Indianapolis Highlights: Visiting Busy Naptown

Canal Gondolier Indianapolis
A gondolier navigates a gondola on Central Canal in Indianapolis, Indiana. Visit Indianapolis photo.

Indianapolis Has Four Spokes of Fun to Explore, and a Great Big Race Track

By Anne Braly
Senior Writer

Biking in the Indianapolis Bottleworks District.
Biking in the Indianapolis Bottleworks District.

If you’ve never been to Indianapolis, Indiana, perhaps the only thing you know about it is that’s it’s the home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500, one of three legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsports.

That alone is something of which Naptown can brag about big time. But there’s more. So much more.

It Isn’t Just a Racetrack

Not a race fan? The Speedway has more to offer than cars going zoom zoom around the track on race days.

While racing doesn’t happen year-round, that doesn’t mean the track is closed. Here’s what open throughout the year.

Golf course designer and Indiana native son Pete Dye did a great job wrapping 18 holes around the race track.

It’s the largest sports facility in the world, so there was plenty of room to put four holes inside track grounds; the other 14 are within sight.

Most days, you’ll pay around $90 to play at Brickyard Crossing (www.brickyardcrossing.com).

But there are days during the winter months when the cost for a round of golf might correspond with the day’s high temperature.

If the weatherman is calling for a high of 40 degrees, that’s what you’ll pay for playing.

Brickyard Crossing has been described as the one public golf course you should play above all others when in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kiss the Bricks

Brickyard Crossing golf course
Brickyard Crossing golf course, inside the racetrack.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum (www.imsmuseum.org) makes for an interesting visit.

It highlights the history of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, but also on display are cars that once raced the track.

While at the museum, be sure to sign up for a “Kiss the Bricks” tour.

It allows museum guests to take a ride around the track with a stop to Kiss the Bricks, a tradition that began in 1996 when NASCAR racer Dale Jarrett knelt to kiss the Yard of Bricks that stretches across the speedway, paying tribute to the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Interestingly, the first race held at the speedway was not a car race. It was a balloon race. Who knew?

All Bottled Up

The layout for Indianapolis (www.visitindy.com), the 15th-largest city in the United States, is best described as a wheel with four spokes going out from the center of the city, each one representing a different stretch of town.

Poke bowl at The Garage
Poke bowl at The Garage

And the one best-known for its nightlife is the Massachusetts Avenue spoke, or Mass Ave as the locals call it, a neighborhood on the northeast side of the city.

There are bars and restaurants for humans; grocery stores for our four-legged friends; and a sparkling new hotel for both.

The Bottleworks District, a square-block area at the very end of Massachusetts Avenue., sat mostly empty and unused for years – just the opposite of the lively Mass Ave. neighborhood.

Two tremendous buildings once housed the most glamorous Coca-Cola bottling plant in the country.

The Garage Food Hall

The area now known as the Bottleworks District has now been repurposed with the opening of the Bottleworks Hotel, a pet-friendly boutique hotel, in late 2020, and the completion of The Garage, a massive rambling food hall across the street.

From the moment you walk into Bottleworks Hotel, you know this isn’t your average hotel.

Many architectural details from its days as a bottling plant remain, from terrazzo tile floors in the lobby to its Deco ceiling tiles, the décor gives a nod to the past.

pool table at Bottleworks Hotel, Indianapolis
Playing pool at Bottleworks Hotel in Indianapolis.

Rooms – 139 or them — are large and overlook either a central plaza or outward toward the Bottleworks District.

The hotel also offers hand-crafted coffee drinks at Blue Collar Coffee Co.; a restaurant, Modita with an Asian-inspired menu; W Nail Bar; and Sundry and Vice bar scheduled to open in mid-July.

While waiting for Sundry and Vice to open, there’s a pop-up bar in the old Coca-Cola accounting office behind the hotel lobby.

The Garage is a hip food bar that once housed Coke trucks making soda deliveries around the region.

There are a dozen or more restaurants in The Garage offering a variety of international flavors, from poke bowls at Poke Guru to shucked oysters and wine at BluPoint Oyster Bar.

