Of all the dining options, though, steak houses are best represented, perhaps appropriately, as this is a meat-and-potatoes town. Best known is St. Elmo Steak House. Opened in 1902 and famous for its famously hot shrimp cocktail, the brick-walled, wood-paneled classic retains quirky turn-of-the-century traditions such as serving a small glass of tomato juice with every steak. It’s a haunt of the city’s power set — and visiting NFL types — and, to meet demand, it expanded into the space next door with a swinging bar called Harry & Izzy’s (co-owned by Peyton Manning) and, up top, with the darkly lit, speakeasy-style 1933 Lounge.
Just south of Monument Circle, the Wholesale District, a former commercial area dating to the 1800s, is now a trendy nightlife hub with sleek ultralounges (Blu, Subterra Lounge); raucous dance clubs popular with the 20-something set (The Ugly Monkey, Tiki Bob’s Cantina); and friendly, casual drinking joints (Claddagh Irish Pub, Ike & Jonesy’s). The mazelike Slippery Noodle Inn, opened in 1850 and billed as the oldest bar in Indiana, books live blues acts nearly every night of the week.
Perhaps in a fit of pique over the fact that South Florida doesn’t get to host the big game every year, a Miami Herald columnist recently had a few words to say about Indianapolis. “The NFL awarded a Super Bowl to Indianapolis,” he wrote. “And the idea that sponsors have to be somewhere warm and fun and sunny got tossed because Indy is none of those this time of year.” For all the reasons listed above, Indy’s Super Bowl planners take strong exception to the notion that Indy isn’t fun. (And it’s worth noting that Indianapolis doesn’t have a monopoly on bad weather in February — when the Colts went to Miami to play for the Lombardi Trophy in 2007, the game was nearly rained out.) But as for the warm and sunny part, they’re not arguing. In fact, with a kind of salty Midwestern pragmatism, they’ve decided to embrace the detriment. And in typical Indianapolis fashion, the city has done so by building something. Georgia Street, a downtown side street that ran from Bankers Life Fieldhouse to the convention center, has been torn up and replaced with a pedestrian-friendly, open-air plaza that, when the traveling NFL circus rolls into town, will become Super Bowl Village. It will feature a wall-to-wall lineup of food and booze vendors, merchandise stands, two concert stages and, for thrill seekers, 650-foot zip lines. Outdoor heaters will be liberally dispersed. If the whole getup is eerily reminiscent of the scene at an Olympic village, that’s because it is. Planners took notes from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. They want downtown Indianapolis to feel like a spirited cold-weather festival. After all, if die-hard tailgaters in northern cities like Green Bay, Buffalo and Cleveland are any indication, NFL fans don’t mind the cold as long as there’s a good party.
In any event, most of the downtown hotels are connected to Lucas Oil Stadium, the convention center and other attractions like Circle Centre mall by a series of tunnels and skywalks, meaning that truly weather-averse visitors can leave their hotels and catch the NFL Experience, shop, eat dinner, have a few drinks and then watch the Super Bowl all without setting foot outside.
Accordingly, Miles, who now chairs the local host committee, has a response for that skeptical Miami columnist — and, for that matter, for anyone else who might doubt the feasibility of having a good time in Indianapolis in the dead of winter. “He’s right, it’s not going to be a place you would come to in February for the climate, if you want the traditional Super Bowl experience that revolves around golf,” Miles says. “But if you want to be in the middle of an atmosphere that creates buzz and fun, then you ought to be here.”