Trying to Find the Cool in Indianapolis

I never thought I’d struggle with the decision to write a post about Indianapolis. The whole premise of this post, and my trip there, was to try to find something cool about the city, to try to find something interesting about a place I never really thought about outside the context of a football team or car race. 

Today, though, the governor of Indiana signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which will give legal protection to businesses who want to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on religious beliefs. I try to keep politics off this blog, but I am a person who believes strongly in freedom and equality for every person living in the United States of America and it would pain me to encourage people to visit a state whose government legally protects hate.

In spite of this I’ve decided to go ahead and publish this. While I would encourage people to speak with their money and not visit Indiana at this time, I am confident that equality will eventually win and maybe then you’ll also want to try to find some cool in Indy.

If two weeks ago someone had asked me my thoughts on Indianapolis, I would’ve drawn a huge blank. The Indy 500? Peyton Manning even though he doesn’t play for the Colts anymore? Corn?

So how exactly did I end up spending 36 hours in this kind of non-noteworthy Midwestern city?

I made a resolution to go somewhere every month this year. In January it was Chicago for a college friends reunion, in February I went to both Detroit and San Diego, and for April and on I have some pretty fun international adventures planned. That left me with nothing for March.


As the days were winding down, my friend Carlie and I found we both had the same day off work and decided to take spontaneous trip north to Indianapolis. I’d read a couple of travel blogs declaring the coolness of Indy and I just had to get up there and check it out for myself.

So we packed a tent to camp in the backyard of Indy Hostel, and spent Saturday night and Sunday exploring Indy’s different neighborhoods trying to find what could make this city cool.

Camping at a hostel in March is totally normal.

Camping at a hostel in March is totally normal.

Broad Ripple: College kids and sports bars

Yes, I just used the phrase “college kids”. I’m old. Too old, in fact, to be hanging out in Broad Ripple. Before I got to Indy I heard Broad Ripple was artsy and filled with microbreweries. In reality it was filled with bros and tiny dresses from Forever 21. We walked around a while trying to find something for dinner and after walking past sports bar after sports bar filled with Butler students, ended up getting back in the car and heading to Mass Ave.


SoBro, or South Broad Ripple, may be where the cool is at in this area, though. There’s a charming farmers market called Locally Grown Gardens, along with some breweries and cute looking restaurants in this less developed area of town. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover this until Sunday afternoon.

Mass Ave: 20somethings and public art

Mass Ave is the diagonal main drag that runs through the heart of Indy’s arts district. After visiting on both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon I can say that this neighborhood has two very distinct personalities. At night it’s the play place for the city’s 20somethings. Chock full of bars, lounges, and restaurants, this is the Broad Ripple for the slightly older crowd.


We started with sausages and biers at Rathskeller, a German restaurant in the basement of the Athenæum, and the city’s oldest eatery still in operation, before sampling some of Indy’s finest microbrews at Mass Ave Pub. When we hit the road in search of tacos at midnight there were still plenty of people just starting their nights.

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On Sunday afternoon we were dodging strollers instead of drunks as we hunted for some of Mass Ave’s famous public art. While I wasn’t a huge fan of most of the pieces (too polished, not enough grit), I kind of fell in love with Chatham Passage. This sunken concrete vault is covered with a steel grate carved into the shape of lace. Every so often it releases puffs of air that smells like roses. Yes, roses. The piece is located on a small walkway that was once home to Real Silk Hosiery Mill and is said to represent the underground coal vaults found in many basements at the time, as well as the luxury associated with silk.


Downtown: Chain restaurants and stadiums

Have you been to the downtown of any other small Midwestern cities? Well, then you’ve been to downtown Indy. We made our way here for a food truck festival and then promptly left. Monument Circle is worth a stop, but besides that your time is better spent in other neighborhoods with more local character.

Jamaican food truck food.

Jamaican food truck food.

Fountain Square: Hipsters and mead (and street art)

There’s no doubt about it- Fountain Square is the cool part of Indianapolis. A historic neighborhood once home to German and Italian immigrants, the neighborhood is currently in the midst of a revitalization. And we all know what that means. Hipsters!


Now, I really like hipsters because we have similar interests: craft alcohol, creative food, and street art. Fountain Square had all three which meant I was immediately in love with the neighborhood.

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The best discovery by far was New Day Craft Mead & Cider. Mead was a bit of a mystery to me. I knew that people drank it a long time ago, but that was about it. Turns out it is an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey and it’s really delicious. We tried their draft sampler, 3 ciders and 4 meads, and loved the different combinations like blueberry and strawberry rhubarb. I think I’m officially a mead convert now.

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While I wouldn’t put Indy at the top of my list of favorite Midwestern cities, after visiting Fountain Square I can at least say I was successful on my mission and found a little bit of cool in this city.


Does Indy sound cool to you? What are cities have you found to be surprisingly cool? 
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  1. March 26, 2015
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