Some 12 or so years ago, I came to Indianapolis for a job interview. Waiting in the car in the parking lot, I quickly smoked a cigarette, gave myself a few minutes to shake the smell off, and headed into the building where I would spend the next 12 years of my life.
Because the company I went to work for was family-owned, I found myself in the position of having one of the last office jobs in America where smoking was still permitted. I've been on both sides - the guy smoking in an office with non-smokers, and the non-smoker in an office with smokers. When smoking was banned from our building about five or so years ago - by which time I had given up my pack-a-day habit - I was quite happy to see the cigarette smokers pushed out onto the front porch. I had become the militant ex-smoker. It wasn't until I quit that I realized just how bad those around me had it.
Whatever the argument was, or however it passed, I'm sure that those non-smokers who worked in a smoking-allowed environment work in a better environment today, and I congratulate them. Of course an added bonus is that bars my friends and I have stayed away from before suddenly became places we'll be happy to visit. You can argue for or against the ban all you want - we've got a comments section for that - but we see this smoking ban as a win. We like to drink in bars. More bar options are a good thing.
In order to celebrate, we took in six formerly smoke-friendly Indianapolis bars on Friday evening. Here's how it went.
Our first stop was at the venerable Red Key Tavern. The Red Key's Story is the story of Russ Settle, a World War II pilot and prisoner of war. After the war, Russ bought the Red Key and made it his own, decorating the place with model airplanes, and creating a set of rules that became as well known as the bar itself. Although Russ passed away in 2010, the Red Key is still family owned, and the staff is happy to tell Russ' story.
This being the first day of a smoke-free Red Key, we decided that a beer and a Red Key hamburger would serve as a great base. The Red Key has character in spades, and despite years of patronage by smokers, there wasn't the lingering odor you might expect. Instead we found a cooler full of good enough choices to keep anyone happy - Two Hearted, Sun King, Sierra Pale, Negra Modelo, and even Bud Light Platinum, which we ordered.
Why? Because we like to know what we shouldn't like, and buying one bottle sure beats buying a six pack.
Bud light platinum tastes like chlorinated water, if you're wondering. Or bleach. It's dry and salty, especially if you add salt, which we did. Perhaps the best part of Bud Light Platinum is that it does hide a tiny hint of grape-like flavor. And it comes in a blue bottle, which you don't see everyday. There's probably a pretty good reason for that - if you're proud of your beer you might not want to hide it.
A few in our party tried the mixed drinks, which were reasonably priced and agreeable. "Martinis are like women's breasts - three is too many, two is just right, one is not enough," was apparently something Russ was fond of saying.
Our second stop was The Sinking Ship, a bar that may have captured our attention at opening in 2011, with eight taps, a nice bottle list, a rock club sort of vibe, and... smoking.
I've been to the Sinking Ship before, and while I appreciate that they've stuck to a punk rock vibe, I'm also aware that their goal might not be to attract a guy-in-khakis like myself. But before I sold out, I might have loved the Sinking Ship. If your vibe is punk rock, hockey, black t-shirts, and craft beer, the Sinking Ship is for you. I tried out Flat12's 10 Penny and found that it was made to attract guys like me, in that it was tasty and immediately made me more comfortable. No smoke smell here.
Third on our list was the Lockerbie Pub, which despite being between Sun King and Mass Avenue, has never been visited by the HGB crew. Lockerbie Pub isn't the sort of place that has anything that's immediately striking, only an instantly comfortable vibe, and Sun King's Sky Cake on tap. In addition to a positive vibe, Lockerbie Pub has a pool table and Golden Tee machine, providing entertainment along with the tasty beer. And - again - no lingering smoke smell.
After our drinks we took a short hike over to the Mass Ave Pub, where the folks behind Smoke Free Indy were celebrating a job well done. The Mass Ave Pub has been visited by HBG before; the beer list was just too good to pass up, despite the old pro-smoking vibe. Mass Ave Pub was overflowing with customers - this being Indianapolis, we poured our beers into plastic cups and hit the sidewalk. It's legal! Don't forget!
Next up was Fletcher Place's Dugout Bar. Despite driving by the Dugout hundreds of times, we had never stopped in before. The first and most striking aspect of the bar was how huge it is, and despite arriving late in the evening, our party having now grown to ten-or-so, we were able to fill the space with noise. A pizza was ordered (three toppings max after 9 or 10pm), and we took in the character of this southsided low key establishment. The pizza was filling, the beer was cold, and they don't like credit cards. Heads up. (No smoke smell here, either.)
Our last stop of the crawl was Fountain Square's Brass Ring. The place was bustling, the cocktails weren't quite as good as we had hoped, and a posse of misplaced smokers huddled against an outside wall. Our visit was short - we had an old friend to visit a few blocks away in a bar that never had smoking to begin with.