5 Hours from DTA: Bloomington Indiana is the hippest town not on your radar
A drive from Aurora, Ill. to Bloomington, IN takes about 4 hours and 16 min. according to Google. It met my criteria for a weekend trip, which is a place that’s less than 5 hours away in any direction. We chose Bloomington because my brother would stop there on his way to North Carolina, and he thought I’d enjoy it.
It’s a college town with a bit of a split personality. While we walked around the central area of Kirkwood/Walnut/6th Street, there were people and there were IU fans. We happened to visit on a weekend when IU football was playing Michigan. Oddly, we didn’t feel out of place; the fans seemed to be having fun and were pretty focused on their early morning drinking at Kilroy’s on Kirkwood.
There was however, a sea of red and white in front of bars and in some of the businesses, like Tracks record store, a neat find that we almost passed since it was hidden in the back of an IU apparel store. Tracks turned out to be my favorite vinyl store in Bloomington. We stopped in at three, and they were all impressive, but I liked the way that Tracks organizes their records. They have them on shelves instead of crates; I could read the sides and it was easy to find everything.
I picked up some Ryan Adams, Arcade Fire, and John Grant at Tracks. We also visited Landlocked and TD’s. I recommend visiting all three, since they all offer something different. Landlocked was more similar to Chicago’s Reckless Records and TD’s was its own thing for sure.
TD’s is located in the bottom floor of an unusual old limestone building at 322 E. Kirkwood that houses some other popular shops like Soma Coffee House and Laughing Planet Cafe. Soma Coffee was a recommended stop by my brother. It was hard for us to find, but when we did – oh, the amazingness. There were no red and white stripped overalls or red hats in Soma. It was clearly a more beatnik type of place with vintage furniture and kitschy art and displays. The bathroom alone is a must-see spot in Bloomington.
We arrived in Bloomington late on Friday, and spent Saturday doing breakfast at Runcible Spoon, stopping by the Bloomington Handmade Market, and visiting coffee shops, vinyl stores, bookstores, grabbing a most tasty vegetarian lunch at The Owlery on 6th St., having an amazing dinner at Turkuaz, and then ending up at Function Brewing at 108 E. 6th St. This was our place. No TVs, so no red and white again, and a beer flight for like $6. Our bartender was the bee’s knees, so we chatted it up, and he suggested we check out The Bishop Bar since we were looking for a place that might have some local music.
The Bishop was a great hipster bar that we dug instantly. I could guess that it’s a favorite of local servers and maybe graduate students. There wasn’t any live music, but there was a fun art show in the adjacent room where bands play. The Bishop also had a DJ spinning obscure ’70s rock. I wanted to just pull up a stool to him and bug him all night, but I chilled out and just asked him about a couple of songs. He knew his classic rock.
It’s funny when you tell people you’re going to Bloomington, IN for the weekend, and the response is invariably, “Why?” Bloomington is such a neat, bike-friendly, quirky town. We walked everywhere, and didn’t move our car once since we stayed at a sweet, little Airbnb on Washington. We didn’t even have a chance to visit the campus (and its art museum), so we’ll have to go back with a bag full red and white clothes, or not.