#14: Lula's

So this place falls a little to the “obvious” end of the measuring stick. Lula’s. That café where they have great coffee, an even greater toasted brie sandwich, poetry readings, new-ish copies of the New Yorker, a healthy mix of English majors, professors, young kids on laptops and middle-aged groups who meet for lunch, Scrabble available to play in the corner, and the best coffee-shop atmosphere for miles around. That place in South Bend you were looking for before you found it.

But really, Lula’s is a bona-fide one-of-a-kind. There aren’t that many local coffee-shops in the area, but that doesn’t mean they accept a lower standard. They feature local art work on the walls and host local events themselves, like the poetry readings mentioned above.   I’ve met countless friends for coffee here, written 15 page papers here, and spent a couple hours in the corner chair reading a good book. A good coffee-shop can function like a second home or neighborhood hangout, and while I'm not suggesting that Lula's is exactly Central Perk, I am suggesting that you should come here if you haven't been and come back often if you have.

1631 Edison Road
South Bend, IN 46637

Monday-Thursday 7:30am-10:30pm
Friday 7:30am-11:00pm
Saturday 9:00am-11:00pm
Sunday 10:00am-10:00pm

Drink Suggestions: Blackberry-vanilla Italian soda, the Autumn Elixir, Raspberry-quince hot tea
Food Suggestions: Hummus and blue-corn chips, the aforementioned toasted brie, really anything else
Best time to go: Anytime, all the time
Tip: Remember to get a drink card. You get a punch every time you order a drink and once you get to 10, you get your 11th drink for free. Ask for it at the register

#13: Erasmus Books

Miles away from ornate displays of weight-loss books and clear across town from cardboard cut-outs of Edward Cullen and Rachel Ray, lies an old prairie style home…where books live.  Erasmus Books, nestled in a residential neighborhood just east of downtown South Bend, is the absolute foil to the big box booksellers of Grape Road.  Featuring old, used, and tenderly loved books on all topics, Erasmus is the book worm’s paradise. No florescent lights, no marketing gimmicks, simply room after room filled to the brim with books and nothing else.  The owners of this literary haven understand that you don’t need any fluff to entice bookstore purist – simply good authors and great titles. 

Upstairs in the living room you can find literature, poetry, and some philosophy, while the basement features every topic from American history to art history, from African American lit to feminist lit, and from cookbooks to language books.  My favorite section, architecture and urban planning, is up on the first floor - along the back wall of the “check-out” room (if you can call it that), but I won’t map out this entire house-o-books.  Quietly exploring walls filled with nature guides, bottom shelves of pop art books, and tables piled high with poetry has made Erasmus Books my favorite book shop in the area.

Location: 1027 East Wayne Street, South Bend, IN 46617
Hours: Thursday – Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm
2 Tips:
  • This place has a quality collection of academic books.  The owner is a retired Notre Dame professor and so I think that other profs often sell their old books to the shop.

  • Make sure to look on the front few pages to see if it’s a first edition.  I’ve found a few Vonnegut first editions there for unbelievably good prices.

#12: The Barbeque and Blues Festival

Everyone wants to take advantage of the gorgeous South Bend summers to gather as a community at the various parks around town.  Seitz Park, just off the East Race Trail near Colfax Ave (and the Emporium restaurant), was bustling with festival-goers Sunday afternoon for the first annual Barbeque and Blues Festival.

This festival, however, had a philanthropic bent -- profits benefited the St. Joe County Bridges out of Poverty, a non-profit organization that sponsors programs that break the cycle of poverty.  As you would expect at such a festival, there was both BBQ and blues.  Half a barbequed chicken sold for five dollars, and beverages and dessert was only a dollar.

I did not plan on attending this festival (although my love of BBQ prevents me from ever being a perfect vegetarian), but rather, I literally ran into it.  There was no escaping the huge crowd and groovy music on my afternoon run by the river.  Many people strolled along the riverwalk, checking out each other and listening to the music.  Others brought lawn chairs and set up across the river to watch the flow of humanity.  I believe local favorites, The Oblates of Blues, played a set and other musicians spun their tracks as well.  Not bad for the first year.

