This week’s listmaker: Abbey Stemler. Abbey–well, let’s let Abbey tell the story:
At 6:20 every morning in Bloomington, I crawl into a van that drags me to Indianapolis and spits me out at Monument Circle. In the evenings, I chase it down like a train-hopper and try to get some work done until my stomach can’t take it any more.
The commute could be worse, way worse. My vanpool is incredibly well organized and cheap (thanks to the Central Indiana Commuter Service), and my commute is only fifty miles. However, I still get asked often: “why don’t you just move closer to work?”
Other than the number one reason I stay (my wonderful family), I stay because for me, Bloomington is the best place to live my day-to-days. And right now, as the bright green buds pop from the sides of bare branches and college students instinctively start playing flippy cup on their lawns, I am reminded that there is nowhere I’d rather be and I’ll be damned if the grind of a daily commute forces me to pack my bags.
For anyone who doesn’t get to spend his/her days in Bloomington, I hope you come for a visit. And if you do, make sure you check out some of the old and new reasons why this place is so special:
1. The Cinema. Almost everyone who knows something about Bloomington knows about Kinsey, Assembly Hall, LOTUS, and Little Five, but every couple of years a new institution is built that makes the community a little bit more interesting. The community’s newest addition is the Indiana University Cinema. Carved out of the old University Theatre, the Cinema is beautiful and truly state-of-the-art. Within its doors you can catch up on your Fellini or watch Hoosiers for the twelfth time and have a chat with the film’s director and writer/producer after the show. And the best part about the cinema is that most of the films are free.
2. The Chocolate Moose. About three times a week you can see my family at the Chocolate Moose sucking down a milkshake or trying to prevent a chocolate dip cone from leaking. The tiny ice cream shop on Walnut was started in 1933 and is a town treasure. It’s also a great place to catch up with friends while waiting for your turn in the popular line.
3. The Square. The Square at the center of downtown has gone through major transformations over the years and has now reached a critical mass of art galleries, restaurants, shops, wineries, and bars. You can hop from place to place and find people you know sprinkled throughout. The square makes for great evenings as you dance and drink your way around it and for delicious mornings as you brush off your katzenjammer with an Indonesian corn fritter at the Uptown or biscuits and gravy at Bloomingfoods.
4. The Rail. One of the best parts about Bloomington is that it’s easy to get comfortable. Go to a bar or restaurant a couple of times and you can easily slip into the status of “regular” and find ways to connect with the staff and owners. My partner and I have a favorite in The Rail, a pre-prohibition style craft cocktails and small plates bar. The Rail is owned by a couple of Bloomington natives all under thirty who know how to run a bar. Excellent service, incredible food, and expertly mixed cocktails with top-of-the-line ingredients. Some of the cocktails take 10+ minutes for the bartenders to shake and others involve such exotic ingredients as North Shore Aquavit, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, and Skinos Mastiha Spirit. It is always a place to learn something new and chat and eat with friends until late in the night. (Last call is 3 a.m.)
5. The Trails. If you like to bike, Bloomington’s got your number. From the new B-Line to the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve and Lower Cascades Park, there is always a way to make an interesting loop on the weekends. And with six-plus bike shops in town, you can take your ride that’s been in storage for a year in for a quick checkup and then hit the road.
6. The Tulips. Bloomington is a mini-Holland in the spring. Tulips are everywhere, and their colors and towering nature make you want to stay outside. It seems that Bloomington (thanks in large part to the university and city government) takes enormous pleasure in watching things grow in every patch of earth it can find. Flowerbeds change monthly and are always well cared for and well loved by passers-by.
This list touches on just a few of the many reasons I stay. Bloomington is of course more than bars, trails, and tulips. It’s a smart town with interesting people who care, not only about ideas but also about their community. In addition, it’s a city that breathes. It goes from being the seventh largest city in Indiana when the university is in session to somewhere around the 23rd largest when the students go home. So just when you’re getting frustrated with the traffic and the outdoor flippy cup tournaments, close to 40,000 people scatter away and you are left with a quiet town full of empty restaurant seats and parking spaces. And just when you feel like things are a little too quiet you get a fresh batch of excited freshman, nervous parents, and upperclassmen ready to start another year. It’s a good life.