Indianapolis Fast Fact – Indianapolis grocer Gilbert Van Camp discovered his customers enjoyed an old family recipe for pork and beans in tomato sauce. He opened up a canning company and Van Camp’s Pork and Beans became an American staple.
NMD- If you’re looking for a getaway, while staying within the hustle and bustle of a major city, then the Omni Severin, in downtown Indianapolis, is the place to stay.
The hotel’s history
The Omni Severin recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and did it in grand style with a party on their sidewalk café with staff dressed in period clothing.
The history of the hotel has it firmly ensconced in the city and its racing personality. Built in 1913, the Omni Severin is one of the last remaining buildings that once comprised the Wholesale District of Indianapolis and its being located directly across the street from the first Union Station built in the country – and its 300 or more a day trains – helped it maintain a foothold as a successful and appealing hotel.
Built by wholesale grocery store heir Henry Severin, Jr., with investors such as Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the hotel was an opulent display of the times, but still affordable for those coming to the city for business or pleasure on a lesser budget. In the beginning, it was named the Grand Hotel of Indianapolis and it’s gone through several name changes since then, but the opulence of the building has remained, year after year, and has represented all that’s wonderful in a hotel since the doors opened for the first time.
The Omni Severin is the hub of the city and it’s been host to both the infamous and the famous; when they were president, Warren G. Harding, William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt all stayed there while on “Whistle Stop” tours of the country.
Since being bought by the Mansur Development Corporation in 1988 the property has undergone a major renovation and incorporated into this were furnishings from the buildings days as Hotel Severin. At each landing are furnishings such as mahogany dressers from the rooms and the mail box located downstairs is the same one installed in 1913, when the hotel was first opened, and is still used today. Of particular note is the tremendous Austrian crystal chandelier now hanging in the Severin Ballroom lobby is from the original hotel, as is the marble staircase. An interesting side note to the restoration would be the railings above the lobby, original to the hotel’s opening in 1913, but removed at one time. When the hotel underwent its last major renovation in 1988, somehow (and remarkably) the team charged with the restoration located the railings in a barn roughly 30 miles away and restored them for re-installation in the hotel. Furnishings in the lobby of the boardroom are also from the original Hotel Severin restaurant and are carved with an ornate letter “S” on them.
One of the results of the renovation the hotel underwent in 1988 was the addition of 200 guest rooms and the main lobby currently in use. The hotel now has 424 guest rooms and they are composed of 60 different configurations. A guest could visit there every weekend for a year – and then some – and not stay in the same room twice!
In a city once filled with “grand hotels”, the Omni Severin is the last to remain and it is the oldest and longest operating hotel in the city and downtown area. The building is now a member of the Historic Hotels of America group as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Why stay at the Omni Severin?
The hotel seems to always be bustling with activity, much like you’d expect of a location that’s the center of the community, as the Omni Severin seems to be. In one weekend, they could be hosting a couple of weddings and a reunion, but once you get in the elevator to go to your room, you’d never know it, so peaceful are the halls and rooms. With so much going on in one place, you might expect your stay to be noisy and sleepless. At the Severin, though, this simply isn’t the case (and the weekend we were there, they were, in fact, hosting two large weddings and a reunion in addition to the centennial celebration they were holding).
The hotel is also in the heart of the historical Wholesale district. Because of this, guests are able to see all there is to see downtown and never have to drive their car. When the Indianapolis Colts are in town, the hotel fills quickly with fans and fanatics, as the stadium is a short two block walk. (For a more complete history and explanation of the Wholesale District, see the Wikipedia page)
The staff at the hotel is one of the finest points to make about this grand hotel. No matter whom you talk to, from the valets outside to the GM, they know the town and are happy to share it with you. They can recommend places to dine, what’s showing at the local theater, how far you need to walk to get there and will even sprinkle it with a bit of history about Indianapolis. The longer you talk to them, the more obvious it becomes: these are people who love their city and aren’t afraid to let you know it.
Places to go
It’s safe to say, Indianapolis has one of the more walkable downtown areas found anywhere. One of the best places to visit is the White River State Park. At first blush, you might think, “A state park inside a major city?” Yes, a state park inside a major city. White River State Park offers the best opportunity to see the major museums and enjoy the city the way it was intended, with many of the primary attractions accessible from the paved walking trail that circles the park. Available to visitors are Segway tours that take you past the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art, the IMAX Theater, the Indiana State Museum and the Indiana Zoo & White River Gardens, though this is just a short list of the attractions there. Indianapolis is so well laid out, with more green space than most cities of this size. Even more remarkable is the people of Indianapolis enjoy the park as much as guests and visitors. Bicycling and jogging are the favorite activities there and the city provides for gardeners community garden spots for those hoping to provide for themselves and/or their families.
