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Weekender: Bloomington, Indiana

Roger Davies

Photo: Roger Davies

No, this town is not a John Mellencamp shrine. Bloomington locals still love their favorite hometown hero, no matter how many times he changes his name. But they take pride in all their famous musicians, from Hoagy Carmichael to the violin prodigy Joshua Bell. Bars and clubs around town keep the beat, booking every type of music from symphonic to good ol' rock and roll.

For jazz, head straight to the back room of the eclectic Bear's Place (1316 E. Third St.; 812/339-3460) on Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Here, David Miller's Jazz Fables cover greats such as Miles Davis and Sun Ra while patrons relax over dinner. The low-key (and affordable) restaurant allows students and professional musicians to book shows. Anyone can have a little fun by ordering from the tongue-in-cheek menu. (Our favorite item is the chicken lips, which has this explanation: "We know chickens don't have lips, but have you ever seen a buffalo with wings?And have you ever seen a chicken count its fingers?")

When it came time to build a new performance center, Indiana University, home to one of the country's top music schools, held nothing back. With state-of-the-art acoustics in a concert hall that could hold three sessions of Congress with room to spare, the Musical Arts Center (Jordan Ave.; 812/855-7433) stages one of the biggest opera seasons in the Western Hemisphere. The MAC also accommodates a 125-piece orchestra along with a 250-member choir, as well as more-intimate jazz performances led by the conductor of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and just plain cool cat, David Baker.

The multipurpose IU Auditorium (Fine Arts Plaza, 1211 E. Seventh St.; 812/855-1103)—reopened after an 18-month, $12.5 million renovation—has staged a variety of events, from a speech by Mikhail Gorbachev to a Broadway play to a stop on a Phish concert tour.

Before Béla Fleck became a staple on the bluegrass circuit, the Bluebird Night Club (216 N. Walnut St.; 812/336-3984) was his regular stamping ground. The wide array of local and visiting musicians makes Bluebird one of the few remaining joints that could survive on reputation alone (Mellencamp used to play here when he still went by "Cougar")—though the nickel beers on Thursdays before the band takes the stage help, too.


Neither as transparent nor as controversial as his glass pyramid gateway to the Louvre, I. M. Pei's design of the Indiana University Art Museum (1133 E. Seventh St.; 812/855-5445) has his fingerprints all over it. With few 90-degree angles and an expert use of light, the structure compares in beauty to the 35,000 masterpieces within. This is one of the finest university art museums in the country, displaying works that span every continent and genre. Picasso's abstract L'Atelier and Man Ray's surreal L'Énigme d'Isidore Ducasse keep good company with the marble bust of Septimius Severus (dating back to a.d. 201), as well as intricately carved African artifacts.

You can still view some pieces from the notorious 1997 exhibition "The Art of Desire," plus other tasteful examples of erotic art at the prominent Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender & Reproduction (1165 E. Third St.; 812/855-7686). Its gallery also shows artifacts such as a 19th-century chastity belt, erotic frescoes, and a decorated condom collection.

For collectibles that you can purchase, make your way to the Garret antiques shop (403 W. Kirkwood Ave.; 812/339-4175), where everything from porcelain vases to vintage light fixtures is for sale. The eponymous owner has been collecting objets d'art for the past 50 years, filling every nook and cranny of his three-story Victorian house.

When the clutter becomes overwhelming, just cross the railroad tracks to the spacious Bloomington Antique Mall (311 W. Seventh St.; 812/332-2290). The three sprawling floors are home to more than 80 dealers selling pieces from centuries past. The vendors themselves are usually not present, but that doesn't mean you can't bargain; just leave your asking price with attendants at the front desk, and they'll get back to you by the end of the day.


Drive in any direction from town, and you'll see the rolling hills and amber waves of grain that make up the Midwest. Though Indiana has a bad rap for brutal winters, there's no finer place to run, ride, swim, bike, or fish on a hot summer day.

Your best bet for spotting a white-tailed deer or pileated woodpecker is at Brown County State Park, 20 minutes east of Bloomington on scenic Highway 46. Both of the park's public entrances give access to a laby- rinth of wooded roads, all of which eventually lead to a lake, cliff, or campground in the lush 16,000-acre park. Take a hike, or rent a horse for a guided trail ride from the Saddle Barn (812/988-8166; $9 for 2.2 miles, $13.50 for 3.3 miles) and gallop past procrastinating students and visiting Amish.

When you've worked up a sweat, make your way to one of the area's three recreational lakes. Though Griffy Lake and Lake Lemon (both north of town) are cool and pleasant, the enormous Lake Monroe (south of town) is the most rewarding. Covering almost 17 square miles, it's the largest man-made lake in Indiana; visitors can swim, sail, fish, water-ski, hike, camp, or just soak up some rays on its shores and rafts.

Don't expend all your energy in the sun without hitting the trails of Bloomington's Wapehani Mountain Bike Park (off Weimer Rd. between Second St. and Tapp Rd.; 812/349-3736). Along eight miles of moderate tracks you'll encounter steep rises, obstacles, and tight switchbacks. Get trail information and rent bikes at IU Outdoor Adventures in the Union (812/855-2231; $16 per day).

If you're searching for an unusual evening activity, J. L. Waters & Co. (109 N. College Ave.; 812/334-1845) schedules Monday night fly-fishing and paddling adventures. With the shop's experts, you can try out rods, canoes, and kayaks in the moonlight.


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