We had flown into Indianapolis for the Kentucky Derby and found ourselves wandering down Virginia Avenue. I spotted Hotel Tango, set back from the road, and was immediately drawn to the charming brick building.
I was snapping photos when a cat with no tail sprinted out from around the corner of the building and slithered under a car in the parking lot. Minutes later a man emerged from the front door. “Have you seen a cat?” We pointed to the car, he coaxed the cat out, and all was right with the world. Hotel Tango wasn’t open for another hour, but Brian, the cat chaser, was kind enough to welcome us in.
Hotel Tango is an “artisan distillery.” What does that mean? All of their liquors are made with care in small batches and distributed mostly in Indiana and neighboring Ohio. It’s like a microbrewery in the liquor world. It’s about quality, not quantity. And that’s very apparent as soon as you walk into Hotel Tango.
The first thing that struck me was the lovely hand-built stone fireplace that serves as a focal point for the distillery and for the community, as chilly hipsters come in from the cold to warm their outsides by the fire and their insides with a craft cocktail.
Fletcher, the cat with no tail, watched over us as he lounged on the iron spiral staircase. We sat at the bar with Brian and let the artisan liquors trickle down our throats as he told us tales of rum, passion and Indy legend.
The Hipstory of the Building
The building that now houses Hotel Tango dates back to the late 1800s and was originally used as a carriage repair shop. You can still see the ridges in the floor where the mule turned the turnstyle. When a funeral home was built in what’s now the Hotel Tango parking lot, the distillery served as a repair shop for hearse carriages. This is when the building falls into the path of an Indianapolis legend.
In the 1910s, the local coroner began blackmailing the wealthy family members of Indianapolis deceased who had been brought to the funeral home. He would threaten to tell the courts that their deaths were suicides if the families didn’t fork over a portion of the life insurance money. The coroner was eventually found guilty and sent to prison.
When cars became ubiquitous in America, the building became a car repair shop, then a machine shop in the 1960s, and a garage again for a few years before Travis and Brian came along.
The Story of Hotel Tango
Owners Travis (aka “Tango”) and Brian met when Travis was in law school with Brian’s (now) wife. Brian was in real estate when Travis graduated and decided to leave the struggling housing market behind to join Travis in pursing their real passion: opening a craft distillery.
Travis and Brian got their permit to open a distillery in 2013, found an investor in 2014, and began the 100-day construction on the building in the summer of 2014. They thanked their lawyer wives for their support, brought in Travis’s brother Taylor as master distiller, and sandblasted the thick layers of green and white paint to uncover the beautiful brick facade that is now Hotel Tango.
Old doors from the building were used to build tables, and planks from the reconstruction were used to build the bar. Travis’s father, a third generation brick mason, built the stunning stone fireplace.
Brian and Travis opened their doors in September of 2014 as the first distillery in Indianapolis since before prohibition. Hotel Tango started with vodka and rum and have since dabbled with whiskey, gin, and some fruity liquors. And we tried them all.
The name “Hotel Tango” comes from the monogram of owner Travis and his wife Hilary. After having served multiple tours in Iraq, Travis was intimately familiar with the NATO phonetic alphabet. “Hotel” for Hilary and “Tango” for Travis. Voila. The distillery’s liquors follow suit: Golf Gin, Victor Vodka, and so on.
I had planned out several Hipstorical places to visit in Indy, but Hotel Tango was one that I just stumbled upon. Every traveler knows that it’s the hidden gems and the spontaneous local interactions that make for the most memorable travel experiences, and that’s certainly what Hotel Tango was for me. Brian was so incredibly kind to take the time to talk with us before the distillery had even opened for the day. He didn’t have to open the door, he didn’t have to tell us stories or offer us a drink, but I guess that’s kind of the Indianapolis spirit.
Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Indiana? Email me and help me build my archives!