My ten year college reunion is next summer and it got me thinking about all of the fun adventures and memories I have from my Hoosier days, both in college and as a resident of Indy’s southside! (Yes, I lived by the Indy 500 speedway). I don’t miss the weather in the Midwest, but I sure miss the people! It seems like a lifetime ago, but I had the good fortune of becoming friends with this week’s guest blogger, Laura Frank, when I lived in Indy. Laura made work fun and she always had the best ideas and stories! She also happens to be THE expert on my favorite Indiana city, Bloomington.
Side Note: I have to give Laura credit for being THE person to introduce me to Etsy back in ’07. Thank you, Laura, for starting my addiction to handmade everything!
My first trip to Bloomington, Indiana was in the spring of ’03. I had just pledged Kappa and it was time for composite photos. Long story short: the camera broke and some of us had to go up to IU for makeup photos. My friend, Melissa,and I drove up to B-town and the lovely ladies of Tri Delt squeezed us in their rotation. We had a great visit and I fell in love with the campus and the city. Throughout the next four years, I found myself visiting many times a year because it just had this exciting vibe and there were always so many things to do and see (especially coming from Greencastle, IN). A few highlights from my Bloomington experiences?
*Place where I met John Mellencamp (and totally bombed it). My friend, Liz, and I loved to go to the Laughing Planet Cafe for lunch. One magical day we met John Mellencamp and his wife. Liz intros with “You’re John Mellencamp.” So obviously we’re starting out really smooth and natural. 🙂 We chatted while we were waiting in line and he asked us where we were from (OK and TX). The next question that usually follows is “So, what brought you to Indiana?” We tell him we’re students at DePauw. He tells us one of the guys in the band went to DePauw in the ’70s. For whatever reason known to man, the FIRST thing I could think of was “OH, DO YOU KNOW WHAT HOUSE HE WAS IN?” (Greek life house). I die. You don’t have to make fun of me because I already make fun of me!
*Place where I found the most kick @$$ vintage cowboy boots. Bloomington has a ton of great vintage and consignment shops and my friends and I always loved scouting for treasures. I’m not really one to wear too many vintage pieces, but these boots were calling my name. (You can take a girl out of Texas…) I wore those things until they were paper thin. I still dream of those boots.
*Home to Indiana University and Kirkwood Ave. IU’s campus is absolutely gorgeous, especially when they have their GORGEOUS red and white tulips out ALL over campus. Seriously, it is truly a sight to behold. Kirkwood Ave. Mother Bear’s Pizza. Steve & Barry’s (RIP). Kilroy’s on Kirkwood. Laughing Planet. Cactus Flower….. I miss you!
M E E T L A U R A
Laura Frank was born and raised in Indiana, but she’s had the pleasure of traveling to some amazing places around the world, including Rajasthan, India and Cape Town, South Africa. She is a dedicated runner, practices yoga, loves to bake, is a voracious reader, and buys most of her clothes at consignment shops. Although a vegetarian, Laura considers herself a “foodie” and loves to indulge in the burgeoning Indianapolis restaurant scene where she lives with her husband Adam. Most of all, she loves to make people laugh with her elaborate stories and quirky ideas.
Laura (BA’99) returned to her alma mater in 2013 to work in the marketing department of the Indiana University Alumni Association, splitting her time between the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses of the University.
Best of Bloomington
by Laura Frank
Bloomington is the home of Indiana University, a liberal arts college with 40K+ students from all over the world. Naturally, IU infuses a vast, rich cultural influence in the city of Bloomington. As an alumna and employee of IU (and therefore supremely biased), I am going to focus more on activities outside of the University. But if you visit, please be sure to take a walk around our quintessential, movie-set-like campus.
IU’s Sample Gates (intersection of Kirkwood Ave. & Indiana Ave.) throw you right into the center of food, nightlife, shopping and culture. Locally, the entire area is simply called “Kirkwood” and often includes the square surrounding the courthouse. Many of the places I mention here are in the Kirkwood-area, but I’ll also highlight some places that are just a hop-skip away. Let’s dive in.
Bloomington’s Best: Food
Feast (581 E. Hillside Drive)
B-town has an impressive array of restaurants. Looking for breakfast? Newer to the B-town food scene is Feast featuring locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients and amazing baked goods. You’re going to have to venture about a mile and a half South of Kirkwood, but I promise, it’s worth it!
The Owlery Restaurant (118 W. 6th Street)
On our most recent visit to Bloomington, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Owlery, a restaurant specializing in hard-to-find vegetarian versions of comfort food. We had the poutine, a Canadian dish featuring French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds; definitely a gut-buster, but so good! We also had tasty spicy jerk tofu tacos that were topped with a unique apple slaw.
