Indianapolis spent the last century building a reputation for speed - who doesn't know about the Indianapolis 500? ? but not for much else. The city plodded along, and we found ourselves apologizing to visitors for the state of the city and its lack of ambition. But take a stroll in downtown Indy these days, and you'll find it hard to believe we were ever insecure: With a new century has come myriad changes for the city once not-so-fondly referred to as "India-no-place."
About 10 years ago, the city shifted into high gear and the pace has yet to slow; I've walked the streets of many Midwestern cities, yet my hometown continues to amaze me. No other city has so successfully and seamlessly melded rejuvenated historic neighborhoods with newer landmarks and redeveloped areas, and then managed to sustain the energetic feel for more than a decade.
The city's epiphany occurred in 1995 with the opening of the long-awaited Circle Center in downtown Indy. Since then, public and private concerns have joined in an aggressive campaign to transform the entire city, particularly its downtown landscape. Six cultural districts, new museums, amateur and pro sport facilities, restaurants and shopping areas have breathed new life into the one-mile-square downtown.
The six-block stretch known as the Mass Ave. Theater and Arts Cultural District is the most spirited and art-infused of Indy's neighborhood hot-spots. The area combines historic commercial architecture with an edgy contemporary art scene where the hip crowd goes to take in the theater, browse shops including LAMP Fine Art Gallery, Sage boutique and the home-furnishings gem Silver in the City, and grab dinner at our town's most eclectic restaurants.
Indianapolis continues to refine its vibrant downtown, with new developments happening all the time. Right now the city's excitement is building for the Indianapolis Colts' new stadium, slated to open in 2008.
Things are happening so fast around Indy these days, your best bet for finding the newest hipster hangout is to ask a local upon your arrival; to find one, just follow the sound of folks boasting with pride about the new and improved, energetic Indy.
Sailors spends her days in her hometown of Indianapolis covering the local scene as a home and lifestyles writer. Here are her favorite spots around town to dine in style, get in touch with history and have a little fun.
Quiet Moment: Stay downtown at the Canterbury Hotel for the feel of a discreet elegant European boutique hotel, and slip into its wood-paneled, white-tablecloth restaurant for an unhurried dinner: Try the Dover sole. 123 S. Illinois St., (317) 634-3000; www.canterburyhotel.com
Quick Moment: Stop in at Aesop's Tables while you're cruising Massachusetts Avenue. The Mediterranean restaurant serves a great Greek Salad, but I usually opt for the Egyptian salad with cucumbers, onions and feta in lemon-mint dressing. 600 Massachusetts Ave., (317) 631-0055
Quality Moment: Just a block away, Scholars Inn Gourmet Café and Wine Bar is fine dining at its best. If you like comfort food while your companion prefers inventive fare, you're in luck: The Scholars Inn menu features everything from meatloaf to orange-glazed duck breast and citrus teriyaki pork chops. 725 Massachusetts Ave., (317) 536-0707; www.scholarsinn.com
Hear a Little Music: Indiana Avenue is the place for jazz. Every second and fourth Friday, Jazz on the Avenue concerts showcase the best of the area's jazz musicians. Madame Walker Theatre Center, 617 Indiana Ave., (317) 236-2099; www.walkertheatre.com
Play a Little Game: Hang out in the quirky neighborhood of Fountain Square and discover the joys of duckpin bowling; there's a vintage diner and not one, but two duckpin bowling alleys. Fountain Diner, 1103 Shelby St., (317) 685-1959; www.fountainsquareindy.com
See a Little Something: In the heart of downtown, you'll find the Indianapolis Artsgarden, A striking all-glass structure that arches across a busy downtown intersection. Inside, the Artsgarden plays host to free performances almost every afternoon. (317) 624-2563; www.indyarts.org
Garden Revels: Pack a picnic (preferably from Shapiro's Deli, 808 S. Meridian St., (317) 631-4041; www.shapiros.com) and spend an afternoon at one of the city's largest and oldest city parks, Garfield Park. Don't miss the Conservatory, with sunken gardens from the early 1900s, that lies at the east end of the park. 2432 Conservatory Drive, (317) 327-7184; www.garfieldgardensconservatory.org
City Walks: Roam the Historic District plaza, a five block park-like corridor north of The Circle. Here you'll find some of the city's most revered landmarks, patriotic memorials to the great wars and military heroes. The city's collection is second in number only to Washington, D.C. Above all, climb the steps of the tomb-like Indiana World War Memorial, topped with a limestone pyramid. Inside lies the dramatic Shrine Room, where blue lights cast an eerie glow on a huge American flag suspended above the Altar of Consecration. Indiana War Memorial, 431 N. Meridian St., (317) 232-7615; www.in.gov/iwm/warmemorial
Statue Views: In 1821, surveyor Alexander Ralston laid out Indianapolis across a square grid of streets; at the center is Monument Circle and the centerpiece 1902 Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, commemorating the Civil War. The limestone monument, just 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty, is a great starting point for exploring the energized "Mile Square." www.in.gov/iwm/civilwar