Experts select 10 of the best-designed restaurants and bars in central Indiana

Patrick Kestner, president of American Institute of Architects Indianapolis, points to design as one way a restaurant or bar can make its mark.

“Unless you’re a chain restaurant, which is trying to standardize every detail, places are typically trying to set themselves apart,” Kestner said.

To recognize area food and dining architecture that’s a cut above, AIA Indianapolis on Thursday released a list of the area’s 10 best-designed restaurants and bars.

Selections were made during a lively two-hour debate among the organization’s five-member executive committee: Desma Belsaas, IndyVault owner; Marlee Brabin, project director at Blackline Studio; Brandon Farley, architect at American Structurepoint Inc.; Jason Larrison, architect at J.S. Held; and Kestner, owner of Still Architecture + Design.

“We all have different opinions on what makes a space great,” Kestner said.

The quintet found consensus when giving unanimous acclaim to two restaurants: the Rathskeller and Vida. Meanwhile, Indianapolis architectural firm Phanomen Design makes three appearances on the list.

In 2021, members of the AIA Indianapolis executive committee publicly shared a list of their picks for the city’s top 10 architecturally significant buildings. The roster included structures such as Clowes Memorial Hall and Cummins Global Distribution Headquarters.

The restaurant and bar list, Kestner said, is a way to extend the conversation.

Here’s the list, in alphabetical order:

Anthony's Chophouse
Anthony’s Chophouse and 3Up Rooftop Bar, 201 W Main St., Carmel. (Photo provided by Anthony’s Chophouse)

Anthony’s Chophouse and 3Up Rooftop Bar

Address: 201 W Main St., Carmel
Designed by: Ratio Architects Inc. and Phanomen Design

The committee praised Anthony’s Chophouse and 3Up Rooftop Bar for its two-story glazed wall that looks out onto Carmel’s public plaza. Points were earned for salvaging the mahogany bar from the bygone Glass Chimney restaurant.

Bluebeard
Bluebeard, 653 Virginia Ave. (Photo provided by Demerly Architects)

Bluebeard

Address: 653 Virginia Ave.
Designed by: Demerly Architects

Farley described Fletcher Place landmark Bluebeard as cozy, intimate, soft, quirky and a little weird. Of the courtyard’s brick arch that greets guests, Farley said, “It’s beautiful.” The building had been abandoned before father-and-son team Tom and Ed Battista opened Bluebeard, a name inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s 1987 novel focused on the life and work of a famous painter.

The Hulman
The Hulman, 141 E Washington St. (Anthony Gilbert photo provided by Gaffer Photography)

The Hulman

Address: 141 E Washington St.
Designed by: ESG Architecture and Design

Minneapolis firm ESG Architecture and Design used a mid-century modern aesthetic for The Hulman, the street-level restaurant of Hotel Indy (designed by Ratio Architects Inc.). “It’s a really nice space,” Kestner said. “It’s a comfortable bar. There’s a lot of validity to this” making the top 10.

Inferno Room
Inferno Room, 902 Virginia Ave. (Cassandra Salimeno photo provided by Inferno Room)

The Inferno Room

Address: 902 Virginia Ave.
Designed by: Blackline Studio

The Inferno Room is the smallest location to make the list, and the list makers discussed the difference between great design and great decorating. Larrison lobbied for the tiki bar to make the list, noting the building’s history of once being home to a Marion County court. “It’s great architecture,” Larrison said. “It’s great storytelling. It’s dramatic. I love the authentic artifacts from New Guinea. This is more than decoration.”

Kan-Kan
Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie, 1258 Windsor St. (Photo provided by J.W. McQuiston Architecture + Interior Design)

Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie

Address: 1258 Windsor St.
Designed by: J.W. McQuiston Architecture + Interior Design

Architects praised the exterior appeal of Kan-Kan, which opened in the Windsor Park neighborhood in August 2021. “It’s a great space, and I like what it’s done as an amenity and as a community asset for the area,” Belsaas said. “It’s bold. It draws you in.” The Battistas, who co-founded Kan-Kan, have another Vonnegut connection, because the theater and restaurant’s name is borrowed from a reference in the novel “Cat’s Cradle.”

Livery
Livery, 720 N College Ave. (Photo provided by Phanomen)

Livery

Address: 720 N. College Ave.
Designed by: Phanomen Design

Livery’s distinctive design begins at the sidewalk that runs along the alley of this former 1800s livery stable in the Chatham Arch neighborhood. The committee expressed appreciation for the modern, industrial design that’s also inviting. Phanomen also designed the exterior mural, “Night Musings,” that won a Monumental Award for Achievement in Public Art.

Rathskeller
The Rathskeller, 401 E Michigan St. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

The Rathskeller

Address: 401 E. Michigan St.
Designed by: Vonnegut and Bohn

The Rathskeller is part of the Athenaeum, a 19th century German Renaissance Revival building designed by Vonnegut & Bohn—the firm owned by author Vonnegut’s grandfather, Bernard Vonnegut, and Arthur Bohn. The restaurant was designed to mirror a Bavarian inn and dining establishment, as well as a Munich beer hall.

ST ELMO
St. Elmo Steak House, 127 S Illinois St. (IBJ photo/Dave Lindquist)

St. Elmo Steak House

Address: 127 S. Illinois St.
Designed by: W.H. Wrigley

St. Elmo Steak House has been a landmark in downtown Indianapolis since 1902, making it the oldest Indianapolis steakhouse in its original location. “Downtown Indy is lousy with classic steakhouses,” in terms of design, Farley said. “Singling an individual one out as being a particularly great example of design in some ways seems disingenuous. However, St. Elmo’s isn’t just a steakhouse. It’s the steakhouse. It’s the torchbearer for the Indianapolis steakhouse scene.”

Taxman CityWay
Taxman CityWay, 310 S. Delaware St. (Photo provided by Lancer + Beebe)

Taxman CityWay

Address: 310 S. Delaware St.
Designed by: Lancer + Beebe LLC

Architects at Lancer + Beebe gave new life to an 1850s downtown building that once was a livery, creating a modern gastropub in 2019. The list makers said the design incorporated the character of the historic brick building, and the update was not an easy feat. The original livery stable was relocated a few hundred feet north and space was added for a dining area.

Vida
Vida, 601 E New York St. (Photo provided by Phanomen)

Vida

Address: 602 E. New York St.
Designed by: Phanomen Design

Farley heaped praise on Vida for its cohesive approach to creating an atmosphere. “The door pulls, the inset lights in the floor, the cleverly featured wall of herbs, the gently folded facade above an exterior window—the design is thoughtful and refined all the way down to the smallest details. The design is muted, maybe even understated, but every surface offers something thoughtfully conceived. It tells me exactly what to expect even before I’ve opened the menu.”

For more information about AIA Indianapolis, visit aiaindiana.org.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

9 thoughts on “Experts select 10 of the best-designed restaurants and bars in central Indiana

    1. Restaurants are preferred for the quality of menu items, wait staff, and ambiance. These three things are the things create an “experience” which separates a mediocre dining option to a superior one.

    1. Kan Kan is quite interesting but shouldn’t be on this list. It’s a movie theater with “more”. It’s located on near east side next to Spades Park. It’s an underrated neighborhood on the up-in-up.

    1. No kidding. Maybe the bar area as you come in but the decor and atmosphere of their dining areas leaves a lot to be desired. No one should have to pay those prices and sit one foot from other customers on each side of you. No privacy in your conversations and I have no desire to hear others’ conversations.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}