Indy’s Weirdest Neighborhood Is Also Its Most Fun
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because, if anything, it’s home to the farthest west duckpin bowling alley in the country.
By Amber Gibson
“My grandfather used to drop my father off here as a kid with $1,” Gregg Stewart tells me. “Imagine that. A day of entertainment for $1.” Stewart is speaking of Fountain Square in the 1930s, in its early glory days as the entertainment center for Indianapolis’ new immigrants. The trolley line ended here, and there were five theaters showing an array of news and talkies.
Today, the grand marquee is home to the farthest west duckpin bowling alley in the country, a ground-floor diner, game room, 12-room boutique hotel and dance hall that hosts what I’m told are epic swing dancing nights twice a month. “If we close down, Fountain Square closes down,” declares Stewart, who worked at restoring and operating the Fountain Square Theatre Building for the past 24 years. “We are the cornerstone. We’re proud of what we’ve done here. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Historic Fountain Square is just a mile and a half southeast of downtown Indianapolis, but in the 1970s, a new interstate was built, cutting off the neighborhood and leading to its steady decline for several decades. Five years ago, it was reconnected by the Cultural Trail, allowing locals and visitors to bike here from the city center in just 10 minutes and bringing a breath of new life to the neighborhood.
Many of the new builds are documented by one anonymous resident on Instagram @uglyfsqhouses.
Indianapolis may be known primarily as a sports city, but Fountain Square, in all of its eclectic, gritty individuality, is the heart of the arts scene. While there aren’t any theaters here anymore, there are eight live music venues, and on First Fridays the artist studios in the Murphy Arts Center open to the public. Josh Baker, who runs concert venue The HI-FI in the building, also lives in the neighborhood, and loves its open, accepting nature. “There are no pretensions,” he says. We’re just a cool hangout place.”
It’s also full of interesting architecture. Walk around any street and you’ll run into curious examples of early 20th-century craftsmanship. The nonprofit organization Indiana Landmarks works to preserve heritage properties in the area, and mother-daughter duo Karen Laine and Mina Starsiak of Good Bones on HGTV have spent the past decade renovating dilapidated homes here. Kyle Ragsdale, an artist who put down roots in the neighborhood more than a decade ago, describes his asymmetrical turquoise home as “mid-century modern meets beach house” — it’s filled with a collection of work from other local artists.
There’s no homeowners association in Fountain Square, so the architecture, design and colors of new homes are as eclectic as the residents of Fountain Square. Many of the new builds are documented by one anonymous resident on Instagram @uglyfsqhouses.
Somewhat odd local characters are an important fixture in a neighborhood that the rest of the city is starting to notice. There are quite a few homeless people wandering the streets, and with Fountain Square’s strong nightlife scene, drunken fisticuffs are not uncommon. Laine wouldn’t have it any other way, though, fondly recalling wild nights at burlesque bingo and dressing up as Pregnant Mary for SantaCon. “You’re free to fly your freak flag here as high as you want.”
GO THERE: FOUNTAIN SQUARE
- Location: A mile and a half southeast of downtown Indianapolis, it’s an easy 10-minute bike ride on the Cultural Trail.
- Fountain Square Theatre Building – Two duckpin bowling alleys here are themed on the 1930s and 1950s, filled with vintage bowling memorabilia from the owner’s personal collection.
- New Day Craft – Indianapolis’ only meadery. Come Wednesday night for Mead & Knead with chair massages or Thursday evening for yoga.
- Litterally Divine Chocolates – Excellent chocolate truffles, caramels, coffee and ice cream.
- HI-FI – The Lumineers and Alabama Shakes have played here. It’s the largest of Fountain Square’s concert venues.
- Thunderbird – Southern-inspired food and drink, with a great bourbon collection. Many Indy locals agree they make the best cocktails in the city.
- White Rabbit Cabaret – Karen Laine highly recommends the Burlesque Bingo Bango Show with an angry clown master of ceremonies
- Pro tip: Fountain Square is the only one of Indy’s six historic districts that still offers free street parking.
- Amber Gibson, OZY Author Contact Amber Gibson