Next weekend one of the most popular and lucrative events in American sports – the NCAA Basketball Tournament, will conclude with its “Final Four” competing in Indianapolis, Indiana. A sellout crowd of over 70,000 people will watch the games in a giant stadium built to host the NFL’s Colts – and countless others will mill about in the streets of downtown Indy. You can be sure that, ticket to the game or not, they will all feel like they’re a part of the action. Downtown Indianapolis feels like an amusement park with each attraction just steps away.
During the Big Ten Basketball Tournament, I stayed at the snazzy, four-diamond Omni Severin Hotel. Sitting in “Olives,” the hotel’s posh martini and cigar lounge (yes, you can still smoke indoors in Indiana), I quizzed the Omni’s vice-president of marketing Chris Ratay, about nearby activities.
“Indiana Pacers game?” I asked.
“Less than two blocks that way.”
“Look out that window,” he said.
“You don’t even have to go outside to shop. We’re connected to, and the official hotel of, Circle Center Mall.”
Theater, Off-Track Betting, a zoo, the NCAA Headquarters and Hall of Champions, The Indiana State Capitol Building and Museum, White River State Park, and the world’s largest Children’s Museum are among the many attractions reachable on foot. You can even watch a live radio show every day from the town circle.
Almost every brand of hotel is “on campus,” and dining? Capital Grille, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Weber Grill, 14 West, and Buca di Beppo are literally a stone’s throw from each others, mixed among casual eateries such as Hooters, Champp’s, and Steak and Shake. Probably Indy’s most revered and traditional restaurant, St. Elmo Steakhouse, opened in 1902, and has been “the spot” for celebrity sightings, sports celebrations, and deal making.
Nightlife of every variety is threaded all through the town. The Slippery Noodle, the city’s oldest bar, was once a brothel. It retains all of the color and character, but now features giant screen televisions for sports and two live jazz bands every single night! The Conrad Hotel’s unique new bar, “Tastings,” offers its entire massive wine selection for sample, with every bottle then available at retail price. Patrons purchase a card and use it to draw wine samples out of bottles protected by vacuum-sealed, automated sommeliers!
Ratay and the Omni take a casual approach to the Indianapolis activities, choosing to give hotel guests and visitors top notch service, but in a relaxed atmosphere, as evidenced by the team banners and decorations in the lobby. At Union Station, across from the Omni’s valet entrance, a giant, whimsical basketball rim hangs this month.
“The Omni becomes like a big tailgate party,” he said. “We want people to have fun.”
During the annual Indianapolis 500 each May, the Omni offers police-escorted shuttles to get its guests to and from the famed Motor Speedway faster than any of the other 200,000 spectators headed there.
The sports world has taken note. In addition to the men’s and women’s Big Ten Basketball Tournament, Indianapolis hosted last summer’s U.S. Senior Open Golf Championship, and will host the 2012 Super Bowl. Minor League baseball is played every summer, and NASCAR holds its biggest race of the year at the Speedway, too. The NCAA has also made a deal to grant the city the Final Four event every five years.
So is Indy a racing town; a basketball town; or, with the success of the Colts, a football town?
“Yes,” answered John Dedman, who leads the Indiana Sports Corporation. “We are all of those depending on the season.
In my experience, Indianapolis has the feel of Melbourne, Australia, in that so much of the town is active and geared toward recreation. Even the Speedway is bursting with activities: a museum in the front and The Brickyard, a Pete Dye-designed golf course which winds its way around and into the track’s infield!
One needs no more evidence of how vibrant Indy is than to meet Chris Gahl, the young, amiable representative of the Indianapolis Visitors and Convention Bureau.
“I moved my family back from living in Hawaii to live and work in the city I grew up in and the city I love,” he said.
Indianapolis offers a remarkably clean, compact, and user-friendly big city experience.
Four-hour’s drive from Lansing straight down I-69, Indianapolis is the perfect family field trip; or women’s shopping trip; or boys golf weekend away…or all three combined.
To plan your trip, visit www.VisitIndy.com
March 28, 2010