Fountain Square is the closest thing to a preserved microcosm of historic Indianapolis we have–a mix of neighborhood serving commercial, surrounded on all sides by plenty of residential options. Who wouldn’t love having a home (preferably historic, of course) within walking distance of all the amazing offerings of the area? This one isn’t about fancy big mansions or captains of industry. It started as a predominantly German area and then Irish and Italian also–so a strong work ethic and slightly European feel shaped the area.
If I’d had the first clue or known anyone when I arrived from Los Angeles, I think I might have opted for Fountain Square–especially since, back then, Antiques on the Square was still there. (My first favorite shop in Indianapolis, may it rest in peace). I’d be willing to bet most transplants from teeming metropolitan cities would gravitate in a southeasterly direction, for its many offerings. After all, this is the only area of its kind in the city– the only part of the city outside the initial mile square to have continually operated as a recognized commercial area, since the 1870’s. And since we love giving you those little lost crumbs of history, Shelby Street was originally called Dillon Street.
If the saying was “Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the coolest neighborhood of all?” The mirror would likely show you images of Fountain Square. And here are a few reasons why:
1. A library branch- considering you can pre-order whatever you want online for a pick-up at the branch of your choice, who wouldn’t love to quickly walk or bike over?
2. The restaurants– they seem to be proliferating like some randy bunnies–every time you blink, another one pops up. And not just run of the mill, but some of the best in town: Revolución (shrimp tacos and spice rimmed margaritas–olé); Santorini- one of the best Greek Restaurants in town (at the very least, they have the best Greek potatoes); Siam Square- are there any other Thai restaurant in town? Red Lion Grog House- best Shepherd’s Pie in town and has Boddingtons on the beer menu–both welcome for a former UK resident (side note: for some reason in the USA, Shepherd’s Pie is often misnamed–if it’s got beef, it should be Cottage Pie, but you know the drill: I digress); Shelbi Street Cafe and Pure Eatery–never had a bad meal at either, but no specific recollection of what I ate there; La Margarita and Mama Irma- I cannot wait to try—and have plans within the next few days. Frankly, there are too many to mention them all..
3. The Night Scene- Between the bars and entertainment, I really wish I could stagger home on foot as opposed to an expensive cab ride. Of course, drinks are available at a number of the aforementioned restaurants, but the bar at The Brass Ring is all kinds of awesome, especially in the summer, when the place is open to fresh air. Same goes for the Tiki Bar in the back part of Revolución. And if I wasn’t allergic to honey, I’d be at New Day Meadery with much more frequency–love the vibe. White Rabbit Cabaret is a hootenanny, and after being ‘exposed’ to a few other burlesque troops recently, I feel comfortable saying that Alabaster Betty (Bettie Page look-alike) is one of the best in town. The Burlesque Bingo-Bango Show even won over a Victorian-leaning girlfriend to the merits of this form of entertainment. Throw Radio Radio into the mix–from Mandy Marie and the Cool Hand Lukes to Shonen Knife, in a fairly intimate setting–and you start thinking you might return to the early 1900’s way of life, when there were residents who never left Fountain Square at all.
4. Art Galleries and Film HQ- The Murphy Building is always overflowing with a variety of colorful characters on First Fridays–Big Car and IMOCA pack in the crowds (Still faithful to my true blue, the Harrison Center, though), but you’ll marvel at how packed the place is with friendly and fascinating local artists. And to boot, Heartland Film Festival Headquarters are also joining the overall art scene here. One more way Indianapolis shows off its hippest self in Fountain Square.
5. Duckpin Bowling- Hard to fathom that these pins and balls in petite form are the farthest west you’ll find them in the good ol’ US of A. DC and East Coast duckpin bowlers can abandon the congestion of the east coast–because the Fountain Square Theater has your duckpin bowling needs covered in not one, but two alleys! Atomic and Action (1930’s) Duckpin Bowling.
6. Fire station- Should your home be hit by lightning or pyromaniacs, there’s a station right there in the heart of Fountain Square. Seem to be very friendly fellas, too. (Thanks for your service IFD!)
7. Boutique Caffeine- technically, it’s Fletcher Place, but Calvin Fletcher Coffee Company is one of my favorites ma & pa coffee shops in town. If you prefer to patronize the non-chains of the coffee world, this is THE choice if you find yourself on our southeastern diagonal. Who isn’t floored when Doug & Jeff remember your name? I know I’m not alone. Plus they just may be the nicest proprietors of a business you’ll ever meet (are they just high on caffeine fumes, perhaps? Nah, it’s that “nice” Midwestern thing we’re often touted for) and they donate all tips to a different charity every month. Plus they have awesome cookies, Circle City Sweets treats and free wi-fi.
8. Vintage and Antiques- Though my beloved Antiques on the Square is long gone (sniff, sniff)–Indianapolis Downtown Antique Mall is still there, and is always fun to browse. And as for my beloved obsession with vintage fashion, you’ve gotta love Harloh’s. IndySwank is another option, though it offers a variety of new, local artisans– not 100% vintage, as is Harloh’s
9. The surprises of a diagonal street-Virginia Ave, you’re just a cool address. Keep your eyes peeled for new history maker, The Hinge, shaping up to be a groovy new addition to a non-traditional-shaped piece of property. Pop-up shops seem to be cropping up like wild mushrooms in this area of late—and even I will be participating in the Durwyn Smedley 20th Century Pop-Up Shop, organized by friend and former proprietress of the Mass Ave shop of the same name, some years ago. All kinds of mid-century goodies, vintage clothes and accessories and all kinds of unexpected goodies—just two days, though. Come check it out: Friday, December 2 from 5-10pm and Saturday, December 3, from 10am-5pm almost across from Harloh’s at 647 Virginia Avenue.
10. The Cultural Trail connects us from downtown–via bike or kicks. Mark my words, Indianapolis is going to be well-known nationally for this visionary amenity.
You want to start looking for new digs in the area, right away, right? Before your expedition to check out the local living options, or for any general newcomers, first-time home buyers or others exploring their options—stop into City Gallery before you go. Not only are they familiar with Fountain Square housing options, but others as well—especially for those looking to find a community with connections to the arts. Like getting a tour guide who will personalize an agenda for you, Fountain Square is one of the areas CG knows best. Please tell them H.I. sent you!