Food & Drink

The 20 Most Essential Bars in Indianapolis

Published On 12/09/2015 Published On 12/09/2015
Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

What is Hoosier hospitality? Why not pull up a stool at one of the finest bars in town and find out? These 20 bars will give you a proper taste of Indianapolis, and a beer to chase it all down.

Thunderbird

Fountain Square

This Fountain Square bar celebrates the location’s roots as a regular stop for 1950s and ‘60s rockabilly artists. Award-winning bartender/owner Joshua Gonzales and his staff mix up a concise list of creative cocktails, while the kitchen serves a Southern-inspired menu that includes fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, and braised collards.

Chatham Tap

Massachusetts Avenue

It’s all about the soccer (okay, futbol) at this British-style pub, where you can watch a live match with like-minded fans, even if it’s at 7:30am. But you can also get breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, which makes the early hour a little easier. There’s a good variety of classic pub options on the regular menu, plus some items with a bit of a global flair. You’ll find local and regional -- and English and Irish -- beer on draft and plenty of bottled craft brews imports, as well.

Flickr/Adam Burke

Red Key Tavern

Meridian-Kessler

This old-school neighborhood tavern, which opened in 1933, recently got an exterior update, but inside, it’s still pretty much the same as always -- which is part of the charm. It was featured in the coming-of-age novel Going All the Way by Dan Wakefield (and the movie), and you can still spot the local author at the Red Key on occasion. Longtime owner Russ Settle had a few rules though -- hang up your coat, keep your feet off the chairs, and watch your language. Oh, and bring cash when you stop in for a cold beer and a cheeseburger.

Alley Cat Lounge

Broad Ripple

The entrance to this Broad Ripple dive bar really is in an alley, and inside you’ll find the jukebox, pool tables, and late-night drinks that keep regulars hanging out till 3am. The Cat has spiffed up a bit lately with additional space and a new entrance on Carrollton Ave. Called the Alley Cat’s Front Room, it serves classic cocktails -- without any mixology pretension -- and features music, open mic, and comedy nights, too.

The Workingman's Friend

Workingman’s Friend

Haughville

If you’re headed to this Haughville watering hole, then your stomach is probably set on a cheeseburger, always ranked among the best in the city. And maybe onion rings... and definitely a cold beer. Which is almost exactly what everyone wants at the Workingman’s Friend, whether they’re working stiffs, politicians, or suits doing business over lunch, you’ll see them all at this classic no-frills bar.

Twenty Tap

Meridian-Kessler

This always hopping SoBro spot has rolled out upwards of 38 taps -- including some beers brewed on site. The food -- and the family-friendly dining room -- is a draw, as well. It has excellent burgers, but Twenty Tap has also become known for its vegetarian options, including poutine and a vegan bahn mi.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Libertine Liquor Bar

Massachusetts Avenue

When local chef and restaurateur Neal Brown launched the original Washington Street location in 2011, vest-wearing barmen showed off the magic they could mix up with an eye dropper and a cocktail shaker. Two years later, the Libertine has earned acclaim as one of the country’s best cocktail bars. But when it moved last year into the basement of Brown’s Mass Ave Pizzology, the Libertine loosened up, got louder and livelier -- all while keeping the killer cocktails, a well-regarded wine list, and a chef-driven bar menu.

The Rathskeller

Downtown

Downtown’s historic Athenaeum, built in the late 1800s as a German social and athletic club, still shows off the city’s German heritage. Inside, there’s the Rathskeller restaurant, but you’ll also find the Kellerbar and the outdoor Biergarten, which has its own walk-up bar. There’s live music, from rock to polka, inside on the weekends year round, but the primo music spot in warm weather is the outdoor beer garden.

Flickr/Greg Brock

Slippery Noodle Inn

Downtown

This blues joint is the state’s oldest establishment that’s been continually operated as a bar in the same building. Seriously. The doors have been open since 1850. Even when it became a “restaurant” during Prohibition, beer was still brewed in the basement. That’s not all that’s gone on. It’s also been used as a brothel, a hangout for the Dillinger gang, and, during the Civil War, as a way station on the Underground Railroad. And then there’s the blues -- the Noodle offers live music every night.

