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Top picks for craft cocktails and intriguing local restaurants

Many thanks to Conference Co-Chair Tommy Hensel for getting the scoop on the best spots in Indianapolis for food and cocktails. Check out his recommendations below!


Bluebeard, a local favorite and one of Tommy’s top two. Photo courtesy of Visit Indy.

Greetings fellow Arts Midwest attendees,

As one of the Conference Co-Chairs, there are many official duties. Of course, there are always some intriguing unofficial duties as well. If you follow me on Instagram or are one of my friends on Facebook, you will know that I have a great side gig as a restaurant and bar reviewer in Chicago for The Local Tourist. I get quite engaged when it comes to scouting out craft cocktails, wine lists, and “foodie” restaurants so I have done a little research about Indianapolis.

There are so many options that it would be impossible to list everything that I have found. What follows is a relatively short list of my top picks for craft cocktails and intriguing local restaurants. I am also including some links to the recommendations on the Visit Indy website. You will notice that I am leaving out steakhouses and chain restaurants. My focus is always on local, farm-to-table, and unique.

Restaurants

Bluebeard 653 Virginia Avenue.

When you ask locals in Indy about great farm-to-table or “foodie” restaurants, this one is always on the list. The menu changes daily because they source almost exclusively from local farmers. This one a tie with Beholder for my favorite in Indy, and their cocktail program is as fantastic as their food.

Beholder 1844 E. 10th Street

This is the second restaurant by Jonathan Brooks of Milktooth. Beholder is one of the finest and most intriguing of the farm-to-table spots in Indy. The menu is small but extraordinary, the wine list is one of the best in the city, and they have a superior cocktail program. This one is tied with Bluebeard as my personal favorites.

Vida 601 E. New York Street

Here’s another that is absolutely superb. In fact, Vida is the first, and only, Indianapolis restaurant to earn AAA’s coveted Four Diamond award. Vida is second place for me to Beholder and Bluebeard, but only but a fraction of a point. This is a great restaurant with a menu featuring two dining styles, an ala carte seasonal menu and a rotating Tastings menu. Their cocktail program is also excellent.

Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro 50 W. Washington.

Just a few blocks from the conference hotel, Tastings is located off the lobby of the Conrad Hotel. This is a unique spot for a great, comprehensive wine tasting experience. They will give you a Tastings Card. You then go around to the dozens of options, swipe your card, and get a tasting of the wine. You pay for what you drink, and you can curate the experience any way you choose. The food is excellent as well – small plates that are shareable.

Milktooth 534 Virginia Avenue.

I realize the brunch isn’t a thing at Arts Midwest, but if you are able to check out Milktooth for breakfast or brunch, you won’t be disappointed. They are open 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. with coffee and pastries, then have a full breakfast/brunch menu until 3 p.m. every day except Tuesday. In 2015 Jonathan Brooks (the restaurant creator) was awarded one of 11 Best New Chefs by Food and Wine while Milktooth was chosen as one of 10 best new restaurants in the United States by Bon Appetit.

Love Handle 877 Massachusetts Ave.

This is an inexpensive option not too far from the conference. They serve unique breakfast/brunch fare all day and into the evening. As you can see, no website – just a Facebook page. It’s more of a “locals” spot, but great for something on the inexpensive side.

Rook 501 Virginia Avenue.

Rook is a restaurant that is inspired by the street foods of Korea, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia – with a Filipino touch. They have an entirely open kitchen so that guests can experience the preparation just like watching a food stall in action on the streets. Try their version of traditional Filipino dishes like Kare Kare, or a new specialty like their Spaghetti Sanda.

Tinkerstreet 402 E. 16th Street.

This is a ride from the conference center area, but worth a $7 – $10 cab/Uber/Lyft ride. They accept reservations except for parties of 5 – 10 only and do not allow anyone under the age of 21. Having said that, if you meet those criteria, it’s a fantastic find with superb farm-to-table offerings in an historic setting.

Black Market 922 Massachusetts Ave.

Black Market is one of Indy’s favorite outdoor patio spots. They have hundreds of unique spirits in the bar, an excellent wine list, and a constantly changing farmhouse menu. The cocktail program is impressive and the food menu is top-notch. This is a nice walk from the conference center.

Salt 505 Massachusetts Ave.

In a town awash with Midwestern farm fare, this one stands out as a superior seafood restaurant which still offers many of the same meat-centric options as other restaurants. They have a superior cocktail program and truly excellent seafood. If you want to stray away from meat, then this is your best option.

Craft Cocktails

I was going to list a number of spots based on my own drinking experiences in Indy, but it turns out that the Visit Indy folks agree with me on most of my choices. So . . . why reinvent the wheel? Here’s a great list of spots for excellent, boozy, craft cocktails:

For additional insight, check out the following links from Visit Indy:

Epicuriously Yours,
Tommy Hensel