Exploring Indy Ahead of MPI’s WEC 2018

June 4, 2018

Indy knows how to woo its first-time guests.

Fresh off the plane for a quick pre MPI WEC 2018 fam, I set off for an evening of art, food and creative cocktails. Our first stop on the whirlwind itinerary was the Conrad Indianapolis.

Our particular tour group was there to check out four Conrad Indianapolis suites known as The Collection, featuring furnishings by world-class designers Eero Saarinen, Jonathan Adler and Philippe Starck, among others, and artworks from the likes of Andy Warhol and Picasso.

High-End Art on Display

Right off the elevator sculptor Gino Miles’ exquisite Transition piece sets the tone for the artful experience, before heading to the well-curated rooms, each decorated with its own art theme.

I met up with the group in the Contemporary Suite, with a hand-signed, original Russell Young screen print of Elvis Presley, who we were told played his last concert in Indianapolis to mediocre reviews.

The Pop Suite features a screen print from artist Robert Indiana who lived in the city and became known for his LOVE print and sculpture, which now graces the entrance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

[Related Content: MPI WEC 2018 Is Revved, Ready and Redesigned in Indianapolis]

Picasso’s Taureau et Cheveaux dans l'Arene adds color to the Modernism Suite.

Meanwhile, the Surrealism Suite, my personal favorite, features five Dali works and fun touches like ceramics and other pieces donning the Dali moustache.  

The Conrad also houses some $2 million worth of art with its first-floor Long-Sharp Gallery, named one of the “Top 500 Galleries in the World” by Modern Painters Magazine in 2015 and 2016.

The gallery features works from Picasso, Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Motherwell to name a few.

Food and Drink at Le Meridien

From the Conrad it was a short walk to Le Meridien Indianapolis, a 100-room boutique hotel focused on intimate experiences with relaxed, lounge-style areas like The Hub. Le Meridien and the Conrad are two of a dozen hotels connected by skywalk to the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Le Meridien’s restaurant Spoke & Steele is a centerpiece, featuring local purveyors for its handcrafted cocktails and cuisine. We toured the McQueen Meeting Room behind a hidden door off the lobby, with a nod to the city’s Indy 500 racing heritage. There are racing touches like driving wheels as part of the decor and a screen of the actor/racecar driver Steve McQueen, who was born in Indiana.

Spoke & Steele Aging Barrels at Le Meridien Indianapolis

Turntables are set up to spin the hotel’s small collection of vinyl, or groups can bring their own.

Our tour ended in The Barrel Room, a private space where bartender Ethan mixed us Old Fashioned cocktails using bourbon straight from the barrel.

We learned about the barrel aging techniques—they barrel age everything from whole cocktails to hot sauce—and were introduced to the “Mother Barrel” from which many a cocktail is born.

“Millennials all want something experiential, so this is perfect,” said Chris Ratay, general manager of the hotel, who noted that groups can use the space for everything from private dinner parties to movie nights.

Even More Feasting and a Ride Through Indy

We ended our first evening at St. Elmo Steak House, a historic spot known for its shrimp cocktail appetizer, the only appetizer on the menu. Though I don’t eat shrimp, I made sure to taste the house-made, wickedly hot cocktail sauce. A landmark in downtown Indianapolis since 1902, the restaurant was named after the patron saint of sailors, St. Elmo.

Our very attentive waiter Andy, who has been serving at St. Elmo for 15 years, tended to our needs for the evening, as the group feasted on steaks, seafood, pasta and other hearty fare.

We barely finished digesting our evening feast when it was time for another round of extra-large portions at Conner’s Kitchen + Bar at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown. James Beard Award nominee Andrew Ashmore, along with Executive Chef Brian Dougherty are at the helm. We started with healthy blends like the Ginger Sunrise—carrot, golden beet, orange, ginger, lemon, turmeric—before the servers brought out heaping plates of nachos with cheese and eggs, cornbread muffins and other calorie-laden cuisine.  

Fortunately, our activity for the day was a two-hour bike ride with Pacers Bikeshare following part of the eight-mile Cultural Trail through downtown.

Pacers Bikeshare in Indianapolis

Set off from traffic, the trail, which was completed in 2013, passes most of the city’s cultural highlights, including Indiana State Museum, the Indiana State Capitol, and its parks, including White River State Park.

We stop near the old Coca-Cola bottling building, which is being repurposed into a West Elm hotel. The brief pit stop offered two of my favorite indulgences all within the same block—an independent book store aptly called Indy Reads Books, and local chocolate shop, Best Chocolate in Town, displaying not one but four flavors of vegan chocolate truffles, among a slew of truffle and chocolate options.

Vegan Truffles at Best Chocolate in Town

We rode through the Glick Peace Walk, honoring with artful plaques people who have transformed the world through peace such as Jonas Salk, Booker T. Washington and Thomas Edison.

We continued our ride along the Canal Walk following the Central Canal. It was a busy Saturday along the water, including pedal boat riders, families strolling and we also saw Segway tours wheeling by us.

We were all soaking up a sunny day in a city that may be known for its Indy 500 race, but is clearly making its mark in the worlds of art, dining, cocktails and beyond.

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Marlene Goldman | Contributing Writer