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Bulldog Bar & Lounge returns to Indy's north side with self-pour tap, extra sauce and new outlook

Posted at 2:59 PM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 18:21:44-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A blast from the past in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood returns this weekend with a tap of the future and a reflection of the community's growth.

The Bulldog Bar & Lounge opens its bar on Saturday, June 10. Then, its cocktail lounge and family-friendly dining area will open in late June.

The Bulldog Bar & Lounge was once the hangout spot for Butler University's students and alumni from 1974 to 1994.

After Moe & Johnny's 26-year stint in the building at 5380 N. College Ave., business partners Caroline Smith, Brian Knoder, and John Bales are bringing The Bulldog back.

"We're just trying to capture some of that — be the neighborhood bar, and kind of bring back some of that nostalgia. But know that it's not going to be the exact same Bulldog that it was," Smith told WRTV.

The Bulldog's renewal includes an AI self-pouring tap wall, powered by specially-made bracelets, with beer, wine, and spirits. The restaurant will have an enhanced food menu with upwards of 50 items and 20 craft-made sauces. Plus, a dog menu for your four-legged pals and a weekend brunch menu.

In addition to a full-service bar with attending bartenders, The Bulldog Bar & Lounge also has a large-scale self-pour wall with 48 beverages.

The team behind the new offerings at The Bulldog doesn't stop there with its expansion. The Bulldog's target demographic extends beyond Butler students and its neighborhood bar to include family-friendly dining, a cocktail lounge, and a dog-friendly patio.

"I think the whole place is pretty darn new," Knoder said.

The opening team says it recognizes the neighborhood's growth with families and younger generations alike and believes the new additions to the restaurant and lounge are catering to that.

"Unfortunately, I'm not old enough to have experienced the original Bulldog, but I did live in the neighborhood when it was Moe & Johnny's. And it was just a watering hole for everybody," Smith said. "So (this building) is very much a part of my history here in Broad Ripple. And I love that I'm able to bring this back for the younger generation and plus for my cohorts and for the older generation too."

The growth of 54th and College

The Bulldog Bar & Lounge is located at 5380 N. College Ave. on the north side of Indianapolis

The 54th Street and College Avenue area hasn't always been considered the SoBro (short for South Broad Ripple) area. To David Allee, who opened The Jazz Kitchen in 1994, the same year the original Bulldog closed, it is the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood.

"The great thing about Meridian-Kessler is it's got a lot of good history," Allee told WRTV.

The 55-year-old Atlas Supermarket was an anchor for the neighborhood, famously known as the place of employment for a young David Letterman. Piano Merchant also used to be on the same corner. Then came Moe & Johnny's.

In the 90s, Twenty Tap, Fat Dan's Deli, and Yats weren't open and thriving at 54th and College like they are now.

As the years have gone by, Allee has seen business after business settle in the area, extending east down 54th Street and south to the corner of 52nd and College. He's also watched as the homes in the area became sought-after residences.

The Jazz Kitchen is located at 5377 N. College Ave.
A look at the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood

"Joe Vuskovich that owns Yats right next door to me, we just talk about how we always, you know, are excited and lucky that we chose this corner to do our businesses because there's a lot of great support from the neighborhood, a lot of great clientele," Allee said.

In comparison to the nearby Broad Ripple, Allee says Meridian-Kessler attracts more of the "sit-down" experience.

"I always kind of kidded that, you know, once you kind of graduate from Broad Ripple, you'd maybe come to The Jazz Kitchen," Allee said. "It's a little bit more laid back, a little more adult."

Allee says he thinks the revival of The Bulldog speaks to the growth of the community and the family atmosphere it now holds. "It seems like it will present well through a lot of ages," Allee said.

Level up your sauce game

A Bulldog bracelet activates the iPourIt technology in The Bulldog Bar & Lounge's self-serve tap.

From the smoked Cuban sandwich and bone marrow fries to wood-fired pizza, The Bulldog's head chef, Tory Walker, is leveling the classic bar menu up.

One way The Bulldog says it's enhancing its meals is by offering patrons up to 23 dipping sauces.

The Bulldog has moho salsa, Asian ginger sauce, aiolis, and remoulades.

"There's just a lot of things that we're trying to do with the sauces to kind of get people to say, 'Hey, let me just try something different.' Not just ketchup and mustard," Chef Walker said.

And if you're looking to get saucy for your night out, Marcus Bethea says the self-pour tap wall has 48 taps from IPAs, lagers, porters, white and red wine, and fine spirits.

"Go up there and be very interactive with the computer monitors that we have. It's going to be really exciting," Marcus said.

Patrons can set the number of ounces, and the AI system calculates the ABV of the pour. The algorithm tracks each Bulldog bracelet and card to ensure patrons don't overserve themselves.

"It tells you, okay; you can only have so many ounces of this style of this ABV beer before you have to go talk to a human being and say, 'Hey, can I have more?' And they can say, 'wait. You're on like the eighth refill. So let's kind of make a switch to water or something,'" Smith said about the safety of the iPourIt technology powering the self-pour tap.

The Bulldog Bar & Lounge
5389 N. College Ave.
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.
Friday: 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. - 12 a.m.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.

WRTV shares the stories behind Indy's many people, happenings, businesses, restaurants, and venues in the area.

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