Destinations

The History of the Vogue, Indianapolis's Most Storied Music Hall

A black and white photo of the front of an old timey movie theater.
Since its doors opened in 1938, The Vogue has served as a source of entertainment and excitement in Indiananapolis' Broad Ripple neighborhood. Photos courtesy of The Vogue.

What’s an old-theater-turned-nightclub supposed to do when it’s waiting for the ol’ liquor permit to come through? Back in 1977, roughly 40 years after the venue was built, Indianapolis’ The Vogue opted to screen pornographic films for audiences. It’s not the most intuitive answer, but in the ‘70s, just as X-rated films were at their mainstream peak, it turned out to be the perfect solution for the now-storied nightclub’s three-month interim.

The fact that it once put naughty flicks — including "Deep Throat" and "Hard Candy" — on the big screen is inarguably one of The Vogue’s claims to fame. However, this nearly 100-year-old establishment has gifted the local community with more valuable contributions than, ahem, learning how to untangle their tingles.

Two men in a black and white photo, one of whom is holding a sign that says "Good luck to Carl Niesse and The Vogue."Former Vaudeville writer Carl Niesse (left) opened The Vogue in 1938, and since then it's seen success of all kinds.

Since it fully transitioned into a nightclub, The Vogue has served as a major draw to the Broad Ripple neighborhood — a district of Indianapolis that’s home to numerous cafes, eateries and bars, and a popular hangout for university students.

It’s certainly a go-to for drinking and for grooving, and has repeatedly earned awards for being the best place to party and dance. First and foremost, though, The Vogue is known as a concert destination, hosting big names like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Pink, The Black Keys, John Mayer, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others. Its celebrity appeal and its long, colorful history have made The Vogue a staple of not only the Indy city, but the Midwest in general.

“We’ve earned the nickname of ‘The Lighthouse of Broad Ripple,’” says club owner Steven Ross, adding that “any type of art or mural depicting the city often includes The Vogue.”

And yes, with its flashing lights and traditional cinema marquee advertising upcoming concerts and events, The Vogue’s iconic façade makes it a no-brainer candidate for magazine covers and spreads. Inside you’ll find more of the same vintage charm, with a worn wooden stage in your immediate sight as you walk through the doors, and a gently creaking balcony, crafted from the same wood, that provides easy stage views.

The interior of The Vogue where a packed concert is being held. The Vogue is now a concert hall in addition to a nightclub, and it hosts acts as big as Johnny Cash, Snoop Dogg and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

But it’s not just the venue’s photogenic quality that has earned it assumed placement in cityscape murals. Nor is it popular just because such big names drop by. It’s the experiences it provides attendees that keep people buzzing and coming back, including the stars themselves. Speaking of which, you’d expect that a venue hosting some of the world’s most noted performers would be a massive one, but in this case you’d be wrong. The Vogue caps out at an audience of one thousand, making for an intimate experience for both the performer and the audience.

“The crowd is right there,” says Jason King, The Vogue’s entertainment manager. “You can see the legends up close, right there in front of you. They’re so close that you can almost smell them.”

Both the audience members and the performers feed off each other’s energy, notes King. “No matter who comes, they always have a great experience. Big names, local bands – everybody is proud to work here. To me, that’s what we’re all about.”

As for the drinks, the perfect complement to an intensely energized performance or dance session, The Vogue’s plan of attack is to keep things simple and efficient. It’s a small venue, which means it has a small bar, so serving a sold out crowd that doesn’t want to waste time standing in line for a drink requires some innovative menu planning.

A yellow nightclub with a marquee like an old movie theater.
The Vogue is nicknamed the "Lighthouse of Broad Ripple;” its iconic marquee is included in most any mural or artwork depicting the city.

Solution number one is to sell multiple drinks at once, which The Vogue does with their popular “Beer and a Buddy.” Order this and you’ll be handed a glass of beer (local selections included) and a shot of your choice liquor on the side. The second solution? Come up with an abbreviated list of drinks that are simple to whip up and advertise the heck out of them for easy ordering.

“Our venue is dark and loud, so our drinks and bartenders are built for speed,” says King. A couple popular drinks include the Rock Star, which combines Jameson whiskey with ginger ale over rocks; the Pineapple Upside Down Drink, where vanilla vodka meets pineapple and grenadine; and Sex on the Peach, a sweet marriage of peach schnapps, Malibu rum, orange juice and grenadine.

With its drinks, its dancing, its lurid history and star-pulling stage, The Vogue continues to serve the Midwest’s thirst for entertainment. And we’ll tell you one thing — venues with the ability to provide such an intimate setting with such iconic music veterans aren’t so easy to find these days. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in one, be it The Vogue or another, soak up those minutes the same way you savor your beverages.

Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter and photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. From Tel Aviv to Miami, from Prague to NYC, she enjoys sipping on well-crafted cocktails in all corners of the world.

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