Music for the Masses: Neighborhood venues bring character, culture to Midtown

Melody Inn photo by Jessica Branstetter

by Jennifer Uebelhack

Indianapolis isn’t widely known for its music scene, compared to its Midwestern neighbors Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Nashville, but that doesn’t mean the Circle City is lacking in live music. For many years, Midtown has been a hub for live music—attracting those outside of its neighborhoods to some of the best entertainment in the city, and giving bragging rights to those who reside here. With a variety of music venues to choose from, Midtown offers plenty of options that cross all genres. Whatever you’re into, there’s a music venue in Midtown that can make your heart sing.

Photo by Jennifer Uebelhack

2201 E. 46th St.

 Coupled with Cuban tastings courtesy of Elena Ruiz Cuban Cuisine and local craft beer offerings, Black Circle Brewing Co. is redefining what it means to be a music venue in Midtown.

After years of putting on shows in his Broad Ripple basement, owner Jesse Rice saw potential in the former Double 8 Foods office near 46th Street and Keystone Avenue, and opened the brewery/venue with co-owner and brewer Dan Gayle in December 2016. Since then, Black Circle Brewing Co. has brought life back to a part of the Keystone-Monon neighborhood that had otherwise been left behind.

“Successful breweries end up in parts of town that are often forgotten or are coming back up,” Rice said. “Older properties or warehouses just fit breweries because they are essentially blank canvases. There’s so much room for improvement.”

While Black Circle’s live acts are rooted in hard rock and metal genres, that wasn’t Rice’s original intention. A self-proclaimed ’90s rock and grunge fan, Rice credits much of Black Circle’s initial success to the closing of the south Indianapolis metal venue 5th Quarter Lounge earlier this year—which led to a windfall of metal bands needing a new place to play.

Providing support for the musicians who play at Black Circle is important to Rice, who keeps a full set of instruments and amps onsite for bands to utilize if needed. “If we take care of the bands, it shows,” Rice said. “Then the crowds show up more and they have that energy, too.”

 READ MORE: Butler Arts Center: ‘The Goldilocks of music venues’

Photo by Jennifer Uebelhack

832 E. Westfield Blvd.

 Nestled behind the Broad Ripple strip along the Central Canal, Flatwater Restaurant has appeased both music and outdoor lovers alike since 2010 with its summer shows. Located in an area once known for nightclubs, Flatwater is riding the waves of a resurgence of live music within the district in recent years.

“One of the things we’ve always loved about our location is that there’s a lot of foot traffic and people can accidentally find us by hearing our music and following it into the restaurant,” owner Michael Yount said. “I really enjoy watching people sit on the other side of the Canal and listen to our music, too.”

Each May through September, Flatwater offers outdoor music on its waterfront patio five nights per week—averaging about 105 shows every summer. “I try to bring in a handful of new acts every year, just to keep it fresh,” Yount said. “A lot are word-of-mouth referrals or are friends with another band that plays here.”

Yount says he almost exclusively books bands and duo and solo artists who are natives of Indianapolis or central Indiana, and includes a variety of genres and styles: rock, bluegrass, acoustic, blues, funk, and soul. “Starting out, I had no idea that there were as many working musicians in Indianapolis as there are,” he said. “There’s quite a thriving local scene here in Indy.”

Photo by Mark Shelton

5377 N. College Ave.

Voted one of the “Top 100 Jazz Clubs in the World” by Downbeat Magazine, The Jazz Kitchen is Indianapolis’s premier jazz club and restaurant. It has long anchored the now-thriving commercial node at College Avenue and 54th Street in SoBro. Owner David Allee, a lifelong Midtown resident and jazz fan, opened the club in 1994 and has been offering world-class jazz and unique culinary creations to the neighborhood ever since.

The Jazz Kitchen’s made-to-order menu borrows from New Orleans and Latin cuisine fused with the flavors of Midwest favorites. “Our food makes us a little different than a lot of the other music venues in Indianapolis,” Allee said. “While the music is still a focus, many people who come here also enjoy a good date-night dinner.”

