Advice on Bloomington, Indiana
June 14, 2006 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Bloomington, Indiana question: I'm in Bloomington for an intensive language course for the next 2 months. Ideas on things to do, places to eat, general living advice?

I read this post, but it was more for a short stay. I'm subletting a place with a 10-15 minute walk to both campus and downtown. My subleter left me her bike to borrow. I have no car.

As far as food, I'm into organic and not too keen on meat.

I'll be in class about 20-30 hours a week, but with afternoons free. I'll be trying to work a few hours each week as well, oh, and I need time to write my dissertation. So it isn't like I have tons of free time to explore.

posted by k8t to Travel & Transportation around Bloomington, IN (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
And, yes, I know that the original post I linked to was for Bloomington, IL, but some people added Bloomington, IN things in there.
posted by k8t at 12:37 PM on June 14, 2006

First of all, I'd check out the Bloomington Livejournal community from time to time--people tend to post things that are going on in town, etc. and it's a pretty active community.

Foodwise, you really can't go wrong with Roots, which is an organic, all vegetarian restaurant. Similarly, there are numerous ethnic restaurants (my personal favorite is probably Siam House for Thai--but almost all of them are good). Also, if you're looking for groceries, I'd recommend Bloomingfoods, which stocks mainly organic/vegetarian/vegan foods.

In terms of things to do, there are loads of concerts all summer, if you're interested in that, and if you can find someone to drive you/rent a car (or if you're a strong biker) you should explore the surrounding area. There are quite a few lakes and parks that are particularly pleasant during the summer.

I can't really think of anything else off the top of my head, but feel free to send me an email if you'd like more specifics or have other questions...
posted by almostbarefoot at 12:59 PM on June 14, 2006

As far as organic food, your best bet's probably Bloomingfoods.

Most of the restaurants in the area have plenty of vegetarian options. The best ones are on 4th st near the Law School. Lot's of tibetan/indian/[insert ethnicity] places around town.
posted by logicpunk at 1:00 PM on June 14, 2006

There's also Bloomingpedia, which may or may not have useful information...
posted by logicpunk at 1:05 PM on June 14, 2006

Don't eat the pizza at Rockits Pizza, no matter how drunk you get at the Bluebird bar next door. GOD I wish someone had given me this advice.

Seconding the Bloomingfoods recommendation.
posted by theredpen at 1:07 PM on June 14, 2006

Oh, also, the Ryder Film series often has good films playing in the afternoon/evening.
posted by almostbarefoot at 1:11 PM on June 14, 2006

See Breaking Away.
posted by OmieWise at 1:30 PM on June 14, 2006

Murder By Death is from Bloomington, and they are playing there July 2nd. I've enjoyed their shows greatly, and I think it would be fun to see them perform in their hometown.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:41 PM on June 14, 2006

I have a friend in Bloomington and I always enjoy the burrito place (Laughing Planet?), the Irish Lion and the Afghan restaurant. Oh, and sometimes we go to the Trojan Horse, too. I'm going to be visiting him in a few weeks, actually. I seem to recall there's a cool video store in the main square, as well.
posted by Slothrop at 1:55 PM on June 14, 2006

If you take OmieWise's advice, don't let the bleak town and campus landscape get you down. The trees -- sycamores, sweetgums, maples -- have all done a lot of growing in the 30 years since Breaking Away was filmed.

It's been a couple of years since I lived there, but here are a few thoughts:

For restaurants, just walk along 4th St. between Grant and Indiana. Follow your nose. You'll find something good, plenty of which isn't meaty. Right now from 2500 miles away I'm missing the Red Sea, Little Tibet, and especially Casablanca.

Aver's pizza is exquisite. Try it at least once.

The county library is really superb -- I only realized how good it was when I moved away. It's open till 9 most nights.

You don't say exactly where you're living, but I'd forget B-foods. The downtown one, though quaint, is understocked; the east side one requires a car. Instead, I'd concentrate on the Saturday morning farmers' market outside City Hall. (The farmer's market functions almost like a secular church for the community. Check it out and you'll see what I mean.) Also, unless something's changed, the closest big grocery store to campus is the Kroger at 2nd and College. It's considered the poor cousin of its huge sprawling counterparts on the edge of town, but really, it's fine.

