Red Key Tavern39.846928, -86.146118

Write a short passage describing how this place inspires you.
Dan Wakefield

The Broad Ripple neighborhood’s Red Key Tavern plays a central role in Dan Wakefield’s novel Going All the Way.


Dan Wakefield
b. 1932

Literary Inspiration

Going All the Way

Published 1970


5170 North College Avenue

Indianapolis, IN 46205

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Going All the Way

Dan Wakefield

“I’m going to the Red Key,” he said.


“The Red Key,” he shouted. “Over on College and Fifty-fourth Street.”

“The tavern?”

“It’s a bar.”

“You’re going there in the afternoon?”

“I’m meeting a guy.”

“Are you sure they’re open—in the afternoon?”

Sonny took a deep breath. “I’m sure.”

She drove him there in silence and let him off right smack in front of the place even though he said the corner’d be fine. He would just as soon not have Gunner see him getting out of the car door that said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He sort of slinked out of the wagon and walked to the bar with his head bent down.

It was cool and dim inside, and smelled very beery. Sonny liked it. The Red Key didn’t seem like any special sort of place, unless you knew that Wilks Wilkerson and Blow Mahoney and a lot of the other Big Rod jocks who used to go to Shortley hung out there after work when they had summer construction jobs to make a lot of money and keep in shape. Sonny used to really envy those guys who could casually say, “Yeh, I’m workin’ construction this summer.” They wore dirty T-shirts and faded khakis slung low on their hips, and they were always whipping out a grimy snot rag that was stuffed in a hip pocket and give the nose a terrific, noisy blow, just like the regular construction guys did. It showed they were real men.


The Red Key has been loved in song and story for many years. We were always proud of this place, and a lot of stories here, a lot of mythology.

You have to have a feeling for a place to be able to write about it with any success. . . .

One thing that’s unusual about the Red Key, there’s a very warm quality about it. I mean, you feel like you walk in there, you’re in a safe space and a friendly space. There’s sort of a nice feeling of you’re being taken care of and you’re taking care of other people when you’re here. Maybe that’s true of the city as a whole. It was a very protective, warm feeling.

—Dan Wakefield

Going All the Way is about what hell it is to be oversexed in Indianapolis, and why so many oversexed people run from away from there. It is also about the narrowness and dimness of many lives out that way. And I guarantee you this: Wakefield himself, having written this book, can never go home again. From now on, he will have to watch the 500-mile Speedway race on television.

—Kurt Vonnegut, novelist and friend of Dan Wakefield,
in Life magazine, July 17, 1970

Dan Wakefield is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter who lives in Indianapolis. He began his career as a civil rights reporter for The Nation, The Atlantic, Esquire and The New York Times. His books include Going All the WayStarting Over and many other works of fiction and nonfictionWakefield created the NBC prime-time TV series James at 15, and Starting Over and Going All the Way became feature films. Learn more about Dan at 


Indianapolis is a place that inspires creativity. This is one of a dozen original pieces of visual and performing art created by Hoosier artists inspired by Bookmark Indy authors.

Jamie Pawlus - custom neon art in response to Dan Wakefield's work

Jamie Pawlus

Don’t ruin it for everyone else
Neon sign 

For artist Jamie Pawlus, the red neon key atop the Red Key Tavern serves as a perfect metaphor for the conversations between Sonny and Gunner, the main characters in Dan Wakefield’s novel Going All the Way. The young men struggle to determine the rest of their lives, understand love and figure out how to engage with women—or, in other words, to find “the key” to life’s myriad mysteries and challenges. Pawlus frequently creates works that reflect her (often humorous) inner dialogue, so she was inspired by a scene in the novel when Sonny fled during a disastrous sexploitleaving Gunner behind, while “the place where the terrible movies ran through his head lit up with a neon sign that said Don’t ruin it for everyone else. Pawlus’s work, then, makes visible and tangible Sonny’s inner turmoil and nods to the enduring legacy of the Red Key neon sign. 

red key tavern

5170 North College Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46205


Closest IndyGo Stops: 

52nd Street & College Avenue (Route 19)

52nd Street Red Line Station


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The podcast Naptown, Season One: Dan Wakefield with host Susan Neville features interviews between Susan and Dan. Listen here.

Report Back.

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Added TEXTure.

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In the Margins.

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Found sound.

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Backward / Forward.

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Find another perspective by walking to a different spot around this location. Do you notice anything new? Which of your five senses notices a change first?

Strike a Prose.

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Love Letter / BreakUp Letter.

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Field Notes.

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