A few times a year someone will publish a list of the “best” things to do and see in Indy. What to do if you’re in town, the things you just have to check out; Indy’s most popular attractions. While most of them include a lot of our larger and well-funded institutions and restaurants that get a ton of play already, there are ton of gems in the city that are the places that make Indy, well, Indy.
I really don’t want to make this a race thing and I’m not sure if culture is the right word. However, there’s got to be a reason that my (black) family doesn’t respond to the options most often suggested. There has to be a reason tourists still have to stop and ask me “but where are the black people?” No, I don’t think there needs to be a separate list. We’re not going there. But, when you go to a new city you want to find out what the people that live there really do. Where do we hang? Where do we eat on Saturday mornings? Where is the cool corner bookstore? That’s what I want to talk about – the gritty, cultural, we-don’t-have-enough-money-for-paid-advertising places in Indy.
Here is my list of 12 cultural things to do in our big small city and what makes them worthy.
Try to finish a meal from Boogie Burger. Boogie Burger just makes you feel cool by walking in. They play good music. There’s a ton of art on the walls. It’s very local feeling. The burgers are amazing. They’re very well- seasoned and can come with crazy toppings like pineapple, eggs, freshly sliced pastrami, even chicken. Then there are the garlic fries. If you like garlic, (and you don’t mind the smell coming through your pores for the rest of the day) get the fries. The owner of the Broad Ripple restaurant is a young African-American man who is super friendly and tells all on Twitter.
Catch a show at Midtown Arts and Coffee Lounge. From the outside you might not know the place is even open. It’s directly on 38th street in between College and Central. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and some Sundays you’ll find poets on stage doing spoken word. Sometimes there’s a live band, sometimes food. There’s always art happening and there’s a lot of soul in the place. The mood changes from artist to artist but if you’re up for listening, or spitting something yourself – check it out.
Order a sweet potato waffle from Maxine’s. I’d always heard about the whole chicken and waffle phenomena but never tried it until I discovered Maxine’s. It’s connected to a gas station but don’t let that deter you. Some of the best collard greens I’ve ever had are from Maxine’s. Also black owned, this place gives you unlimited tiny little pancakes and peach butter during your stay.
Visit west 38th Street. Now called the International Marketplace – the west side of Indy at Lafayette Square is booming with culture. There’s an awesome little Ethiopian restaurant, great Indian food and a variety of Mexican options. The area has festivals every now and then, parades, parties and everything. Stop by the Service Center that Big Car runs for a complete guide to the festivities in the area.
Listen to live music at the Rathskeller. Where can you get German beer, German food, live music outdoors AND be on one of Indy’s trendiest streets? Answer: Only at the Rathskeller on Mass Ave. Connected to the historic Athenaeum, this place is always bustling. If you don’t eat pork, don’t go there hungry.
Go to Coaches on a Tuesday night. DJ Metrognome is one of Indy’s best music mixers. Every Tuesday late at night he plays pretty much whatever he wants at Coaches, a bar downtown on Penn. On stage with him is a host that goes by J. Moore. He talks everything from politics to the latest in hip-hop. Although he does not take requests, if you ask nicely, Metrognome might let you take a shot at mixing.
Go to the Vogue on a Wednesday night. Everyone is there. Scratch that. Recent grads are there. And sometimes they’re in costume. Wednesday night is throwback night at the historic Vogue theatre. Music from the 80’s and 90’s, beer, costumes and Broad Ripple? Yes, please.
If you don’t go to the Vogue, go to Jazz Kitchen on a Wednesday night. There’s a group of guys in town that go by Old Soul Entertainment. They throw very jazz/funk/soul/hip-hop infused parties that keep the quality of the music first. This is a crowd of young, urban professionals that crave live music. And every Wednesday night the Jazz Kitchen opens up their space for some hot new jazz artist or a local hip-hop head to take the stage.
Get a donut from Longs. Longs Donuts has been making the intersection of 16th and Lafayette Rd. smell like heaven for decades. You may have to stand in line for 20 minutes but it is so worth it. Oh and take cash. They don’t feel it necessary to offer credit, yet.
Visit the museum at the Madame Walker Theatre Center. Indiana Avenue is one of the most historic streets in Indy. A lot of the nation’s jazz greats got their start on Indiana Avenue, some playing right there at the Walker. Inside the 85 year old building is a small museum. They are the biggest collector of Madam C. J. Walker’s artifacts. The piano Duke Ellington played is there. You can even get a tour from Mr. Ridley, a 90 year-old man who’s been living and working on IN Avenue his entire life.
Organize a self-guided tour of the new murals. Indy has 46 new murals scattered about the city. The Arts Council of Indianapolis undertook this huge project that coincided with the Superbowl that Indy hosted. There is an awesome, and gigantic, image of Hoosier Kurt Vonnegut on Mass. There’s a mural of jazz musicians by Pamela Bliss on Indiana Avenue. There’s an almost life-like saxophone on 30th and MLK. This one of Indy’s biggest public art projects and certainly one to keep an eye out for.
Visit the City Market. There’s something about Indiana’s oldest buildings that are still changing with the times to stay fresh and relevant. City Market has such an awesome variety of food, a place to try local beers, and an area to just hang out. Located on Market Street across from the City Council, City Market is creative and resilient. It’s the place to buy locally grown produce and the place to find cool merchandise to show off your Indy pride.
That’s 12. Enjoy Indy.