When you dine at Bluebeard, the bellwether restaurant that heralded Fletcher Place’s position as one of Indianapolis’s up and coming neighborhoods, your bill is presented in a paperback book. My bill arrived in the restaurant’s namesake novel, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s version of the fairytale, “Bluebeard.” Pretty cool, I thought. As the bill was paid, my host turned to page 12. Darn; Andrew Luck had not yet signed this copy. The popular Indianapolis Colts quarterback is known to sign page 12 (his jersey number) of the paperback books in Bluebeard, one of his favorite restaurants.
Bluebeard was the first stop on my quest to explore the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, indulge in the Circle City’s culinary renaissance, and get a taste for the 11 Vonnegut-inspired cocktails offered at bars throughout the city for what has been declared as The Year of Vonnegut. Also on the agenda, a visit to the Indianapolis Art Museum for 250,000 Spring Blooms.
A decade has passed since Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died, but the memory of the revered author is alive and well in his hometown. When the yearlong Vonnegut tribute was announced, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Museum had plans to move to a larger building on Massachusetts Avenue. However, structural issues have kept the Vonnegut Library and Museum in its smaller quarters on Senate Avenue for now. For die-hard Vonnegut fans and the rest of us, there still is plenty to do in Indianapolis this summer.
Exploring Indianapolis’s neighborhoods on bike or foot has never been easier thanks to the $63 million, eight-mile bike-friendly Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The path connects six cultural districts, including Massachusetts Avenue and Fountain Square, to downtown sites and the White River State park.
“Most people know Indianapolis for the iconic Indy 500 race; however, the city is not only booming with big sporting events, but hip and funky neighborhoods, an impressive bike trail system, a 250-acre urban green space with seven family-friendly museums, as well as a food scene that is catching the attention of foodies across the nation,” says Nate Swick, spokesperson for Visit Indy.
From Fletcher Place, it’s an easy walk to Fountain Square. For nearly 25 years, Linton Calvert has watched residents and tourists rediscover his Fountain Square Theatre Building (a former Vaudeville Theater) that houses two duckpin bowling alleys, a diner, restaurants and bars, a rooftop patio, and a 10-room boutique hotel.
“Fountain Square is very accessible,” says Calvert. “We’re an eclectic group of individuals living and working here. Guests like to come for the live music on the square and in venues like the Hi-Fi and the White Rabbit Cabaret. It’s nice for guests to stay at the Fountainview Inn and not have to get in their cars at all.”
Back on the Cultural Trail, my next stop is the City Market — I can’t believe I’ve never been there. The City Market first opened in 1886; it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today more than 30 local artisan booths — eateries, retailers, and the Tomlinson Tap room — occupy the market. Beneath the market’s plaza are the long-hidden ruins of the City Market Catacombs. A vast expanse of brick barrel arches, the 22,000 square-feet catacombs are all that remain of Tomlinson Hall, which burned in 1958 and was torn down by the city.
Next on the agenda is a stroll back to Fletcher Place to visit Sun King Brewery. Sun King rolled out its first kegs in 2009, making it the first full-scale production brewery in Indianapolis since Indianapolis Brewing Co. closed in 1948. Now the second largest beer brewer in Indiana (3 Floyds in Munster is No. 1 in size), Sun King gets the credit of beginning the craft beer movement in Indianapolis.
I was directed to Zionsville for dinner. Twenty-five minutes north of downtown, Zionsville is known for its bucolic country estates, charming downtown, and Trader’s Point Creamery and its farmstead restaurant, The Loft.
Trader’s Point Creamery owners Jane Elder Kunz and Dr. Peter Fritz Kunz say, “From the beginning, we’ve always believed we need to nourish the land that nourishes us all. Our goal is to produce the most nutritious and healthful products, and promote a community of local food and sustainable farming.”
Ask for a table with a view of the cheese cave or on the screen porch overlooking the 150-acre dairy farm. Seasonal food, grown on-site, dominates the menu, and it is all organic. Be sure to start with the cheese board. On the way out, visit the farm store to take home the best cottage cheese you will ever try. The organic dairy farm produces European-style yogurt and cottage cheese for stores nationwide, including Whole Foods.
With a second full day ahead of me, I headed straight to Milktooth for brunch. This is Indianapolis’s hottest restaurant spot, recently named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the world’s best restaurants. Chef Jonathan Brooks was featured on the cover of Food & Wine as a best new chef and is a two-time James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist. Located downtown in a former automotive service station, the restaurant does not take reservations. If there is a wait, put your name in and cross the street to Amelia’s Bakery for a small bite to tide you over.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is my final destination. The IMA offers visitors experiences at the museum in The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, which is one of the largest contemporary art parks in the United States, and at Oldfields — Lilly House & Gardens, a historic estate on the IMA’s grounds. Through May 31, patrons will be treated to Spring Blooms 2017 featuring 250,000 planted bulbs and a beer garden, part of a working greenhouse.
Of special interest will be the IMA’s latest exhibit through July 30 – Audubon: Drawn to Art. Along with the artwork and descriptions of birds’ habitats and characteristics, visitors experience an immersive gallery where Audubon’s birds come to life. Patrons also will see one of the few remaining printing plates made for the original printing of Audubon’s “The Birds of America” book, lent by the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
If you need another reason to visit the IMA this summer, try miniature golf. Through Oct. 30, swing your way through the 18-hole putt-putt course installed in the sculpture court. Artists designed the holes, each a nod to the heritage of Indiana. One hole features a reproduction of Kurt Vonnegut’s office. Another illustrates the Great Squirrel Invasion of 1822 when an influx of the rodents wreaked havoc throughout Indiana, even swimming across rivers. Golf is gratis with general admission to the museum.
If you need extra motivation for the three-hour drive home, skip the energy drink (or the Vonnegut-inspired cocktail) and instead stop by The Garden Table on Mass Avenue for a flight of cold-pressed raw juices. A flight of four samples in little glass bottles covers the spectrum of flavors and health benefits.
When You Go:
• VisitIndy, Visitindy.com
Where To Eat
• Bluebeard, Bluebeardindy.com
• The Loft at Trader’s Point Creamery, traderspointcreamery.com/the-loft-restaurant
• Milktooth, Milktoothindy.com
• The Garden Table, thegardentable.com
What to Do
• Fountain Square Theatre Building, fountainsquareindy.com
• Indianapolis City Market, Indycm.com
• City Market Catacombs Tours
• Sun King Brewery, Sunkingbrewing.com
• Indianapolis Museum of Art, imamuseum.org
• Indianapolis Cultural Trail, indyculturaltrail.org
• White River State Park, Inwhiteriver.com