The Circle City lights up when the sun goes down. If you love the nightlife, Indianapolis offers tons of ways to do it up right, whether your tastes run more toward rowdy honky tonks, edgy live music venues, video games, swanky hotspots, or quirky dives.
It’s easy to assemble an itinerary for a DIY bar crawl based on these local favorite hangouts. Just don’t forget to nominate a designated driver or take advantage of local public transportation options and ride shares.
Slippery Noodle Inn
Dating back to 1850 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Slippery Noodle claims to be the oldest bar in Indiana, with the period decor details like a pressed tin ceiling and a gorgeous century-old tiger oak bar to prove it. Through the years, this weathered brick building on South Meridian Street has operated as a roadhouse, an Underground Railroad station, a German club and an inn (of questionable repute) for wayfaring travelers. These days, it’s the stop for notable local, regional, and national blues musicians, featuring two separate stages and live performances every night of the week.
Chatterbox Jazz Club
What Slippery Noodle is to the blues, Chatterbox is to jazz. Serious aficionados of the genre frequent this Mass Ave mainstay to appreciate incendiary riffs and scats in a dark dive setting. The neighborhood has grown up around the tiny establishment and evolved through recent years into one of Indy’s trendiest cultural districts, yet the humble Chatterbox has remained the same, which is exactly why people love it. And you never know who you might glimpse at the next table over—Mick Jagger and Ron Wood once popped in before their 1989 Rolling Stones concert at the now-closed Hoosier Dome.
A longtime tenant of the historic 19th-century Athenaeum building, the Rathskeller serves traditional German food and drink in a real-deal Bavarian beer hall setting. The restaurant arm has been cooking up old-world cuisine like Jagerschnitzel, bratwurst, and sauerbrauten since it first opened back in the late 1800s, making it the oldest continuously operating eatery in town. The cavernous Kellerbar opens onto a popular seasonal biergarten with a walk-up window for food service and a bandshell that accommodates musicians for al fresco dining with a soundtrack through the summer months.
The centerpiece of the buzzy Broad Ripple bar scene, the Vogue operated as a premiere movie theater when it originally opened in 1938, later reinventing itself as a nightclub in 1977. Since that time, many established and emerging artists spanning all musical styles and categories have graced the venue’s hallowed stage and green room, including Willie Nelson, John Hiatt, Blondie, Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash. New ownership in 2019 plans to up the ante with new content, expanded programming, and upgraded facilities, but the signature neon sign out front remains a fixture.
A vital component of the eclectic Fountain Square entertainment lineup, the HI-FI Indy features established regional and national musical artists, dance parties, and up-and-coming bands on their rise to stardom in an intimate space that lets visitors truly experience the music. It’s also a host venue for one of the biggest parties in town; Indy’s annual Tonic Ball. It's held every November and is a one-night tribute to a roster of iconic honorees encompassing performances by 80 different bands across five local stages. The Ball is also a fundraiser for the Second Helpings community kitchen and the event sells out every year—if you plan to go, make sure to get your tickets early.
This (possibly haunted) three-story shotgun property on Mass Ave commemorates Ambrose Burnside—a Liberty, Indiana native, Civil War general, and patron saint of sideburns—by juxtaposing showy vintage decor with an old-time piano saloon vibe. Order one of a dozen different house specialty mules made with fresh juices and creatively infused syrups to sip while crooning karaoke tunes or lounging on the stylish mid-century modern furniture.
Metro Nightclub & Restaurant
Dance the night away at this all-inclusive Mass Ave club. The several bars and lounge areas accommodate drinking, dining, karaoke, drag shows, pool tables, darts, and patio mingling. An affirming presence in Indy’s LGBTQ+ community, the Metro succeeds at providing a fun, welcoming space for both visitors and locals to enjoy.
Nicky Blaine's Cocktail Lounge
This classy cocktail lounge is a premiere spot to see and be seen while sipping martinis and puffing cigars on leather couches. Directly off Monument Circle, the location lends itself nicely to downtown pre-show dinner and drinks, or a late nightcap following a concert or sporting event. Outdoor seating in the summer allows guests to drink in spectacular views of Indy’s landmark Soldiers and Sailors Monument over sharable small plates and top-shelf scotch.
The Inferno Room
Blazing into the Fountain Square district in 2018, the Inferno Room has quickly made its presence known for potent rum-based Tiki drinks (Mai Tais, anyone?) and a surprisingly deep collection of authentic Papua New Guinea native art to appreciate. It’s a good idea to pad your stomach with some of the hotspot’s tasty South Pacific-inspired nosh like yuca nachos, pork lau lau, or jerk chicken sliders.
Red Key Tavern
Rumor has it, Indianapolis native author Kurt Vonnegut bellied up to this legendary South Broad Ripple dive bar back in the day, and you can do the same for burgers, potato salad, beer, and classic cocktails. Just make sure to mind your P’s and Q’s and follow the house rules established by late owner Russ Settle: Mind your manners, keep your feet off the chairs, no profanity or dancing, and hang up your coat (among other admonishments). The place gained notoriety when it made an appearance in the 1997 film adaptation of Dan Wakefield’s “Going All the Way,” but fame didn’t go to its head. The Red Key remains as decidedly unpretentious as it gets.
16-Bit Bar + Arcade
The retro arcade vibe is alive and well in Indy. At this downtown gaming bar, guests can party like it’s 1989 by challenging each other’s joystick skills on a collection of 50 video game consoles that includes the likes of Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man, Tron, Q-Bert, Space Invaders, and other familiar childhood favorites. New wave and old school cocktails go by celebrity monikers like Carrie Fisher, Kevin Bacon, and Burt Reynolds; there’s also a vast selection of draft, craft, and canned beers to consider.
Alley Cat Lounge
Locals of a certain age wouldn't dream of setting foot in this Broad Ripple hole in the wall before midnight. The low-key lounge underwent a much-needed makeover a few years ago, but it’s still one of the best late-night spots in town to grab one for the road.
With neon signage over the stage that cautions visitors to “Please Shut the F*** Up” during musical performances, this unapologetic honky tonk isn’t for those with delicate sensitivities. But if you’re in the mood for some rollicking live country-western tunes accompanied by a full bar and some of the best fried chicken in town, this feisty little roadhouse is your kind of place. Find it on the near south side just 2 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium. What to drink? Whiskey, of course.