When thousands of event professionals start lining up in Indy for MPI’s World Education Conference (WEC18) at the beginning of June, they are going to have busy calendars. Between the pep rallies, education sessions and villages, experience coaches will keep the engines running at Indiana Convention Center.
Hopefully, many have scheduled some time to explore Indiana’s capital city. Smart Meetings asked local planner Michael Downs, director of conventions and meetings at Kiwanis International, for tips on everything from where to get the best cup of coffee (he likes his black) to the best place to watch the sunset (Eagle’s Nest in Hyatt Regency Indianapolis).
Getting Around Town
Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium are connected to 12 hotels (more than half of the downtown’s 7,100 guest rooms) by way of a network of climate-controlled pedestrian walkways. That means attendees technically don’t ever have to go outside.
But if they do, Downs lauds the walkability of downtown. The Hoosier city is built on a grid fanning out from Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at the intersection of Meridian and Market streets, and the site of WEC18’s Monumental Block Party on Sunday evening. And for those who want to get off their feet, Indiana Pacers Bikeshare makes it easy to get around.
On the first night, attendees will experience downtown Indy’s convenient access to the great outdoors as the opening night celebration will be at White River State Park, a 250-acre cultural district that includes green spaces, running trails, a concert venue, Indianapolis Zoo, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art and NCAA Hall of Champions Museum. In fact, the city has a museum inventory that rivals Washington D.C.’s and boasts a Triple-A baseball stadium, Victory Field, that shines with fireworks on Friday game nights. Downs suggests buying tickets on the lawn and bringing a cooler.
Options for listening to live music are numerous in the home of Indiana legend John Cougar Mellencamp. Broad Ripple Village has become the home for local bands rocking intimate stages and a hostel that bills itself as having the vibe of a bed-and-breakfast.
What and Where to Eat and Drink
One reason to venture beyond the convention center is the emerging culinary and brew scene bubbling up in the city. Downs recommends starting the day at Tinker Coffee in the Herron-Morton Place Historic District. They roast their own beans and will hand-craft your cup’o any way you want it.
Local fare is only steps away from the convention center during the Food Truck Networking Lunch as the city’s traditional Friday mobile cuisine scene returns to Georgia Street for a special appearance.
Then make your way to Massachusetts Avenue (or as the locals call it, Mass Ave) for more restaurants than you can swing a fork at. Downs suggests making room for at least one pork tenderloin sandwich (breaded and fried the way God intended) while in town. This delicacy, dating back to a modified schnitzel sold out of a cart in 1904, now comes in all shapes and sizes, so you may have to try more than one.
Another Indy legend is St. Elmo’s Steakhouse and its very spicy shrimp cocktail. Although the historic spot boasts a private dining room, Downs suggests heading up to 1933 Lounge and pairing the hot crustaceans with a signature Elmo Cola, a glass-bottled Coke—or diet Coke—blended with an infusion of Maker’s Mark Bourbon, imported Italian Luxardo maraschino cherries and Madagascar vanilla beans. They also serve a lauded version of Hoosier or sugar cream pie, another local staple.
In the Wholesale District, Omni Severin Hotel’s sumptuously refurbished bar offers a timeless culinary favorite—bacon on a stick, with your choice of bourbon-maple, apple butta bbq or red-hot sauce. You can also sample Indiana popcorn in fresco lime salted lemon, maple bbq, bread and butter pickle or spicy mustard flavors.
Consider washing all that Indy food down with locally brewed specialties. In addition to the popular Sun King Brewery ales—which is preparing to open its third location—Downs suggests a trip to St. Joseph Brewery & Public House. It is a converted church now blessing congregants with Belgian-style lagers and crispy Brussels sprouts. Can’t make up your mind? Consider a Brew Bus tour for a guided trip through Indy’s innovative suds scene.
The Absolutely Most Important, Must-See Thing in Indy
“The Brickyard”, aka Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is where a quarter-million people (the 2.5-mile oval has capacity for more than 250,000) will be on their feet the week before MPI kicks off to cheer the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. The city’s claim to television coverage houses a museum, Auto Racing Hall of Fame and Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort. Happily for WEC attendees, this historic site where 33 drivers go tire-to-tire for 200 laps over 500 miles will also be the backdrop of the Closing Night Celebration, so attendees can have a celebratory swig of milk—or another drink of their choosing—to the strains of “Back Home Again in Indiana” (the traditional starting song and winner’s celebratory beverage for the Indy 500).
Looking for more local tips? Your friends at Visit Indy have some suggestions.