During the lunch and dinner hours, this place is lively and filled with people, so grab a table when and where you can find one.

Elsewhere Around the ’Hood

DJ in the alley outside Gordons Milkshake Bar
DJ in the alley outside Gordons Milkshake Bar

Walk, rent a bike or ride a scooter and get going. Massachusetts Avenue is a section of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an 8-mile loop around the city’s historic areas.

Tinted concrete pavers show you the way around and back to Massachusetts Avenue where you’ll find the three D’s of entertainment: dining, dancing, and drinking if you’re of a mind.

There’s music coming from unexpected places – like the alleyway outside Gordon’s Milkshake Bar (milkshakeindy on Instagram) where a DJ might be playing hip-hop, or live music echoing from other nooks and crannies around Mass Ave.

You can trip the light fantastic or just stand and tap your toes. It’s entirely up to you, but the music sets the beat for an evening along Mass Ave.

Dining choices range from The Livery on College Avenue, a road that intersects with Massachusetts, where you’ll find creative empanadas and lots of tequila; to  Mass Avenue Pub, a low-key place for a cold beer and hot burger – think Cheers bar and you’ve got the picture.

There are a few eateries open for breakfast, like Mesh, Wild Eggs, Lou Vino and The Garden Table, but if you need a good remedy for late nights, a bowl of cheddar and jalapeno grits with pork belly at Love Handle (on Facebook), directly across the street from Bottleworks Hotel, will cure whatever ails you.

The Arts of Indianapolis

Indianapolis' Market East District. Visit Indy photo.
Indianapolis’ Market East District. Visit Indy photo.

Indianapolis is a patron of the arts, and there’s a lot to be discovered, from people who made their mark on the town to those who left their legacy to the city and the world.

Newfields is the collective name for the Indianapolis Museum of Art – a combination of art and nature.

LOVE sculpture
The famous LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana in Indy.

Current exhibitions in the galleries include Private Eye: The Imagist Impulse in Chicago Art; the works of Thornton Dial whose work features discarded everyday objects to symbolize the histories and experiences of African Americans.

Also featured is the largest collection of modern and contemporary designs of any museum in the country in its 11,000-square-foot Design Gallery.

Important works owned by the museum include those by John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase and others.

The museum is also home to the original LOVE sculpture — the one with “LO” on top and “VE” on bottom – by Indiana sculptor Robert Indiana.

Become Part Of the Painting

This summer marks the opening of THE LUME at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, a total immersion experience into the works of Vincent Van Gogh.

It will occupy the museum’s entire fourth floor with nearly 30,000 square feet of immersive, digital art, making it the largest contiguous exhibition space in Newfields’ 137-year history.

The projections featured in THE LUME are displayed in a three-dimensional floor-to-ceiling format in spacious galleries that move far beyond the static nature of traditional art exhibitions.

It’s an experience for the entire family and will be in place into 2022, at which time, the featured artist will change from Van Gogh to another artist.

The museum has a five-year contract with LUME, an Australian-based company, and will feature a different artist each year.

Mother Nature’s Handiwork

The art of nature comes into play in the 52-acre gardens surrounding Newfield’s main gallery. There are several manicured gardens as well as areas that are left to the hand of Mother Nature.

Dominating the gardens is the former home and estate, Oldfields, of J.K. Lilly, businessman, accounted and brother of Eli Lilly noted American pharmacist and chemist.

The home is open for tours, and the grounds are perfect for strolling, weddings and other events.

There’s also a beer garden with hand-crafted local and international brews, wines, cider and nonalcoholic drinks, along with a limited menu featuring charcuterie boards and other snacks.

A Piece of History

Madam CJ Walker actors
Madam CJ Walker actors

The Indiana Historical Society is a keeper of Indiana History, a conservator of its past.

It’s a little bit museum, a little bit of an archive and a lot of fun – a total immersion into the Indiana story that you’ll experience on all four levels, from the canal level to the top of the building, a structure that appears older than it really is.

Explore the state’s history in Destination Indiana with its interactive touchscreen controls and displays of historic images from every corner of the state.

Visit the History Lab and go behind the scenes of a real conservation lab while discovering the technology used to preserve the history center’s collection of artifacts.

