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Downtown restaurants planning for crowds

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Pretty much every eatery in town will be packed from Jan. 27 to Feb. 5. However, with luck, a little savvy and some expert advice, it’s still possible to find a short-notice, sit-down meal. Just remember that ...

Timing is everything. Getting a table at a high-profile eatery during the height of the dinner hour is a fool’s errand, but skating in at 4 p.m. or perhaps 1 a.m. just might work. Also, lunch slots will be slightly easier to find than dinner seating.

Think outside the Mile Square. “This is a great opportunity to try unique, independent restaurants downtown, in Fountain Square and on Massachusetts Avenue,” said Craig Huse, co-owner of St. Elmo Steak House.

The closer you get to Game Day, the bigger the crush. “Early in the week, it’s not that bad,” said Eddie White, director of corporate communications for the Indiana Pacers and a veteran of 25 Super Bowls. “But later in the week when the VIPs start showing up, forget about it.”

Don’t expect the dining frenzy to diminish in the ’burbs. The Super Bowl is so huge that pretty much every hotel room in Marion County (and beyond) is booked. Which means, potentially, big crowds at restaurants from Carmel to Greenwood.

Lower your expectations. If you’re starving, Huse advises hitting a street vendor or food truck, or maybe a fast-food joint like Steak n Shake or White Castle.

Ask for help. Teams of volunteers will be stationed downtown, offering passersby real-time data on everything from transportation to events to restaurant seating opportunities. “We plan to equip them with technology that will give them real-time updates,” said Dianna L. Boyce, director of communications for the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee.

Tip well. Don’t lose your cool. Be nice to your server. And make sure, before you valet-park your car, that the place where you’re dining actually offers valet parking. “At the Super Bowl in Minnesota, an NFL rep gave his car to a person at the restaurant door,” White said. “When we were leaving, the restaurant told him they didn’t have valet services. His car was found months later in New Mexico.”
 

14 West Restaurant & Suites
14 W. Maryland St.

Look for a tented patio that’s been turned into a bar/waiting area, plus a hardball attitude toward reserved seating. “If people want to make a reservation, I require a credit card and a $200 minimum per head, and we’ll give their table away after 15 or 20 minutes [if they don’t show],” said Rhiannon Maynard, director of hotel and front-of-house operations. 14 West plans to add more seating on the building’s second floor and offer special, extra-high-end menu items.        

Harry & Izzy’s
153 S. Illinois St.

St. Elmo’s less-storied little brother will pitch a 40-foot tent on the north side of Georgia Street, where diners can get beer, cocktails and a handful of menu items, such as the St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail. Steel yourself for massive crowds and the occasional, unintended elbow in the side.

Mikado Japanese Restaurant
148 S. Illinois St.

Expect more interior seating plus a tented patio area on Georgia Street. Lots of special menu items plus extended hours. General Manager Connie Lee wants to save space for walk-ins, but don’t count on it.

Morton’s, the Steakhouse
41 E. Washington St.

This eatery is beefing up its wait and valet staff with ringers from other Morton’s locations, including a cadre of general managers from restaurants in NFL team cities. It will open for lunch Feb. 3-5. A very limited number of tables will be available, at the manager’s discretion, for walk-ins.

The Oceanaire Seafood Room
30 S. Meridian St.

This upscale seafood restaurant, in part of the old L.S. Ayres building, will set up a raw bar in the first-floor main lobby. The old, eighth-floor Ayres Tea Room space will be used for private functions—as will the tented and heated roof. Oceanaire will be open late, open for lunch on weekends and, according to General Manager Colin Atterson, won’t raise its prices. “We charge the same tonight that we will for the Super Bowl,” he said.

Palomino Restaurant & Bar
49 W. Maryland St.

Palomino Manager Jeffery Perkins will only take reservations for the eatery’s relative handful of big, marble tables. “The rest of the dining room is open seating,” he said. The eatery will also add a tented sidewalk beer garden with its own “bar food” menu, plus temporary seating in its foyer.

St. Elmo Steak House
27 S. Illinois St.

Indiana’s oldest beef emporium will be open for lunch, offering walk-ins their best shot at seating. If you’re intent on dinner, cross your fingers and try showing up either crazy early or crazy late. St. Elmo will open at 11 a.m. and serve until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Don’t be disappointed if things don’t work out. St. Elmo was booked solid—rock solid—long before Super Bowl week.

Shapiro’s Delicatessen
808 S. Meridian St.

Downtown’s premier deli will stay open until midnight during Super Bowl week. Getting there could be a schlep, but owner Brian Shapiro expects big crowds. Things might also get hectic at the deli’s Carmel location. “Carmel will get overflow from the hotels in the area,” Shapiro predicts.

Slippery Noodle Inn
372 S. Meridian St.

Owner Hal Yeagy’s preparations sound like D-Day rather than Super Bowl week. He’s bringing in a tent that can hold 1,200; laying back a semi’s worth of beer “to start the week;” and plans to keep extra security, two EMTs and a nurse on site. The Noodle’s 85-item menu will be pared back to perhaps 60 choices to speed up service, and the staff will balloon to 60—double the usual level. Cover and drink prices will also rise, but Yeagy says it’s mostly to keep the crowds manageable.•

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