Jan 24, 2012 6:03:17 PM
Unexpected Indianapolis: blues, burlesque and brains in jars
As the Super Bowl host on February 5, Indianapolis jumps into the spotlight, and you can bet an ear of corn you’ll hear all about its race cars and mighty museums. But what about its burlesque shows and brains in jars? Meatloaf and mead? The city has a slew of unheralded attractions that deserve a close-up, too. Seek out these seven slices of idiosyncratic Indianapolis:
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library
Vonnegut was born and raised in Indy, and this humble downtown museum pays homage to the writer with displays such as his Pall Mall cigarettes and big orange box of rejection letters (‘I’m afraid you’ve tried to substitute novelty for real dramatic narrative,’ one publisher writes. ‘This sometimes works but very seldom.’) The back room replicates Vonnegut’s office, complete with checkerboard carpet, red rooster lamp and blue Coronamatic typewriter. Sit at the keys and channel your inner author; the library tweets the musings.
Find it: Doff your hat to Kurt at 340 N Senate Ave (www.vonnegutlibrary.org) .
It’s not every day you get to visit an old insane asylum filled with brains in jars. As you drive through the museum’s gate, past forlorn buildings surrounded by barbed wire, a horror-movie vibe takes hold. This was the state’s psychiatric hospital for more than a century. Tours roam the former pathology lab – the only building still in use – and show how early medicine was practiced, from the cold-slabbed autopsy room to the eerie specimen room (where those pickled brains await).
Find it: Be spooked by specimen brains at 3045 W Vermont St (www.imhm.org).
New Day Meadery
New Day cooks up age-old honeyed wine using Indiana-sourced ingredients. The sunny tasting room at downtown’s edge pours $5 flights, drawing locals who clink glasses over plates of Brie and charcuterie. Got a sweet tooth? Sip the blackcurrant mead. Prefer dry? Pucker up for heirloom apple cider.
Find it: Raise your glass at 1102 Prospect St (www.newdaymeadery.com).
For a well-mannered Midwestern city, Indy has an awful lot of citizens who like to strip. Cinnamon Bliss, Dolly Dimple and the rest of the Angel Burlesque troupe unhook their bustiers at venues around town. White Rabbit Cabaret (1116 Prospect St; www.whiterabbitcabaret.com), near the meadery, hosts burlesque bingo and shows by the stiletto-clad house cast. Bottoms Up Burlesque is another group that teases in town.
The Noodle is a block away from the Super Bowl stadium, so it isn’t overlooked in the literal sense. But what often goes undetected about this blues bar and restaurant is its history. Dating from 1850, the venue has seen action as an Underground Railroad stop during the Civil War, a hangout for John Dillinger’s gang during Prohibition, and a brothel until 1953. These days, fret benders like Buddy Guy take the stage; he’ll plug in the night before the big game.
Find it: Check out Indiana’s oldest bar at 372 S Meridian St (www.slipperynoodle.com).
Gray Brothers Cafeteria
Cafeterias are an Indy tradition, but most have disappeared. Which is why you’ll have to travel 18 miles south of downtown to reach Gray Brothers. Enter the time-warped dining room, grab a blue tray and behold a corridor of food that seems to stretch the length of a football field. Stack on plates of pan-fried chicken, meatloaf, mac and cheese and sugar cream pie, then fork in with abandon.
Find it: Dig in at 555 S Indiana St, Mooresville (graybrotherscatering.com).
Basketball fans: Plump’s is your bar. Bobby Plump inspired the iconic movie Hoosiers. He’s the kid who swished in the last-second shot, so his tiny school beat the ‘big city’ school in the 1950s state basketball championship. There’s sports memorabilia everywhere, and sometimes Bobby himself is on site. It’s located in Broad Ripple, a stylish ‘hood seven miles north of downtown.
Find it: Head to 6416 Cornell Ave (or check out their Facebook page first).
For a few more slices of Americana, why not browse through our favorite articles on the USA?
And for all your trip planning needs, check out Lonely Planet’s USA travel guide.