You Are There

Get up close and personal with real-life actors in the You Are There exhibit at the Historical Society.

Actors are currently playing the roles of people in the life of Madam C.J. Walker, a woman who transformed the haircare of African American women in the late 19th and early 20th  centuries and became a political activist in Indianapolis and beyond.

Actors stay in character as visitors ask questions, just as if they were living in the same period of time. The center also houses an extensive collection of family and state histories for those who are researching their family roots or need information for school and other project requirement historical documents.

On the canal level, you can dine inside or out at the Stardust Terrace Café named after native Hoosier, Hoagy Carmichael’s most famous song, Stardust. This is a good starting point for a tour of the Indiana Historical Society or a good place to end your experience and walk out for a stroll along the Central Canal that borders the White River, a river that runs through the heart of town.

Western museum
Western Museum of Indy.

Go West

Harrison Eiteljorg, an Indianapolis businessman in the mining industry, made extensive travels out West, and came home with a large collection of Western and Native American art and nowhere to keep it. Indianapolis had a museum sitting empty.

To make a long story rather short, the two came together and in 1989 opened the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (www.eiteljorg.org), housing one of the most extensive collections of Western and Indian art in the world.

In addition to a large number of Frederic Remington bronzes and works by other important Western artists, the museum also has works by modern Native American artists, such as those found in a current temporary exhibit through August 25th, Laughter and Resilience: Humor in Native American Art.

In addition to a gift shop with art and jewelry by members of the Navajo tribe and others, Eiteljorg Museum has a café overlooking the Central Canal and White River State Park, the largest state park in a downtown area in the U.S.

For the Kids – Or the Kid In You

The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legend Experience.
The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legend Experience.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest museum of its kind in the world, is a place where kids can indulge in a day of learning while experiencing a multitude of sights, sounds, and activities on five different levels in the 500,000 square feet plus the 7.5-acre Riley Children’s Health Sports Experience complex.

There are exhibits for all ages, from Playscape for toddlers to Dinosphere, an exhibit that immerses visitors young and old in the life of dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period.

Exhibits also feature Take Me There: Greece, which teaches about all aspects of daily life in Greece; The Power of Children featuring children from around the world who left their mark on mankind (Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White among them); and its newest “exhibit,” The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legend Experience.

It’s an amazing $38 million addition that features 10 different sports experiences, from tennis to golf, basketball, hockey, baseball, track, and Indy-car racing. All courts and ball fields are down-sized but offer full-sized enjoyment for young children to teens — and adults, too.

Go Outside And Play

golf
Golfing at Riley’s.

The Riley Children’s Health Sports Experience has four golf courses – miniature versions of Pete Dye-designed courses.

It also has several tennis courts – one regulation size; basketball hoops – graduated for size according to height; a small football field for passing, running, kicking and throwing; a hockey experience where kids can learn the game; a small field for soccer; a drag strip to experience the thrill of racing via pedal power; and a down-sized baseball field for batting practice.

Coaches at each venue are on hand to play with the kids and offer guidance.

Throughout the years, children’s museums have been challenged to create experiences regarding health and fitness, says Kimberly Harms Robinson, director of media public relations for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

One of the hardest parts, however, was figuring out a way to create something in which people wanted to engage.

“We wanted to create something authentic that could really help fight health and fitness challenges,” she says. And they did. The same ticket admits visitors to both the museum and the sports complex, Robinson said.

“We’ve had children, families and even professional athletes rave about what a world-class facility it is,” Robinson says, adding that some of the more familiar names who have visited the Experience include legendary race-car driver A.J. Foyt, former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck who called it a sports utopia, as well as many others.

Other athletes who have visited include Reggie Wayne, Reggie Miller, Tamika Catchings, several race car drivers, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and golf course architects Alice Dye and husband, Pete.

It’s all about getting kids off the couch and playing together with their parents. And, Robinson says, visitors also learn how to become good teammates and how to play together nicely.

Tickets to the museum and The Sports Experience can be purchased separately or as a bundle. Log onto www.childrensmuseum.org for more information and reservations.

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