When to go: 12 - 6pm
Where: Seitz Park
How to get there: Try biking on the East Race Trail

#11: The Chris Wilson Pavilion at Potawatomi Park

So what do you do if you have a big, brand-new performing arts pavilion in the middle of one of South Bend’s most beloved parks?  Why, hold an outdoor concert series of course! This Saturday marked the final concert of the summer held at the aforementioned new Chris Wilson Pavilion in Potawatomi Park. The concert featured the South Bend Symphony Orchestra performing American classics from Copeland to Sousa to the score of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (my personal favorite). And even though this event was the finale to a summer concert series, look for this pavilion to hold many more events and concerts in the future.

The South Bend Symphony Orchestra
It’s built to accommodate a 50-seat orchestra and the extended lawn of the park holds several times that amount in spectators. The pavilion is ideally and scenically located in one corner of the park and makes for the perfect space to hold large community events. Because really nothing quite says summer like humming along with 250 of your closest friends and neighbors to “Stars and Stripes Forever” while sitting on a blanket as the sun sets.

The crowd at the concert
Visit Potawatomi Park year-round located at the intersection of Wall and Greenlawn Streets and check for upcoming events at the Chris Wilson Pavilion here: http://www.artseverywhere.com/venue/detail/4511.

#10: Art Beat

Official commemorative poster
Every city has its annual festival that is not-to-be-missed.  It seems like everyone comes out for it, and you'll run into neighbors, old elementary school friends, and maybe even the mayor. Some may say that Notre Dame football games are the festivals of this sort, but I beg to add Art Beat to this list of community events.

Art Beat has only been around for seven years, but it has grown to hundreds of vendors congregated in downtown South Bend. This daylong event brings together many different types of art: visual, performance, and (my personal favorite) culinary.

On the main drag of booths
These vendors come from across the city and Michiana Saturday.  You may recognize familiar names or faces just as you may encounter a craft you once thought abandoned at the turn of the century.  Not only do artists (eg. Council Oak Woodcarvers Club, Henna art designs, Goofy Moose Productions) set up booths on the street, downtown art galleries and businesses have extended hours as well.

There are also five performance stages scattered around (at the Jon Hunt/Morris Performing Arts Plaza, the College Football Hall of Fame, the SB Museum of Art, the Century Center Island Park (a.k.a. "Amped on the Island", which runs until 10pm), and Key Bank Plaza).  I'm interested to hear live music by the Xochipilli Folkloric Group (12:30, 1:30; Stage 2) and whatever the "Michiana Monologues" (4:00pm, Key Bank Plaza) may be.

What happens when sculpture and food combine
 Also, just as with a Notre Dame football game, come prepared to eat and drink.  A lot.  There is a culinary arts village near the College Football Hall of Fame, where you can find the Bread & Chocolate Conference Center & Catering AND the Round Barn Winery and Brewery.

Enjoying farmfresh quesadillas with tomatillo sauce ($2) and beef bulogi ($4)
Where: Downtown, three blocks of Michigan closed off to traffic
How to get there: Try TRANSPO, biking or walking -- if you need to drive, street parking and the garages at Main & Colfax and Jefferson & Michigan are free
When to go: Saturday, 11am to 6pm
Website: www.artbeatsouthbend.org

#9: Bonnie Doon

South Bend is certainly a temporally paradoxical city – simultaneously caught in the past and rushing into the future.  There are tech parks being built upon the sites of old industrial factories, HD jumbo-trons across the street from century old office buildings, and nano-technology labs next to abandoned warehouses.  The Studebaker symbol can still be found atop downtown buildings, while a complex black fiber network runs in conduits beneath our feet.  And yet…I would have to say that that perhaps the best example of this strange mélange of our past and present is a small diner on Lincoln Way, just east of Ironwood Ave in Mishawaka.

Bonnie Doon is a classic 1950-esque diner that allows you to slip back to a very different moment of our South Bend past – a moment of Studebakers, chocolate malts, and maybe even poodle skirts.  This diner, founded in 1948, still has an all year round car-hop – so it’s not difficult at all to imagine yourself sitting in your 1957 Studebaker Packard and ordering a Bonnie Burger Deluxe.  Complete with juke box and red/white checkered floor, it’s an uncommon look at a time in South Bend history when the car industry ruled the streets and fast food still meant good food.

Location: 2800 Lincolnway West, Mishawaka, IN 46544 – just east of Ironwood on Lincolnway West
Also check out their Drive-Thru location: 2704 Lincolnway West, Mishawaka, IN 46544, a little farther east on Lincolnway
Tip: Save room for dessert!  Bonnie Doon has a huge and delicious selection of ice cream, featuring special flavors of the month.  My personal favorite: Blue Moon

#8: Junk Evolution

Have you ever wandered into a store and suddenly realized that it looks exactly how you wish your house/apartment looked? Or maybe had a sneaking suspicion the storeowner is a long lost sibling? Or really just felt that you wanted to buy everything in sight?

That’s how I felt walking into the one-room, Junk Evolution. It’s stuffed with restored antiques, mismatched teacups, vintage books, handmade quilts, a heavy dose of whimsy and an even heavier sense of sustainability. They take objects that aren’t being used anymore and restore them or find a way to reuse them.  It is, to be frank, the evolution of junk.

Quilt pattern

Location: 528 East Colfax Ave., Suite #2, South Bend, IN 46614
Hours:  Wed.-Fri., 10:00am-6:00pm; Sat., 11:00am-3:00pm

Tip: Go on the First Friday of every month (as part of Downtown South Bend’s First Fridays). They stay open until 9:00pm with a variety of discounts as well as the unveiling of the décor theme of the month.  (This month’s theme: A,B,C’s and 1,2,3’s. Next month’s: Rust and Ruffles).  

#7: The Nature Trail at Saint Mary's

In late August, the weather in South Bend turns so perfect that you can forget all about the frosts, the snow, the slush arriving in just a couple months.  During these halcyon days, I recommend taking advantage of the outdoor offerings South Bend has, which, for being in an industrial Midwest city, are rather impressive.

The nature trail on the grounds of Saint Mary's College are one of my favorite places to run.  It offers an escape from pounding the pavement, and although you still can hear the distant whir of the toll road, the forest envelopes you.  You can catch a glimpse of the Notre Dame Basilica and Golden Dome, but they seem miles away.

The Golden Dome far, far away
 The dirt trail meanders for several miles through fields and the woods near to the St. Joseph River.   Once you enter the gate at the corner of the Taylor Road and Madaleva Drive leads you to a doubletrack loop, off of which is a singletrack spur that adds another mile.  I prefer to run it, but both are bikeable, and hikeable.

My favorite view of the St. Joe River in all of South Bend
 At two points along the doubletrack, there are guides to the nature trail to learn more about local flora and fauna.  I have never taken the time to slow down and follow along, but it would be a delightful place to picnic or walk your dog.  For a downloadable trail guide, look at the Saint Mary's Biology website.  Be on the lookout for deer, beavers, and other critters!

Location: North of Taylor Road & Madaleva Drive
Best time to go: Sunrise to sundown; through November because it's tough to navigate when the snow falls, although it would be a good place to snowshoe!
Tip: Leave the headphones at home -- the bird calls provide natural music.

#6: The George Rickey Kinetic Sculptures

So this one is kind of hard to describe, and it’s the best example yet of “you really just need to go see it.” These works of public art, by the South Bend-born artist George Rickey are scattered throughout the downtown area and are, in plain terms, 3-dimensional metal objects.  In slightly more complex terms, they are metal sculptures that respond to their environment.  As an example, one of these sculptures is made up of two metal rings that swing hypnotically at the slightest breeze.  They’ve been in residence here since the fall of 2009 and the exhibit was just extended through the end of 2010.

They add a sense of unexpected modernism to the city, and are visible (and free) at any day or time.  For extra points, complete the math and science walking tour of the sculptures that poses such questions as, “How does gravity affect this sculpture when it is still? When it is moving?” And in case you thought that one was easy, “If the diameter of each circle is represented by d, and the length of the line between the point of rotation and the edge of the circle is s, write an expression for the widest span that the sculpture can achieve from left to right.  Write an expression for the narrowest span the sculpture achieves.”

For those who want to prove they remember 8th grade Algebra or for those who just want to support the exciting work of a revered local artist, visit this website for locations, the math walking tour, and more information: http://www.cfsjc.org/Rickey/.

Best time to go: When the wind is blowing.

#5: The Cove...Duh.

 As an avid baseball fan and South Bend enthusiastic, I almost feel like the Cove is almost too obvious to post.  Yet I forget that a night at a minor league ballpark isn't everyone's idea of a great time….but it should be.  Baseball is definitely a core element of South Bend’s history, from the South Bend Blue Sox (featured in “A League of Their Own”) to the Arizona Diamondback’s Triple A Team, the Silver Hawks.  The ballpark itself is right downtown and located just next to former Studebaker factories.  It’s also a place of significance on the South Bend political map, since the team is owned by former South Bend Mayor and former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan. If that doesn’t have you racing over to the Cove, then perhaps a review of their nightly specials can entice you.

On (Dollar) Monday, get basically anything in the park for A DOLLAR.  And by everything, I mean: $1 Bleacher Tickets ($3 Box Seats), $1 Hot Dogs, $1 Pepsi Products

On (Twofer) Tuesday, tickets are discounted - Fans will receive 2 tickets for the price of 1 (Box or Bleacher) with the WAOR Web Coupon.  And oh boy, don’t forget KRAFT Singles Tuesday Night Tickets.  Buy 1 Ticket, Get 1 Free from KRAFT Singles with purchase. Bring your package wrapper to a Silver Hawks Game on Tuesdays “for a steal of a deal!”  Their words, not mine.

On (Wacky) Wednesday, a whole myriad of wacky events and promotions take place.  To be honest…this is somewhat unclear, but the real deal on Wednesday is Unused Ticket Night.  You can bring any unused tickets to the Cove on Wednesday nights and get a free bleacher ticket.

On (Thirsty) Thursday, draft beer and pepsi products are only a DOLLAR. Now this…I will call a “steal of a deal.”

On Friday, fireworks light up downtown after the game.

On (Souvenir) Saturday, the Silver Hawks have a giveaway item at every Saturday home game and offer discounts on the team gear sold in the Silver Hawks shop.

On Sunday, kids get to run the bases after the game. Adorable.

Check out the schedule HERE.  Today begins the Silverhawk's last full week at home.  They'll also play three more home games the first week of September.  So these are your last days to catch a Silver Hawks game in 2010 and your last chance to take part in their hilarious inter-inning games (…see the Produce Race below).  

Location: 501 West South Street, South Bend, IN 46601
Best Nights to Go: Monday and Thursday – best deals
Tip: Ask the staff at the front gate if you can take part in the class minor league inter-inning games.

#4: The East Race Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival

On a misty Saturday such as this one, perhaps there's not much you want to do besides nap and watch an entire season of your mindless favorite TV show.  Rainy days call for inside activities, right? 

If you're willing to get up off the couch today, you'll find others out and about as well.  After a stop by the Farmer's Market to stock up for the week, I stopped by the First Annual East Race Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival, happening today from 10am-10pm.  All weekend festivals like this one have the same model: booths set up for alternative medicines, local artists, and lemonade vendors to peddle their wares.  Area bands play hour sets, and there's usually some dignitary from the city who speaks on behalf of the community organization that has organized the event.  What I love about these festivals is that once you recognize the basic framework, you can appreciate how the local flavor makes each festival a little different.

For the East Race festival, it was the All-You-Can-Eat sausage and corn dinner (a steal at $8).  [Polish] sausages and corn are staples in South Bend.  Corn is obvious--Indiana is in the corn belt--but the explanation behind sausages requires a bit more history. 

Among the many different ethnic groups that settled in South Bend, the Polish have had a significant presence since the Civil War.  It is evident at the many Catholic churches scattered around the city, the celebration of Dyngus Day, the paczkis sold at the Farmer's Market ... and the mass consumption of Polish sausages at the East Race Festival.

Another part of the festival that caught my attention were the booths set up by several Amish families.  One was selling homemade fudge and baskets; the other what looked like marbles.  A sign encouraged the curious spectator to "Feel them!  They're not marbles!"  How could I say no to that?  I discovered, that no, they were not marbles, but squishy beads that expand in water.  They're useful to keeping plants fresh and hydrated.  Since I had just bought a bunch of sunflowers at the Farmer's Market, I had to buy a package ($5). They were just like those foam creatures that "grow" that you found in your goodie bag as a kid...except they have a purpose!
How they started...
One hour in...
Three hours in...

That's another thing I love about festivals -- you can find unusual items you never would come across in stores.  Now I plan to spend the rest of this misty day watching not TV, but magic expanding beads.

Location: at the corner of East Washington and Hill Streets
Hours: 10am - 10pm

#3: The South Bend Farmer's Market

The local food/sustainable eating movement has been in vogue for a while now, but sometimes it just takes a visit to a good old-fashioned farmer’s market to remember why it became so popular in the first place. The South Bend Farmer’s Market is just that and more. It was my first “Wow” moment here in South Bend, and since that inaugural visit (July 2008, fresh cherries) I’ve been back dozens of times with anyone and everyone who will come with me.

Entrance to the SBFM

The market itself is indoors (in two big red barns) allowing it to stay open year-round. And stay-open it does, filling the almost 100 stalls with an abundance of produce in the warmer months and stocking local crafts, jewelry, and baked goods in the colder ones.  Some of my favorite purchases include donuts from the Polish bakery, sunflowers from the corner shop, peaches in the summer, apples in the fall, the list could go on and on. There’s even a diner with food made from ingredients found at the market (but that’s another post for another time). 

Variety of green produce

I can honestly say it’s my favorite place in South Bend. Because yes, no matter how trendy it has become, eating locally is important. Meeting the people who grow your food is comforting. And supporting the community you live in never goes out of fashion.

Visit the South Bend Farmer’s Market (newly updated!) website here:http://www.southbendfarmersmarket.com/

And then go visit the real thing!

BONUS: This Saturday, August 21st, there will be live music at 10:00am.

1105 Northside Boulevard
South Bend, IN 46615

Tuesday & Thursday 7:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Saturday 7:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Friday 7:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. (May-September)

#2: Bryan's Piano Barr

On Saturday night at Bryan’s Piano Barr, Bryan, himself (last name: Barr), took a break from the piano and camped out behind the bar, while a young guy took over and nervously tickled the plastic-ivories for a few songs.  After the young guy played a couple instrumental tunes and a Nick Drake song, Bryan finished his cigarette and made his way back to the stage.  All of the young guy’s (was his name Zack…?) all of his friends roared and cheered, which gave the necessary push to keep him on stage for one more song with Bryan.  

What followed is one of those moments that you know you can never get back.  A slip second when you have no control over your facial reaction, because you can’t believe what you’re hearing, and in that moment, that is the only way that song should be performed.  Seriously, jaw-dropped, eyes bulged, and yea, I might have accidentally let out one of those girlish “wooooo’s” usually only heard from a rabid *NSYNC fan.  It's a feeling of pure shock that is gone as soon as it appears, leaving you unsure of how you ever felt about that song previously.

Bryan starting the first few notes of the Four Season’s “Sherry Baby” and Zack(?), the previously mild and nervous piano player (“Seriously guys my hands are shaking so you’ll have to bear with me through this next song”) hit that high, whiney, almost shrill “Sheeeeeerrrryyyyy…Sheerrry baaaaby.”  Sounds terrible, but it was nothing short of perfection.  I have not been that entertained since the first time I went to Truman’s Saturday night drag show a few months ago.  Bryan and Zack hammed it up for the next three and a half minutes, making my Saturday night an absolute success.

Bryan at the piano

Bryan’s Piano Barr is definitely Michiana’s version of the evening-in-the-city musical entertainment and bar, complete with linoleum flooring, a drop-down ceiling, blinking Christmas lights hung up along the bar, and a bizarre mix of wall décor (think county-fair caricatures on the wall next to generic piano-themed scenes found at 20 years worth of garage sales).  Sure, you might hear a tinge of sarcasm here, but in all honesty, the matchless, yet humble decorating, the familiar and sometimes bizarre clientele, and of course that intangible quality of Midwestern Americana are what make this bar and other such Michiana spots what this blog is truly all about.  It’s unique, locally owned, wildly entertaining, and a prime example of why I love small town, Midwestern life. 

Here’s the rundown: On Friday and Saturday nights, Bryan plays from approximately 9:30 pm until…until the drinks stop flowing.  There’s a definite routine list that is played each weekend with a few guest performers (for example, “Oooooklahoma” sung by one of the bar’s regulars), but Bryan will also take requests and of course, you can sing with him or do karaoke.  THERE IS NO AGE LIMIT.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  On Saturday, par example, you could find patrons from 21 to 94 in the audience – and that’s just one element of the diversity you’ll find at Bryan’s Piano Barr.  Last, and of course not least, the drinks are very reasonably priced: about $3-4 for a mixed drink and less for a beer.  The only downside is that there’s a $20 minimum for credit card tabs.  But I guess that’s a small price to pay for those “Sheeerrrrry, Sherry baby” moments that I’ve had every night I’ve spent at Bryan’s Piano Barr.

Location: 2410 Mishawaka Avenue in South Bend, IN 
Best Nights to Go: Friday & Saturday 
Tip: Come prepared to sing with Bryan or pressure a friend to

#1: St. Joseph's County Public Library, Main Branch

New Arcade Fire album?  Check.  Sixth season of Entourage?  Check.  Free passes to the Center for History?  Call of Duty IV? Yeah baby, this ain't yo momma's library.

The Main Branch library of St. Joseph's County, nestled two blocks away from the downtown TRANSPO hub, offers a treasure trove of not just books and magazines, but the latest DVDs and CDs.  Walk up to the "Sights and Sounds" on the third floor and behold this publicly funded Blockbuster/Tower Records lovechild.   

The entrance to "Sights and Sounds" on the 3rd floor

Here, you'll encounter the typical library patrons: the mom and child (picking out the latest Harry Potter film), the bored teenager (surfing the web and listening to Lil' Wayne way too loud), and myself (the sustainably-minded citizen who thinks, "Why buy when you can rent?!").  All genres of music and film can be found, and you'll be surprised at what you can find.  The selection grows if you search the entire St. Joseph's County library collection, although the Main Branch location is spiffiest and largest of them.

The building is the meeting spot for many niche groups throughout the year--computer classes, language practice, knitting groups, anime clubs, you name it--making a great place to place for people watching and appreciating the weirdness of America.  Spend a hour or two -- except on Sundays when it's closed -- perusing its offerings.  CD rentals are free; DVD rentals (of non-documentaries or children's films) are 50 cents/day; video games are $1.00/day.

Getting a library card is easy -- bring in some paper that proves you live in St. Joe County, whether it's a copy of your lease, a bill mailed to your address, or even a student ID.  Learn more here.