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


Looking Back in Travel and History: Things to See and Do in Ottawa, Illinois Abraham Lincoln Not Only Slept Here but Changed History

Illinois’ Friendly City Then and Now

Ottawa, Illinois, some eighty miles southwest of Chicago, along I-80, claims the slogan “Friendly City” for itself. In recent years, Ottawa has been a growing regional “prairie” site for the arts, perhaps spurred on by the increasingly famous outdoor murals that adorn many of the buildings called, “A Bush With History.” Each mural depicts an historical event in the city’s history.

Lincoln in the Friendly City

That slogan must be true. A lawyer and aspiring politician, Abraham Lincoln, was a frequent visitor to then small hamlet. He also made history here.

Ottawa has been a favorite rendezvous spot for centuries due to the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers, so it is natural that when Abraham Lincoln began his quest for a more public life, he would go to this familiar spot and have the first debate with his rival, Stephan Douglas.

It’s doubtful that either candidate knew the historical significance that the first of these Lincoln-Douglas Debates would have on the United States and, indeed, the world, but from a humble spot in the center of this little prairie town on August 21, 1858, is where the voice of Lincoln was first heard by thousands. Both men were trying to convince the citizens of Illinois that they were the better man for the US Senate seat, currently held by Douglas.

In Ottawa, before a huge crowd, estimated to be up to 30,000 people, Lincoln first publicly advanced the anti-slavery ideas that were to consume the nation in just two short years in the bloody Civil War that nearly destroyed the country.

Here it is claimed is where Lincoln’s “voice is first heard”.

Abraham Lincoln’s voice still echoes from the prairie and has gone on to define humanity and humility and courage in elected leaders since that hot August day.

Because Ottawa sill has many historic buildings standing from Lincoln’s time, it is not hard to imagine not only the voice but the man, perhaps finishing the ninety minute debate and heading down the street for refreshment, followed by the entranced throngs.

History in the Friendly City

Besides being the birthplace of the modern debates that Americans have come to love and hate from their politicians, it’s hard to turn a corner without running into a reminder of an event that had a hand in creating the country we know today. Few little cities on the prairie can make such a boast.

The Brush With History Murals help to guide you to some of those historical happenings.

Some notable murals include “The History of Communications”, which traces the growth of communications from river travel and mouth to ear renderings to the Walkers Trading Post to the Caton Telegraph Factory and Ottawa’s Chautauqua.

Early residents are also depicted in the mural “Ottawa’s Earliest Residents”. Before the French paddled down the Illinois Valley river systems, the area was populated by Native American Tribes. The confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers made it a perfect site for trading and so a “grand village” was home to thousands of the first native settlers.

Ottawa was also a canal town and an important link on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which was begun and carved through the tall prairie grass in 1836.

The Civil War didn’t leave Ottawa untouched, but did produce a number of brave soldiers, among them General W.H.L. Wallace. Wallace was killed in the horrible battle of Shiloh, and his wife, as valiant as he, reached the mortally wounded Wallace just as he passed. The general now lies in the Wallace family cemetery on Ottawa’s north bluff.

Millions of boys in the United States can also find a link to Ottawa. The Ottawa Scouting Museumpays homage to Ottawian W.D. Boyce, who started the Scouting movement in the United States in 1910.

The best way to experience the history of Ottawa is to take a stroll through the Historic Downtown. There are over 50 specialty shops with something for everybody.

Adventure and Outdoors in the Friendly City

Ottawa is a year-round recreation hub. Power boating and jet skiing is a popular activity on the two rivers and there are public boat launches available. For those who want to slow it down a bit, canoeing is a favorite sport.

Ottawa is just a few miles form “Starved Rock” State Park. Here, on the soaring limestone cliffs, a group of Native Americans literally died from starvation rather than surrender to the Europeans and their way of life.

The old Illinois and Michigan Canal provides hiking trails and calm waters for canoeing and boating.

Also close are Buffalo Rock State Park and Mattheissen State Park.

All the state parks, with their high limestone cliffs and rock works, carved out by the flow of the rivers over the millennia , are in contrast with the typical flat land one expects to see in this region of Illinois.

The Old Town

Here is the heart of Ottawa.

It’s a walking city, and you can visit the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, dine at a variety ofrestaurants, pubs and coffee shops, and shop at the many unique stores that line the streets.

The architecture of the type of old canal towns, so you will be stepping into the past in a small city that, one might argue, had a role in bringing the country into the future by supporting a rail splitter from backwater Illinois, who believed in equality for all and malice towards none.

Where to Stay

Motels and hotels.

Lincoln Mural, Ottawa, IL

Looking Back in Travel and Books: Chasing Elliot Ness — for Sex and Thrills! He was “Untouchable” — to a Point

They said he was “untouchable” — but it only went so far.

