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Bloomington: A guide

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  • File photo

A few tips for new students, their parents or anyone else who hasn't been to B-Town.

Suppose you're a newly-minted IU freshman. You've moved to a new town, your parents never taught you how to do your laundry — after 18 years of being raised and conditioned as a dependent you are now all alone in the vast universe of ambiguity known as college life. Are you going to cry? Don't. Okay, you can cry a little. Grab a tissue. But then let us be your trusty crutch. We want to prove to you that being an adult can, in fact, be fun.

Suppose you're the parent of said freshman. You want to turn Junior or Juniorette loose with a lovely send-off, right?

RELATED: B-Town trivia and events

Suppose you've moved to Indy from Maine or Albuquerque or Eugene, Oregon. You've heard about the Magical Land to the south that offers hoops and hills and that certain college-town je nais se quoi. But where, oh, where does one start?

Although we won't even scratch the surface, here's a brief list of some really neat things Bloomington has to offer.

Mother Bear's pizza - SARAH MURRELL
  • Sarah Murrell
  • Mother Bear's pizza


We'll start with the one that might be most important. Five miles outside of Bloomington — nothing but corn. Once you're inside, however, you've reached the Mall of America of food (its food court, maybe?). Anyway, Bloomington boasts some of the state's best food.

If you're living on a student budget, you're going to want to stick with the dining halls to save money, but when you get the chance, stroll down to Kirkwood and see what the town has cooking up. 4th Street is lined with many international restaurants featuring Chinese, Korean, Thai and beyond. We recommend Anatolia, a homey Turkish restaurant inside a quaint purple house that offers some of the best red lentil soup and potato bread we've ever had. Post up in their back room on comfy pillows and drink tea when it gets frigid this winter.

RELATED: NUVO's Pizza Issue! Indy to Bloomington

Need to get your head straight after a long night out? Village Deli and Runcible Spoon are our breakfast places of choice (RIP Wee Willie's). The Deli (try the huge omelets) is right on Kirkwood, and the Spoon (two words: bottomless mimosas) is just a few steps behind it.

Perhaps the most famous Bloomington restaurant is Mother Bear's Pizza, which has won many awards for its dishes. It's our personal favorite pizza place, but don't disregard local chains like Aver's and Pizza X, which offer great, cheap deals and deliver lateeee into the night. Get the breadsticks. Mmm, cheese sauce. Also delish, and conveniently located right next to The Bluebird: Rocket Pizza.

Bloomington is slowly turning into a food truck town as well. Try to catch the Big Cheeze outside of Kilroy's, or find the Tamale Cart downtown.

As a college town, Bloomingtonians support many alternative diets. For the vegetarians and vegans, look no further than The Owlery, Rainbow Bakery and Laughing Planet. This doesn't even begin to do all the amazing restaurants justice.

Waxahatchee will appear at The Bishop on Oct 15. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted photo
  • Waxahatchee will appear at The Bishop on Oct 15.


With the Jacobs School of Music on campus, it's not a big surprise that Bloomington is crawling with musicians and music lovers. Almost every night, the Jacobs School offers one or even multiple performances varying from jazz to classical to world music to operas and even musicals. Best part? A LOT OF THESE PERFORMANCES ARE FREE.

Let's say you prefer something a bit more informal. Bloomington has a thriving music scene. Who'd have thunk that a bunch of college kids would be starting bands left and right? Combining the indie rock scene on campus and the punk community in town, there are house shows and concerts everywhere you look. Spirit of '68 consistently brings some of the best currently touring bands to venues like The Bishop Bar, The Bluebird and The Buskirk-Chumley Theater (hey, why do all these Bloomington venues start with B?). And yes, The Bluebird is 21+, but The Bishop is generally open to those 18 and up, and the Buskirk-Chumley is all-ages.

RELATED: NUVO's Music Events listings

Record shopping? You can hit four shops in a five-minute walk (if you walk briskly) with TDs CDs and LPs, Landlocked Records, Tracks and Magnetic South's Record Room. We vouch for all those shops, which are both 1) welcoming and 2) staffed by super knowledgable people who will hook you up with the most rare of reissues.

Bloomington is also the home of one of the biggest indie label conglomerates in the world: Secretly Label Group. The label group (which includes Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans, Jagjaguwar, Numero Group and dozens more) signs some of the best up-and-coming and prominent musicians in the world. Because they're dedicated to good ol' Bloomington, those artists generally make their way to Bloomington sooner or later for a show at one of those venues we mentioned above. They're far from the only label in town though; a few other notables include Magnetic South, Plan-It-X, Auris Apothecary and Strong Roots. There are new upstarts all the time, too.

'Tis the season for amber lagers. - UPLAND BREWING
  • Upland Brewing
  • 'Tis the season for amber lagers.


Oh, poor, poor underage baby. Soon you will be 21 and legally allowed to imbibe the delicious brews that originate from your delicious new town. But, while you're waiting, you can stop at Upland Brewing Co.'s restaurant, which features not just beer but some of the most delicious burgers we've ever put into our face holes. Beyond the ubiquitous Upland, there's Bloomington Brewing Co., Function Brewery and many more. A new brewery was probably founded while we were typing these words. Our pick for best beer list goes to Crazy Horse and their insane Around The World in 80 Beers game, but don't miss the The Tap, right off the Square.

RELATED: NUVO's Rita Kohn and Beer Buzz

Oh, you're 21+, you're fancy, and you prefer the delicious taste of wine? Bloomington has the HOOK. UP. thanks to Oliver Winery. Butler Winery comes in a strong second. If you're looking for a place to post up and enjoy a glass, think of spots like Restaurant Tallent or Farm Bloomington, which not only offer amazing food – seriously, some of the best in the entire state – but also great drinks.

Kyle Kinane is just one of many nationally-recognized acts who've played the Limestone Comedy Festival. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted photo
  • Kyle Kinane is just one of many nationally-recognized acts who've played the Limestone Comedy Festival.


If you're a frequent comedy podcast listener – a episode of WTF with Marc Maron is perfect for those long walks across campus – you'll notice that Bloomington is called out all the time as a comedy mecca. That's because Jared and Dayna Thompson run one of the best comedy clubs in the entire country, the Comedy Attic. The lineup is seriously insane: amazing comics like Michael Ian Hall, Amy Schumer, Dana Gould and more stopped in, at this club. Shows are open to those 17 and older. The Attic also hosts an epic run of comedy festivals in the summer, plus an open mic every Wednesday.

RELATED: NUVO's Comedy listings

And if you stay in B-town in the summer, you're going to want to hit up Limestone Comedy Festival, the biggest comedy fest in the state, and probably our favorite. Tig Notaro, Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford have headlined in the past. Who knows what 2016 will bring?

Jon Vickers founded IU Cinema — and was nominated for a 2015 NUVO Cultural Vision Award. - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • Michelle Craig
  • Jon Vickers founded IU Cinema — and was nominated for a 2015 NUVO Cultural Vision Award.


Who doesn't love movies? Not IU. Not only does Bloomington have two AMC theaters that screen the latest blockbusters, IU Cinema is a staple in the town's film scene. The cinema is constantly screening various documentaries, independent films and even hosting guest lectures of visiting filmmakers (notably Meryl Streep two years ago). For the student body, freebies abound: Every weekend, the IMU hosts some not-so-new films for the low, low cost of showing your student ID.


If you're a fan of making movies, IU hosts the annual Campus Movie Fest. Along with that, Bloomington also has its own chapter in the Indiana Filmmakers Network. B-Town may not be LA or New York, but the Midwest has some great opportunities for upcoming filmmakers.

Yogi Ferrell drives to the hoop at Assembly Hall. - TJ FOREMAN
  • TJ Foreman
  • Yogi Ferrell drives to the hoop at Assembly Hall.


Indiana is notorious for loving the pastime of putting a ball into a net, and I'm sure you already knew that IU is Hoops Mecca. The basketball games are a huge deal, the football games are a byproduct of everybody tailgating their butts off on Saturdays, but it doesn't end there.

RELATED: One of editors does the Hilly

Obviously, b-ball is a big deal and football pretends to be, but there are all sorts of sporting events year-round that you can go to. Many of these events are free to attend, like men and women's soccer, volleyball, field hockey and more. If you're one for free, adrenaline-pumping sporting events, IU has you covered.

Fourwinds resort - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted photo
  • Fourwinds resort


Did you know that a ton of land in/around Bloomington is public? Lake Monroe, Lake Lemon and Lake Griffy each offer their fair share of canoeing, fishing, hiking and camping, and resorts like Fourwinds offer a place to lay your head if roughing it isn't in your wheelhouse. Bloomington is just a 20-minute drive from the amazing Brown County State Park in addition to the other parks that dot the region. (Climb the firetower!)

RELATED: Here's all of NUVO's environmental coverage

Of course, IU is known for the quarries, but there are cliffs, caves, waterfalls and more that often get overlooked. Go for a hike at Cascade Park just northwest of campus to see a magnificent waterfall. Cedar Bluffs Nature Preserve provides beautiful trails and cliffs that are fun to climb, and the view from the top is breathtaking. All of these are either free or boast minimal entrance fees.

  • Submiited photo
  • The IU Art Museum


Can you guess how many museums there are in Bloomington? 17 museums, nine of which are on campus. Damn. That's a lot of museums. All the other ones are within walking distance from the university, too, so the college kids among you really don't have an excuse not to go to one. The Indiana University Art Museum has consistently held killer exhibits. It has to, though, if it wants to compete with the Lilly Library across the street, which holds not only a completely bonkers collection of rare books, but also a lock of Sylvia Plath's hair, John James Audubon's "Birds of America" and a Gutenberg Bible.

RELATED: NUVO's Arts listings

There are museums that hold archives of both IU's history and the history of the world beyond the Sample Gates. The vast majority of these museums are free, especially for students. If you enjoy one of them enough, you could probably even volunteer at any of these museums.


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