Food & Drink

Indy Bartenders Share Their Favorite Underrated Bars

Published On 08/10/2016 Published On 08/10/2016
Black Market
Courtesy of Black Market

We’ve all got great pride here in Indy, and our city is growing -- especially the bar scene. From swanky cocktail bars to hipster distilleries, there’s an ever-shaking- and -pouring list of hot spots and watering holes worth every last drop. But as much as these new spots are all the rage, Indy’s bartenders have some secret loves: underrated bars that deserve their own “cheers!” Take a break from the hype and pull up a chair at one of these lesser-celebrated watering holes. We promise the booze is still strong.

Black Market

Mass Ave

Picked by: Curtis McGaha of Tini

Black Market is known for its inventive menu, which changes quarterly and includes adventurous items such as duck buns, pickles & peanut butter, and even the nose and tail of a pig. But flip over that menu and you’ll find a list of wildly clever cocktails and a lengthy list of rum offerings to rival most any spot in all of Indy.

Curtis says:  “Everyone knows them for their food, but they have the best rum selection in the city. Blows my mind. [Co-owner] Ed Rudisell is a complete nerd about rum. He's in love with rum. Just seeing him around it and how knowledgeable he is, I mean he's even taught rum classes. It's just a fantastic bar with fresh ingredients. Just fantastic.”

Dorman Street Saloon

Chatham Arch

Picked by: Michael Daniells of Hotel Tango Whiskey

Having opened in Prohibition times, Dorman Street Saloon has a long history and a list of maiden names. It was originally known as The Mahogany Bar or “The Hog,” then became May’s Lounge in 1982.  The name officially changed to the Saloon at an unknown date. Can’t keep up? Don’t worry. Whatever you call this bar, just know that it’s locally beloved.

Michael says:  “Divey without being untoward, and polished enough on the cocktail list to keep me coming back for more. Plus their beer selection is on point. Their bartender, Andy, is my favorite, and he made their cocktail menu. I've been on a mezcal kick lately, and Andy's 'The Hill' is my favorite mezcal cocktail.”

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Alley Cat Lounge Front Room

Broad Ripple

Picked by: Michael Toscano of Libertine

Head over to “The Cat” for a pop or two before a show at The Vogue, and you’ll find well-made cocktails that are also easy on your wallet. If you can find the joint (its mailing address doesn’t quite line up with the actual location), you’ll end up in a welcome divey atmosphere where frat bros and suits sit side-by-side. Bring cash for the jukebox and the bar -- credit cards aren’t accepted here.

Michael says:  “This is a new addition to one of Indy's finest dive bars, ‘The Alley Cat.’ The owner has spent the last six to 12 months training his staff in the ways of proper craft cocktail creation. The entire staff have gone through the Southern Wine and Spirits Academy and continue to make their presence known at our monthly United States Bartenders' Guild meetings. There is a lot going on there and the cocktails are fantastic. If you haven't made it in to see these guys yet, do yourself a favor and make a trip to Broad Ripple this weekend. Ask for Corey Ewing and tell him Michael from Libertine sent you.”

The North End BBQ

The North End Barbecue & Moonshine

Nora

Picked by: Kendall Lockwood of The Ball & Biscuit

If you’ve got a hankering for rustic American barbecue, this is one of the top spots in Indy to get your meat fix on. Get the ribs, pulled pork, or Texas brisket -- don’t forget the pimento cheese and cornbread! -- and you’ll surely be satisfied. But what this joint isn’t well-known for is its whiskey and bourbon offerings -- Kendall wasn’t the only bartender to nod to The North End.

Kendall says:  “North End has an amazing whiskey and bourbon selection. Their cocktails are always balanced and they have a very knowledgeable staff. Their drink menu changes all the time, but typically I just give them a spirit of my choice and tell them the flavor profile I'm feeling. They almost always hit the mood I'm in for cocktails spot-on.”

Sam's Silver Circle Bar

Sam's Silver Circle Bar

Fountain Square

Picked by: William Mohring of Plat99

Entering this dive is like taking a walk through time -- the bar is a makeshift 1970s/1980s museum with mesmerizing memorabilia that includes old Sports Illustrated magazine covers and license plates from across the country. The cheap beer might be the best deal in town, and there’s also a jukebox, darts, and even free popcorn at the ready. Silver Circle believers talk up the pizza, which may be a necessary sidecar to all that good, cheap beer.

William says:  “Sam’s is one of those iconic bars in what has traditionally been a working-class neighborhood. They have local beer on tap, the usual suspects on the back bar, and unique ambiance with posters and license plates adorning the walls everywhere. It's a nice break from the swanky and cocktail-focused bars I normally go to. The folks who work there as well as everyone I've met are all-around good people who deliver hospitality. There is never a shortage of good-hearted conversation.”

