33 Brick Street isn't a typical sports bar.

The restaurant has become a dining destination for visitors to French Lick, Ind., and appropriately so given the small southern Indiana town's ties to all-time NBA great Larry Bird.

While the reigning president of operations for the Indiana Pacers, who made a name for himself as a Boston Celtics standout, isn't directly affiliated with the restaurant, he has donated and loaned several items from his personal collection to the owners.

A glass case dividing the bar from the dining area showcases Bird memorabilia, including game-worn jerseys, shoes and balls. The items tell the story of the small-town boy who found success at all levels of his sport, from his college tenure at Indiana State to his former position as the Pacers' head coach.

While French Lick takes pride in its native son, 33 Brick Street stands alone in terms of Bird memorabilia. Manager Cari Kirby said people often ask what else they can do on the "Bird tour" of the town, and her answer is pretty simple.

"We're about the only place around," she said. "If you want to see anything of Larry's, this is the place to go."

But, it's not all about Bird. The walls of the restaurant are also covered with a variety of other sports memorabilia, and there are often sports on the TV, whether it be the Indianapolis Colts or Indiana University, about an hour away in Bloomington.

Families are always welcome at 33 Brick Street. While the décor and theme may seem like the type of place where rowdy sports fans go to watch the game, it's actually a family destination. Some local couples even have their designated booths, complete with their pictures hanging on the wall.

Locals always enjoy stopping by and signing the piece of basketball court that hangs on the wall. Many of the town's natives played ball on that hardwood, the same place Bird first made a name for himself as an area youth.

"It's a very unique place," Kirby said. "People who walk in for the first time are always overwhelmed."

The owners of 33 Brick Street will be opening a second restaurant in the coming months. Wacky Wings and Spuds and Suds, which they hope will be open before the Super Bowl, will be more of that sports bar environment with fried foods, appetizers and buffalo wings.

Delicious dining

Those looking for other dining experiences have numerous other choices in the French Lick-West Baden area.

The three resorts have their own dining areas, and all are open to the general public. In recent years, an effort has been made to keep these options affordable for outside guests.

One of the true culinary highlights of the town is 1875: The Steakhouse in French Lick Springs Resort. Named for the year of the first Kentucky Derby, which brought many people to French Lick, the restaurant offers fine dining in an open kitchen and adds a unique twist to comfort foods.

House specialties include a signature tomato juice tasting - as the beverage was first served for public consumption in the town - and baked lobster macaroni and cheese.

French Lick Springs Resort also features The Grand Colonnade Family Restaurant, Power Plant Bar, Pluto's Pizzeria and more.

At West Baden Springs Resort, guests and visitors can dine at Sinclair's, the resort's fine dining establishment, and The Café, which serves a wide range of breakfast and lunch meals. Other dining centers include a bar, coffee shop and snack shop.

Big Splash Adventure also has three restaurants of its own, mostly geared toward family dining, as is the resort itself.

For those looking to branch out more into town, there are other dining options. French Lick Winery serves a variety of salad, sandwiches and pasta, in addition to selling and hosting tastings of its 22 different wines.

Part of the winery's specialty is its sourdough bread, made from a culture imported from Italy. The bread forms the foundation for pizza crust, garlic bread, croutons and more.

Kim Doty, owner of the winery, has witnessed the redevelopment of French Lick firsthand. The winery opened in 1995 and moved to its present location in 2005, around the time the resort renovations began. Now, she has plans to expand her wine selection, doubling the size of the off-site vineyard.

"It's really exciting to see it all coming in," she said.

Another of the area's specialty restaurants is Black Buggy Amish Buffet. The restaurant recently changed ownership and has been building a reputation in the region.

The restaurant caters to a mostly older crowd looking for that country-style meal. Food is all prepared by Amish cooks.

"It's home-style cooking like mom and dad used to make," said manager Carlin Conrad.

Plans are in place to add a gift shop selling Amish-made baked goods, hats, baskets and furniture.

Fun for the family

An added benefit of the Amish buffet comes in the form of the handy post-meal activities. The restaurant shares a building with French Lick-West Baden Indoor Karting.

That venue allows drivers ages 8 and older to get behind the wheel of a high-speed go-kart and race on a quarter-mile track, complete with sharp turns and long stretches that allow for maximum acceleration. Karts come in two types, ones that go up to 40 miles per hour for adults and junior versions that max out at 20 mph for younger riders.

Conrad, who also manages the karting facility, said plans are in place to expand the facility in the coming months. Among the expansion plans are a bouncy house for young children, an outdoor track, a second indoor track for drivers ages 5 to 8 and a zipline.

"We try to do whole-family entertainment," Conrad said. "The addition of the water park and the go-karting has made it a real family-friendly

atmosphere. There's a lot to do now."

Big Splash also has ongoing developments, including indoor and outdoor mini golf and laser tag facilities.

The French Lick-West Baden area has two museums, creating educational outreach opportunities, as well. The French Lick-West Baden Museum, which opened in June, has a number of rotating and regular exhibits tracing the region's past.

Items such as gambling equipment from the town's early days and memorabilia of famous natives like Larry Bird are on display. A true highlight of the museum's collection is a miniature set depicting the circus that once operated at West Baden Springs Hotel. The display case fills an entire room in the museum; nevertheless, it holds only one-third of the pieces.

The Indiana Railway Museum displays items from that part of Orange County's past. At one time, 14 trains rolled into French Lick and West Baden daily, bringing guests to the region's two world-class resorts.

Today, guests can take a scenic ride of a train that goes out into the Indiana countryside. During the fall and winter season, the train is converted to the fabled vessel from "The Polar Express," a book by Chris Van Allsburg and animated movie starring Tom Hanks.

The city also hosts a variety of special events throughout the year. No matter the season, there's something for families and visitors of all ages to experience in the French Lick area.

 

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