Basketball lovers unite: Bloomington is the perfect place to get your March Madness fix right in the heart of Indiana basketball country.
Every year when March Madness roles around, I have to hurry to fill in my brackets before the first round of the tournament. But not this year. Ironically, even though my beloved Virginia Cavaliers (aka 2019 National Champs) didn't make it into the NCAA Tournament, I managed to have my brackets all ready to go and I even mentally prepared myself to watch them slowly become obliterated. But I'm glad that I had my brackets filled out a considerable amount of time beforehand, because little did I know that I was about to embark on the ultimate March Madness experience in the heart of Indiana basketball country in Bloomington, Indiana on a press trip with Matador Network. This was my first time visiting the Midwest, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. In fact, it made me question whether or not Southerners are the most hospitable people by region in the U.S. Not only that, but Bloomington is the mecca of all things basketball. You have the city's cherished college basketball team, the Indiana University Hoosiers, who dominate the university's sports teams and uphold the basketball legacy in Indiana. It seems like everywhere you go in Bloomington, you will notice some hints of cream & crimson (the team's colors) and might even run into some establishment proudly showcasing their team's impressive five NCAA championship titles. The IU fan culture in Bloomington's restaurants and bar scene is unmatched. IU fans certainly show up for their team on game day and head to the city's lively sports bars that cluster around E. Kirkwood Ave. To go along with the incredible atmosphere for watching basketball during March Madness, Bloomington is bursting with basketball history stemming back from the time that the sport was popularized in Indiana a couple of years after it was invented. You can geek out and take a basketball history tour in the city where you can watch how basketball became Indiana's most loved sport (which is certainly what I did.) Overall, if you're a basketball fan like me, be sure to check out Bloomington during March and you can thank me later. (Oh, and just like I said, your team doesn't need to actually be in the tournament for you to enjoy your time there.) Here's my guide to some of the best spots to head to on your Bloomington March Madness adventure:
Sports Bars & Restaurants
From left to right: BuffaLouie's, Nick's English Hut, Yogi's, Kilroy's, The Upstairs Pub, The Tap, Crazy Horse
BuffaLouie's is the ultimate family-friendly restaurant for March Madness watching. Take in the IU basketball paraphernalia while chowing down on their signature wings.
Nick's English Hut is a traditional Bloomington staple. I like to think of this bar's concept as party up top, grub down below. Watch the game up top, and order their Biz Fries and one of their famous strombolis down below.
Yogi's is for the new age of basketball lovers. With light-up signs, a wall signed by IU players and coaches, a game room with a celebrity mugshot wall, and overall fantastic design, you won't want to miss out.
Kiroy's (aka Kilroy's on Kirkwood or KOK) is for people who like to partayyy. There's an outdoor patio where you can let loose on game day and celebrate with the Hoosier crowd.
The Upstairs Pub is where you can double task and play a variety of bar games such as darts, pool, and a basketball arcade game while cheering on your team.
The Tap is for the more laid-back basketball crowd. They even have their own brewery downstairs to give a buzz to the fans who come to chill and watch the games.
Crazy Horse is for people who want to be nostalgic and remember their college days fondly in an IU alumni bar that sets up perfectly for game day.
Basketball History Destinations
From left to right: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, The IU Archives, The Graduate Bloomington, Cook Hall
Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is where all the basketball action happens. This home of the IU basketball team doubles as a museum, where you can use their interactive video boards right after you enter the arena and learn about IU player and team facts sourced straight from the library catalogs. The plaques positioned on the arena's walls explain how the old Simon Skjodt and the new have been intertwined and how reverence has been paid to the Hoosier's glory-filled past.
The IU Archives is where you can sift through as much of IU basketball's historical documents as you want to in Herman B Wells Library on IU's campus. For the best experience, contact an archivist beforehand and they can get your documents ready for your visit.
The Graduate Bloomington is the perfect stay for basketball fans as basketball references and motifs are integrated in the design of this unique hotel. Like the movies Hoosiers and Breaking Away? Remember the wild temper of one of IU's most successful basketball coaches, Bobby Knight? Want to be greeted with a "Welcome to Indiana Basketball" tiled floor? The Graduate Bloomington has got your covered with all of your basketball history-filled dreams.
Cook Hall is the practice facility for IU's men's and women's basketball teams and is a destination for basketball history fanatics with its Pfau-Shine Legacy Court, complete with team trophies, artifacts, and other keepsakes that tell stories of the university's championship teams.
To discover more about Bloomington's rich basketball history and visit some of Bloomington's best sports bars, check out these stories: