Like a time capsule that sells beer and good food, the Fountain Square Theatre Building in Indianapolis is full of hidden gems waiting to be explored…
When first told to make a visit to the Fountain Square Theatre Building in Indianapolis, IN, we thought, “Ok, neat. Another old theatre. Been there. Done that, but ok.” Little did we know we were about to step into one of the most eclectic and stunning buildings in all the midwest. With restaurants, bars, game rooms, a boutique hotel, 2 “duckpin” bowling alleys and so much more, the Fountain Square Theatre Building is Indianapolis’s most unexpected urban treasure.
When the Fountain Square Theatre Building first opened its doors in the late 1920s, it was a bustling place with everything from a functioning theatre to a 4th floor bowling alley to professional offices and shopping. The building’s entertainment spaces were eventually gutted as Woolworth’s bought the building in the 1960s for use as a department store and lunch counter.
As urban flight hit the Fountain Square neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s, the building became mostly vacant and in serious need of a little love. Just as things were looking dire for the Fountain Square Theatre Building in the early 90s, a man with vision (and a healthy love of bowling) stepped in and began painstakingly renovating the building.
Starting with 8 lanes of duckpin bowling equipment rescued from an old barn in rural Indiana, owner Linton Calvert began turning the Fountain Square Theatre Building into an entertainment space once again.
Calvert’s efforts over the next 20+ years have left us with what has to be one of the truest “treasures” we’ve ever encountered on the road. Here’s just some of what you’ll find these days…
As we mentioned, the 4th floor of the Fountain Square Theatre Building once again features bowling, just a different kind. It’s here you’ll find the Action Duckpin Bowl in all its original 1930s glory.
“What the heck is duckpin bowling?” you ask. Well, it’s basically bowling with smaller balls and smaller pins, virtually leveling the playing field for men and women. Calvert writes:
For those unfamiliar with duckpin bowling, the game was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1900 and it was one of Babe Ruth’s favorite games! Ten-pin bowling used to strictly be a winter sport and most alleys closed during the summer except for a few that remained open to play odd bowling games using the smaller balls. Summer bowlers suggested that it might be interesting to trim the standard pins down to match the size of the small ball. Because it was much harder to get strikes and spares, the rules were changed to allow three bowls on each turn but only counted as a score of ten if all ten pins were knocked down with the third ball. Duckpins became so popular that during the 1920’s duckpin bowling spread along the east coast, from New England to Georgia.
After experiencing the 1930s time capsule on the 4th floor, head down to the basement to step into a time capsule from the 1950s at the Atomic Bowl. Like the alley on the 4th floor, every effort was made to give the alley a period-perfect feel.
These days, few duckpin bowling alleys remain, and the Fountain Square Theatre Building happens to have the only 2 anywhere in the midwest.
Rooftop Garden Cocktail Lounge
There are few things in the world we enjoy more than a good rooftop bar, and the Fountain Square Theatre Building doesn’t disappoint with its Rooftop Garden Cocktail Lounge. Massive and with perfect views of downtown Indianapolis, it’s the kind of place you could spend all night relaxing with friends.
Smokehouse on Shelby and the Imbibe Lobby Bar
With a retro “diner” feel, the Smokehouse on Shelby is the perfect place to start your adventure through the Fountain Square Theatre Building. From its delicious smoked meats to its comfort-food sides like White Cheddar Mac & Cheese and local beer selection, the Smokehouse on Shelby will leave you fat and happy.
For appetizers and hand-crafted cocktails, step next door to the Imbibe Lobby Bar where you can enjoy drinks with friends before moving on to the game room filled with pool and ping pong tables.
Whether you’re looking for a full meal or just a quick bite and a drink, the Fountain Square Theatre Building has you covered.
Fountain Square Theatre
Of course, Calvert couldn’t restore the building without tackling the theatre itself. Through efforts we can only describe as monumental, Calvert and his staff have once again made the Fountain Square Theatre a showpiece. These days it hosts everything from swing dancing sessions to wedding receptions. Once again, the Fountain Square Theatre is a community-centered place.
Perhaps the best-kept secret of the Fountain Square Theatre Building is its little cluster of boutique hotel rooms. Each of the 11 suites is completely different and completely stunning. The best part? You’d be hard-pressed to find rooms this cool at prices this reasonable anywhere near downtown Indianapolis.
If you want to look like a hero on your next anniversary, book a room at the Fountainview Inn. (Book directly through their website here)
The Fountain Square Theatre Building is a testament to what someone with vision and hope for a community can accomplish. Today, it’s not only an oasis of urban entertainment, but a symbol of Fountain Square in general.
Once one of Indiana’s premier commercial districts, the district is again bustling with new shops, restaurants, and breweries- all inspired to some degree by the beautifully renovated Fountain Square Theatre Building.
1105 Prospect St
Indianapolis, Indiana 46203
(317) 686-6010 Ext 2