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Bloomington Indiana: Tons of Things in One Dispatch

This is one of those moments where I have a ton of things to say, but it occurs to me that I’ll never have enough time to say it all in thematic blog posts unless the theme is “Bloomington, Indiana” – so here it is: one post, many things, one city.

My favorite coffee shop on the planet is still soma – located at Kirkwood and Grant. The coffee shop has aged gracefully and, I’m happy to report, not much has changed. It still has character. It’s still busy. It’s still awesome. I don’t think there’s a better coffee shop on the planet – it’s firmly rooted at the number one spot thanks to it’s excellent coffee, awesome food, funky décor, and regularly excellent eye candy.

It's Chic!

Downtown Bloomington is amazingly vibrant and from my room at the Hilton Garden Inn, I can safely say a lot is walk-able. I walked to the Indiana Theater for the Pride Film Festival. I walked to Bloomingfoods for some light snacks. I (mostly) walked to campus. I walked to Rachael’s Café. I walked to Greek’s Pizza. I even walked to my favorite hair salon, Be Hair Now—where I got my hair cut by Wendy.

Actually I walked so much that Monday evening when I needed to use the car, I’d forgotten where I’d parked it. I also forgot where I’d put the keys.

seriously, nicest store in the mall.

It’s been awhile since I’d been to College Mall in Bloomington—and I headed out there Monday night to buy shoelaces, only to discover that Smith’s Sport and Shoe was no longer there—so I wandered the mall looking for a shoe store—the one that sounded like it had dress shoes on the mall map was an empty store front when I got there, and honestly the entire mall sucked. I think College Mall is on life support and it’s about to fail. There was no joie de vivre—it was a depressing, soul sucking experience to walk through its dim, vacant hallways.

Fortunately I called Mateo and he told me that Smith’s Shoe Center had merely relocated—and was now on South Walnut next to the south side McDonalds – and after realizing that none of the remaining shoe stores in the mall (Finish Line and Foot Locker) would have the shoe laces I needed, I left—driving on over to the new location—and while I’m not completely thrilled by the location, it does have the virtue of not being in the mall. It was a lot more cheerful inside the new location.

One thing that’s impressed me about Bloomington’s current construction boom (although maybe the boom is over), is that a large number of the new buildings are not just infill—covering up parking lots or other unmemorable buildings—but attractive. There seems to be an emphasis on brick buildings with attention to architecture—something that didn’t seem to exist before. If you go to the east side there are acres and acres and more acres of soulless and hideously ugly cookie cutter apartment complexes. I know; I used to live in one. A lot of these new places are in the best parts of town to live and have bus lines running right past them—perfect for those days when it’s -10C out and walking to campus is not such an attractive idea.

I actually used the bus to get to campus a couple of mornings when it was really cold out and I didn’t want to freeze my way there walking from the Hilton Garden Inn (I did walk back to the hotel as it warmed up and I had things to do between where I was working and the hotel). Bloomington’s Hilton Garden Inn is awesome. The location is brilliant, the staff is great, the facility is clean and nice. It is a chain hotel and one might prefer the Grant Street Inn Bed and Breakfast to get the local charm, but I am often uncomfortable with the endemic nosy coziness of B&Bs, making this a slightly better choice for me.

On the university front—it continues to be an amazingly beautiful campus. Students are students, of course, and I noticed that the kick-off for student government elections is already underway and the campaigns are making unkeepable promises like the one by the “Kirkwood Ticket” to provide “better access to syllabi prior to course registration”. They must have been smoking something when they thought that one up—either that or they don’t know how the confluence of course scheduling, vacations, and professorial work habits means that in some cases nobody knows who’s teaching what until the night before and syllabi are often written on short notice.

Slightly insane. At Scholar's Inn Bakehouse.

Finally, of course, I keep my eye on the restaurant scene. As I once had the most popular site on the net for Bloomington’s restaurants, this interests me a lot. Unfortunately the immediate city center seems to be lacking a nice café. Ladyman’s closed way too long ago and its empty storefront is still there (although I was told this would be torn down in the near future). A long, long time ago, Opie Taylor’s used to serve a really good breakfast—but after the owner dimmed the lights while I was reading the newspaper, I apologized to the friendly waitress and told her I wouldn’t be back—and I never did go back and I still boycott the restaurant—and I might note, they no longer serve breakfast. I stopped by the Trojan Horse for the first time in a very long time and it remains as I remember it: absurdly expensive, small portions, and not really that good. Scholar Inn’s Bakehouse (note: horrid music on link!) is doing a booming business and probably has the best bread in Bloomington, but I find the atmosphere a bit strange—not actually that comfortable.

Really there’s not a lot that I would do to change Bloomington. It’s mostly perfect. It’s nicely walk-able, and it’s friendly.

The only thing I would change is the location of Bloomington’s only gay bar—and this is something I’ve complained about before. I would prefer it was somewhere within walking distance of the square. Because it’s on the west side right now, I’ve only been once because I hate driving to the bar, or any bar, for that matter. When I drive to the bar it means I must commit to either not drinking, or only having one drink and then waiting at least an hour before I start thinking about leaving and that sucks. I like the freedom of movement. I liked it when I could walk over to Uncle Elizabeth’s after arriving from Europe, down a couple drinks, then walk back to the hotel and crash.

I don’t do that any more.

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