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 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.
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?
Indianapolis Monthly, September 2002
Indianapolis Convention and Travel Guide, American National, 1978