s in these areas, Dick’s Last Resort, RAM/Rock Bottom Brewery, etc. Stuff that they have on Lower Broad in Nashville. Things that tourists like.
What’s a little surprising is that there are outlets of some very famous restaurants known to be from other cities around the country. There’s a Primanti Brothers, the beloved sandwich purveyor from Pittsburgh, and Giordano’s from Chicago (trash if you ask me, Lou Malnati’s or nothing). If you’re able, there’s also the famed St. Elmo steakhouse, featured in Parks & Recreation as Ron Swanson’s favorite restaurant.
It’s worth strolling through Downtown Indy’s core of skyscrapers and hotels (there’s a lot of nice hotels, good for you, Indianapolis) because once you turn a corner to Washington Street, the Indiana State capitol building, in all its neoclassical glory is there. Built at the end of the Civil War in 1865, it is quite pretty with its green domes and facade like the Supreme Court.
Just across from the capitol building is a roundabout called Monument Circle, with an impressively ornate obelisk at the center, the Soldiers & Sailors monument. At the base of this structure is the Col. Eli Lilly (recognize that name?) Civil War museum. I’ve been all over this country, and damned if this isn’t the most European feeling place ever. Cities that actually were inspired by European towns notwithstanding (I see you Solvang, Vail, Coral Gables). The fountains, limestone and bronze sculptures, the details are immaculate.
Pacing my way through town, I headed to Fountain Square for lunch. You’ll have to excuse me for this part, and I’m sure native Indianapolans will take offense, but there’s a Kuma’s Corner in Indianapolis. THIS CANNOT BE OVERSTATED. Kuma’s, Chicago‘s own metal burger bar has an outpost in this city. Y’all win.
I have been eating at Kuma’s since there was just the one Avondale location, and look at them now. The Lair of the Minotaur is one of my top 5 favorite meals of all time. You better believe that’s what I got, and it was incredible. Adjacent is Upland Brewing, which looked super cool with a patio, so if you must try local 😉 head here.
To counteract my blasphemy, I traveled further down Prospect Street to visit another hot topic in the news, the new Larry Bird mural. Larry Bird is the Indiana legend of all legends. The “Hick from French Lick” played for both the Indiana Hoosiers as well as the Indiana State Sycamores, notably going up against lifelong rival Magic Johnson & Michigan State in the NCAA finals in 1979. The rest is basketball history, Celtics v Lakers, etc. He is the only person to have ever been named: Rookie of the Year, MVP, NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, Coach of the year, and Executive of the year. As a Lakers fan, I hate him, but I have to begrudgingly respect him.
The story behind this mural was that local artist, Jules “Muck Rock” Muck painted Mr. Bird with tattoos all over his body, using a photo from a 1970s SI cover as her inspiration. Apparently, Larry did not like this because the tattoos and ne’er-do-well look did not gel well with his (apparently) perfectly curated public image, so he basically ceased and desisted her, and both parties came to an agreement that she would paint over the tattoos. The mural as it stands now, still pretty cool.
Fountain Square is a really cool area, theaters, more local, ethnic restaurants, more down home alternative feel that isn’t so sterile like other more touristy areas of the city. Lots of breweries in the city, especially along Virginia Street, Indianans seem to be super into brew culture; it is the Midwest, of course. Fletcher Place neighborhood has one called Metazoa that apparently has a Chai Milk Stout, which would have been so totally incredible in my 20s, but not so much for my sensitive lactose-issued 30s.
The other very popular area for eating/drinking is Mass Street, which runs through town. This street is dotted with eateries and boutiques. The Athenaeum building is an incredibly well preserved building that served/serves as a clubhouse meeting point, for German immigrants dating back to the 1840s. The Rathskeller, Indiana’s oldest restaurant in operation since 1894, is located inside.
There’s also a YMCA there now, so the building is still being used as it was intended. A must try is Coat Check in the lobby. Serving Indiana favorite, Tinker coffee, das gut.
Their iced pistachio latte is one of the best, most inventive (lemon peel and rosemary spritz?) I’ve ever had. It was perfect to grab and go for my walk down this diagonal artery of the city.
If you didn’t notice by now, the streets are named after states, and my only gripe is that there’s a ton of one ways and weird parking, so it’s a little achtung, baby.
Around Mass Street, there’s incredible examples of architecture (is this an architecture blog now?), from the Moorish (!!!) Old National Theatre (aka Murat Shrine aka Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) and Gothic style of St. Mary’s Catholic church on New Jersey.
Drive down a little ways and you’ll see the next architecture gem of the city, the Scottish Rite Temple. Can I just say, this city’s European immigrants killed the building game. Again, another structure related to the Free Masons (shriners are technically related to freemasonry from my understanding), this is probably one of the finest examples of neo-gothic architecture anywhere. If I thought Monument Circle looked like Europe, then this is its Notre Dame.
It sits on the edge of a large American Legion mall area that has the Indianapolis Central Library on one end and the World War memorial on the other end. I’m sure lots of cool outdoor events are held here, the perfect meeting area.
Just on the other side is the IUPUI campus, the amalgamation of IU and Purdue campuses, with a lot of medical, law, advanced colleges of the state. Most of my friends went to school here, and the hospital complex is gigantic. There’s also the headquarters of Lilly Pharmaceuticals (remember good old Eli Lilly?) nearby with their immense research complex. The Central Canal of Indianapolis runs along the campus, and is very idyllic for strolls and family walks.
Before I could leave town, I had to see the Indianapolis Speedway. I don’t know much about racing (despite also having seen the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte), but I do know that Mario Andretti came to my elementary school when I was in third grade and we all got toy cars from him, so that was my brush with racing royalty.
The Brickyard, so-called as it was originally made from bricks, hosts the most famous race of all, the Indy 500. This track is enormous. The self-anointed racing capital of the world (I mean, it is the single largest sporting event in the world) is kind of awesome, and there’s tours, museum, hall of fame, etc. I can only imagine how electric this place gets during a race; it must be insane. It was the perfect way to cap off a speedy trip through this Midwestern winner of a town.
Famous sons/daughters: W. Axl Rose (Lafayette, don’t think I didn’t listen to Welcome to the Jungle on my way out of town), Larry Bird, Joyce DeWitt (!!!), Brendan Fraser, Mike Epps, Steve McQueen, artist Don Gummer (aka Mr. Meryl Streep), Marc Summers, and David Letterman.
Listen to: Guns & Roses, John Mellencamp (honorary mention from Seymour, IN because everyone can use a little ditty about Jack & Diane)
Eat/Drink: any number of breweries. Indiana is weirdly very proud of the shrimp cocktail at St Elmo Steakhouse.
Souvenirs: sports stuff, racing memorabilia, checkered flags
Sports: Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA), Indy 500 (NASCAR and Formula One)