10 (Plus 2) Things I Love About Indianapolis
The sky above Broad Ripple, #7 on John’s list.
I would never want to live anywhere but Indianapolis, Indiana. I’ve lived across the United States and no place has ever tempted me to stay. Denver had the allure of the Rocky Mountains, Ann Arbor had the beauty and power of the University of Michigan, and Providence had the history of Colonial America, but none of those places ever came close to making me want to leave Indianapolis.
To appreciate Indianapolis you have to look beyond the Chamber of Commerce boosterism and get into the seams of the city. I can’t say that it’s not fun to have the NBA and the NFL in town, and the Indianapolis 500 is an institution, but that’s not what makes a city tick. So, what makes Indy tick? Here’s a tour of 10 things I love about Indianapolis (in no particular order, and leaving many, many things out).
When you visit Indianapolis make sure to stay downtown (1). Right away you’ll notice how shiny and fixed-up it looks – ignore that completely. There’s a big new urban mall (Circle Center), a big new basketball stadium (Conseco Field House), and big new baseball stadium (Victory Field). While all fun in their own ways, these things can be found in most large cities (according to the 2000 Census Indianapolis has 781,870 people, making us the 12th-largest city in the U.S.).
So, when you’re in town be sure to give the big attractions a pass and hit the streets. Why not start by visiting the place that give us our nickname “the Circle City” – the Circle (2). Located directly in the center of town, the Circle is just that – a circle road that surrounds the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. When I was in high school teeners would “lap” the circle – that is, drive around the circle as many times as they could get away with before the police made them stop. I never lapped the Circle, but I did hang around many a summer night – meeting people, hanging around, and breaking curfew. The Circle is still a great gathering place and an excellent location to start your tour of the city. While you’re there walk right into the Soldiers and Sailors monument and take the ancient elevator to the top (3). The view is not as good since all the big office buildings went up, but it’s cool just the same.
After you get back down to street level, look west on Market Street and you’ll see the Indiana State House, look east and you’ll see the City/County Building and the empty space that used to house Market Square Arena (Elvis played his last concert there in 1977, and I saw my first in 1983 – The Police with Joan Jett).
Head east: your destination is the Old Indianapolis City Hall (4) located at the corner of Alabama and Ohio streets. Built in 1909, this beautiful building was the hub of city government until 1962 when the City/County Building was opened. In 1967 it became home to the Indiana State Museum – which is where I learned to love the building when I toured it as a grammar school student. Called “one of the most beautiful buildings in the state of Indiana” by former Mayor Charlie Boswell, it has wooden banisters, marble floors and a Tiffany-era stained-glass dome that once featured a huge pendulum (now housed in the new state museum). Currently, the building is transitioning: the Museum is moving into a new, larger building, and the Old City Hall will house the Indianapolis central library while its building undergoes repairs. After that, nobody seems to know what will happen – so hurry up and see it while you can.
Tired of walking? Time to get in your car and head north. Take Illinois Street (5 – so fast, so narrow) and look out for all the landmarks I use to measure my progress home every day: the big Masonic Temple at North Street (what goes on in there?), Methodist Hospital at 16th Street (where I was born), the Barth Electric Building at 20th Street (no relation, but still fun to see a building with your name on it) and the Children’s Museum at 30th Street (6). The largest Children’s Museum in the United States, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum features a realistic cave, a huge, working model train set, and, every October, a labyrinth of a haunted house. Inside the museum, if you look around very carefully, you might find a photo of the day that the museum was opened. Then, if you squint just right, you’ll see a school-aged John Barth way back in 1976 walking around with then First-Lady Betty Ford as she attended the grand opening.
After you leave the museum, continue north and you’ll see two more of my favorite landmarks: M & M’s Soul Food (“Food so great, you’ll scrape your plate”) and Costumes by Margie (I’m just amazed that such a place exists – it’s been there 20 years at least), both near 38th street.
Continue on until you hit Westfield Boulevard and head east into Broad Ripple (7). Broad Ripple Village, originally settled by Irish laborers working on the Central Canal, is now Indianapolis’ arts and restaurant district and a first-class place for people-watching and general hanging out. I grew up here, and it’s where I spent my high school years and college vacations. Instead of studying, I was hanging out with my friends at Second Time Around (8) – a used record shop and obscure video store. It was the only place in mid-80s Indianapolis where you could buy a copy of the Ramones’ “Rocket to Russia”, rent Bergman’s Seventh Seal, and borrow a copy of John Water’s autobiography Shock Value from Todd, the owner. Sadly, Second Time Around is gone now, but if you mill around the you-make-it pottery shop that replaced it, you just might hear the distant notes of a Sonic Youth record being played.
By this time you might be hungry. Look around: Broad Ripple is full to the brim with restaurants, bars, and cafes. You can get anything you want, from local places to national chains – all nicely blended together. There’s a Starbucks right around the corner from a locally owned café called the Monon Coffee Company. Why not check out the Corner Wine Bar and the Wellington Pub (9)? I used to wait tables and tend bar there – ask the current bartender if the photo of Sid Vicious is still behind the bar.
After eating you’ll want some exercise. Walk up Guilford another block and you’ll cross the Central Canal (10). Built in 1836, the Central Canal runs nine miles from the White River in Broad Ripple all the way downtown. Along the way the Canal passes Butler University, the Naval Armory, Indiana University, Purdue University at Indianapolis, and flows right into the White River State Park. I hope you brought your bike, because one of the best ways to see the city is to ride on the recently expanded canal path all the way downtown (being sure to switch to Riverside Park at 30th Street – the canal path is undeveloped from 30th to 10th Streets).
Whew! After that ride, you’ll be tired and want a drink. Now that you’re back downtown you can hear some jazz with that beer at the Chatterbox (11) on Massachusetts Avenue, or listen to some blues at the Slippery Noodle Inn (which claims to be the oldest bar in the city) on West Street, or get an (expensive) martini at the Bar in the Canterbury Hotel (12).
Because you are staying downtown, you can drink all the beers you want and listen to jazz all night, knowing you can walk right back to your hotel – ready to fall asleep and dream up your own list of your favorite things about Indianapolis.