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We want to take you behind the scenes, to give you insider information you won't find anywhere else. This is where we pull Bloomington's hip happenings together with recommendations from our team, first-hand accounts from project producers, and guest blogs by local gurus.  The Backstage Blog helps you stay in front of it all.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Hidden Gems Near Kirkwood Avenue

Categories: General

Kirkwood Avenue is Bloomington's most well-known street. Lined with iconic bars, popular restaurants, Bloomington landmarks, and great local stores, it's a fun place to spend a day in town. While we absolutely love the businesses that line Kirkwood, there are some hidden gems in the area that deserve some spotlight, too. We rounded up every hidden gem that's in very near proximity to Kirkwood — spend some time exploring them next time you're visiting downtown!
 

Bapu Teahouse

Exterior of Bapu Fresh

Bapu Teahouse is located just down the street from the corner of Indiana Avenue and Kirkwood Avenue. The teahouse specializes in bubble tea and smoothies, serving unique flavor combinations to those who frequent downtown and campus. Their menu includes over 40 different drinks, from milk tea and coffee to fruit tea and smoothies, and they also serve a small variety grab-and-go-style snacks.

Insider Tip: Add popping boba to your tea or smoothie for a drink experience like no other!
 

Big Woods Bloomington

Big Woods Bloomington Exterior

Big Woods is a hip & cozy brewpub on Grant Street, just a block north of Kirkwood. The Big Woods family includes Quaff ON! Brewing Co. and Hard Truth Distilling Co., their craft beer and craft distillery brands. At Big Woods, you can expect a full menu of artisan, pub-style food, fantastic monthly features, a broad craft beer & cider selection anchored by their Quaff ON! brews, and a full spirits & cocktails menu largely featuring Hard Truth liquors. Enjoy a meal & drinks at a cozy table in their house-turned-restaurant, at their laid-back bar, outdoors on their porch, or on their seasonal beer garden out back.

Insider Tip: Looking for recommendations? We suggest their Go Big Burger, Peanut Butter Busted Knuckle beer, and New Old Mojito. Don't be afraid to try something on the featured menu of the month — you'll enjoy what you order so much, you'll wish it was on the permanent menu.
 

BuffaLouie's at the Gables

Buffa Louie's Front Exterior

BuffaLouie's, located around the corner from Kirkwood on Indiana Avenue, is Bloomington's favorite place to get wings. Ranked by USA Today as one of the top ten wing joints in the country, BuffaLouie's uses original family recipes & fresh ingredients and operates under a made-to-order, served-with-a-smile philosophy. Their wing selection includes traditional & boneless options, six buffalo sauces, six barbecue sauces, six specialty sauces, and two dry rubs. For those who aren't big chicken wing fans, Buffa's also offers a delicious selection of burgers, salads, vegetarian-friendly sandwiches, hot sandwiches & subs, fish & tenders, and an array of mouth-watering side dishes.

In addition to their awesome food, BuffaLouie's also has a great atmosphere. The inside of the restaurant is decorated from floor-to-ceiling with IU sports memorabilia, art, and fan-fare. There are multiple distinct areas to enjoy your meal: a loft-type section, two sunken sections, and large booths & bar-height tables lining the center of the restaurant. You can even sit outside on their patio at a picnic table and watch the campus traffic move around you as you eat.

Insider Tip: Can't handle spice? Order traditional wings with teriyaki sauce, and prepare to be floored by the flavor. Always order a side of curly fries with cheese sauce. For the non-wing-loving visitor, give their Italian meatball sandwich a go. 
 

Dagwood's Deli & Sub Shop

Exterior of Dagwood's Deli

Dagwood's Deli & Sub Shop is an award-winning sandwich shop located right next to BuffaLouie's. In addition to their robust variety of sub sandwiches, they also serve wraps and salads. Dagwood's takes pride in providing Bloomington with the biggest subs and the best flavor, without compromising on the quality of their ingredients. Nearly every single one of their subs and wraps are less than $10.00, and they also serve a half sandwich and soup combo for $7.59, making them a local-favorite for a quick & cheap meal.

Insider Tip: Embrace Hoosier culture to the fullest by ordering The Hoosier Hoagie (roast beef, turkey, and Swiss cheese with your choice of toppings) or The Bloomington Sub (ham, genoa salami, bologna, and provolone cheese with your choice of toppings).
 

IU Varsity Shop

Exterior of IU Varsity Shop

Located on the corner of Kirkwood and Indiana, the IU Varsity Shop is your go-to for Hoosier sports apparel and fanfare. As the official store of IU Athletics, they offer the famous candy-striped pants, branded sports gear, tailgate accessories, home decor, and more. For the die-hard Hoosier sports fan, the IU Varsity shop is one of the best places to find awesome Hoosier gear

Insider Tip: There are two IU Varsity Shops in Bloomington — the other is inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Stop by whichever location is most convenient for you!
 

Japonee Express

Exterior of Japonee Express

Japonee Express, located right next to Bapu Teahouse, is an authentic Japanese and Korean restaurant. They serve a large menu of food, including over 70 different sushi rolls and a variety of noodle soups, teriyaki entrees, bento boxes, and more. Their convenient location, lunch specials, and affordable prices make them another favorite for a quick & cheap meal near campus. For sushi lovers, the restaurant is a must.

