Indianapolis has a reputation as one of the Midwest’s leading music cities, and with good reason. Whether you’re a classical music enthusiast, a jazz aficionado, or an alt rock fan, Indy runs the gamut of live music venues, from intimate bars to grand theaters (old and new) known for acoustic perfection. Here are 10 destinations for people who have a passion for live music.
The Slippery Noodle Inn
As the oldest continuously running bar in Indiana, the Slippery Noodle Inn in downtown Indianapolis has a storied past that precedes its reputation as Indy’s top bar for live blues performances. Scan the walls of the former brothel’s back room and you’ll find evidence of the days when John Dillinger and his gang used the space for target practice.
Due to its proximity to Union Station, The Noodle, as it’s known to locals, was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. If you go during off-peak hours, employees will happily show you the now-closed tunnels in the basement or the tiny rooms on the second floor where “ladies of the night” once plied their trade.
On Friday and Saturday nights, you can roam back and forth between two stages in the massive two-story building, which occupies half of a city block. In the front room, belly up to the bar that’s been serving thirsty patrons since 1850. Live blues, performed by local, regional and national artists begins at 8:30 p.m. on the back stage and at 9:15 p.m. on the front stage.
Go for dinner and try the mouthwatering breaded-grouper sandwich. Or if you have the cojones, order the Vegas burger, loaded with toppings, including rib roast. On weekends, the Slippery Noodle has a modest cover charge, but where else in the Midwest can you pay so little to hear the best of the blues until the wee hours of the morning?
Located in Indy’s Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, the Jazz Kitchen is a local treasure for jazz enthusiasts. The supper-club style venue opened in 1994 and quickly marked itself as a place where people could come seven nights a week to enjoy jazz alongside a sumptuous meal. You’re as likely to see Dee Dee Bridgewater or Harry Connick, Jr. as you are a regional artist. Downbeat Magazine named it one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world.
The Jazz Kitchen’s vibe ranges from jubilant to sultry, depending on who’s playing on a given night. Its casual elegance and jazz emphasis make it a favorite date night destination—sophisticated without being stuffy. The amber light cast on the 130-seat dining room during performances adds a touch of romance.
Each night is a ticketed event that can cost between $10 and $50. That doesn’t count your food, which is New Orleans-meets-Midwest cuisine. Try their award-winning crab cakes or the Spanish paella. They also bake fresh, homemade bread daily.
This Fountain Square venue, located in the historic Murphy Arts Center, is the most active mid-sized club in the state, offering live music six to seven nights a week. Known for a diverse mix of music, from leading-edge bands to legendary songwriters, HI-FI Indy draws an equally eclectic audience. Fans and artists alike dig the acoustics of the performance space, which is big enough to accommodate 400 people, but small enough to foster real engagement between fans and local and national bands of all genres. Most events are ticketed, and the HI-FI makes them easy to purchase online.
The Melody Inn
If you have eclectic taste in music, you’ll love the historic Melody Inn. Don’t like what you hear on Saturday night? Come back on Sunday or Monday. The acts range from local indie musicians making their debut to national rockabilly bands on their way to the top. More often than not, the music has a hard edge. Think punk rock and heavy metal.
There’s a modest cover charge, but parking is free in this Butler-Tarkington neighborhood bar, a den for original music since 1935. You won’t find expensive well drinks or pretentious people at the Melody Inn. It’s a hangout for pool players and authentic music lovers with zero interest in putting on airs. In good weather, enjoy the tiki-themed outdoor seating. Or lounge inside, surrounded by retro furnishings, subversive art, and unforgettable music. "Alternative Press" named the Melody Inn one of America’s 15 must-visit rock ‘n’ roll bars in 2017.
Chatterbox Jazz Club
In the heart of Indy’s upscale Massachusetts Avenue is a gritty bar that’s been drawing serious jazz lovers for nearly four decades. David Andrichik purchased the historic building in 1982, when the first floor served as a neighborhood watering hole. A serious jazz fan, Andrichik added a stage and began inviting notable jazz musicians to perform there seven nights a week.
