A quick two-hour cruise up I-74, Indiana’s Circle City offers Cincinnatians a comfortable destination that feels familiar, but also full of surprises. Race into town for a grown-up summer getaway packed with cultural offerings, outdoor attractions, world-class dining, excellent craft beer, and good old Hoosier hospitality.
What traffic? The newly unveiled eight-mile Cultural Trail links five cultural districts, culminating what has been a six-year work in progress. Follow the lighted bike and pedestrian trail down Mass Ave (that’s cool kid-speak for Massachusetts Avenue), popping in and out of charming boutiques and restaurants along the way. Stroll along the canal through White River State Park for stunning skyline views and access to museums, Victory Field, and outdoor summer concerts. Just to the north up Michigan Road, 100 Acres at the Indianapolis Museum of Art provides further opportunity for al fresco explorations. One of the largest museum art parks in the country, this fresh-air feature complements the facility’s stirring indoor collections and exhibits with outdoor installations, walking trails, and lots of Mother Nature’s own handiwork. Best of all, admission is free.
Getting your hands on decent pho or dim sum ’round these parts used to require a road trip, but not anymore; a wealth of diverse cultures in Indy means the flavors of the world are transforming this former meat-and-potatoes town. Handmade tamales, spicy doro wat, Peruvian papas rellenas, and bona fide banh mi are all luring diners to the funky Fountain Square district southeast of downtown and to International Marketplace, a near-west-side neighborhood, for a veritable smorgasbord of authentic (and outstanding) ethnic food.
Two of the city’s latest culinary darlings are Bluebeard and Cerulean. Bluebeard uses local produce and meats to amp up an already creative contemporary Italian menu—think radishes dipped in ganache-like goat butter and sprinkled with sea salt; pork belly confit with grilled ramps, new potatoes, and a tomato demi-glace; and “butcher shop bolognese” with herbed oil. By contrast, Cerulean offers up clever build-your-own bento-box lunches and modern Midwestern mains like corn macaroons with pork belly, cheddar, and arugula; beef short ribs with spätzle, dandelions, black garlic, shallots, and mascarpone; and something called pickled Indiana shrimp. (Don’t mistake our bewilderment for skepticism. We’re into it.)
Indy is right on top of the small-plates trend too, and The Libertine is proof positive that good things come in small packages. Brainchild of rockstar chef Neal Brown, The Libertine is first and foremost a liquor bar. Whether you order from the tapas list—we recommend the deviled eggs topped with Kentucky Spoonfish caviar—or the dinner menu, filled with rich mains like fried mortadella and dijon-braised local rabbit, your selection will be enhanced with an expertly mixed Pisco Sour or one of the other 20-odd cocktail concoctions. And if you’re simply paralyzed by the choices on this many-tentacled menu, you need only remember two words: bacon flight.
Cold Beer Here
Indy’s craft beer industry is going gangbusters, earning national fanfare and racking up Great American Beer Festival awards. Clay Robinson and Dave Colt, the fun-loving owners of Sun King Brewing Company, fanned the flames of interest in local beer when they launched their downtown warehouse and tasting room in 2009 (the Sunlight Cream Ale and Osiris Pale Ale are proven local crowd-pleasers). The years that followed have seen the rise of a brewing revolution with Flat 12 Bierwerks, Triton Brewing Company, Bier Brewery, Fountain Square Brewery, and others joining the fray.
Visit historic City Market for a rotating Indiana-only selection of craft beers. Tomlinson Tap Room, on the mezzanine level, provides a great people-watching perch. Twenty Tap creates a similar vibe in South Broad Ripple, and adds tasty pub grub. Or hop aboard the Indy Brew Bus for several hours of guided touring and tasting at popular local brewing establishments; refrigerated growler storage is a bonus.
Alexander Hotel is Indy’s newest upscale lodging option, open since late 2012. With an evolving in-house program curated by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, these hyper-modern digs merge contemporary rooms and suites with innovative public sculpture, paintings, and mixed media, in the manner of the more high-profile 21c Museum Hotels. Plat 99 Mixology Lounge rounds out the experience with swanky decor, a raw bar, and a few creative beverages.
Guests of the well-heeled Conrad (and the general public, too) can grab a gander at the Picasso and pop art within the hotel’s nicely manicured Long-Sharp Gallery. If you’ve got $3,500 burning a hole in your pocket, you can overnight in the posh 18th-floor Gallery Suite, 2,000 square feet of space garnished with original works by master artists such as Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. If you’re like the rest of us, though, just looking is probably memory enough.
Originally published in the June 2013 issue