Where to dine
Indianapolis has a vibrant restaurant scene and, again, it seems the locals enjoy it a great deal, if the crowds are any indication. What was more surprising is the availability of patio dining, usually not found in a northern city that experiences harsh winters, but the people of Indy love it!
The culinary creativity in the city would give places such as New York City and Los Angeles a definite run for their money. It’s been my firm belief for about the last five years the culinary landscape in any major city is undergoing a change due to the generation of chefs coming out of the culinary schools and bringing with them their own brand of cooking and the courage to meld flavors not thought of in the past. What they bring to the bill of fare is food which could be best described as “Creative Fusion”. You’ll see familiar favorites on the menu, but each chef puts their own spin on it, and it’s always surprising and delicious!
There’s a downtown restaurant exhibiting this sort of inventiveness called Bru Burger, at 410 Massachusetts Avenue, right across the street from the street art a friend and I have come to call “Groovy Girl”, a lighted sign with a line drawing of a woman dancing. (And I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant “Groovy Girl” is actually in front of, because they were equally busy and the aromas from there were mouth-watering, too)
At Bru Burger, the menu is filled with familiar favorites, such as a Caesar Salad, but instead of the usual Caesar dressing, it’s drizzled with Sriracha Sauce; the Cobb Salad comes with a delicious buttermilk dressing and in lieu of the usual avocado the center of the salad has an appealing guacamole – and for this Arizonan, that says a lot! It’s their burgers that are made extraordinary with such succulent additions of taleggio cheese, or a peppercorn bourbon glaze, or a roasted truffle and truffle aioli. It seems the only limitation to the chef at Bru Burger would be the outer edges of the imagination! Also on the menu, under Burgers, is a Viking Farms Lamb Burger, topped with the ingredients you’d find on a gyro, but on a bun, not a pita.
Throughout the downtown area are restaurants like this, usually within walking distance from the hotel and an extremely safe walk, too, with the revitalization happening there.
Start the day at the Omni Severin breakfast buffet
As a devoted foodie, more often than not, my overnight stay decisions are based on, “Who has the best breakfast?” Hands down, it’s the Omni Severin. For just under $20 per person, The Art of Breakfast Buffet at the hotel in the 1913 Restaurant is a must have for at least one of the mornings you’re there. The chef at the 1913 Restaurant is dedicated to not just farm-fresh ingredients; he’s supporting his community, too. The ingredients in his dishes are from the farmers around the area, the eggs are cage-free and the meats there, such as the bacon and sausages, are humane-certified, with no added antibiotics or other additives, helping you support a healthier lifestyle. It should be noted, the menu changes with the season and the availability of various ingredients.
Once you’ve tried the breakfast buffet at the Omni Severin, try the breakfast menu at the Le Peep Restaurant. Though they’re open all day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s their breakfast that is catching the attention of both the city and the visitors. Chosen as one of the top 5 places in the city for breakfast by the readers of “The Indy A-List”, the chefs there continue with the custom of offering traditional menu items with flair. The menu has five different types of Benedict, containing ingredients like salmon, crab cakes and vegetarian, assuring there’s certainly a flavor to suit even the most discerning diner. They also offer breakfast dishes made with egg whites, for those having dietary concerns.
But there’s a caveat
Parking is a bit of a pain in the downtown area, but that’s okay. With a city being so in tune with pedestrians, once you find a place for parking your car for the weekend, you could leave it there and walk to wherever it is you wish to go. Throughout the city are fee-based public parking areas and the Omni Severin offers valet parking for an additional cost. It has to be said, the valets there are exemplary, to say the least, always with a smile on their face and so careful with your automobiles.
One last thought
The Omni Severin and Indianapolis make for a refreshing and restful weekend for those looking for a getaway to reboot the mind and spirit. Also, the Omni Severin is near most of the favorite places in Indy, such as the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home to the Indiana Pacers, but also host to a number of concerts and events throughout the year. Getting to the Fieldhouse from the hotel is a mere five-minute or so walk and such a wonderful way to spend an evening, whether it’s for a basketball game or one of their upcoming concerts.
Indianapolis is an exciting city and the folks there are always up for a celebration, even if it’s just because it’s Saturday. There’s always something for either a family, a couple or a group of friends.
If you’re planning a stay at the Omni Severin, check first there’s not a major sporting event or concert, since the hotel is truly in the center of the activity in the downtown area. They book up fast at these times and a room could be hard to come by. But, if you do get a room, it’s going to be one of the best stays you’ll have had anywhere. The staff is both welcoming and inviting, ready to take care of you, the beds are soft and cozy, the bathrooms are roomy and clean and the size of their rooms are larger than found in most other hotels, without having to pay a premium price.
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