The artists are mostly local and regional talents, but the Chatterbox has also had its share of famous guests, from Wynton Marsalis to Mick Jagger and Ron Wood. Between sets, you can read graffiti or order a microwave pizza—people don’t come to the Chatterbox for the ambiance or food; they come for the jazz, except for the first Tuesday of the month. On that night, classically trained musicians perform chamber music.
The acoustics are so superb that even seasoned artists and bands tend to overshoot their sound needs when they perform at the Palladium for the first time. The 1,600-seat, world-class concert hall is one of three venues linked to the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, 20 to 30 minutes north of Indianapolis. The designers and architects had a maniacal obsession for optimizing sound, including features like double-door sound and light blocks at entrances, acoustic padding, and thick, concrete walls.
The Palladium hosts legends from every musical genre, from bluegrass artists like Sam Bush to blues guitarist and singer Buddy Guy. Each summer, music lovers can attend free concerts that feature 40 of the top high-school vocalists who’ve participated in The Great American Songbook Foundation’s Songbook Academy.
Hilbert Circle Theatre
As home base to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO), Hilbert Circle Theatre is a citadel for live classical music in Indianapolis. The elegant 1660-seat theatre, built in the early 1900s in the Neo-Classical Revival style and renovated with an eye for comfort and sound, hosts a mix of formats designed to draw diverse audiences, including a Coffee Classical Series, a casual 45-minute Lunch Break series for just $5, a Happy Hour series, a Film Series, and SymFUNy Sundays for families with children ages 4 to 12. Die-hard classical music fans can also buy single tickets or subscribe to traditional full-length concerts, featuring globally-known virtuosos and groups like the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.
If classical music isn’t your thing, explore the ISO’s pops calendar, which offers everything from Broadway hits to rock anthems. Before and after the show, grab coffee or a cocktail and go to the oval promenade on the lobby’s second floor—a favorite spot for people-watching. Or survey fine art on display there. From the first floor’s East Lobby, you can also admire the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle.
Old National Centre
The Old National Centre may wear the moniker of its corporate sponsor, but it is better known to locals of a certain age as the Murat Theatre. The majestic stage of the Egyptian Room (so named for its Middle Eastern décor) does double duty, accommodating grand Broadway productions like The Lion King, or intimate concerts of silky vocalists such as Nora Jones.
A walk through the Grand Lobby is like stepping through a grand old theater from the past. The 1909 structure has been lovingly renovated, but choose your seat carefully. (Go early.) Some views of the stage are obstructed, and the aisles can feel cramped by modern standards. Located near upscale restaurants and bars along Indy’s Massachusetts Avenue, the Old National Centre is a busy place, especially on concert nights.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
When Bankers Life Fieldhouse isn’t filled with 18,000 fanatic basketball fans, it doubles as a venue for sold out concerts by mega stars like Billy Joel, Cher, or classic bands like Fleetwood Mac. What it lacks in intimacy, it compensates for in other ways. Consider the adrenaline rush of joining the masses in song or the democratization of seating. Can’t afford an expensive seat? Buy a cheap one and avail yourself of the many video screens that bring the concert closer.
Floor seating can be frustrating, especially if you aren’t taller than 90 percent of the crowd. When crowds go crazy, you’ll have to rely on those video screens to see what’s happening on stage. The acoustics are what you’d expect of a venue made for watching basketball: acceptable, but not spectacular.
Lucas Oil Stadium
People drive hours to see the Indianapolis Colts play at Lucas Oil Stadium, but with 70,000 seats, it’s also a popular venue for musicians who draw gigantic crowds. In good weather, the stadium’s retractable roof is open, allowing you to see the stars above while you listen to the ones on stage—anyone from Garth Brooks to U2.
Remember to wear your walking shoes. It’s a huge venue, and you’ll log some steps on your way to your seats. Situated in downtown Indianapolis, the stadium is surrounded by ample parking and offers easy access to Indy’s many restaurants, bars, and hotels.