Just southeast of downtown Indianapolis is Fountain Square, one of seven designated cultural districts in the city. The neighborhood is full of restaurants and art galleries and has grown a reputation as the best place for creative folks to live and work in the city. One of the most recent additions to the neighborhood is Gavel, a specialty cafe and craft cocktail bar that also serves as the lobby of MilesHerndon, a branding and marketing agency that recently relocated from downtown. As you might expect, the cafe itself is beautifully appointed, with dark blue walls, unique hanging light fixtures, and a beautifully tiled wall behind the bar.
Gavel’s storefront is nestled between Three Carrots, a vegetarian lunch and dinner spot with whom they share a patio, and the Inferno Room, a craft tiki bar. The cafe’s name comes from the previous use of the space as a county courthouse. Subtle design features, including an actual gavel set between retail bags of coffee on a shelf, pay homage to the building’s legal history.
The coffee menu at Gavel is simple and focused on pour-over coffees—in fact, when the cafe first opened, there was no espresso program at all. The menu still centers on filter coffee brewed using Kalitas and an automated pour-over system from Indiana’s own Modbar. However, on my most recent visit, a sparkling single group head Nuova Simonelli Appia II also graced the bar, and a minimal menu consisting of just “Espresso” and “Latte” was available. Both the pour-over coffees and the espresso are ground on a stately white Mahlkönig EK43. The coffee menu is anchored by a selection of offerings from Tinker Coffee, whose nitro cold brew is served on tap behind the bar. Along with Tinker, Gavel features a rotating guest coffee, which, on the latest visit, was a Huila Timana Colombia sourced from Indie Coffee Roasters in nearby Carmel, Indiana. For the non-coffee drinkers, the menu also sports a small selection of loose leaf teas and chai from Milwaukee’s Rishi Tea Company as well as a house-made soda that changes seasonally.
The bar program mirrors the coffee program in both its simplicity and its quality. The cocktail list is heavy on amaro and vermouth and leans towards the lower-proof, perfect for lunchtime sipping. There are the expected coffee cocktails, including a riff on an Old Fashioned dubbed the “Cold Fashioned,” which is made with Tinker’s nitro cold brew. However, there are also some creations that are uniquely Gavel, like the Ann Dancing, a tantalizing blend of Cappelletti, cold brew, lime bitters, and a house-made saffron simple syrup, and the “Guilty, Not Guilty,” a concoction that includes cold brew, liquid smoke, angostura bitters, cane sugar, and cream. Along with the cocktail program, there is also a trio of rotating beers on tap from local craft breweries and a small selection of wines available by the glass as well.
The food at Gavel could be described as elevated comfort food—like the coffee and bar menus, the offerings are limited but unique and high quality. Each week, there’s a specialty grilled cheese available, which on my most recent visit was a Monte-Cristo-inspired creation with Swiss and mozzarella cheeses, sliced ham, basil and rhubarb jam, and a dusting of powdered sugar. Also available are rotating soups and salads and a selection of bar snacks that includes edamame al forno and house-made chips and dip. On the weekends, Gavel offers house-made biscuits and sausage gravy for brunch also with fresh-squeezed mimosas. For the rest of the week, there’s a small selection of pastries and croissants from the local baking wizards at the Gallery Pastry Shop.
Gavel is a testament to the versatility of the modern cafe. Sure, it’s got excellent coffee, but it has far more to offer than just a well-extracted pour-over. Gavel is a lobby, a conference room, a meeting place, a bar, a restaurant, an event space—and, perhaps more importantly than all of that, it’s already becoming a community hub for the residents of Fountain Square.
Alex Evans is a freelance writer and coffee professional based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read more Alex Evans for Sprudge.
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