History of Restaurants in Indianapolis

A historic building in Indianapolis.
A historic building in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis is the state capital of Indiana and official seat of Marion County, with a resident population of almost 800,000 people (according to 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimates). In addition to its storied history in areas like government, sports and manufacturing, Indianapolis is also rich with well-renowned restaurants that have a history of their own. From all-American sports grills and steakhouses to traditional Italian bistros built and run by true immigrant families, many of the city's best restaurants have an interesting tale behind the menu.
St. Elmo Steak House

This downtown landmark restaurant was founded by Joe Stahr in 1902 and was named after the Patron Saint of Sailors. It is the oldest steakhouse in the city that still resides in its original location, and over more than 100 years, has gained a reputation for excellent steak and seafood. The restaurant's early days featured a basic tavern-style menu and bar, which was grown and expanded when "new" owners Harry Roth and Isadore Rosen took over in 1947. This odd-couple team steered the restaurant to nationwide acclaim, and then turned the reins over to current owner Stephen Huse in 1986. Throughout all the decades, the interior has managed to maintain its original turn-of-the-century Chicago saloon-style decor, even with a multimillion dollar make-over in 1996.

St. Elmo Steak House
127 S. Illinois St.
Indianapolis, IN 46225

Rathskeller Restaurant

This popular Bavarian eatery nestled in the heart of Indianapolis was first established in 1894 as the Athenaeum Restaurant and is the city's oldest restaurant still in operation. Known for serving authentic German cuisine, Rathskeller is located in the basement of the historic Athenaeum building, built by author Kurt Vonnegut's grandfather, and currently features a bronze bust of Vonnegut himself.

The Athenaeum was built to house the many clubs that were formed by 19th century German immigrants all under one roof--be it music, art, social or political clubs-- and the restaurant emerged from the clubhouse's dining hall. The name "Rathskeller" is a German term for bars below street level. In 2009, the restaurant won the prestigious Bride's Choice Award.

Rathskeller Restaurant
401 E. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Iaria's Italian Restaurant

This Italian bistro was originally founded by Pietro Iaria and his wife Antonia, who immigrated from Roccoforte, Italy in 1911. They ended up in Indianapolis in 1913 and purchased a home at 317 South Noble Street (later changed to College Avenue), which is where the dining room of the restaurant still sits today. Pietro opened a grocery store in 1916, on the site of the bistro's bar, and he used the store to sell his own brand of Iaria's spaghetti sauce. This eventually lead to the restaurant's opening in 1933; ever since, it has been family owned-and-operated, spanning four generations, with the most recent generation taking over in 2003. Iaria's is one of the city's oldest Italian restaurants still operating.

Iaria's Italian Restaurant
317 S. College Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46202

Mark Heidelberger has been writing for more than 17 years, with recent articles appearing on various websites. He has also written, rewritten and developed dozens of feature-film screenplays and manages a number of film and television writers. He holds a master's degree from University of California, Los Angeles in film and television producing.
town hall building image by Alexey Stiop from Fotolia.com