(EDITOR'S NOTE: Former NUVO employee Kate Bragg is now employed in the front office of City Market.)
Each week thousands of people visit the historic Indianapolis City Market, lured by the sights, smells and sounds of locally owned restaurants, coffee houses, and one craft beer bar. The market promises an affordable and quick meal or drink, prepared lovingly and artfully by the varied mix of mom-and-pop and chef-run restaurants. And yet, even frequent visitors often quickly and purposefully navigate the crowded aisles, jostling to get to the front of the line, without ever stopping to look around. What are they missing? What have you been missing? The staff will passionately tell you, a lot! As the Market East cultural district continues to develop and the Main Market House celebrates its 130th anniversary, the Indianapolis City Market has taken a fresh look at itself.
Originally opened as an open-air market in 1886, the main building, a brick colossus named Tomlinson Hall played host to events such as the 1892 National Prohibition Convention (a fact now celebrated ironically each year with the lively Prohibition Repeal Day Party in the Catacombs), boxing matches and basketball games, and a $2 concert to see Ray Charles and Bo Diddley in 1957. In 1958 a fire razed Tomlinson Hall, leaving behind the single brick arch located on Whistler Plaza and the historic Catacombs. The Catacombs remain something of a mystery, as their true purpose has never been discovered. Today the Catacombs are the site of tours, parties, movie screenings and registered paranormal activity.
Indianapolis City Market's 20-some merchants include locally and nationally-recognized chefs, cooks, and foodie radicals, each with a story to tell. Cindy Hawkins, owner of Circle City Sweets can be found baking at all hours, especially the early ones, engulfing Market Street with the sweet smells of her famous pastries.
Roger Hawkins, owner of Circle City Soups was very nearly an archival librarian until he was exposed to the beautiful precision and results produced in a chef's kitchen. Recently opened Say Cheese Bistro specializes in grilled-cheese and while they do "fru-fru," they also serve 'Merica, old-school style, American cheese on white bread (not to mention, they offer a deli case stocked with drool-worthy gourmet cheeses, available for purchase by the pound).
Spice Box, born of the beloved OG Indy food truck brings a taste of Bollywood to the market, through Indian fare and colorful décor. Jazzy Dorris, of Jazzy Dorris Pies, part pie baker, part local legend, sets up shop on Wednesdays inside the main Market House, selling sliced bliss. 3 Days in Paris recently reopened with updated décor but same fluffy, eggy, sweet and savory goodness that crepe die-hards know to expect. The longest-standing restaurant, Jumbo's, known for soups, pot-pies and their recognizable elephant logo will celebrate their 40th year at the Market in 2016. U-Relish Farm prepares vegan, Slow Food Indy honored soups and mixes for your Crockpot, helping Indy residents look like they can cook daily. Mile Square Coffee Roastery has created a European style café with a marble topped coffee bar and bistro tables, serving up espresso, cold-brew, and coming soon, nitro coffee. Tomlinson Tap Room (five points if you can guess where the name came from) is a craft-beer-only bar, owned collaboratively by the Indianapolis City Market and the Brewers of Indiana Guild. The only bar of its type, Tomlinson Tap Room features rotating taps of the nearly 100 local brewers in the guild, most of which you can take home a growler of.
Of course, Indianapolis City Market prides itself on the tasty, aromatic, unexpected, and often, international fare served Indy-style, but this is where the market staff will excitedly tell you about everything they offer beyond the edible.
These are the secrets of the Market. The things that you see when you have been there a few times and looked beyond the lunch line to the beautiful industrial elegance around you, packed wall to wall with culture, entertainment and surprises.
Secret 1: Guess what, they want you to skip lunch — instead freshen up with a trip to the attached Indy Bike Hub YMCA, get a shoe shine, get a haircut at Jack's Barbershop, have your phone or tablet repaired at Downtown Phone Repair, or shop for an accessory to liven up your attire at Nora's Vintage, Estate & Costume Jewelry.
Secret 2: The merchants will teach you how to prepare and love food the way that they do. An ever-evolving class list includes trying your hand at pastries with Circle City Sweets or learning about craft coffee appreciation with Mile Square Coffee Roastery.
Secret 3: They love hosting events, including the 12 Chefs of Christmas, Party on the Plaza 4th of July Celebration (on what they like to refer to as the best porch in town), a National Pizza Pie Day Pizza Eating Competition on February 9th, sponsored by Maurcio's Pizzeria (a family owned and run pizza pie shop, and home base of the 2015 12 Chefs of Christmas winner, Percy Romo) and many more. They also host private events, weddings, pop-up weddings, vow renewals, and City Hall Wedding mini-receptions.
Secret 4: Getting to and from the market is easy. Customers need only ask for a parking pass in order to receive two free hours. Better yet, they would love it if you rode your bike or rented one from the Pacers' Bike Share station located on the East Plaza. If you need a repair, BGI is on-site, or for minor fixes you are welcome to use the DIY station in front of their store.
Secret 5: There is a free library on the East Plaza, installed by The Public Art Collection, through which you can borrow a book with no card, no return date, and no late fees.
Secret 6: They love farmers markets! The Bicentennial Bazaar indoor farmers market, held on Saturday mornings, encourages you to sip on a something from Tomlinson Tap Room while shopping for local produce and artisanal food products. The Original Farmers' Market, held Wednesdays May through October isn't much of a secret, but the Buy 2, Give 1 program offers shoppers the opportunity to buy two of any good and one will be donated. A monthly Twilight Market will launch in 2016, on the second Thursday. This market will provide an evening farmers market complete with live music, food sampling, craft vendors, and a beer garden. Secret 6: Pop-ups regularly pop up. Keep your eyes open for a JP Parker Pop-Up Flower Shop and Maya's Bakery gourmet dog treats.
Secret 7: Sideshow Art & Odditorium functions as a gallery of the beautiful and odd. Peruse local art as well as pieces by nationally known artists from around the country, anywhere from $5-$300, and then some.
So go to the Indianapolis City Market for lunch. Try something that you know you love or something that you have never tried before but take your time, look around, or even go back at the end of the day. Explore the market with new eyes and a new appreciation, when it is a little quieter and more ready to divulge its secrets, but no less rich, no less innovative, and certainly no less deserving of holding a place in the heart of Indy.
(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Athletico Physical Therapy [www.athletico.com]. Athletico Physical Therapy had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)