Dugout Bar

The Dugout

Fletcher Place

Picked by: Josh Gonzales of Thunderbird

Need a beer with a side of grilled bologna? You got it. That’s a common pair at The Dugout, which some say is one of the cleanest dive bars in the city. You won’t find hipsters behind the bar, but you will find PBR on tap. The low-key atmosphere includes bartenders who seem to never forget a face. Oh, and besides bologna, the other beer chaser is the pizza.

Josh says:  “A highly underrated staple of Fletcher Place, The Dugout is the epitome of a neighborhood dive. The bartenders know everyone by name, the drinks are cheap, and they serve some of the best Indianapolis-style pizza in town. I make sure to take all of my friends visiting Indy to The Dugout for a beer or two.”

Broad Ripple Tavern

Broad Ripple Tavern

Broad Ripple

Picked by: Steve Simon of Marrow

Right in the thick of B-Rip, just across from the Egyptian Cafe & Hooka Bar and Taste of Havana, is a great spot for the beginning or end of a night -- or even to watch a game on the many TV screens in the back. Daily specials pull in regulars and those just passing through who want a relaxed setting for a conversation or a game of pool, all while enjoying a craft beer on tap and a long-ish list of classic pub fare.

Steve says:  “Not every bar should be a cocktail bar, so when I just want to relax and have a beer, I head to the Broad Ripple Tavern. They don't make fancy cocktails, but they will make you feel right at home. Great beer selection and some of the better pub grub around. If you decided to stop in, tell Nikki I said hello!”

Lockerbie Pub

Lockerbie Square

Picked by: Drew Johnson of Cerulean

That medieval red lion on the sign is a clue to the experience at Lockerbie Pub, but you can’t feel the history until you walk through the doors. Regulars point to the owner to relay the history of the place, but the TVs everywhere allow you to stay in current time to keep up with your favorite sports city -- Indy, of course! From cocktails to beer, this place has anything your little heart desires, including mini tacos, fried pickles, and an Indy staple: pork tenderloin.

Drew says:  “James, the owner of Lockerbie Pub, has lived in the neighborhood for years and can tell you a ton of awesome Downtown Indy stories. The burgers are legit, even the turkey burger. There's always a great local tap selection, and a solid whiskey/bourbon lineup. A lot of regulars come here, and it just has a feel that you are part of their family.”

J. Clyde's

Irvington

Picked by: Ryan Gullett of Bluebeard

When you work late -- like most of the bartenders we talked to -- it can be tricky to find that spot that’s open late where “everyone knows your name.” J. Clyde's may be the spot you’ve been overlooking all this time. The cash-only policy says it all -- it's an economical hot spot full of beer options available 'til late into tomorrow morning.

Ryan says:  “I fell in love with J. Clyde's in my early 20s. I used to play shows at the Emerson Theater right around the corner, and all of the bands would go there and drink. On the east side, three-way licenses [a permit to sell beer, wine, and liquor] are very hard to come by, or non-existent, so it's a 3am bar that you can hit up after work, and just unwind. It's kind of become an east side industry hangout.”

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Carson Quinn is an Indianapolis-based writer who would gladly hear about your favorite underrated Indy bar. Connect and/or follow her on Twitter at @NewsCarson and on Facebook.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Black Market 922 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202

With a polished, reclaimed image, a lush patio shrouded in greenery, a mass selection of more than 100 rums, and award-winning wine list, and an ever-changing chef-driven menu, it's a mystery to all why Black Market has remained a hidden gem since its 2011 creation. Meats cured and smoked in-house dominate the menu from start to finish with snacks like chicken wings, to full plates of fall-apart brisket and succulent duck leg.

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2. Dorman Street Saloon 901 Dorman St, Indianapolis, IN 46202 (Cottage Home)

The Dorman Street Bar has been boozing up guests for almost a century. This saloon is about as divey as they come: the joint is dim and humming with locals enjoying a night out or a post-work drink, the jukebox is singing classic rock anthems and indie songs, and there is a substantial selection of craft beefs on tap and in bottles. The pay-to-play pool goes for about a quarter a round, so bring your jingling pockets on over.

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3. Chatterbox Jazz Club 435 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Indianapolis’s Chatterbox is everything a dive bar should be: a provider of live jazz performances, cheap, classic cocktails, and a buzzy atmosphere lit by Christmas lights all year round. Chatterbox’s salty bar snacks, like soft pretzels and popcorn, will keep you sipping on drink after drink, and when you feel the need for some fresh air, you’ll appreciate the small patio with outdoor seating. Remember to keep some cash on hand for the cover fee.

