Built in 1931, The Coca-Cola bottling plant on Massachusetts Avenue opened the same year as the Empire State Building, Dick Tracy’s comics, and the U.S. patent for the aerosol can. This magnificent Art Deco structure, wrapped in white glazed terracotta with decorative chevrons and sunbursts, stood guard along one of the original diagonals through downtown Indianapolis as the Great Depression hit and World War II began. It survived the city flight and the many stages of Mass Ave – from a 1970s skid row to a seedy 1980s artist docks to the current jewel in the crown of urban Indy.
The building (once the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottling plant) also changed hands a few times. A previous owner, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway magnate Tony Hulman, used the property to store his classic car collection before selling it to the Indianapolis Public Schools, which repurposed the landmark, which is still adorned with original ceramic tiles, terrazzo floors and a grand marble staircase was a training center and service center for the school bus fleet.
The place deserved a majestic welcome when it reopened In early January as part of the 12-acre mixed-use Bottleworks District, which is home to a boutique hotel, eight-screen movie theater, duck bowling alley, shops, and a 38,000-square-foot grocery store called The Garage. Nobody – especially Hendricks Commercial Properties of Wisconsin, the developer of the $ 300 million project – could have predicted the wet blanket effect of an opening in the middle of the pandemic.
As restaurants everywhere battled the financial shock waves of COVID-19, The Garage introduced its trendy combination of community eateries and curated food providers with an emphasis on local independent businesses. In the first few weeks of operation, visitors put on their masks and ordered baskets with filled arepas, Venezuelan cornmeal pancakes that were freshly prepared in the Azucar Morena behind the counter. One place down, J’s Lobster & Fish Market I stuffed huge chunks of chilled, sweet claw and ankle meat into mushy, split New England-style buns and drizzled warm butter on everything. (At $ 18, it’s one of the most expensive options in the grocery hall, but it’s worth it.) Red-blooded fans of meaty Brazilian cuisine raved about the sizzle of grilled beef sandwiches from Gaucho’s Fire, which started out as a food truck passing by husband and wife Rogerio and Ruby Tregnago. Abbiocco Pizzeria put out big floppy slices and calzones, while Poke Guru put together bright, multiple-choice bowls of marinated salmon, kimchi, edamame, seaweed salad, and wasabi mayo on the second level of the town market – a solid reminder that adult cafeterias like The garage are not necessarily new concepts.
In fact, every busy commissioner from Market Street’s historic cluster of working-class food stalls to the glitzy collaborations at Carmel’s Sun King Spirits and Fisher’s Test Kitchen (along with, as one might argue, every fabulous mall food court in between) shares some DNA with that The Garage ensemble of culinary street vendors. Indy’s recent obsession with this hunter-gatherer style of casual dining follows successes in larger markets such as Revival Food Hall in Chicago, Corporation Food Hall in Los Angeles, and The Deco Food + Drink in Manhattan’s Garment District.
The historic industrial shell of the garage is a selling point. The exterior is still engraved with the original GARAGE imprint in crisp retro script, and the interior is made up of exposed ceiling joists and polished concrete floors with some remains of crispy machines on display like steampunk art, including a massive monarch Flame hardening lathe still bears the “DANGER 480 VOLTS” sticker. You will enjoy the vintage patina as well as the Korean barbecue tacos in La Chinita Poblana and in Loads of Lick Ice Cream waffle cones that might as well be Instagram bait.
Somewhere between your first Sipes’ Old-Fashioned and your second Peanut Butter Busted Knuckle Porter from the full Hard Truth Distilling cocktail bar that stands in the middle of the room, you might get a little carried away. You might even forget that we are in the middle of an unprecedented world health crisis. And so, with a clear conscience, I cannot recommend visiting The Garage during peak hours, as I did on that busy Friday night when I first checked it out. There were too many bodies to weave around in an enclosed space that wasn’t designed for long lines of people standing at safe two meters apart. Too many masks under the nose. Too many moments that made me feel uncomfortable.
My second experience, in the middle of a lazy weekday, felt more in tune with the realities of 2021 – a little less like a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Only a handful of us early risers had the space to ourselves, so we claimed a wiped table and put together a progressive lunch starting with a nostalgic visit to Clancy’s Hamburg booth for a classic textbook coney dog with beef chilli, cheddar Jack cheese, diced onions and the double-pounded Clancy’s topper. This is one of two remaining Noblesville chain locations that were once home to more than 30 regional burger joints, including a coveted stop on the way home from my Bible school on my childhood vacation. We shopped in and added a beef pastel (like a big hearty hand pie) and a basket of puffy Brazilian cheese bread from Gaucho’s Fire. Then we finished with generous scoops of coffee chips and gingersnap lemon curd ice cream from Lick.
We tended our cones as we made a slow lap around the Bottleworks Track, marveling at the architecture and pedestrian-friendly layout with twinkling fairy lights hanging over the neat brick doorways. If you look closely on a quiet pandemic day, you can see the ghosts of his past life – but also a bright glimpse of his future