Walk along Kirkwood at the south end of the square at night. Look at the statue in front of the courthouse. From the correct angle, the lighting makes the torch she's holding look exactly like the severed head of a duck.

Check out the Parks and Rec schedule for various free concerts, plays, and movies outside.

Just sit next to one of those little streams running through the campus. You'll eventually start seeing crayfish. (OK, this may not be a big deal for everyone, but it was for me.)

Bike up to Griffy Lake or, if you're more ambitious, over the causeway down to Lake Monroe.

If it's a good year for fireflies, the rolling parkland south of the stadium along 17th St. can look like fairyland in the early evening. (Speaking of which, look for signs in the stadium parking lot saying, incredibly, BLUE CARS ONLY, ORANGE CARS ONLY, etc..)

I used to like to explore the fields and open spaces around the railway yards in summer. I can't tell from the satellite pics whether it's built up or otherwise inaccessible now, but I'd go right to the end of Morton St. and just keep going. You'll see strange abandoned landscapes full of wildflowers, rabbits, the occasional old warehouse, and hidden streams.
posted by tangerine at 2:30 PM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ah, sweet hometown. I love me some Bloomington, though it's pretty much dead in the summertime.

By "downtown" I assume you mean the area just west of campus (Kirkwood, etc), and not the big-box wasteland near the mall on the east side of town. Bloomingfoods is a great bet for organic/veggie stuff, though the location closer to campus (down an alley off Kirkwood) pales in comparison to the bigger (and fluorescently lit) location in said big-box wasteland on the east side of town (bike down Third Street past the mall and it's on your right--but for the love of Jah be careful!). Closer by is Sahara Mart (address in link), which is a good all-around "ethnic" grocery with lots for the veggie-minded.

The independent bookstore scene ain't what it used to be, but for sittin' and perusin', there's a Borders near the mall that beats the nearby B&N.

I'm actually not a fan of the restaurants on 4th Street; most of them are owned by a relative of the Dalai Lama and have a distinctly slumlordy feel, and Siam House once served me a dish with frozen vegetable medley in it. Casabalanca Cafe on that stretch is pretty good, though. Where Bloomington really shines--and this is from someone who lives in NYC--is pizza. Pizza of all different kinds: Mother Bear's for thicker, Cafe Pizzaria for dark-bubbly-topped thinner, and Lenny's for gourmet-topped wood-fired. Lenny's also has a house salad that kick-a the ass. And Laughing Planet Burrito on Grant/Kirkwood, which Slothrop mentioned, is a favorite of mine--even better, imo, than their sister location in Portland. There's also a burrito-as-big-as-your-head joint closer to campus on Kirkwood, if that's more your steez. Great cheap breakfast/brunch at the Village Deli on Kirkwood, as well. Don't expect good sushi.

The music scene there has exploded in recent years--Fader just had an article about Bloomington Rock a few months back--so there should be plenty of live shows. There's an arts center off Walnut and 4th that's connected with the great community radio station there (WFHB) and sometimes has readings by prominent authors. The Ryder Film Series, i think, also has a free circular that advertises general around-town happenings.

What else...the video store Slothrop mentions I think is called Plan 9, and there's also a video place in the Fountain Square Mall (south side of the square) that might pose an alternative to certain monstrous chains. Plenty of bars, but also plenty of meathead bars. Since most undergrads are gone for summer that won't be a problem.

Most of all, be glad you're going to be there in 2006. In 1982, there was a Sambo's and a Po' Folks.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 2:35 PM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

aaaaaand apologies to Tangerine for bogarting his/her observation about the flagship Bloomingfoods.
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 2:37 PM on June 14, 2006

thanks all. got basics at bloomingfoods today (4 blocks away), took the bus out to target for basic house stuff. now having a cheap beer w. free wifi on my pda at djangos.
it isn't london (my last home), but it is quiet and safe. thanks all for the ideas.
posted by k8t at 5:26 PM on June 14, 2006

and glad to know there is ok mexican. i ate my last sushi last night in sadness.
will check out the farmers mkt and pizza.
posted by k8t at 5:31 PM on June 14, 2006