Upland Brewpub (350 W. 11th Street)
Another regular favorite for their eclectic mix of bar food and their superb craft beer (go for the Dragonfly IPA) is Upland Brewpub.
If it’s ethnic food you’re craving, there are several restaurants in the downtown area that will oblige, including Anyetsang’s Little Tibet (Tibetan, Thai, Indian cuisine; 415 E. 4th St.); Siam House (Thai cuisine; 430 E. 4th); and Samira (Afghanistan cuisine; 100 W. 6th St.). And what would a college town be without pizza? IU students turn to Pizza X (several locations) to fuel their late-night cravings, but Mother Bear’s Pizza (1428 E. 3rd St.) is my top choice when it comes to my favorite food group.
Bloomington’s Best: Culture, Art & Music
Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (3655 Snoddy Rd)
My favorite B-town cultural site is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, founded in the 1970’s by the late Thubten Jigme Norbu —brother of the Dalai Lama. Norbu escaped Tibet in 1950 and eventually settled in Bloomington, working as a professor of Tibetan Studies at IU. TMBCC offers many classes and workshops, but it’s fascinating to simply walk the grounds. Stop by the two stupas (traditional Buddhist monuments symbolizing enlightenment) that have been blessed in-person by the Dalai Lama and the Cultural Building where you’ll see traditional Tibetan butter sculpture; paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; and, if you’re lucky, sand mandalas.
Best of Bloomington: Festivals
Bloomington also hosts many festivals. For the second year in a row over Labor Day weekend, we attended the 4th Street Festival of Arts and Crafts. This free art fair has something for everyone: visual art, a spoken word poetry stage, music, and art activities for kids.
Another exciting festival you don’t want to miss is the Lotus World Music and Arts Fest, a festival held in the Kirkwood-area, known for bringing musicians and visual artists from all over the world. It just took place this past weekend, but check out their website for next year’s dates!
Buskirk-Chumley Theater (114 E. Kirkwood Ave.)
The Bluebird (216 N. Walnut)
Looking for a place to hear lesser-known bands in a smaller venue? Check out The Bluebird, which—when not hosting a concert— serves as a popular nightlife spot for students.
Best of Bloomington: Drinks
Nick’s English Hut (423 E. Kirkwood Ave) and Cardinal Spirits (922 S. Morton St.)
I’d be remiss (and reprimanded) for not mentioning Nick’s English Hut as the go-to place to have a drink in Bloomington. Most people go here to play “Sink the Biz,” a game where players take turns pouring a tiny bit of their beer into a shot glass floating in a bucket of beer. Whoever sinks the shot glass has to drink the bucket! You can even buy your own BIsmark Bucket to take home. We’re too old for those shenanigans, so we hit up Cardinal Spirits , a craft distillery that creates their own vodka, gin, rum and whiskey using local ingredients. I recommend the Sling, a fizzy vodka drink, or the River City Ransom, a gin drink with grapefruit juice and cinnamon. Bonus: the Cardinal Spirits deck overlooks the B-Line Trail, a 3-mile rail-to-trail project that runs through downtown. Great for people watching or a post-drink walk.
Best of Bloomington: Outdoors
Bloomington is nestled in the hills of Southern Indiana, surrounded by the Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Lake Lemon (to the North); Brown County State Park (to the East); and Hoosier National Forest (to the South). The most beautiful time to visit is in the autumn, particularly late-October, when you’ll get to see the beauty of leaves that glow in vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. The aforementioned parks can be quite busy during the fall season; I prefer to go to Griffy Lake Nature Preserve (3300 N. Headley Rd.) because of it’s easy access and close proximity to campus. There are several trails for hiking and canoe, kayak and rowboat rentals.
Hoosiers really know how to make a visitor feel welcome. I hope you’ll make the trip to Southern Indiana to experience all Bloomington has to offer!
It’s a good thing I’m headed back to Indiana next year for my ten year (eek!) college reunion, otherwise I’d really need to book a trip to Indiana ASAP to make a stop in Bloomington! Thank you, Laura, for sharing the Best of Bloomington with us! It was so much fun for me to reminisce over some of my favorite places as well as discover new activities and restaurants I hadn’t heard of before. So, if you find yourself in America’s heartland and are within driving distance from Bloomington, pick a day to head down there for good eats, great shopping, beautiful scenery, and lots of culture.
Have you visited Bloomington before? If so, share your favorite places and spaces in the comments section!
I Dream of Pretty Things