Insider Tip: Japonee Express offers one of the best sushi specials in town: order three rolls from a limited (but not small) menu for just $10.00.
 

Osteria Rago

Osteria Rago Exterior

Located in the alley between Village Deli and Tracks, Osteria Rago is an authentic Italian restaurant & deli that strives to create Italian grandmother-style cooking in a rustic, cozy environment. A true hidden gem, Osteria's owners wanted to mimic the best eateries in Italy, often found off-the-beaten-path in narrow alleys & ancient passageways. The menu includes options for every budget and every Italian craving: sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas, house-made pasta, traditional entrees, and incredible Italian desserts. Osteria is also family-friendly, offering a kids menu for the littles in your life.

Insider Tip: Osteria's sandwiches are not to be underestimated. Our personal favorites are the Di Parma and the Prosciutto Cotto. If you're dining in for a special occasion, the Tuscan Salmon and Veal Braciole are two of the best meals on the menu. Definitely save room for a cannoli... or don't, but eat one anyway!
 

Poindexter Cafe

Interior tables and chairs at the Poindexter Cafe in the Graduate Hotel

Those who have never stayed at the Graduate Hotel may not ever stumble across Poindexter Cafe, but the cafe is definitely worth a visit. Open to both hotel guests and the public, the Poindexter is a cozy space for meals, coffee breaks, and meetups. Decorated in a very vibrant & kitschy style, the ambiance has a comforting, vintage feel. The Graduate's concept is to celebrate the culture, heritage, and history of both the state and town it resides in through its design & decor — in the Poindexter, you'll find numerous floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with cookie jars, which is a nod to the record-setting Grannies Cookie Jars & Ice Cream in Metamora, Indiana.

Beyond the fascinating decor, you'll find yourself delighted with the food and beverages served by the cafe. Beverages include a wide range of coffee & espresso drinks, as well as kombucha and nitro cold brew on tap. Food options range from morning to evening plates: breakfast burritos & acai bowls in the morning, a grilled chicken Caesar wrap & tomato soup for lunch or dinner, and locally-produced Chocolate Moose ice cream to satisfy your sweets craving any time of day.

Insider Tip: The Graduate is one of the most Instagrammable spots in B-Town. Be sure to snap a few pics to share while you're in the hotel and cafe!
 

Root Cellar Lounge

Interior of the Root Celler Lounge service area in the basement of Farmbloomington

The Root Cellar Lounge is another true hidden gem. Located in the basement of FARMbloomington, the Root Cellar has a quirky speakeasy vibe. Decorated with an assortment of Americana, including an extensive beer can collection, the nightlife venue is well-loved by locals due to it's funky, fun atmosphere. The Root Cellar frequently hosts bands, DJs, and karaoke, all three of which often result in dance parties that are so fun, guests keep coming back for more.

Insider Tip: The Root Cellar offers a cheap drinks special every Tuesday night. Wednesdays are reserved for karaoke, and Thursdays are when you can catch a live band. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for DJs.
 

Runcible Spoon

Outdoor patio dining at Runcible Spoon

Located one block north of Kirkwood on 6th Street, and also accessible through Osteria Rago's alley, the Runcible Spoon is a charming, whimsical eatery that serves comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Spoon's eclectic, Bohemian-style decor sets the restaurant apart from others in town. The eatery has four seating areas: the front patio, which is reminiscent of a secret garden; the main level inside the house, which has a Victorian library feel to it; the basement of the house, which is a bit more akin to your classic hole-in-the-wall diner, and the back patio, which is a more quiet, relaxed space than the other three.

While the atmosphere is unique, The Spoon's incredible menu of affordable fare is what keeps people coming back. Breakfast is where they truly shine, so much so that they serve it all day. You can enjoy classic egg-toast-protein combos, as well as pancakes & French toast, or you can branch out to try one of their signature dishes, such as the smoked salmon & croissant bennie or the corned beef hash. Regardless of your order, you'll be impressed by the friendly service of the restaurant staff.

Insider Tip: The Runcible Spoon began as a coffee roastery in 1976 (the first in Bloomington!) and has been roasting coffee on their premises ever since. They offer a wide variety of roasts, including light and dark selections. If you're a coffee lover, definitely order a cup when you go to The Spoon!
 

The Venue Fine Art & Gifts

Exterior of The Venue

Located in a beautiful Victorian-style house a block south of Kirkwood on Grant Street, The Venue Fine Art & Gifts is both an art gallery and store. Featured mediums include paintings, prints, ceramics, jewelry, and sculptures handcrafted by local, regional, and national artists. Open every day of the week except Tuesday, The Venue is a great place to find a new piece of art for your home, unique jewelry for the accessory-lover in your life, or a one-of-a-kind, artsy gift for any occasion. 

Insider Tip: The Venue features rotating exhibitions and participates in downtown's Gallery Walk on the first Friday of each month.
 

Looking for more downtown shopping, restaurants, and nightlife? Check out these blogs:
Alyssa Davis

Alyssa Davis

Alyssa is the Digital Content Coordinator at Visit Bloomington. She's a proud Indiana University alumna, mom to four cats, and Formula 1 enthusiast. When she isn't at work, you can find Alyssa checking out the newest restaurants in the area with her husband, curled up at home with a great book, or planning her next trip to a destination near or far.

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