1930s postcard showing the interior that became the King Cole. (Image: eBay)

Do you have a special occasion coming up or just want to impress a first date? What would be your go-to destination? For nearly seventy years, the answer to that question could be found at Seven North Meridian Street in a building that is, to this day, nicknamed for the legendary restaurant that once occupied the basement: The King Cole.

The Kahn Building in 1918. The building to the right at 6 East Washington was originally a candy store and later a Burger Chef restaurant. It was demolished in 2002 and you can still make out the roof line on the east facade of the King Cole building (Courtesy ebay)

The Kahn Building in 1918. The building to the right at 6 East Washington was originally a candy store and later a Burger Chef restaurant. It was demolished in 2002, and you can still make out the roof line on the east facade of the King Cole building. (Image: eBay)

The ten-story building at the northeast corner of Washington and Meridian Streets is substantial for more than its prime location. The building was designed by Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller — that’s Vonnegut as in Kurt Vonnegut Sr., father and namesake of the famed author. The firm designed many art deco buildings, including the Indiana Bell headquarters further up Meridian Street.

The first restaurant featured in the below-ground space opened as the Seville in 1929. By 1957, the remodeled space was named the King Cole. This would become the destination restaurant in Indy featuring an oft-touted rack of lamb, steaks, and seafood. The decor was intentionally stuffy. The establishment’s advertising boasted about being the best and often listed awards won throughout the years. A strict dress code requiring jackets was in place. The restaurant remained popular for prom dates and anniversaries throughout the 1970’s, until a bout with Legionnaire’s Disease in 1979 damaged its reputation.

This ad appeared in a 1979 travel guide. It can be assumed the copy was written prior to an outbreak of Legionnaires disease (courtesy Indiana State Library)

This ad appeared in a 1979 travel guide. It can be assumed the copy was written prior to an outbreak of Legionnaires disease. (Image: Indiana State Library)

The restaurant held on through the 1980’s, but changing tastes in dining would bring an end to the once grand downtown destination. The sought after French Continental cuisine for which it was known became less popular. So did formality of service and dress that were a part of the dining experience. By the 90’s, the restaurant ditched the strict dress code and had even paired up with a local night club for cross promotion. It all proved futile, and the doors closed for good in 1994. This would not be the end of swanky nights out at this beloved location.

Nicky Blaine’s cigar and martini bar took on the space in 1999. Riding the resurgence of swing music and cigar smoking popularized in the late 90’s, the bar became an immediate success. So successful in fact, that they moved across the street to a larger space to accommodate their crowds in 2005.

For a time, residents were teased about a high end sushi restaurant locating in the basement to carry on the legacy of the space, but that never materialized. The space is currently marketed as available again.

What kind of bustling bar or restaurant theme would you like to see in this space?

Printed Sources:

Indianapolis Monthly, September 2002

Indianapolis Convention and Travel Guide, American National, 1978

9 responses to “At Your Leisure: Jackets Required”

  1. Norm Morford says:

    Being one person who has memories of the Seville from World War II days, I wonder who else can recall
    having dined there during those years.

  2. Ted Kolbus says:

    Moe & Johnny’s Coffee Shop at 54th and College has the old booth seats from the King Cole Restaurant…

  3. Ann Stewart says:

    Oh my did that bring back memories! My favorite place to have lunch with my mother back in the late 1930’s, early 40’s (Ayres’ tea room came in second). My mother had studied in Spain in the 1920’s, so she really loved going there. I thought they had the best tarter sauce in the world. Have never been able to duplicate it, but keep trying. So lovely to see a picture, thank you so much.

  4. Donna Winsted says:

    Thanks so much for this article! But I do have to let you know that the King Cole was open before 1957!!! I graduated from Ben Davis Grade School in 1954 (there were no junior highs or middle schools back then), and our elegant destination was the King Cole for lunch! We were dressed in our very best, too!
    As far as I know, the King Cole had been open for several years prior to 1954.

  5. Ann Stewart says:

    Don’t remember the King Cole at all, for I moved from Indianapolis in 1948. Lived in Irvington, went first to Benj. Harrison School when we lived on E. 11th St., then to #77 when it was just a large 4-room portable, then #57, then for two years to Howe. After that we moved to Louisville, KY where my mother joined the faculty at the Univ. of Louisville. I was a small child when Mother and I would visit the Seville. During WW II Mother taught at Shortridge, Manual, and G. Washington, she had been Head of the Romance Language Dept. at Hood, and just hated teaching high school!! Dad was a Chiropractor and was attending college when we lived on E. 11th St. We would walk to school together some mornings!

  6. Jeff Kamm says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories. The restaurant closed before I got my driver’s license but I did get to sip a few martinis at Nicky Blaine’s. It looks like I was a week too early in writing this as it has been announced a new tenant is taking over. They will specialize in bacon, chicken legs and music from an in-house d.j. Not really my cup of tea and the new signage is beyond tacky in my opinion. Both the IBJ and Star have aricles about the new business.

  7. Jill Briggs says:

    My mother remembers having a “Muskonovich” cocktail at the King Cole. It was a shooter done after chewing a bit of lemon sprinkled with sugar. We are trying to re-create this drink. I’m curious if anyone out there remembers it? We think it was made with Metaxa and Cointreau, because this is what we find on the internet today.
    Thanks, Jill

  8. Lori Funk says:

    I remember the King Cole very well…I grew up there.
    My mother, Shirley, worked as a young waitress at the Seville, and then later, returned after it became the King Cole. We came from extremely modest circumstances, but In 1960, when I was about six years old, she would dress me up in my very best dress and take me to the King Cole for lunch on Saturdays, where I was taught the art of fine dining. Her best friend, “Tweedy” (all the waitresses went by their last names then), would help me order from the menu and serve lunch, teaching me which piece of silverware to use with each course.
    Over time, many of the long-time waitresses became like second mothers to me, and when I was 14, I started working after school in the King Cole’s cloak room as a “hat-check girl” and sometimes as a “food checker”, which meant I rang up food items on a cash register in the kitchen. (My mother was able to keep a very watchful eye on me as a teenager during those days, which didn’t leave much time for dating!)
    My mother later became the hostess and dining room manager until her passing in 1986. She loved working at the King Cole…it was the center of her life, and she was always happiest when she was at work. She told me that my grandmother (her mother) had also once worked at the King Cole as a “salad lady.” Later, my sister became a cashier there, so I guess it was a family affair, LOL.
    I remember the wonderful ambiance of the King Cole…lots of red drapes and carpeting, very plush, with gold-rimmed plates, and beautiful, old original oil paintings on the walls. I remember that a guest once tried to abscond with one of the paintings that was hanging on the wall on the stairway landing. Busboys and wine stewards (“captains”) chased him down the street to retrieve it!
    Some guests (like Vincent Price, Ted Koppel and state legislators, etc.), could receive important phone calls at their table due to the phone jacks in the booths; the phone would be brought to their table and plugged into the jack so they could take the call. In the early 1970s, the executive chef was a Frenchman named Pierre, but I don’t remember his last name. The sous-chef was a long-time employee and friend, an African-American gentleman named Earl.
    I also remember the food! Everything from the relish trays with pickled herring, paté, and rye bread to the French Onion Soup, Salade Niçoise, Bibb lettuce salads with hot bacon dressing, and Caesar salads that were prepared table-side by the elegantly-suited “captains” on linen-draped carts. Other favorites were the Foie Gras, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, Escargots, Chateaubriand, poached/baked/broiled whole fish complete with their heads and tails, broiled Maine lobsters, Steak Tartare, Steak au Poivre, Bouillabaisse, Coq au vin, and Bœuf Bourguignon. Their flame-grilled steaks were also very popular, sometimes served with Béarnaise sauce. My favorite desserts were the Crêpes Suzette and Cherries Jubilee (both flambéed at the table), Chocolate and Grand Marnier Soufflés, and Baked Alaska. They also had a very extensive wine cellar.
    I was still working at the King Cole as a waitress in 1979 through the difficult encounter with Legionnaires’ disease, leaving shortly afterward in 1980. Although I no longer live in Indiana, I was very sad to hear that the King Cole had closed in 1994. It was a very special place to me during the 60s and 70s. I am still a foodie today due to the King Cole’s influence on my life.

  9. Curt says:

    I was so disappointed when the King Cole closed. When you entered after walking down the stairs below ground level, you were met by a lavish, albeit over the top sea of red velvet booths and gold lamps and chandeliers. The food and service was the best in Indianapolis during its day.

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