Five 2016 James Beard–nominated chefs and restaurateurs; cocktails lauded by Bon Appetit; a five-block stretch of Massachusetts Avenue packed with hip bars, restaurants and shops — if the happening food and drink scene in Indianapolis is news to you, then you clearly haven't been to Indiana's capital in recent years. And right now is an extra-special time to go: Craft cocktails inspired by native son Kurt Vonnegut are on offer to celebrate the Year of Vonnegut and the Vonnegut Museum and Library's pending relocation to a bigger space. For the sake of literature, drink up.

Plat 99

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Armageddon in Retrospect, named after World War II veteran Vonnegut’s short-story collection on war and peace, features Starlight Bourbon, made from Indiana corn, plus apple cider liqueur, persimmon syrup and lemon juice. This chic bar in the arty Hotel Alexander has colorful glass pendant lamps, floor-to-ceiling windows and a patio with fire pits. Look for the portrait of Madam C. J. Walker, the first woman self-made millionaire in the U.S. — the beauty entrepreneur established her business' headquarters in Indianapolis in the early 20th century. The portrait is fashioned, appropriately, from hair combs.

333 S. Delaware St., Indianapolis, IN 46204. +1 317-624-8200;



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Player Piano, named for Vonnegut’s dystopian fantasy where humans are replaced by machines, is made from Dalmore Cigar Malt Scotch, cranberry caramel, sherry, orange bitters and egg white. Milktooth is probably Indy’s most talked-about restaurant, known for quirky, globally accented takes on brunch: Think ancient grains porridge with coconut milk, plum jam, hemp seeds and pistachios, and a Dutch Baby pancake with roasted broccoli, cheddar and pickled fennel.

534 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46203. +1 317-986-5131;


Spoke and Steele

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On the menu at this restaurant inside the posh Le Meridien hotel is a cocktail called Not Kilgore’s Drano, a nod to Breakfast of Champions. It is, alarmingly, black. But that’s simply because activated charcoal — a trendy element in everything from mixology to face masks — is one of its ingredients. Rounding out the drink are Rittenhouse rye, thyme agave syrup, egg yolk, lemon juice and cayenne.

123 S. Illinois St., Indianapolis, IN 46225. +1 317-737-1616;


Black Market

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Amber Moment, inspired by Slaughterhouse-Five, is, fittingly, an amber-hued concoction of Monkey Shoulder Scotch, an Alpine herbal liqueur, passionfruit syrup, Benedictine, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and orange and lemon juices. This black-walled, industrial-cool gastropub’s menu is global and experimental; expect dishes like shakshuka with barley-apricot tabbouleh and whitefish with mushroom "faux pho" and egg noodles. “We’re drawn toward the unusual, the rare, the eccentric,” a co-owner says. So are we.

922 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46202. +1 317-822-6757;


The Libertine Liquor Bar

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Like father, like son. The Hartke, named for the main character of Hocus Pocus, Eugene Debs Hartke  whose son, Rob Roy, is named for a cocktail — was created by one of Indy’s hottest cocktail bars. It turns Scotch into a multicultural elixir: Benromach single-malt mingles with green tea, Xocolatl Mole bitters, banana and coconut liqueurs, vermouth and smoked salt. Upscale bar snacks, crafted by the James Beardnominated chef, range from octopus with Romesco and chorizo to chilaquiles with braised pork and pickled onions.    

608 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204.



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The Galápagos is named for Vonnegut's novel about human evolution set in the famous archipelago. While the menu at this restaurant — which was a rockabilly joint in the 1950s and '60s — is rooted in the American South, this cocktail draws its inspiration from points closer to the equator. The Caribbean libation combines three rums (Angostura five-year rum from Trinidad, Rhum Agricole and Don Q Cristal) with pineapple juice, lime juice, honey and allspice dream. Have it alongside shrimp and grits, fried chicken or a pimento grilled cheese.

1127 Shelby St., Indianapolis, IN 46203. +1 317-974-9580;


The Ball & Biscuit

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Purely Coincidental: The cocktail's name comes from Timequake, which notes “all persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.” This speakeasy-inspired bar puts a serious twist on Vonnegut’s favorite drink, Scotch and water, jazzing it up with Kronan Swedish Punsch, pomegranate grenadine, blackstrap bitters and an absinthe rinse. 

331 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204. +1 317-636-0539;


Dorman Street Saloon

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Sirens of Titan, named for the novel about an invasion from Mars, free will and human history, is made from grapefruit juice, prosecco, Los Nahuales mezcal, gentian liqueur, grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters and rosemary simple syrup. A bar since 1908, Dorman Street Saloon is a friendly hipster-frequented hole-in-the-wall with a pool table, jukebox and patio. 

901 Dorman St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. +1 317-237-9008;



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The Breakfast of Champions is a cereal-infused concoction of Laird’s AppleJack brandy, Amaro Montenegro and Amaro di Angostura, half-and-half and honey with a sugary crushed-Wheaties rim. This Fletcher Place neighborhood restaurant has a writerly feel: Typewriters fill the space, while bills are delivered in old library books.

653 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46203. +1 317-686-1580;


1933 Lounge

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And So It Goes is a no-nonsense combination of Talisker single-malt Scotch, Basil Hayden's bourbon and lemon peel. (It was also one of Vonnegut's favorite sayings.) Another must-order at the fireplace-warmed upstairs lounge of the renowned St. Elmo Steak House is the famous shrimp cocktail spiced with horseradish.   

127 S. Illinois St., Indianapolis, IN 46225. +1 317-635-0636;


Hotel Tango

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The Sherman Krebbs, named for the Cat’s Cradle poet and nihilist, is a dark purple cocktail of hibiscus-infused gin, green tea syrup, aromatic bitters and lemon juice. It even comes with a black lipstick kiss on the rim. Savor it beside the fireplace in the lodge-like tasting room of an artisan distillery. 

702 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46203. +1 317-653-1806;

By Sharon McDonnell

Sharon McDonnell is a San Francisco-based travel and food/beverage writer for many outlets.