It's incredible how many amazing restaurants there are in Bloomington. Seriously, start at the Sample Gates (Kirkwood & Indiana), and start walking down Kirkwood like tangerine suggested. If you go into any restaurant you see along the way, the odds are pretty good that it's awesome. Village Deli (sandwiches, burgers, etc.), Laughing Planet (burritos), Snow Lion (Thai/Indian), Shanti (Indian), Grazie! (Italian), Roots (all-vegetarian deli), and The Irish Lion (well, Irish, of course) all come recommended. They cover the spectrum from really quick (Laughing Planet, Village Deli) to sit-down-and-stay-awhile places (Grazie!, Irish Lion), too. You have to make an active effort to find something around here that isn't vegetarian-friendly. Laughing Planet buys local ingredients from the Farmer's Market; Roots has plenty of organic stuff. I love Aver's Pizza, although Lennie's and Mother Bear's are good too. Bear's Place is a great pub on Third and Jordan, and they have a killer dish called a veggie parm: an open-faced veggie burger topped with mozzarella and smothered with a spicy bean chili.

I have to admit, I'm not nearly as wild about the bar scene. It seems like the best places to get a drink with some friends aren't really the bars per se, but the pubs: Irish Lion, Crazy Horse, Bear's. Probably the best place that's closest to the bar experience is Nick's English Hut, also on Kirkwood. If I wanted to go some place to just get a drink, I'd probably go to Uncle Elizabeth's. The jukebox has crappy music that's too loud, and the furniture is all plastic lawn crap. But there's plenty worse, and I'm unashamed about a little queer favoritism. :)

One thing you might want to do while you're here is check out IU's Art Museum. It's free to the public. How much you enjoy it can vary a lot based on what the current main exhibit is, but if nothing else, the main gallery on the first floor is a good way to soak up an hour. There's even an original Picasso.

If you like board or card games, check out The Game Preserve on the square.

I hope you have a great time here; Bloomington's a pretty cool place.
posted by brett at 5:45 PM on June 14, 2006

Roots on 6th and Walnut is the only exclusively vegetarian restaurant in town (Pricey but huge portions.) Sushi can be spotty depending on where you get it. (My favorite is Domo on 3rd near Campus.) The Art Museum is small but worth a few hours on an afternoon. The Lilly Library is also worth a visit. If you keep your eyes open, crashing the SOFA gallery openings is sometimes worthwhile. If you are into classical music, you have your choice of free concerts.

Plan 9 is now on 6th street, and the video store in Fountain Square closed. But the Cinemat is at 4th and College and has midnight cult movies. (Don't know if they still have a chess league.) In terms of shopping, Caveat Emptor Bookstore is a must-have experience. (I think, but I don't know that Hans has spent most of the last 30 years receiving more books than he sells.)

You might be able to get a Monroe County Public Library card. They are considerably more browser friendly than the IU System. They have a DVD and VHS selection that is free entertainment, but a large chunk of their collection is checked out at any point in time. Still, if you have an open mind you will certainly find something that's better that cable.

In terms of getting around, the student ID gives you "free" access on both the Campus and IU systems. (You pay for it at the bursar.)

If you can rent or borrow a car for the weekend, there are a few nice State Parks and rec. areas within 30 minutes, and several more within 60. I'd strongly recommend a roadtrip to the Eiteljorg in Indianapolis for its specialized collection. In fact, here is a top five list of things that I think people should see/do within an hour of Bloomington.

10: Hike the McCormick's Creek canyon.
9: See Gutenberg Bible and other artifacts at the Lilly Library.
8: See The Eiteljorg Museum.
7: Buy/Sell a book at Caveat Emptor
6: Play with the bronze statutes around Dunn Woods. *
5: Eat Tibetan Food
4: Eat at Ma Bears
3: Drink at the Temple of the Torpid Liver (Nicks, on Kirkwood)
2: See a School of Music performance
1: Walk the campus in the cool of the evening

* (Bonus if you give St. Herman** a lapdance. [The guy reportedly had a great sense of humor, he won't mind.])

** The local cult of Herman B Wells is thankfully overtaking the cult of Bobby Knight.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:29 PM on June 14, 2006

IU alum here. Bloomington is a great place!

Definitely do not leave without eating at Nick's or Mother Bear's. As far as bars, I really like Kilroy's on Kirkwood, and the Bluebird is a good place to see a show.

The couches at the IMU are very comfy and great for taking naps. : ) If you like bowling, there's an alley there too. Dunn Meadow and the Old Crescent are great places to sit on nice days, as is the big grassy area by the library. The IU art museum is worth a visit. I love walking around Kirkwood and the downtown area - there are so many fun little stores there.