Elliot Ness, the Treasury agent who went after Al Capone in the bad old days in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s couldn’t be bribed with money or booze or any other gangster goody around back then. He and the men he worked earned the name “untouchable”.

Turns out, though, according to author Michelle Regan, who has written a romantic thriller, calledChasing Elliot Ness, that Ness was a hands on type of guy when it came to the ladies.

Regan says it’s not so much that Ness was on the prowl, but that the ladies saw something in the aggressive lawman that made them swoon. “He was never lacking for female company,” Regan said.

Regan’s book takes you back to the Chicago of the Great Depression and, along with her heroine, Grace, we get a tour of the city and surrounding areas.

I’m a sucker for things about Chicago back then, and I had a lot of fun picking out the named landmarks and the unnamed ones.

Some are still around today.

Though gone but not forgotten, we get to shop a little at Marshall Fields, where Grace worked for awhile in the book. Fields is still there, but the name has been changed to Macy’s insult the memory.

We get a meal at the Berghoff, in the Loop, which is the city’s oldest continually operating restaurants. I could imagine some schnitzel and brats and a liter stein of dark beer while Grace narrated her struggle to survive in those desperate and hungry times.

There is a tour of the Field Museum, which, in Chasing Elliot Ness, is a date with Grace and her –shall we say– boyfriend. This is the same era of another fictional character, Indiana Jones, so I can imagine a figure dodging between the mummies and a whip cracking now and then.

Another mention in the book is the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, which took place in 1933. Millions attended, as did a character in the book.

Regan’s Grace is an innocent girl from the sticks. The sticks in those days are the suburbs today, but Regan strips away the eighty years of progress and takes the reader back to an old road house called, in the book, “The Gardens”. This is really code for a place that is well known to those who dwell on the south side and south burbs of Chicago. A hint… this now respectable restaurant and steakhouse was a favorite chow place of Mayor Daley da First.

Yes, it is Jack Gibbons Restaurant! This former roadhouse is a country mile or so from Grace’s childhood home town, and a million miles from the innocence that she left.

If you go there today you will see it pretty much as Grace and her dubious boyfriend saw it back when cars as much metal as today’s tanks.

It’s not an easy task to go back in time and have it ring true. Regan does a “swell” job in recreating the times.

Everything is accurate to me, a casual buff of the times, including the two now Hilton Hotels that enjoy their place in the pages. We tour the Palmer House in the Loop and then wander over to the old Stevenson Hotel, overlooking Grant Park, which at the time, and for along time, was the biggest hotel in the world, room wise.

The hotel where Grace is being kept (yes, “kept”, but you’ll have to read the book) is the old Capone hangout, the Lexington Hotel. Not too many people got inside the hotel back in the day, but thanks to Regan we get to lounge around in the property and scuff up the furniture. This is the only way you’ll see the Lexington, too, so don’t go looking for it. It was “curtains” for the Lexington a long time ago. I’m not sure, but there is probably a parking lot or a 7-Eleven where it used to stand.

I’ve digressed a bit. Elliot Ness, who is always in the background, and in the thoughts and imaginings of Grace, is interwoven throughout the book. He is a knight on the white horse that is always going to swoop in and take care of Grace. And he… well, I won’t tell you. Read the book, pal.

Ness was untouchable, but that didn’t mean he didn’t get a nice hug or more in real life and in the book.

Take a time trip. Get a little love. Read Chasing Elliot Ness. I found on Amazon. And Barns and Noble.

This book is jake as far as I’m concerned, and written by a swell dame.

Eliot Ness kept the flame of justice alive in Chicago
Eliot Ness kept the flame of justice alive in Chicago

Hungarian Dining in the Chicago Area — You Didn’t Go Away Hungry from This Hidden Gem of a Restaurant

Looking back at traveling and eats….

Gone but not forgotten….

Are you hungry for Hungarian?

If so, The Epicurean Hungarian Restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Hillside can take you through food, atmosphere and hospitality to Hungry. Very little imagination is needed to picture that you are seated in Budapest rather than a western suburb of Chicago.

Your transportation to Hungry begins when you walk in. Dark, rich wood and comfortable furniture recreate the experience of waiting in a friend’s study in the Old World. A grandfather clock ticks away the time while you wait for a combination of food that can take you back to a simpler, less rushed time.

My journey to Hungry via Hillside was in consideration for the moving of a painting. I was happy to accept, and it was a good thing that we ate at Epicurean before the painting was moved — as I can explain later.

We were seated quickly in a booth that had the same rich coloring and themes as the foyer. It was decided that a nice ethnic beer would go a long way towards complimenting the expected rich selection of food, but we were disappointed to learn that as of the first of 2009, The Epicurean no longer served alcohol. We were informed that we could have brought our own drinks, but we of course didn’t know ahead of time. The Epicurean web site still pictures a very nice bar an wine selection, so beware — B.Y.O.B.