While Thursday nights at The Jazz Kitchen showcase Latin dance party music, it’s no surprise that the favorite style of music six nights per week is jazz—including big names like Harry Connick Jr. and Dianne Reeves, and featuring multiple jazz styles to keep the crowds coming in.

The Jazz Kitchen is also a key player in the annual Indy Jazz Fest, a 10-day festival that aims to preserve the legacy and promote the future of jazz in Indianapolis through education and performance. This year’s festival takes place Sept. 14 through 23, and will feature many up-and-coming Indianapolis jazz performers.

“The local scene here produces a pretty phenomenal number of high-quality musicians,” Allee said. “It’s sometimes easier to sell tickets when people are widely familiar with the musician, but once a local music scene gets established, it can be pretty magical.”

Photo by Jennifer Uebelhack

3826 N. Illinois St.

Established in 1932, The Melody Inn is one of the oldest bars in Indianapolis. Located in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, the Melody Inn isn’t lacking in history and character, with its original oak bar surrounded by retro vinyl booths and a collection of quirky souvenirs lining the walls.

“We embrace the fact that we’re a little rough around the edges,” owner Dave Brown said. “It is what it is, and we’re happy with that.” Brown, along with co-owner Rob Ondrish, purchased the Melody Inn in 2001. Since then, they have worked hard to be an anchor in Indianapolis for original music—providing local bands who are just starting out some experience on stage, as well as hosting big names in rock ’n roll, such as surf rock originator Dick Dale, and punk rock bands The Queers and Agent Orange, to name a few.

While punk rock music is featured every Saturday night, anything from acoustic folk sets to metal and everything in between can be heard the other days of the week. “We’re always open to anything in the rock ’n roll category that’s interesting and cool,” Brown said.

Brown and Ondrish say their favorite part about being in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood is its diversity, calling it an eclectic melting pot of ages, races, and social backgrounds. “We want to be a community outreach for people who feel like they’re stuck in an environment where they don’t feel accepted,” Ondrish said. “They need to know there’s a safe place to be a weirdo, and this is it.”

Photo by Keith Greiner, Phierce Photography

5565 Keystone Ave.

Since 1952, The Mousetrap has been an Indianapolis staple for strong drinks and savory beef stew. More important, The Mousetrap has been a key player in promoting local music.

“Our goal is to always try to move an Indianapolis band to the point where they become too big for us,” owner Michael Quarto said. “We’ll bring them in as support, build them up to headliner status, and try to get them up to where they’re $10 tickets and they’re on their way to the Vogue, or beyond.”

While The Mousetrap is known for paying homage to legendary psychedelic jam band The Grateful Dead, The Trap showcases a variety of other styles to please a variety of musical palates—including jazz, soul, bluegrass, electronic, and dubstep. An outside observer might question such a diverse collection of genres in one venue, but Quarto says each style pulls from the same creative concepts—allowing them to work together and appease a variety of music lovers outside of jam bands.

“Whether we have DJs, jazz, or bluegrass bands, they are all improvising and creating while on stage,” Quarto said. “So, essentially, it’s all jam band music because it’s all experimental.

IMM photo

6259 N. College Ave.

Recognized as one of Midwest’s top music venues, The Vogue nightclub has been a Broad Ripple entertainment staple for nearly 80 years. While The Vogue first opened as a movie theater, it later shifted to a nightclub in the 1970s, and has been bringing great local and national acts to the area ever since.

On any given night, the Vogue offers something different for everyone over the age of 21, featuring acts from all genres of the spectrum that includes both original and cover music. While nationally touring musicians are often headliners, The Vogue frequently brings in local Indianapolis musicians as support.

Notable musicians who have played in the historic venue throughout the years include Johnny Cash, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rihanna, and Snoop Dogg, to name a few. And with big names like Blues Traveler and Musiq Soulchild on the horizon, it appears The Vogue will continue to be an Indianapolis favorite for years to come.

Jennifer Uebelhack is a freelance writer, photographer, and public relations specialist living in SoBro.