I know there's more than corn in Indiana, I just don't care.
April 6, 2012 9:33 AM   Subscribe

What, if any, are the good qualities of Indianapolis, Indiana? As a former resident, born and bred, who spent the majority of my life there, I've never liked Indianapolis. Now, the yearly family visit looms. How can I make the best of my time there?

I really don't want to dislike Indianapolis, but the soul-crushing consumerism, sports mania, conservative political climate and terrible public services always made feel pretty bleak in the past. Thinking about going back always makes me want to run the other way, but I stick it out for my family.

I've seen and done all the popular things, I'm familiar with most of the city and suburbs, I've done the day trips. On top of that, the few treasured places I had are gone or gutted, or have been turned into shiny, soulless shells of the places they once were, IMO (Children's Museum, Central Library, IMA).

Is there some amazing place or annual event that I've overlooked? An area that's become a highlight of culture in the last 10 years? A swathe of new, exciting restaurants? Some hidden gem that's always been there that I previously never had the money or means to access? Historical tours? Secret hideaways? Anything? Or will I be reduced to an internet-dwelling hermit while not with my family?
posted by i feel possessed to Travel & Transportation around Indianapolis, IN (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what to tell you, since you've been there before. But I'll relate my story anyways.

When I was a kid growing up on the East Coast, we'd take our own yearly trek out to visit family in the Midwest. After we moved out here, the process was reversed. In both cases, my aunt in Indianapolis was a convenient first-or-last-night stop.

Until someone told me otherwise, I thought Indianapolis, and Indiana, was one of the most beautiful, fabulous and wonderful places around.

My aunt originally lived on Buckingham, near Butler, and I loved her house. We'd take walks down to that garden with the... bell tower or something? I dunno, but it was pretty and there was a pond. Then we'd go to the Children's Museum, and Broad Ripple, and Artsy Fartsy. I was in heaven.

So maybe you just need a little bit of a paradigm shift. I know there are crappy places and boring food and tire fires (okay, that's Gary) and all that, but it's really nowhere worse than going on a business trip. Plus you have friends and family there. Ask them.

The main issue here is that, while things have changed, YOU'VE changed, too. I know I'd see things differently if I went back to Indy now, as an adult, but I'm sure I could find something interesting. Don't get me wrong; I hear you on the hometown thing. I think my biggest excitement at going back to my semi-crappy hometown ("Hi. I'm in... Delaware...") is the thought of being able to buy stuff at the ratty old corner liquor store, which I once thought was SO FANCY.

I don't think it's about Indianapolis at all; I think it's about you.
posted by Madamina at 9:42 AM on April 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bona-fides: Grew up in the suburbs, left in 97, family still there so I got back from time to time. Haven't been there in about a year so my advice might be out of date.

Well, downtown has seriously changed in the last 10 years to become much more walkable, especially around the Canal. Doing that and visiting the State Museum is a good way to spend a couple hours. Or at least hang out outside the museum to hear the steam clock play "Back Home Again", which I do love.

Going to the Children's museum is only great, as an adult, if you have kids. Otherwise, let it pass. I like the new IMA - the revolving exhibits on the top floor have been good the few times I've gone.

The Melody Inn seems to have something going on most nights, these days.

I hope someone does chime in with restaurant suggestions - I'm always frustrated by this when I go back, my friends who still live there think the Broadripple Brew Pub is exciting and my mother likes Macaroni Grill. Mom's in Carmel, up there I like the Sichuan restaurant on Rangeline and Woody's on Main Street.

The other thing that's worth doing is appreciating some of the older, somewhat crumbling neighborhoods. Not to be voyeuristic or urban-decay-porn-y, but you might find something interesting in Haughville, Fountain Square, or Speedway.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go out and meet people. That's the only way to avoid the internet hermit scenario. Wish I could help you on where exactly to go. City parks are a good start.

There was a young man traveling through a small town when he spotted an old resident relaxing in his rocking chair outside a small house. The young man said, "How is this town? Back where I come from, there are so many negative people."
"We have those here, too," replied the old man.
Later, another traveling young man stopped by and asked the old man, "How is this town? Back where I come from, there are so many good people."
"We have those here, too," replied the old man.