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4. Alley Cat Lounge 6267 Carrollton Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220 (Broad Ripple)

Enter this classic dive bar in an alley just off the Broad Ripple strip and be prepared for pool tables, a jukebox, and cheap drinks. The space is dark and grungy yet comfortable and friendly. You can stop in pretty much any time: the bar and kitchen are both open from 7am-3am. If you're there for dinner, try the exceptional tenderloin -- it's practically legendary.

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5. North End Barbecue & Moonshine 1250 E 86th St, Indianapolis, IN 46240

Barbecue and booze, what a happy matrimony -- even happier when you don't have to travel to the like of Texas or the Carolinas to get them. Way up in Indianapolis' northern suburbs sits a shockingly pretty (see: polished wood, Edison bulbs, vintage flair) that doles out Southern-style barbecue with dry rubs enviable by even the most experienced pit masters. Naturally raised meats including not just pork and beef but also chicken and salmon fall right apart and go down easy with a straight glass of vintage whiskey.

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6. Sam's Silver Circle 1102 Fletcher Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fountain Square)

Sam's Silver Circle pulls out all the stops: neon signs in the windows, floor to ceiling posters and magazine cut-outs, friendly staff, and a covered patio. This classic Indy dive serves up decent-enough food and drinks at more than decent prices to keep you happy all night long. Go for the karaoke or trivia nights, or just get a craft brew and a pizza. The stromboli with pepperoni, sausage, and banana peppers is always a solid choice, too.

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7. Old Point Tavern 401 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204 (Indianapolis)

This corner restaurant and bar keeps the West end of Lockerbie Square stuffed with a full menu of stuffing sandwiches and wraps, along with a handful Mexican staples like nachos and tacos with mountains of melted cheese. The fully stocked liquor bar and the few rotating beers on tap keep the casual crowds around until the late closing hour, and many flee in from the busy street its on, so street parking and seating go to the early birds.

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8. The Dugout 621 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fletcher Place)

The Dugout has all the requirements of a go-to local dive bar: cheap drinks, decent food, and a neighborly vibe. Once the warm weather comes around, grab a brew and a seat on the patio -- a prime spot for people-watching.

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9. Broad Ripple Tavern 745 Broad Ripple Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220 (Broad Ripple)

Standing proudly on the corner spot at (of course) the Broad Ripple Village strip mall, Broad Ripple Tavern's got everything you need for the entire night out. A bar crawl wouldn't do this place justice -- you're gonna have to make yourself at home to truly enjoy the full-service bar, nightly taps, multiple pool tables and flat-screen televisions, and menu full of next-level bar food like chicken fingers, bbq pork nachos, and stringy, melty mozzarella sticks.

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10. Spoke & Steele 123 S Illinois St, Indianapolis, IN 46225 (Wholesale District)

This downtown spot that looks like the house of a wealthy and ultra-stylish friend slings creative American dishes across its whitewashed lounge and rustic bar with the kind of culinary confidence that can only come from sourcing produce from the nearby Compart Family Farms (among others). Hefty charcuterie boards and sandwiches with house-cured meats make the rounds while house cocktails are infused with spicy, smoky flavors to match.

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11. Lockerbie Pub 631 E Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46202 (Indianapolis)

The Lockerbie Pub, located where else than the heart of Lockerbie Square, emanates old European style on the outside with both its medieval, dragon-crest signage and classic American sports dive on the inside with wood and chalkboard paneling, tvs for the games, and a pool table for all the times there isn't a game on. beloved for its simple yet glutenous menu full of sandwiches and sliders (always sided by tots, fries, or fried pickles) and talkative crowd -- that includes the bartenders -- this pub really shines at the bar, where cocktails are both cheap and inventive.

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12. The Brass Ring 1245 Shelby St, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Indianapolis)

Named for the prize of an old-school game played on carousels (catch the ring, get a free ride), The Brass Ring upholds itself as its own sort of prize. And it should -- it's industrial exterior and nautical-tropical interior boast not only a full-service bar with a few local drafts and cocktails aplenty, but a full menu that doesn't even consider traditional bar bites and goes straight for hummus plates, thin-crust pizzas, and fresh wraps and sandwiches.

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13. J. Clyde's Pub 1008 N Bosart Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46201 (Little Flower)

A true neighborhood dive on the corner a Little Flower residential spot, J. Clyde's serves dole out an eccentric crowd, shilling out dollar bills for a cheap beers and good music. The draft selections equal parts domestics, imports, and drafts (and they've also got a full liquor stash and a couple house cocktails), ideal for both the suburbans that just got off work and those looking to have some malty, hoppy fun before their show at the alcohol-free Emerson Theater next door.

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14. Pioneer 1110 Shelby St, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fountain Square)

Midwest meets German at this breezy spot in Fountain Square. Chow down on pork chops, chicken liver mousse, and spatzle while you sip local and imported brews and Northern European wines.

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