The buses will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in town, although the campus bus service is not nearly as extensive during the summer.

I miss that place!
posted by SisterHavana at 8:24 PM on June 14, 2006

Looks like most of the big stuff is covered already. I don't think anyone's mentioned El Norteno yet; for good mexican food it's my favorite place to be. 6th & Walnut.

If you want delivery, which I'm sure you will at some point, try instead of trying to find all the numbers and hoping they can get you what you want.

Bluebird is okay for shows, but if you really want the local scene and indie-indie bands, go to Second Story.

If you're into wine or just want a little free booze, get someone with a car to take you north on 37 to the Oliver Winery. They have free tastings every day, a nice pond to picnic near, and occasional tours. You could bike there, but the hills would be a bitch. There are other wineries in the area, but Oliver is our favorite.

Hopefully your place has a washer and dryer, but if not there's a laundromat with good hours on 3rd St. a couple blocks west of campus, but I'm not sure how close the bus stops. I don't think anywhere in town is cheaper than the others.

The bar scene should be pretty laid back with most of the students gone, so I won't have to warn you about places not to go (Kilroy's, Jungle Room) but as other have mentioned Nick's is the place to drink. The first floor booths have a lot of good history; Vonnegut drank there once about 20 years ago and they have a little sign up marking the booth he sat in.
posted by kyleg at 9:54 PM on June 14, 2006

I thought that the only reason I was leaving sunny L.A. and moving to Bloomington was to eat at Samira’s Restaurant. Thanks for the other recommendations and ideas folks.
posted by firstdrop at 10:23 PM on June 14, 2006

k8t, are you going to SCALI? I'm going to SCALI! I was totally going to post this question :)
posted by carmen at 10:57 PM on June 14, 2006


This Saturday (June 17th) is a taste of Bloomington and the arts

Be sure and check out Encore Cafe they host an Irish traditional music session each Friday, starting at 5:30pm (my neighbor plays during this session quite often) and their food is excellent.

Picnic with the Pops will be on July 1st this year

Bloomington in the summer is great...go to to check out a complete list of activities.

I came to Bloomington in 1980 (yes I am very old) to go to college and I'm still here (although thankfully have been done with school for quite some time :)
posted by fabgolf at 7:37 AM on June 15, 2006

Carmen, I'm doing SWSEEL.
posted by k8t at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2006

Hm. I was a depressed, loner, stick-in-the-mud undergrad at IUB, so let me throw out a few things I wish I did or did more often:
  • Visit the Kinsey Library. You need a professor's permission and "demonstrable research needs related to human sexuality, gender, and reproduction." Grumble.
  • Write a column for the Indiana Daily Student.
  • I hiked around Griffy Lake a lot, but I didn't discover the trails on the east side of Griffy Lake, with the old dam, until my last semester. It's very accessible by bike if you don't mind the steep climb back to town, or by foot if you don't mind a long walk to get there.
  • The ride to Lake Monroe isn't too hard, either, but you'll get a lot of townies honking at you because they think you're training for Little 500.
  • Last Friday of every month is Critical Mass (big, international quasi-protest bicycle ride). I believe they meet at the Sample Gates at 5:30ish.
  • Try to arrange a group tour of the CAVE, or, better yet, the cyclotron ... or just wander Lindsey Hall trying to find the server that hosts The Internet Oracle. Wandering around just about any part of campus was always fun for me.
  • Music Fest, jazz concerts and the art museum are no brainers. Periodically, the Kinsey art collection makes a showing, if you're lucky.

posted by Skwirl at 10:24 AM on June 15, 2006

(Not that this has anything to do with the original question, but Skwirl, if you are who I think you are, I sat next to you in J375!)

And to make this topical - if Puccini's is still around, they have really good Italian food. And do a brunch at the Tudor Room in the IMU.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:46 AM on June 15, 2006

Anyone in Bloomington wanna have a MeFi meetup? :)
posted by k8t at 1:22 PM on June 15, 2006

Have it on a Saturday and I may drive in from Chicago. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 3:10 PM on June 15, 2006

I won't be getting there until Sunday night... but later, sure :)
posted by carmen at 4:09 PM on June 15, 2006

Carmen, my e-mails in my profile, drop me a note when you get here.
posted by k8t at 6:11 PM on June 15, 2006

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