Our service was prompt, but a little forgetful, in that we ordered soup which didn’t get delivered until the entree was served. I had ordered a fish soup, Halászlé, which wasn’t available after all, and settled for Bogrács Gulyás (beef vegetable), which was worth the wait.

I was going with a beef theme here, and I picked Marhapörkölt (beef goulash). It came with a generous helping of tender and seasoned beef and a type of golden fried “Hungarian” potatoes. Now that I think about it, the sauteed zucchini or tökfõzelék was missing without explanation.

We all make errors. The soup was late, the zucchini lost, but the biggest mistake was yet to come –made by me.

CP, the owner of the painting, had Sajtos-Sonkás Borjú Szelet (Veal Cordon Bleu), which had a crispy outer shell and the identical Hungarian potatoes with spinach. It was described as “lightly breaded”, but then maybe bread is much heavier in Hungry. It didn’t stop CP from eating every last bit, nor me wolfing down my sample.

Though alcohol was no longer being served, I asked about a special mix of some type of home brew Hungarian spirits that used to be kept hidden away in the cellar, and our server sadly stated that even that was no longer on premise.

Epicurean is moderatly priced and has a full menu of appetizers, soups, salads and entrees that include choices for the vegetarian and meat eaters of any type. There are many specialties and side dishes as well.

There is a popular lunch buffet, Monday – Saturday, and an dinner buffet, Wednesday-Friday. Sunday brunch is served buffet 11am-4pm.

When the bill was settled and we stood to leave I observed some paintings on the wall and was reminded of the purpose of this meal. I had a painting to move.

Just as the Epicurean made some errors in service, so did I with my Masterpiece Moving Service. I managed to poke a hole in the painting.

Because I accepted my Marhapörkölt as a forward payment, the only thing I can do is revisit the Epicurean after the painting is repaired, and treat.

You don’t need to be moving a painting to visit –or even waiting until a death to visit– (Epicurean is located near a number of cemeteries). Go anytime and relax with the good food, comfortable setting and even music, which is live on occasion and playing softly in the background at other times.

The The Epicurean Hungarian Restaurant, 4431 W. Roosevelt Road, Hillside, IL 60162. Phone – 708-449-1000; Fax-708-449-0907; email- info@thehungarianrestaurant.com


Author’s update: The Epicurean is long gone: anybody know of a good Hungarian Restaurant in Chicago?  Or Detroit?  Or Kansas City?  Or St. Louis?  Indy? Or Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati?   How about Minneapolis?  Or any points in-between? 

Looking Back in Travel: Tragic Death Finishes Author of “100 Things to Do Before You Die”

Dave Freeman, 47, author of “100 Things to Do Before You Die”, died August 17 at his home in Venice. He had fallen and hit his head.

According to a Los Angeles Times account, he had done about 50 of the 100 things on his list.

Among those things, was a visit to a tiny pacific island, Vanuatu, where tribesmen dive off of towers attached to cords, in what is probably the first and original bungee location. They called it “land diving”. Why a guys on a pacific island surrounded by water would want to dive off some rickety tower on to hard ground is a mystery, and I imagine part of the draw for Freeman going. In addition, Freeman attended Australia’s Nude Night Surfing Contest. The report does not say if Freeman placed or showed anything on the surf board. He also did some more common things, like run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, a familiar bull versus man story made famous by a great bull artist himself, Ernest Hemingway.

The important thing about Dave Freeman is that he died.

He wrote the “100 Things to Do Before You Die” in 1999. Some of the things in the book are physically adventurous, but others look into experiencing the adventure of the human spirit.

I’ve never read Freeman’s book, but it set off a chain of copy cat books, with 100 and 1000 in the titles. I even copied Freeman in my recent article, “1001 Reasons to Die Before Visiting Detroit”. Freeman won’t go down in history as one of the great travel writers or people, but he should. Shortly after he wrote the book, he witnessed the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York close up and personal. This prompted his move back to Los Angeles to be closer to his family. So Freeman saw that it is both distance and experience and home and hearth that makes the man.

In the Los Angeles Times article, Freeman’s father is quoted as saying that one of Dave Freeman’s favorite sayings was, “We’re going into the future. Want to come along?”

We are all going into that future. Some faster than others. Freeman’s dying serves to illustrate that. He only had his own list half completed, before dying a death that is usually reserved for people twice his age.

Fitting that his name is “Freeman”. I guess he is now. Come to think of it, most of us are “free men and free women”, even though we may never be able to jump off a tower on a small island. Many of us never even allow ourselves the freedom to think we can. Let those thoughts and possibilities in — and life can change.

I think about my own short list of undone things. It’s easier said than done sometimes. The future is waiting, and it is what we make of it.

Right, Dave?

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