That's just an old saying my grandpa used to tell me.

I used to hate going back home to the small redneck drinking town where I grew up. But there are still a lot of good people there. It's all about perspective.
posted by temetvince at 9:54 AM on April 6, 2012

Oh, and since I left, there's been a Mexican and Central American population and food explosion. I have had several good meals at several restaurants around 38th and High School Rd.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2012

I generally hatefest on Indianapolis, but go there to eat because there isn't really anywhere in West Lafayette/Lafayette and Chicago is just a bit too far for an evening. Miyagi is good for sushi, and I went to Maxine's Chicken & Waffles and that's pretty good. Not fancy, but it's decent eats.
posted by bolognius maximus at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Excellent live jazz scene.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:13 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. You might have better luck liking a place if you stop thinking about it as "INDIAN-NO-PLACE."

2. The IMA is pretty spectacular given its size and what is available at the place. Go check out the museum and the grounds.

3. I'm not into the sports stuff (except roller derby) or the political climate and I find things to do WHILE LIVING IN THE AREA. I'm not in any amount of constant pain or anything, really.

4. What types of things do you like to do generally? Go down to Vino Villa in Greenwood. Go check out how the IUPUI campus has changed. Go hang out at Crown Point and get a tour. Check to see if there is a Naptown Roller bout when you're in town.

5. As These Premises Are Alarmed mentioned. There's been a Mexican and Central American population and food explosion. There is also a fairly huge Sikh population on the southside - which means tons of interesting cultural events and delicious foods.

6. If you're reduced to hermit internet dwelling - it ain't nobody's fault but your own. Check out the local free weeklies when you get here. If you'd indicate the approximate time of year you'll be here it would be easier to fully answer your question.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:20 AM on April 6, 2012

I'm not sure I'm the best person to answer this question; I think the Children's Museum and the Central Library are better now than when I was growing up. (I like the IMA a lot too, but don't recall going there as a child so I can't compare). But I'll try anyway.

Aside from the aforementioned museums there's the Eiteljorg. Although it might be described as "shiny" too so I'm not sure you'd like it. But I'm still trying to wrap my head around how "shiny" is a bad thing. There's also the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. It's pretty small and doesn't take that long to go through, so I wouldn't make a special trip just to see it unless you're a Vonnegut fan already, but if you're downtown anyway it's worth stopping in.

A swathe of new, exciting restaurants?

As with any good-sized city there's always new restaurants opening up, quite a few that I like. It's hard to make recommendations without knowing more about what you're looking for in a restaurant, but if you're a "foodie" I'd recommend Mesh or R Bistro. If you're into beer, there's a number of breweries and brewpubs around now. The Brugge Brasserie is a favorite of mine; you can Google for others.

If you have a particular type of food and/or region of the city you're looking for, the IndyEthnicFood Restaurant Directory tends to be more comprehensive than the big-name review sites (at least as far as restaurant listings, not so much for the reviews themselves).
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2012

I, too, am a Hoosier of the Indianapolis variety, who lived there for nearly 27 years, until I moved to Chicago 13 years ago.

I, too, go home for holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas).

I, too, loathe the damn city.

My mom lives in Irvington, in a small one-bedroom, so I stay at hotels Downtown. The last stay, I was at the new JW Marriott which has a very, very good Italian restaurant and a sports bar that, although strewn with televisions, was not at all crowded and had pretty good food.

Downtown is, alas, a bust. Mass Ave. used to be great, but now, meh.

Unless you're in town when there are concerts, there's just not all that much to do. I try to stick to the classics: dinner at India Garden or St. Elmos. Indianapolis has not grown or developed -- its heyday, such as it was, is 10-15 years gone.
posted by gsh at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2012

Oh yeah - roller derby! Is that in season? I had a fantastic time at the Coliseum at the Fairgrounds last year.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2012

Recess which is a restaurant in broad ripple and a visit to Crown Hill Cemetery. Good food at Machu Pichu and La Hacienda. Excellent thai at Siam Square downtown.
posted by cynicalidealist at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2012

You may know this already, but Nuvo is the local alt-weekly, so check out their calendar (online or a free print copy once you're here) for goings-on when you're here.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:50 AM on April 6, 2012

