Think Circle City is little more than the Indy 500? You’d be wrong. In the past few years, Indianapolis has experienced a significant renaissance, particularly downtown. Below, your guide to where to perambulate, plus a clutch of culinary delights and destinations to consider the city’s literary and historical highlights.
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library
Just off Senate Avenue you’ll find a brick-and-mortar homage to Kurt Vonnegut, who spent his formative years in Indianapolis. Visitors will find themselves surrounded by first editions of his novels as they look over some of his personal effects, including his typewriter, his red rooster lamp, and a slew of rejection letters (take note, aspiring authors).
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Opened in 2013, this eight-mile path provides a banquet of peripatetic possibilities as curious travelers can rent a bike, take in a yoga class, or just stroll leisurely along looking at one of the 10 different art installations. Don’t miss the celebrated “Ann Dancing” by Julian Opie or the urban-rural mash-up that is “Prairie Modules 1 & 2” (hint: look for a mini-prairie above the trail). Also, in the spring and summer, cyclists can take a guided tour that offers insights into the trail’s landscape design, art, and nearby neighborhoods.
Indianapolis City Market
A city isn’t great unless it has a four-season public market and the Indianapolis City Market is one of the best in the Midwest. As you walk in, you’ll smell crepes, pizza, and huaraches. Make your way to Three Carrots for their pulled seitan sandwich then pick up the Ginger Bomb juice over at Twenty Two. Afterward, walk on up the stairs to the Tomlinson Tap Room for $3 draft specials, including local favorites like Sun King.
While Indy is fortunate enough to have several world-class art institutions, it is reassuring to know that the Conrad Indianapolis is also dedicated to enhancing the aesthetic experiences of its overnight guests. Upon entering the lobby, it’s easy to get lost in the more than 1,100 square feet of art spread across the first two floors. A close look at the walls reveals prints by Warhol, Picasso, and creator of the famous “LOVE” symbol, native son Robert Indiana. Of course, there’s also the four art-forward suites (Modernism, Surrealism and so on)) which have been curated to include a dozen or so decorative works tied to their respective themes.
The Libertine Liquor Bar
Stoop low and walk down a flight of stairs on Mass Ave to enter this louche liquor bar. Decorated with chaise lounges and tiny tables, the best seat is at the bar where one can scope out the offerings, which feature everything from apple brandy to coffee rum. I’d recommend you stick to the “Boozy and Stirred” corner of the menu, which features the Deep Steep, a chartreuse, gin and black tea cocktail that tastes like George Clooney reading the Declaration of Independence.
Sited in the Alexander Hotel, Cerulean stays true to its name by utilizing its namesake color throughout the restaurant to offer a feeling of warmth and tranquility. Chef Alan Sternberg continues to experiment with the menu, which has included Tyner Pond chicken breast and the ribeye steak with foie gras, both of which are locally sourced. More adventurous types may wish to go all in with the five or seven-course tasting menu.
If the thought of a museum dedicated to Western art makes your eyes glaze over, fear not. The Eiteljorg Museum brings together traditional narratives (cowboys on the plains, right?) with contemporary visions of the American West as told via today’s Native American artists who explore themes like alienation, marginalization, and the complexity of life on the reservation. Along with traditional artworks by artists like Charles Remington, visitors should make sure and see the contemporary art fellowship galleries, which in past years have brought in the work of Tlingit, Cherokee, and Delaware tribal artists.
Indiana Historical Society
Hoosier history is replete with icons (Michael Jackson, yes?) and telling their story through recordings, images, and documents is part of the fun here. But it truly comes alive inside the “You Are There” rooms, which feature live actors. As you step into each of the three rooms, you might find yourself in a 1904 photo studio getting your photo taken or walking into a 1940s Indianapolis department store. After this, you should breeze on over to the Cole Porter Room where you’ll be serenaded by a chanteuse singing out favorites from this son of Peru, Indiana. And yes, they take requests.
You may want to find a seat for brunch at Milktooth, but you just might not make it pass the pastries at the front counter: sourdough chocolate croissants, pecan sticky buns, and kimchi blue cheese croissants. Top honors go to the local apple Dutch baby pancake with vanilla-rum parsnip puree and the cranberry walnut & raclette grilled cheese complemented with a local duck egg.