Chatterbox Jazz Club

Massachusetts Avenue

This Mass Ave mainstay has been around for more than 30 years, back when its year-round Christmas lights lit up an avenue that wasn’t nearly as happening as it is today. But with live jazz every night and a devoted clientele (there’s even a bowling league), the Chatterbox has become an Indy icon. Along with the Noodle, it’s often a late-night stop for famous musicians playing other local venues.

Flickr/Just Jefa

Melody Inn

Butler-Tarkington

One of the city’s oldest bars, the Mel has been a Butler-Tarkington neighborhood mainstay since 1935. It’s known for live music -- everything from punk to metal to rockabilly -- as well as comedy nights. But you can also shoot pool or pump change into the jukebox.

1933 Lounge

Downtown/Wholesale District

St. Elmo Steak House opened the same year the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was dedicated -- that would be 1902 -- so there’s some serious history here. But if you don’t have the coin to drop on Elmo’s well-known (but pricey) steaks and shrimp cocktail, head upstairs to the 1933 Lounge. It celebrates the year Prohibition ended with signature cocktails and a bar menu that includes sliders and mac and cheese, and, yes, a New York strip and that famously fiery shrimp cocktail.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Ball & Biscuit

Massachusetts Avenue

One of the city’s craft cocktail pioneers, Ball & Biscuit provides a speakeasy vibe and pre-Prohibition drinks. Named for a type of vintage microphone, the Biscuit has even gained national recognition for its well-curated cocktail menu includes classics as well as creations from its talented bar staff.

Corner Wine Bar

Broad Ripple

This Broad Ripple mainstay includes the inside dining room as well as a cozy bar (plus the hidden-away Wellington pub downstairs) and, outdoors, the best sidewalk people-watching spot in the village. Try a wine flight or get a $20 bargain bottle from the manager’s bin. Pair it with cheese and bread, a complete meal, or just order dessert -- by which we mean, have some port, cognac, or Scotch with your cake.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Bluebeard

Fletcher Place/Holy Rosary

Executive chef/partner Abbi Merriss continues to command attention for the food at this Virginia Ave restaurant -- named for a novel by Indy native Kurt Vonnegut. But we’re talking bars here, and Bluebeard’s cocktail menu is among the city’s best. Plus the bar, decorated with books and typewriters, has a cool literary vibe (and is a favorite of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck).

Nicky Blaine’s

Downtown

Yes, Indianapolis banned smoking, but there’s an exception for cigar bars. And Nicky Blaine’s is a classic in the category, all velvet and leather and loungey. There’s a cigar “sommelier” who keeps hard-to-find varieties in stock, but even if you’re not a smoker, the lengthy martini list has plenty of appeal -- as does the late-night app and dessert menu.

Jolene Ketzenberger/Thrillist

Broad Ripple Brewpub

Broad Ripple

Englishman John Hill and his Hoosier wife, Nancy, opened the city’s first brewpub 25 years ago, and it’s become a local beer landmark. Situated right off the Monon Trail, the Brewpub has great outdoor dining (and drinking). Inside, it’s a dark-wood pub vibe -- perfect for whiling away an afternoon over a few pints. In the best English pub tradition, it’s also family friendly, and the menu is surprisingly veggie and vegan friendly as well.

Moe & Johnny’s

Meridian-Kessler

We’ve already talked about futbol, but for watching football -- or basketball or baseball -- Moe & Johnny’s is among the city’s best. With upwards of 30 TVs, you won’t miss the action. So grab a barstool or a booth, toss your peanut shells on the floor and watch the big game. And if it’s college basketball, even better. Moe & Johnny’s used to be called the Bulldog, after the mascot of nearby Butler University. And try that breaded pork tenderloin sandwich -- it’s an Indiana classic

Tomlinson Tap Room

Tomlinson Tap Room

Downtown/Market East Cultural District

Located on the upper floor of the historic Indianapolis City Market, the Tom Tap is all about local. It features only Indiana craft brews by the pint; some are available in bullets or growlers. You can try beers from Indianapolis breweries and brewpubs as well as those from around the state -- from big names like Three Floyds, Sun King, and Upland to newer ones like St. Joseph and Central State. And you can order food from Circle City Soups right downstairs.

