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.
The 20 Most Essential Bars in Indianapolis
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
1. Thunderbird1127 Shelby St, Indianapolis
2. Red Key Tavern5170 N College Ave, Indianapolis
3. Alley Cat Lounge6267 Carrollton Ave, Indianapolis
4. Chatham Tap719 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis
5. Workingman's Friend234 N Belmont Ave, Indianapolis
6. Twenty Tap5408 N College Ave, Indianapolis
7. Libertine Liquor Bar608 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis
8. Slippery Noodle Inn372 S Meridian St, Indianapolis
9. Chatterbox Jazz Club435 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis
10. Melody Inn3826 N Illinois St, Indianapolis
11. 1933 Lounge127 S Illinois St, Indianapolis
12. Ball & Biscuit331 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis
13. Corner Wine Bar6331 Guilford Ave, Indianapolis
14. Bluebeard653 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis
15. Nicky Blaine's Cocktail Lounge20 N Meridian St, Indianapolis
16. Broad Ripple Brewpub842 E 65th St, Indianapolis
17. Moe & Johnny's5380 N College Ave, Indianapolis
18. Tomlinson Tap Room222 E Market St, Indianapolis
19. North End Barbecue & Moonshine1250 E 86th St, Indianapolis
20. The Rathskeller401 E Michigan St, Indianapolis
Hang out at a bar with a rockabilly heritage in the happening Fountain Square neighborhood, and order a classic Negroni, a Sazerac, a riff on a Tiki drink -- or just ask one of Thunderbird’s award-wining bartenders to make you something.
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.
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 tenderloin -- it's no joke.
You can watch any soccer game live -- even at 8 a.m. -- and accompany it with a garlic tenderloin sandwich.
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.
38 craft beers on tap? Check. Locally sourced bar snacks, including killer banh mi? Check. Get your drink on at Twenty Tap.
This boutique neighborhood speakeasy is on point. Feast on fancy finger foods like beef carpaccio while you enjoy a signature Lady Libertine cocktail.
This building has serious history -- it was a stop on the Underground Railroad -- but, these days, it's serving classic pub fare and hosts live acts every night of the week.
With the Chatterbox, you're in for live music and a congenial crowd glowing under Christmas lights that stay up year-round. You can expect a cover on Fridays and Saturdays, and some fantastic jazz musicians on other nights. The cool ambiance makes up for the lack of food options.
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.
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."
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.
Want to wow your date? Take them to the Corner Wine Bar, an intimate venue along the river and order them a bottle. Score!
Bluebeard's creative menu features everything from radish crudo to chicken liver pate and papardelle beef Bolognese, all served with Italian-style, hearth-baked loaves made at the adjacent Amelia’s bakery.
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.
Opened in 1990, Indianapolis's first brewpub the Broad Ripple boasts an impressive smattering of draughts to cure what ails you. Be sure to check out their beautiful patio and garden.
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.
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.
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.
The real attraction here's the outdoor area, loaded with picnic tables and featuring a band shell for live music and plenty of thirsty Hoosiers. The beers are large, the people drinking them are friendly, and heat lamps stand guard to ensure the drinking continues deep into the night, even when the weather’s not ideal.