With Big Ten media days over, football not starting for another month, and basketball gearing up for its summer trip to Montreal, I thought it might be a good time to discuss one of my favorite things about life in Bloomington, Indiana. By this, of course, I mean the terrific restaurant and bar scene around town. After seeing the post on BT Powerhouse recently about each Big Ten school's one essential restaurant, as well as giving a few suggestions for a commenter's upcoming stay in B-town, I figured I should expand these suggestions to a full restaurant and bar guide. Thus, here are some of my favorite places that I've been to over my last two years in Bloomington. I tried to stay away from chain restaurants or bars for this list as well.
Best place for current students (or to relive your undergrad days)
We're going to have to start the list with Kilroy's on Kirkwood, better known as Roy's or KOK. This bar is a Bloomington staple, and has multiple floors, lots of drink specials, and good outdoor areas. And if you go on Thursday, you can get a free t-shirt. The other Kilroy's-owned bars in town, Dunnkirk or Sports, are most populated late at night; though don't try to use a fake ID at Sports, especially if you're a starter on the basketball team.
Best place to watch a game
The one and only Nick's English Hut. Nick's is also a Bloomington staple, but caters to a different crowd than KOK, namely alums and grad students. I'm quite partial to the chicken fingers and fries, and Sink the Biz is always a fun game to play here with a group of friends. During the winter of 2013, IU basketball game watches were quite fun here, especially the Michigan game that gave us the Big Ten title.
Best place to go before or after a game
For its proximity to all of the IU athletic facilities, Yogi's is the easy call. Yogi's will also always hold a special place in my heart for two soccer games that I watched there: 1) IU men's soccer team winning its 8th national title in 2012, and 2) The USMNT beating Ghana in the World Cup this summer.
Best local beer
While there have been lots of great craft breweries sprouting up around Bloomington recently (such as Function, Quaff On, or Bloomington Brewing Company), the king of the local craft beer scene is still Upland. The Upland brewpub in town has delicious food, as well as a great outdoor seating area.
Best place for a chill night
Head to Atlas if you just want to hang out with your friends and choose the music on the jukebox, or if you want to play skeeball and other old school arcade games.
Best beer selection
That would be The Tap, which lives up to its name with an amazing craft beer selection on tap. I also enjoy their trivia nights, which happen on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Best live venue
If you enjoy stand-up, the Comedy Attic brings the goods. The venue is compact, but never feels overcrowded, so it works quite well. I've seen some great well-known acts here, such as Marc Maron, Rob Delaney, Jen Kirkman, Hannibal Burress, and Chris Hardwick.
A little off the beaten path as you head down West Kirkwood towards Route 37 is a place called Hinkle's Hamburgers. It's an old-school, no-frills burger joint that probably hasn't changed much in five decades, aside from its prices. Needless to say, I love it for that reason, and the burgers taste great.
Best food on the go
I'm from the east coast, so I'm pretty particular about my bagels. Luckily, Bloomington Bagel has many great options, as well as excellent cream cheese, or schmear, to go with it.
There are so many good brunch options in Bloomington, but in my mind, you can't beat Runcible Spoon, which is just north of Kirkwood on Sixth Street. Huge pancakes, bottomless coffee, and excellent omelettes make this the place to go on Sunday mornings.
Best area for a nice meal
I love Fourth Street, with its plethora of cuisine options. The street is filled with Indian, Thai, Chinese, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Tibetan restaurants, among others. Go ahead and pick any place on Fourth. You won't be disappointed.
I really like Taste of India's lunch buffet. It has ton of terrific options - make sure you leave room for the food at the end of the line - at a decent price.
Best BBQ joint
Short Stop BBQ Train, which is located in the Sunoco parking lot on the east side of town. Though it's only open on Thursdays during the warm weather months, it is well worth the trip. I trust the BBQ opinions of the southerners I know here in Bloomington, and most of them swear by this place.
Best coffee shop
The Pour House Cafe, which has terrific coffee and a prime location on Kirkwood, is a great spot to get work done during the day or on weekends.
There can only be one: Mother Bear's. Their pizza is a Bloomington institution, and you can't go wrong with any of their specialty pies, along with their cheesy bread and gigantic portions of strawberry lemonade.
Best ice cream
There's almost always a line at The Chocolate Moose, and it's well worth the wait. I'll usually get a waffle cone of grasshopper ice cream, which is their mint Oreo flavor, but the moose tracks and black raspberry flavors never disappoint either.
Best place to take a date
I'm a fan of Sweetgrass, which is on the south side of town near the hospital. Impress your date by ordering the delicious fried green tomatoes for both of you to split. If you want to head to a smaller restaurant, another good option is Anatolia, the delicious Turkish place on 4th street. Get the red lentil soup and thank me later.
Best place to take your parents (or for them to take you)
Bring them to Janko's Little Zagreb if everyone in your party likes steak. If any of you are vegetarians or want more local options, check out Farm. However, if it's a birthday or graduation that you're celebrating, you might as well do it big and head to Scholar's Inn Gourmet Cafe.