Courtesy of The North End Barbecue & Moonshine

The North End Barbecue & Moonshine

Nora

Not only does the North End have a creative cocktail list by award-winning bartender Jason Foust, which includes the popular moonshine punch, but the place also has a crazy long list of whiskies -- more than 200. There’s also house-made hard root beer, which regulars have been known to ask for in a root beer float. Oh, and there’s that barbecue. The North End's got two smokers that are always going, turning out ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, and more.

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Jolene Ketzenberger is a freelance writer who covers food, booze, chefs, and restaurants at EatDrinkIndy.com and who really just wants a good G&T. Follow her at @JKetzenberger.

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1. Thunderbird 1127 Shelby St, Indianapolis, IN 46203

Fountain Square’s Thunderbird hasn’t completely shed its former guise of a live music venue from the 1950s and ‘60s. The old-fashioned black upright piano is the visual epicenter of the room, and the bar is lit like a stage, though Thunderbird now serves as a southern gastropub, dishing out hot, hearty, and heavy plates like pickled okra fries with roasted garlic and cayenne pepper, Naptown hot chicken biscuits, a pimento patty melt, with pimento, cheddar, shaved Brussels, and roma tomato, and plenty of fried chicken options to grease up your hands. Thunderbird is a gem of a craft cocktail bar; on the drink menu of “Chillers” and “Thrillers,” take a vacation with the Escape from New York Sour, with bonded bourbon, vanilla, lemon, strawberry, egg white, and red wine.

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2. Red Key Tavern 5170 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46205 (Meridian Kessler)

Not much has changed since The Red Key opened at the end of the Prohibition in 1933, which is what makes it so appealing. Rules are followed here and patrons behave themselves, so it doesn't have the classic scrappy dive bar feel. What does it have? A jukebox and cheeseburgers that will turn "another round" into three.

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3. 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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4. Chatham Tap 719 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

You can watch any soccer game live -- even at 8 a.m. -- and accompany it with a garlic tenderloin sandwich.

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5. Workingman's Friend 234 N Belmont Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46222

Workingman's Friend serves as a lunch haunt for local politicos and journalists, and their cheeseburger is legendary (its crispy edges make it one of the best in the city). Add a side of onion rings and a beer and you're set. Just don't make dinner plans here: it closes by late afternoon on most weekdays and Saturdays, proving that not all dive bars thrive on late nights.

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6. Twenty Tap 5408 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220

38 craft beers on tap? Check. Locally sourced bar snacks, including killer banh mi? Check. Get your drink on at Twenty Tap.

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7. Libertine Liquor Bar 608 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Libertine Liquor Bar’s food menu is largely international; chilaquiles with braised pork, pickled onion, avocado crema, cilantro, and fritas sit flesh on the menu with rabbit pierogi with ricotta, charred leek, and rabbit jus. Libertine’s beverage ethos celebrates the pioneering American spirit by emphasizing craft distillers and boutique wines. Cocktails are taxonomically classified by spirit on the menu into “Vodka/Gin,” “Brandy/Rum,” “Agave,” and “Whiskey & More,” and standouts include the Hit or Miss – which is anything but – with pineapple-infused Vida Mezcal, jalapeno-infused tequila, agave nectar, fresh lime, and cilantro, and the Coffee Cocktail with AE Dor cognac, ruby port, egg, sugar, and nutmeg.

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8. Slippery Noodle Inn 372 S Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46225 (Indianapolis)

As Indiana’s oldest continually operated bar, the Slippery Noodle Inn has certainly seen its fair share of American history. Thus, it’s only fitting that its menu is comprised of American fare, organized into “Snacks,” “Wings,” “Dinners,” and “Noodles,” with highlights including potato skins with oven melted cheese and real bacon bits (you even have the option to “load” them with chili, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions), sweet and mild mango habanero that leave you with a long slow burn, and a tender center cut of filet mignon. Often frequented by celebrities, the Slippery Noodle also delivers an all-star lineup of blues musicians nightly.

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9. 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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10. Melody Inn 3826 N Illinois St, Indianapolis, IN 46208

The Mel is one of the city's best dive bars and live music joints. From metal to hillbilly, plus the infamous punk rock Saturday nights, you're in for a headbanger of a night here. The loud, dark, and crowded space makes this a classic rough-and-tumble spot.

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11. 1933 Lounge 127 S Illinois St, Indianapolis, IN 46225

Turn up the heat at the 1933 Lounge located in the famous St. Elmo's Steakhouse. This lounge features classic cocktails served with speakeasy swagger. Cozy up in these Prohibition style digs with a signature "Elmo Cola."

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12. Ball & Biscuit 331 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Cocktails here are always spot on, whether classics or new concoctions made with mezcal, moonshine and elixers from locally based Wilks & Wilson. When drunchies strike, accompany that cocktail with the cheese plate, local charcuterie or even an Indy original King David hot dog.

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13. Corner Wine Bar 6331 Guilford Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220-1709

Want to wow your date? Take them to the Corner Wine Bar, an intimate venue along the river and order them a bottle. Score!

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14. Bluebeard 653 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203

Situated inside a 1924 warehouse, bright and rustic Bluebeard serves craft cocktails alongside an inventive, daily-changing menu that's featured everything from radish crudo to chicken liver pate to papardelle beef Bolognese, all served with Italian-style, hearth-baked loaves from the adjacent Amelia’s bakery. Different weekdays bring different specials here, such as an all-street-food menu and a chicken & waffles lunch. Keep an eye on Bluebeard's social media feeds for fun, short runs of new menu items.

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15. Nicky Blaine's Cocktail Lounge 20 N Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46204-3023

For those who like the finer things in life, Nicky Blaine's is your Indianapolis go to with its literary martinis (a Tolstoy, anyone?), cigar bar, and wide selection of scotch blends.

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16. Broad Ripple Brewpub 842 E 65th St, Indianapolis, IN 46220

Broad Ripple lays claim to being Indiana's first brewpub, and pulls inspiration from the owner's home of Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, designed to resemble a classic English-style pub with dark wood paneling, a cozy fire place, and cask ales that are served warm and with low carbonation. For the full UK effect, order the Premier League Pale, which uses traditional English malt and hops, or the robust ESB Extra Special Bitter. The kitchen offers a vast menu of wings, salads, sandwiches, burgers, salads, and pizza to please any palate, English or not.

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17. Moe & Johnny's 5380 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220

If you never thought there was such a thing as a quaint sports bar, then you've never been to Moe & Johnny's. This local watering hole is soon to be your favorite spot to catch the game in good company.

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18. Tomlinson Tap Room 222 E Market St, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Located in the historic Indianapolis City Market, this pub features an all-Indiana beer list that includes smaller local breweries such as Scarlet Lane, Two Deep and Chilly Water.

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19. 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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20. The Rathskeller 401 E Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Indianapolis’s oldest restaurant, The Rathskeller has been serving German brews and bites since 1884. The dining room and Kellerbar are housed in the basement of architectural masterpiece the Athenaeum, while the adjoining biergarten is situated just outside. In addition to steak, seafood, chicken, pork, and vegetarian entrees, the restaurant’s award-winning menu features cuisine from the old country, like sauerbraten soaked for five days in currant ginger marinade, Jäegerschnitzel with wild mushrooms, shallots, garlic, red wine, and herbs, and rouladen with homemade gravy. The Kellerbar is stocked with 12 imported draft beers and over 50 imported bottled beers, but the real gem is the biergarten, where you can pair your beer with appetizers like baked Brie chicken cordon bleu fingers, all while taking in the fresh Indy air.

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