I was born in Indianapolis and have lived in the city for the majority of my life. Indiana tends to get a bad reputation for being full of rednecks, but I have made it one of my goals to prove that Indianapolis isn’t just the home of a world-renowned race track and is actually a very fun, progressive, and culturally diverse city.
I have compiled a list of some of my favorite places in town to hang out. A visitor’s guide for all of the cool places that an actual visitor’s guide might fail to mention.
Fountain Square is easily my favorite cultural district in Indianapolis. It’s an area of town that has evolved drastically over the past ten years, transformed from a sketchy, run down neighborhood into a hip and funky hot spot for people of all ages. Restaurants, breweries, shops, concert venues, festivals/events… you name it, Fountain Square offers it. Indianapolis is home to several different cultural districts, but I prefer Fountain Square over the rest because it is closer to home and is very easy to navigate. Parking isn’t a nightmare and once you’re parked, you can get anywhere with just a short walk. The next few places are all located in Fountain Square, so if you visit Indy, be sure to check them out. Or if you live in Indy and haven’t explored everything that Fountain Square has to offer, I suggest that you do so!
New Day Meadery is one of my most frequented hot spots, satisfying my craving for craft cider and mead in a cozy, stylish tasting room. On top of their tasty beverages, they host lots of fun events, like Mead and Knead on Wednesdays, where you can get a chair massage from a professional massage therapy and a glass of cider or mead for the bargain price of $10! Or Go With the Flow, a Tuesday yoga class where you get to treat yourself to your beverage of choice afterwards, all for $12. On the first Friday of every month, local artists showcase their work there and on the third Friday of every month, they host local musicians with no cover fee. Can you see why I love this place?
Hero House Comics is my family’s favorite comic book shop. It’s a small, family-owned shop that is always running specials and frequently hosts artist signings and release parties. The staff are the friendliest and most helpful bunch of folks that you will ever meet and have always made my kids feel at home. It is our staple stop on Free Comic Book Day and we love seeing all of the costumed staff and fans who hang out at the shop on the busiest comic book day of the year.
The Hi-Fi is one of my favorite live music venues in town. It’s a small and intimate setting, nestled in the Murphy Art Center, that hosts a variety of local musicians as well as more widely known independent bands. The only drawback for my music loving children is that it’s a 21 and over venue, so I can’t take them to any shows there. But there are plenty of other all ages venues in town that The Hi-Fi is one that I can keep for myself.
Funkyard Coffee Shop and Art Gallery is easily one of the coolest little cafes that you will ever walk into. The walls are adorned with local art that is available for purchase, they have a decent selection of vinyls, and they make a mean cup o’ joe. Whether you’re a coffee purist or have the most complicated order under the sun, the self-proclaimed coffee alchemists can make whatever you desire from beans from the local Bee Coffee Roasters. They have lots of yummy desserts, too.
Square Cat Vinyl is relatively new to Fountain Square, but is quickly becoming a favorite spot of mine. More than just a record store, Square Cat also hosts live music and album release parties and even has a small bar that serves coffee and tea, various adult beverages, and limited food. But the best part? It’s an all ages establishment. I have been wanting to introduce my kids to local music in a live setting for ages, but unfortunately, most venues are 21 and over. I’m excited about sharing Indy’s local music with them.
Broad Ripple Village is another popular cultural district in Indianapolis. I don’t frequent B-Rip as often as most because not only is it further from home and sort of in an inconvenient spot to get to, it is usually heavily trafficked by the college crowd. But when there’s something that I want to do there, I will happily drive across town, scour the area for a parking spot, and battle the frat boys. Like Fountain Square, Broad Ripple is home to plenty of restaurants, bars/lounges, boutiques, and a classic concert venue that many big names in music have performed at. Here are some of my favorite spots in Broad Ripple…
The Egyptian Cafe and Hookah Bar was where I had my first experience with hookah and I have since become hooked. Not on the hookah, though I thoroughly enjoy partaking and now even have my own at home, but on the atmosphere. The moment you walk in, you can smell the wafting shisha clouds and become entranced by the unique, dimly lit light fixtures and low-sitting tables and couches. So I sit down with whatever friend joined me, order a smoothie (or a beer, if I feel inclined) and some fantastic food (like chicken souvlaki or dolmades or falafel), and we choose our hookah flavor. The whole experience leaves me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
The Vogue Theatre is one of Indy’s oldest night time hot spots. It opened in the ’30s as a movie theater, was used as an X-rated movie theater for a short time, and was converted into a nightclub/concert venue in the late ’70s. My parents even have memories of seeing shows there “back in the day”. When you walk through the doors and look at the walls, you’ll see pictures of hundreds of bands who have performed there at one point or another. You will quickly see some VERY big names on those walls and if you’re like me, you’ll struggle to imagine them playing in such a small setting. And you’ll wish you’d been there when they did. Now, I’m content to see some smaller names perform there and maybe one day, after The Vogue leaves a little of its magic on them, I’ll be able to say “I knew them when…”
The Alley Cat Lounge is certainly the classiest “dive bar” that I’ve ever been to, with it’s plush white chairs and impressive selection of whiskey. It’s also a piece of Indianapolis history, considering that it’s Broad Ripple’s oldest bar. Whether you are just stopping in for a quick drink before moving on for the rest of your night out or if you are setting up camp with your friends and playing pool. The Alley Cat is the perfect spot.
Historic Irvington is a neighborhood that will leave you drooling over its timeless architecture and beauty. It is all of ten minutes from my house and I often dream of moving there one day. Irvington is home to a variety of amazing restaurants, eclectic shops, and one of the oldest, most historic theaters in town – The Irving. Oh, and did I mention that it is also where two of the most famous “haunted houses” in Indiana are located? Let your fingertips do the wandering and look up H.H. Holmes and D.C. Stephenson and see what you come across. You may not sleep for a week.
Black Acre Brewing is easily one of my favorite local breweries, serving up a fantastic variety of both house and guest taps as well as some mighty tasty grub. The dining/tasting area is small, so you better plan on getting there early on a Friday or Saturday night, otherwise you’ll be lucky if you even have standing room at a bar table. But if that doesn’t tell you how awesome they are, I don’t know what does.
Jockamo Upper Crust is the pizza joint that converted me into a pizza lover. Call me crazy, but pizza has never really been my thing. Sure, I like it well enough, but I wouldn’t choose it over other things. Unless it’s Jockamo’s. They have unusual recipes, like the Bollywood (which sounds like it belongs at your favorite Indian restaurant), the Creole (packed full of etouffee sauce, crawfish, and cajun sausage), the Seoul Man (with pork and kimchi and BBQ sauce), and various Hangover (breakfast) pizzas. But they’re unusual in all the right ways. Pick your poison and pair it with a pint of a local draft beer and you won’t be sorry.
Wyliepalooza Ice Cream Emporium is a welcome change from the influx of froyo shops around town. I mean, I like froyo, but nothing tops a scoop (or two) of delicious hard ice cream. It has an old school feel that attracts youngsters and “oldsters” alike. The only problem is that you have to eventually choose a flavor! And that task is darn near impossible.
Black Sheep Gifts is a fun and quirky shop that my girls love. If it’s weird, hilarious, or locally made, you can probably find it here. Whenever we are in the neighborhood, it’s always worth a stop.