I actually meant Crown Hill and not Crown Point in my answer, fwiw. Silly brain.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:10 AM on April 6, 2012

Well, I don't know that I'd call the changes to the children's museum, IMA, and Central Library over the last ten years soulless, but I have little experience with what they were like before that. I've lived in Indy about as long as you've been gone, it sounds like. I'm from the Chicago suburbs originally, and when I was first here, I described Indy as the most suburban city I'd ever seen. Not entirely a compliment, of course. But I came to realize it does have most of the things I'd want: museums and ethnic restaurants and theatres and parks (we have a state park in town! not to mention Eagle Creek Park) and a symphony and the opera and, yes, sports teams. I haven't yet lacked for things to do; sometimes you might just have to look a little harder than you would in, say, Chicago. (Nuvo is helpful in that regard.) The lack of decent public transport is a handicap, too.

So I second pretty much everything mentioned above. I was going to suggest Fountain Square (and Siam Square, a new Peruvian place called Mama Irma, and the Greek stand-by, Santorini), Crown Hill, and the Vonnegut library. If you're downtown, the Indiana Historical Society has new interactive exhibits (the Indiana Experience); right now there's one about Prohibition and the 1950s Jewish home, I believe.

As DevilsAdvocate mentioned, we've had a bit of a brewery explosion: Brugge, Sun King, Flat 12 Bierworks, Bier Brewery, Fountain Square Brewing Co., Black Acre Brewing Co., and the Triton Brewing Co. are all new in the last few years, and they all have various combinations of tasting room/restaurant/carry out. The city market downtown now has a tap room (the Tomlinson Tap Room) that the Brewers of Indiana Guild is involved with and features craft beer from across the state. I also like taking folks to the bar at the Rathskeller.

If you were going to be here in October, I'd suggest the Irvington Halloween Festival and ghost tours. Irvington also has a new/used bookstore (Bookmamas), coffee shop, the aforementioned Black Acre Brewing, and some good little restaurants (The Legend, Dufour's, Jockamo's Pizza). Various music and events at the Irving Theater and the Emerson Theater (not in Irvington proper but nearby).

And, yes, there's the Naptown Roller Girls (currently in season). Also the Indiana Ice, which yes is sports, but is interesting for being junior-league hockey. (Their season's almost over for the year, though.)
posted by percolatrix at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Never been, don't know much, except that Indianapolis has created a nice long swath of urban street with sustainanable stormwater systems. Hey, maybe it is boring to walk down, but that's more of an effort than either San Francisco or Oakland has made in that direction. I'm working on a green street project now, so this is interesting to me.

Really though, how you feel is going to be about your approach. It sounds trite, but if you can look at this familiar place from someone else's perspective you may find more to appreciate.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:07 PM on April 6, 2012

I'm not a big fan of Indianapolis either, but a few friends live there and we've managed to do some fun things when I visit. They do have good restaurants, including Brugge Brasserie, Shapiro's Deli and Taste Cafe for brunch. I also had a wonderful time at the Italian Street Fest - the people were so nice, the food was fantastic (anchovies on fresh Italian bread!) and, though I'm not religious, the rain stopped during the religious procession and one shaft of light shined on the madonna - it was pretty cool and memorable. Also, the Indiana State Festival is huge!
posted by theuninvitedguest at 12:54 PM on April 6, 2012

Born and raised in Indy since '58. Far Eastside.
I share the lack of enthusiasm, frankly.

There are some highlights, as the above have mentioned. But, that what they are...highlights. And they don't seem to inform the character of the city in any effective way. The highlights seem to exist in spite of the city. The best one I always direct people to is the IMA. It's simply a word-class art museum quietly going-about its business.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:39 PM on April 6, 2012

From today's Star:

"The mostly unknown catacombs dating to the 1880s underneath Indianapolis’ City Market are expected to be opened for public tours in a few months."

That being said, I've lived in Indiana all my life but I haven't been to Indy in 15 or 20 years, so I have no first-hand knowledge of much of anything there now. This caught my attention this morning, however, because I thought it sounded pretty cool.
posted by worldswalker at 4:46 PM on April 6, 2012

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