Only a mile and a half southeast of downtown Indianapolis, Fountain Square is showing other cities how it's done.
For many years a working-class residential and industrial area, in recent years, Fountain Square has grown to include small businesses, quirky shops, breweries, design and retro-chic activities. This diverse neighborhood has kept its roots strong during its recent resurgence, creating a culturally diverse and unique place to visit.
The centerpiece of the neighborhood, the Fountain Square Theater, was built in 1928. The architecture and décor remind visitors of a bygone era. The inside of the theater is decorated like a nighttime Italian plaza, with the blue ceiling dotted with twinkling stars, while the sound of live swing music beckons dancers to the floor. Fountain Square has long hosted swing dancing nights on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. A short basic lesson is available before the evening kicks off for those with two left feet.
For visitors who don’t care to dance, the theater also includes a period duckpin bowling alley—the only authentic one in the Midwest—and an Atomic bowling alley, with a retro space-age feel. For those unfamiliar with duckpin bowling, this amusement from the turn of the century is like bowling scaled down, with a miniature ball and matching-sized pins.
The theater building also includes four bars and restaurants—the End of the Line Public House, with craft beers and artisan pub foods; a 50s-style café, the Smokehouse on Shelby, complete with milkshake bar and classic menu; and The Lobby Bar, a 1920s-themed speakeasy that offers modern menu options and appetizers. And last but not least, the Rooftop Garden Restaurant offers dinner from the Shelbi Street Café and Bistro menu. The Rooftop Garden is open seasonally for diners to enjoy a spectacular view of the Indianapolis skyline.
With so many attractions, one would think there wouldn’t be room for a charming and peaceful inn on the theater building’s third floor—but this alternative to a traditional hotel is close to all the action yet as restful as being at home. Meeting rooms are also available for events and conferences.
But the real revitalization of Fountain Square is taking place on the angled streets surrounding the theater, where shops, bars and restaurants offer the hottest scene in Indy.
The Fountain Square Brewery leads the charge with their widely known beer selection and trendy atmosphere. Founded by local chemists, the brewery opened its doors in 2011.
New Day Meadery, located just across the street from Fountain Square Theater, is Indiana’s only meadery, with an award-winning selection of handcrafted wines made from honey.
A popular craft beer haven, the Red Lion Grog House offers an enormous selection of imported beers and fine wines with English pub-style food.
The Brass Ring Lounge, located near the square, is a hipster’s paradise, with live jazz music, large liquor selection and vegetarian/vegan friendly menu. Just down the street is the Thunderbird, an upscale former honky-tonk bar with a focus on artisan cocktails.
One of a host of inventive restaurants in the neighborhood, La Revolucion is an authentic Mexican cantina with a large selection of tacos and stellar bar menu.
But no one can spend the entire day drinking, so Fountain Square has a large selection of unconventional and off-the-beaten-path shops, galleries and boutiques to satisfy any customer.
Fountain Square’s antique stores have been open for many years, and have enormous selections of furniture, artwork, trinkets and more. (Spotted at Days Gone By Antiques: First edition James Whitcomb Riley prints, Vote for Kennedy badges and Indianapolis Transit tokens from the long-dead Interurban Railroad).
Joe’s Cycles, located right on Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail as it runs through Fountain Square, is a full-scale bike shop and coffee café. The shop is housed in Fountain Square’s oldest building.
The not for profit organization People for Urban Progress also calls Fountain Square home. This “do-tank” takes discarded materials from Indianapolis landmarks—the cloth RCA Dome cover from Indy’s lost football venue, vinyl banners from Super Bowl XLVI, seats from the historic Busch minor league baseball stadium—and upcycles them into unique keepsakes and useful supplies. (Coveted: RCA Dome material Treasurer Clutch, available on their Etsy store.)
Events and festivals also liven up the night in Fountain Square.
The 2014 Fountain Square Music Festival, set for July 4, will deliver live music from local bands and a premium view of Indy’s annual fireworks display.
Art Squared, scheduled for September 20, 2014, is the neighborhood’s annual art festival, including a fair, an art parade, and a “Masterpiece in a Day” art competition.
The Tonic Ball, started in 2002 to benefit Second Helpings food bank, is held each year in November. Local bands play cover songs of iconic artists, while visual artists donate album-sized art inspired by their favorite LPs.
If You Go: