Bourbon Street Distillery spices up the Indy skyline
Mark Proctor was halfway through his song set — somewhere between “Mister Bojangles” and “Cats in the Cradle” — when he paused to announce the score of the Pacers game. He didn’t need to do it. We couldn’t help seeing the giant TV screen on the wall. But the white-bearded crooner with his acoustic guitar knew Bourbon Street Distillery was the kind of place where folks appreciate such friendly gestures.
Oysters Rockefeller ($8.95) brought us six giant oysters bubbling with a traditional mix of spinach, cheese and bacon.
If you haven’t stopped in at this Indiana Avenue location lately, you’ll notice some changes. The casual atmosphere and sports-loving crowd at Bourbon Street is a far cry from its predecessor — the Snazzy Jazz — whose owners spruced up this two-story, triangulated storefront in downtown’s historic jazz district, transforming it from a lunchtime institution to a swank, upscale haunt for neighborhood hep-cats. Now, the décor is unfocused. In the upstairs bar, a few overstuffed loveseats and mod barstools mingle with decidedly less fashionable plastic card tables and folding chairs. Televisions tuned to ESPN are omnipresent. But the bar has been reconfigured to afford customers more of the stunning views of the Indianapolis skyline — some of the most panoramic you can find. Exposed brick, stylish bathroom fixtures and even the old neon sign for Snazzy Jazz are artifacts that linger from the former proprietors. A double-decker patio is a great addition that will make Bourbon Street one of the more welcoming downtown watering holes, once spring finally comes around. As the name implies, the food takes a few clues from the Creole cuisine of the South’s culinary capital, New Orleans. But in this interpretation, “bayou eats” pretty much means “unbelievably hot.” An order of oysters Rockefeller ($8.95) brought us six giant oysters bubbling with a traditional mix of spinach, cheese and bacon. A side of cocktail sauce was lightning hot, immediately setting our lips on fire. The Bourbon Street tomato soup ($3.50) packed so much spice in a bowl of thick, tart tomato broth that we dove for our beers. When our attentive, no-nonsense waitress saw the mostly uneaten bowl at the side of the table, she took it off our bill without missing a beat. A house salad was mostly iceberg lettuce with one token green leaf and a few shreds of red cabbage. The house dressing turned out to be ranch with a few crumbles of bleu cheese, which helped allay the burn from the soup. Entrées were more tame. A crab cake dinner ($15.95) seemed a great way to test the kitchen’s skills, as well as to get one of the special Creole side dishes. The cakes were tasty enough, though they were a little over-mixed and fried so dark they seemed more like heavy pucks than light cakes highlighting the crab in the filling. A generous side of étoufee with plenty of crawfish had a rich, dark roux, but it seemed far spicier than it needed to be, at least without warning on the menu. No bar would be a bar without a good selection of sandwiches, and this is where Bourbon Street really excelled. The barbecued pork po’ boy sandwich ($7.25) was an epic grinder-sized sandwich with probably a half pound of sweet, tender shreds of barbecued pork topped with a few fried onion rings and a surprisingly mild Chipotle mayo. A mound of crisp shoestring fries and a fat pickle made this a textbook example of bar food. Coleslaw on the side was a little bland, but it was crunchy without too much dressing. Our waitress said that most of the desserts were “shipped in,” but the tangy, silky key lime pie ($3.95) lost no flavor from not being homemade. A whipped cream garnish threatened to hide the pie, and cinnamon seemed an odd choice for dusting the plate. But the pie itself was almost as thick and rich as a cheesecake, and it was a great way to celebrate a Pacers victory. By this point, Proctor had passed around request sheets and was taking suggestions from the somewhat aloof crowd. He had a whole list of originals he was willing to try out on the audience. The place was starting to fill up, and the din was indicative of a place full of regulars and locals who had found a home on a side of downtown with few other eateries and hangouts. No doubt this place will be a great spot to watch the upcoming Final Four games — even without a Hoosier team in the running.