The Heart of Indy

 If checkered flags and speeding cars don’t get your motor running, check out the softer side of Indianapolis for a romantic weekend.

A romantic trip to Indianapolis wasn’t my idea. I love the city’s sports venues. But race cars and football stadiums do not hold the keys to my heart, and it was hard to imagine the place as a couple’s getaway.

But the advice of a friend convinced my husband Bruce and me that there is a romantic side to Indianapolis. “Trust me,” she said. “Indy is more than just sports.”

The first evening, we tested her theory at Scholars Inn on Mass Ave, one of Indianapolis’ most popular dining and entertainment districts. “Ask for a round table,” our friend had urged us. “They’re very romantic.”

Downstairs, we found couples of all ages settled into the lounge, enjoying casual drinks and conversation among sheer curtains, overstuffed settees and the bold tones of glowing, colored lights. But upstairs was the fine-dining restaurant and cozy intimacy my friend had promised. High-backed booths of rich brown damask and sheer curtains for privacy shut out all but the jazzy background music, offering a wonderfully secluded dining experience.

After dinner, we took a horse-and-carriage ride with Yellow Rose Carriage, which departs regularly from the downtown Hyatt hotel (although you can request an alternate pick-up in advance). The clip-clop of horses’ hooves set a relaxed tempo for our evening tour of the city. Passing modern high-rises, early 20th-century boutique hotels and Monument Circle, the tour showcased the beauty of Indianapolis’ after-hours glow.

You can ask the driver to raise the top of the velvet-upholstered coach, but braving the chilly night air is the best way to see the city. Besides, winter touring offers the perfect excuse to cuddle under the warm lap blanket the coach so thoughtfully provides.

At day’s end, the Canterbury Hotel, a boutique luxury hotel and a local romantic favorite since 1928, is a refuge for chilly couples looking for a rest.

This Indianapolis address enjoys a 150-year history as a luxury hotel, beginning with the ornate Oriental Hotel in 1858. When the old building was torn down 70 years later and replaced with the Canterbury, hotel staff enticed guests with new rooms that offered “individual baths” and “a radio receiving set.”

For those who demand luxury, the Canterbury is it: It is the place that celebrities stay when in town and over the years has drawn the likes of Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep and Michael Jackson.

It’s easy to see why. Its cream and burgundy rooms are furnished with cherry armoires and four-poster beds. The Canterbury’s five penthouse suites are among its most popular rooms, spreading over two floors with a spacious lower-level sitting area and a spiral staircase leading to the bedroom. Indianapolis was certainly proving it had a seductive side.

The next morning, we headed to Petite Chou for brunch. The French bistro and cafe in Indy’s Bohemianlike Broad Ripple District is located a 15-minute drive north of the hotel.

A quick scan of Petite Chou’s menu proved it is also capable of stirring up some passion: We were taken by half a dozen champagne drinks on its menu (we debated over the Summer Blackberry cocktail, a champagne-blackberry combination, a Bellini and the Cranberry Ice cocktail featuring sparkling wine over shaved cranberry ice), but considering the afternoon of sight-seeing ahead of us, we stuck with the restaurant’s deliciously rich coffee and a hearty omelette instead. Mine was stuffed with heirloom tomatoes, bacon and house-made ricotta cheese. Bruce chose one loaded with turkey chili and white cheddar.

Satisfied and curious, we moved on to explore the shops of Broad Ripple: Boutique clothing and home furnishing shops, jewelers, cafés and even a dog bakery line the street.

Though we seldom shop together, on this morning my husband and I couldn’t help but notice all the romantic gift ideas. I liked the decadent bath salts and jewelry, while Bruce gravitated toward the decorative wine glasses and kitchen gadgets.

To avoid an all-out spending spree, we eventually popped into the Corner Wine Bar. Dark wood paneling and candlelit tables for two turned our quick visit into an hourlong sojourn over wine flights. First, we tried Sexy, featuring a Rosé and Cabernet from California, an Italian Orvieto and a Spanish Rioja. Another aptly named flight, Smoking Hot, showcased wines from the world’s hot zones with the Italian Orvieto, a Californian Chardonnay and two Spanish wines, a Garnacha and a Rioja.

“What’s a romantic weekend without chocolate?” I asked my husband as we made our way back downtown to visit the South Bend Chocolate Co. We found glass cases full of truffles and meltaways. A refrigerated case in the back held white raspberry cheesecake and chocolate eruption cake. But with our bellies still full, we decided instead to warm up over cups of gourmet hot chocolate.

Our initial apprehensions about the softer side of Indy long gone, I insisted on one more stop: the iconic “LOVE” sculpture outside the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Robert Indiana’s 12-foot statue with its red block letters and whimsically tilted “O” has been a favorite stop for lovers since the museum acquired the piece in 1975.

It’s said that many sweethearts have proposed marriage in front of the sculpture. I had visions of sharing a kiss. But a cold rain had begun, and Bruce and I were already married. So we settled on a view through the car window. It was OK. We had already found romance here.
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