What: The Brass Ring Lounge, Indianapolis, Indiana
The Brass Ring Lounge is a little gem of a place, just off Shelby Street a block out of Fountain Square in Indianapolis. Fountain Square has always been a bit artsy: historic (read: old) buildings, antique shops, duckpin bowling, and ethnic food. It had gotten a little sad, frayed more completely than just the edges. But after a couple of years of new investment, including a new fountain, in the area, Fountain Square proper is rejuvenating in some wonderful ways. It’s still artsy. But now, seemingly, it’s artsy because it wants to be, not because it’s too poor to choose differently.
The Brass Ring is a lot like its Fountain Square home. Housed in a building that must once have been a Thirties-era filling station, it celebrates its garage doors by throwing them open when the weather’s nice. It celebrates the past in every corner—black and white photos from Vegas’ heyday, once-provocative pin-ups of Marlene Dietrich and Bettie Page, and TCM, exclusively, is showing on the two TV screens above the bar. Standards and big-band music play through the speakers, except on nights when there is live music. Oh, yes, there is a piano. They have live music. Not karaoke, not a band; when you’re lucky, there’s a pianist, a vocalist, and maybe a cool cat of a jazz drummer using those brushy things to provide rhythm on a snare. The place is artsy and hip and, not to anthropomorphize over much, very self-aware.
Just as an aside, there’s a goldfish, for life, and a plaster pink elephant, presumably mascot, oracle, muse, and occasional warning.
The Ring is staffed by attractive hipsters, happily of the welcoming kind and not the sneering variety. And this is all to the good. The clientele encompasses everyone: young, old, hipster, the emphatically and perpetually non-hip. The occasional professional has been sighted. Mostly it’s just normal folk. All of them are treated well.
The liquors are extensive, handsomely displayed and illuminated. The staff is knowledgeable about the selection, whether one is ordering a cocktail or a craft beer (also a good selection) or a soft drink. They have food, too, and what appears to be good food, (again, with the anthropomorphic language) as self-assured and aware as the place that hosts it (read for this: someone on staff is up on their foodie culture– sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, specialty cheeses. It’s elevated bar food: all wraps and hummus, et cetera, et cetera). Prices are reasonable, and gourmet bar food and sandwiches aside, let’s be frank here: you aren’t going to the Ring for food, regardless of how presumably wonderful it is. Though you certainly could do so. And without fear of ridicule.
Fine drinks and fine staff, the Brass Ring is a fine place. Best of all, to this reviewer, it’s got that magical ability to be anything you need it to be. It has the personality that chains or the local dive bars lack. Its affection for the past lends it what could pleasantly be termed “character.” There is no pressure at the Ring to look a certain way or be a certain thing. You just go in. If you’re with friends, it’s conducive to all manner of convivial conversations. If you’re alone, that’s fine, too, and you don’t feel gritty when you leave. The soundtrack and the littleness of the place manage to provide just the right amount of sound and anonymity without coldness to suit whatever need you’ve got going, be it brooding, socializing, or just a draught to pull you through.