As a lifelong, self-proclaimed camp kid, there are few things I love more than a cabin and the smell of a bonfire. Throw in a great cocktail? I’m sold. These simple pleasures were discovered when I entered Hotel Tango on a cold night in January, and I promptly claimed Hotel Tango as my new favorite spot. Hotel Tango is currently central Indiana’s only artisan distillery, and is the nation’s only service disabled combat veteran owned artisan distillery. A sign outside proudly says “No Mean Distillery”. The labels on their Hoosier homemade spirits read “For All.”
There’s a lot to love here.
Let’s start with the drinks. Hotel Tango distills rum, vodka, gin, moonshine and limoncello. Co-owner Brian Willsey informed me that whiskey is currently being aged. Fear not though, my fellow whiskey drinkers. If you’re more of a Ron Swanson, and subscribe to the idea that “clear alcohols are for rich women on diets”, Hotel Tango will gladly prove you wrong. I sipped an American Ass (please withhold all… smartass remarks), Hotel Tango’s take on the Moscow mule. Consisting of only a few ingredients- ginger beer, lime juice, mint and Hotel Tango’s own vodka, the American Ass is a simple and pleasing drink. I asked Brian his recommendations for first timers; for the vodka drinkers, Brian suggests Dexter’s Breakfast, an homage to the HBO serial killer (blood oranges are a main ingredient, for fairly obvious reasons). For rum fans, Brian says you can’t go wrong with the Revolution Rum (honey, lemon, pineapple, ginger, cayenne), which will help you picture yourself on an island with Captain Jack Sparrow.
Now normally it’s enough to review the drinks and the atmosphere and be on your way. But what makes Hotel Tango special is the story behind it. Hotel Tango is a co-owned Indiana gem, started by a coalition of friends, all with Indiana ties. Travis Barnes, having served three combat tours as a Marine, returned to Indy and became interested in the distilling world. (Fun fact: Hotel Tango got its name from the military phonetic alphabet.) He kept a close eye on the twists and turns of Indiana liquor legislation. In 2013, there was a six-month window where Indiana allowed craft distillers to obtain their license without being a brewery or winery first, so long as they obtained a permit by the end of the year. Travis, along with his wife Hilary, pulled together their friends, husband and wife duo Brian Willsey and Nabeela Virjee (Brian had just received his MBA, Nabeela was in law school), and friend Adam Willfond, who was also in law school. With a lot of hard work and hoop-jumping, the team got their permit the day before Thanksgiving in 2013. Hotel Tango spent almost a year renovating an 1890s carriage house to be the cozy cabin-esque hangout it is today, and the rest, as they say, is history.
When I stopped by Hotel Tango to speak with Willsey, the front garage door was open, the sun was shining, and the crowd was a mix of hipsters, baby boomers, and Willsey’s own grandparents. When they say they serve all, they mean it. Willsey wants everyone to know that the best thing you’ll get from Hotel Tango is a welcoming atmosphere and a stellar drink. Hotel Tango is proudly taking part in the Virginia Avenue Folk Festival, coming up on May 9th. There will be a stage in their parking lot, music until 7 pm, and good times to be had by all. But don’t wait to check out their space- swing by soon for some great spirits to lift your spirits.
702 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203
Written by: Molly Sender
Photo Credit: Hotel Tango