Heading to the Indy 500 in May? Don’t miss the hot new restaurants giving Indianapolis a new hipster vibe.
So, Indianapolis, are you an old Rust Belt city or are you the next Brooklyn?
Maybe a little of both — though locals bristled at a recent article in Bon Appetit magazine that compared Indy’s dining scene to Brooklyn’s hipster vibe.
The fact is, Indianapolis has its own identity, thank you very much, and shouldn’t be defined by what counts as cool elsewhere. Sure, there’s old-school Indianapolis: massive stone monuments that swallow blocks of downtown, divine corned beef sandwiches at Shapiro’s and shrimp cocktail with the world’s hottest horseradish at St. Elmo’s. The Indy 500, of course, is run over Memorial Day weekend.
But don’t let the abandoned Coca-Cola bottling plant on Massachusetts Avenue fool you into thinking the city’s best days are behind it. Not only is “Mass Ave” hopping with small shops and creative eateries, but other corners of the city are bubbling with energy too. You can see it along the Canal Walk, lined with artwork and popular with joggers, and even in the HGTV show “Good Bones,” where rundown houses in rebounding Indy neighborhoods are renovated by a mother-daughter team.
One thing’s for sure. Indy’s old nickname, Naptown, is now best used ironically, with a hashtag, because this city has woken up.
Indy’s dining scene is exploding. Milktooth serves breakfast and lunch, including a heavenly sour cream biscuit with bacon maple butter. At Black Market’s communal tables, adventurous palates will enjoy roasted marrow bones and beef tongue cocktail, while more conventional diners can have roasted half chicken and braised lamb shoulder. Tinker Street’s menu has four sections: small plates, botanical, land/water and confections. Sweet pea cake is a favorite dessert.
The Indy 500 has long had a museum onsite, but fans will also want to see what’s new on Main Street in Speedway, the suburb where the racetrack is located. Have a craft beer at the Daredevil Brewing Co., or a pinot noir at The Foyt Wine Vault, owned by the family of race-car driver A.J. Foyt. For a wild ride, try Speedway Indoor Karting, which employees like to say is “not your grandfather’s go-kart.”
Downtown, stroll or jog the Canal Walk and White River State Park. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art has its annual “Jingle Rails” locomotive exhibit through Jan. 16. The massive neoclassical Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, a symbol of the city, honors soldiers from the Civil War and other conflicts before World War I. The nearby Indianapolis War Memorial honors World War I veterans. A memorial to the USS Indianapolis, a ship that was torpedoed in the Pacific during World War II, is at the north end of the Canal Walk.
At the Indianapolis Museum of Art, enjoy Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper and a mesmerizing lobby installation made from books donated by the public, suspended from the ceiling. Then head outside: Museum grounds offer formal gardens, rustic trails and a 100-acre park. Outdoor art includes “Funky Bones,” a giant skeleton made from benches that was featured in the book “The Fault in Our Stars,” written by Indy-born John Green; and “Park of the Laments,” a hauntingly serene spot with stone walls, a tunnel and grassy walled field.
Nearby Crown Hill Cemetery, one of the country’s largest cemeteries, has acres of hills, trees and statuary. Notables buried here include Depression-era gangster John Dillinger.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offers immersive, interactive exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt and contemporary China.
Pork tenderloin is a thing here. Find a food truck or try it at Edwards Drive-In, with 1950s décor and Elvis on the jukebox.
Indianapolis is dotted with tributes to one of its most famous sons, the late counterculture writer Kurt Vonnegut. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library displays his typewriter, rejection letters and other intriguing mementos. There’s also a restaurant named for his novel “Bluebeard” and a German beer garden, Rathskeller, in a building his grandpa designed.
A mural of Vonnegut towers four stories high over a parking lot on Massachusetts Avenue, but the street has many other attractions worth seeing. Near the mural, there’s the Ball & Biscuit (get the cocktail with the egg white!), Stout’s Footwear (founded in 1886) and “Ann Dancing,” a hypnotic animated neon sculpture. At the other end of Mass Ave, the Black Market restaurant faces Indy Reads Books, an independent bookstore that sells mostly donated used books to support a literacy program. In between are groovy gift shops, boutiques and Crimson Tate, a quilting store.
In the Fountain Square-Fletcher Place area, look for the “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” sign featured in the “Good Bones” show, along with funky restaurants and vintage stores.