Looking Back in Travel: Things to See and Do in Indianapolis at Broad Ripple Village From a Ripple to a Wave in Broad Ripple


March 08, 2010
New York has Greenwich Village.Paris has the Left Bank.

Indianapolis has…has Broad Ripple. It’s a few miles north of downtown Indianapolis.

Any hipster (is that still a word) will tell you that your visit to the self-proclaimed “Crossroads of America”, Indianapolis, is not complete if you don’t at least take an afternoon and hangout in Broad Ripple.

Or take an evening, especially in the summer, and stroll the sidewalks and canal towpath, after dining at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. Then pop in and out of an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants and pubs.

Yes, there is even a left bank to hang out along in Broad Ripple. Take that Paris! Broad Ripple is also gathering place for artists and musicians and the artfully inclined, too. Watch your back Greenwich Village.

Broad Ripple was named by an early settler by observing that this location along the White River was the widest in the region and that the water rippled along and across this “broad” expanse. True story. Things have to be named somehow. This according to the Broad Ripple History web site.

The left bank is the one side of the Central Canal, one time proposed feeder to the Erie Canal, which never was completed, because the state of Indiana went bust trying to make it happen. That was in the 1830’s  .Broad Ripple Sign

Both the left and right banks of the canal have their own character, but the southern bank has the majority of the shops and restaurants, with the right bank having the housing that morphed from the old summer cottages.

Flash forward to present day Broad Ripple and you will find a little settlement that was once an independent village, but in time was absorbed into the city of Indianapolis.

Today’s Broad Ripple is a definite put on the brakes kind of place. The housing off the commercial strip reflects the early history of the village. At one time harried city residents used to come out to Broad Ripple and enjoy a boat ride, amusement rides from a long gone amusement park, and spend time relaxing at some of the summer cottages built by well off Indy-ites of times gone by.

Ask any frequent visitor or any resident, and I’m sure you will probably hear that Broad Ripple is very much a place physically and mentally.

Physically, Broad Ripple is on a human scale: it’s meant for walking, hanging out and rejuvenating. Though there are a few buildings over two to three stories, they are not in the majority. And, yes, there is a McDonald’s and a Buffalo Wild Wings, and even a Starbucks, but, again, the franchised sameness of America is kept at bay by unique and independent places as the Union Jack Pub and Indy CD’s. These kind of establishments help keep the “Ind” in Indianapolis, as in independence.

If you are more inclined for movement to relieve stress and see the surroundings, the Monon Trail, a rail to trail project, and the Central Canal Towpath can take you through the varied scene of buildings and houses to a little bit of green landscape and restful waters. All the while, you can take yourself back in time.

That is where the mental part of Broad Ripple comes in. Broad Ripple is very much a reminder of more simpler times, but unlike the early settlers, we in the 21 Century get to enjoy all the conveniences and none of the problems. Thank you early settlers for taking care of the ugly problems, like Mud and Malaria, before our arrival.

One favorite view of mine is when I round the corner off the Central Canal towpath and see the Vogue Theater on College Avenue. The Vogue, built in 1938, anchors the west side of Broad Ripple and is still an active movie and performing arts theater. The old fashioned marquee hovering above the sidewalk has seen many first runs. In fact, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable (yesteryear’s’ Angela Jolee and Brad Pitt) were there for the opening and signed a bronze star that was embedded in the cement walk in front of the Theater.

In one recent trip I slipped inside the Indy CD shop, and found its mix of music and video and even vinyl records to be a good representation of Broad Ripple itself. There was rock and roll, rap, jazz, country, classical and world music to choose from. The place even had an old fashioned record bin so you could really do some time tripping. I fingered through the old (used) albums and saw a lot of, yes, old favorites.

Usually I’ll make a stop at the Union Jack, which does have a real Union Jack flag on display, and have a pint or two and some Shepard’s Pie, but this time I resisted the urge, having already eaten, and settled for walking and people watching.

Other places to see and visit in Indy’s Greenwich is the Barley Island Brewpub, for some home grown Hoosier hops and good food, La Jolla Mexican Catina, Gourmet Franks for loaded hot dogs and more and even a little taste of the Mediterranean at Canal Bistro.

Stuffed? Concerned about fitting into your clothing?

No worries. Cross the Central Canal at Guilford heading north and turn left and there a vintage clothing shop. Hint, in the older days people were thinner, so do not hesitate to buy a few sizes larger. Nobody will tell and you will feel like a million bucks wearing the latest in oldest fashion.

Get to Broad Ripple on the right day and you might find a music fest going on, held annually. Or maybe you see the latest in art at the annual Broad Ripple Art Fair, a big fundraiser for the Indianapolis Art Center.

You can really argue that Broad Ripple is a work of art itself, constantly evolving as it has for over a hundred and fifty years into some place that can be appreciated by the franchised-exhausted road warrior to the wanna-be hippie to a family looking for a fun way to spend the day.

Come and walk the streets of Broad Ripple Village and let your mind relax and expand with the variety, going from a ripple to a wave.

For a look at present and historical Broad Ripple Village, take a tour of the web site.


Published by Richard Davis



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