(Photo: Mug 'n Bun)
Drive-in restaurants -- so popular during the 1950s and 60s -- are moving toward extinction in twenty-first-century America. So we should support the dwindling population, right? We recommend a beloved example on the west side of Indianapolis with 53 years (and more than a few million tenderloins) under its belt.
The Mug ‘n Bun at 5211 West 10th Street has succeeded by not fixing what isn’t broken. Electrical contractor-turned-restaurateur Jay Watson bought the establishment from original and 38-year owner Morris May in 1998. He kept the Mug ‘n Bun menu, premises and operations largely unchanged. Occasional upgrades and nods to the times have appeared -- a new indoor dining facility for inclement weather, and the decision to accept credit cards in 2010. Otherwise, the customer experience today closely resembles a day in 1960. Order from your car by turning on your headlights to hail a carhop who’ll bring a tray that hooks on your window, or head for the sheltered picnic tables.
Ask ten different Indianapolis residents for a favorite Mug ‘n Bun menu item and you may get ten different answers. The tenderloins, burgers, coneydogs, hand-made shakes and star-shaped tater tots all rate high. Fans speak in hushed tones of reverence about the hand-dipped onion rings and the homemade root beer -- hand-cut and -brewed, respectively, on the premises. Either one makes Mug ‘n Bun worth a drive. Just remember: "Lights on for service."
About Hidden Gems Indiana
Each week Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums -- you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.