The Slippery Noodle Inn and the History of Alcohol in Indianapolis

The Slippery Noodle Inn is located on the northwest corner of the Meridian and South Street intersection, three blocks east of Lucas Oil Stadium. It is one of the oldest bars in the state of Indiana. Liquor has been either served or produced in this building, under various names and owners, since the 1850s. Step inside, order a drink (stiff or otherwise), and learn a bit about the history of alcohol in Indianapolis.

The Temperance Movement (1855-1900)

Per person alcohol consumption in the United States during the 19th century reached a height of excess—by 1830, annual per capita consumption of alcohol (the amount an average person drank in one year) was over five gallons, almost three times greater than it is today. Women, who blamed this heavy alcohol consumption for crime, gambling, and domestic violence, led a reform movement to reduce or prohibit alcohol consumption. Organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League formed in the second half of the nineteenth century to combat the social ills of excessive drinking, supported by local religious communities. These reformers were known as prohibitionists, because they advocated for the prohibition—illegalization—of alcohol. They managed to pass a law in Indiana in 1855 all but banning the production and sale of alcohol for non-medicinal use in the state. But the law didn’t stick: just three years later, the Indiana Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

Moving Toward National Prohibition (1875-1920)

Although the 1855 prohibition law did not last, Indiana did become steadily more anti-liquor in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Reformers continued to advocate in Indianapolis, where a statewide temperance convention was held at a Baptist church in 1876. In 1907, the state passed strict legislation against the operation of “blind tigers,” illegally-operating bars, without proper permits. During World War I, Prohibition advocates argued that liquor production co-opted valuable grain resources that should be used to feed America’s European allies, and German-owned saloons here in the city faced prejudice. With the support of the Indiana Anti-Saloon League, Indiana passed a new ban on liquor on April 2, 1918, making it the twenty-fifth state to do so. The movement to reduce alcohol consumption was of national interest, and in 1920 the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution made the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol illegal in all fifty states. Indiana took national prohibition a step further--in 1925, in an effort to curb demand as well as supply, the Wright “Bone-Dry” Law made it illegal to buy and drink alcohol, not just make it or sell it.

Crime and Punishment (1918-1933)

If Prohibition ended the violence and gambling that happened out in the open at saloons, it created a new kind of crime. Across the country, bootleggers produced liquor in secret distilleries and served patrons at speakeasies, while some corrupt politicians were paid handsomely to look the other way. Indianapolis was no exception. Bootleg liquor flowed in and out of the city, from Chicago, Detroit, and stills (the instruments used to turn yeast, water, and sugar into moonshine) hidden in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. Restaurants, pool halls, and barbershops were fronts for underground trade in alcohol and gambling, and the police force expanded in a futile attempt to control it. The Indiana Ku Klux Klan took an active role in prohibition enforcement, trying to rebrand the organization as a proponent of patriotism and traditional moral values.

Alcohol in Indianapolis Today

Thanks to its unenforceability and the detrimental effects of lost tax dollars, national prohibition ended on December 5, 1933. However, Indiana’s relationship with alcohol has remained complicated. Thanks to some of the strictest blue laws (religious-based laws prohibiting certain kinds of shopping) in the country, it is still illegal to buy alcohol from a retail store on Sundays in Indiana. Here at the Slippery Noodle, however, you can grab a drink any day of the week.