INDIANAPOLIS — Big Ten fans continue to surge into downtown Indianapolis for the second day of tournament action. Downtown restaurants and bars have seen huge crowds so far and are expecting them to get even bigger going into this weekend.

”People have been really cordial, really nice, I think. Supportive of all the local businesses,” said Kels Watson, the owner of Sauce on the Side. Sauce on the Side opened just a few months before the pandemic changes really started to happen in March 2020. Watson said it’s been great to see downtown Indy get back to normal these last few months.

“It’s been a really active, man,” Watson said. “Downtown looks so much more vibrant. It’s awesome to see the activity that’s going on.” Especially nice after all the struggles Sauce on the Side, and other bars and restaurants, have gone through in the past two years.

”I remember days where you could find a parking spot anywhere, because nobody was downtown, so it’s really nice to have the community back,” Watson said.

The Big Ten Tournament also means a reunion for some die hard fans. “Every year me and my five best friends in the universe go to Indianapolis or Chicago to watch Illinois basketball,” said Scott Manger, an Illinois fan.

Manger flew in from California to meet up with his buddies for their first Big Ten Tournament since before the pandemic. Manger said they’re big fans of Indianapolis.

Manger and college friends reunite every year for the Big Ten Basketball tournament

“We would like it to be here every single year, way better than Chicago,” he said. “I love Chicago, but Indianapolis is better.”

The feeling is mutual for a lot of the visitors who say the atmosphere has been great. “I feel almost more energized being out here than I was before, because you know we missed it two years ago and I was excited then and now to have everyone back out here, ready to go, it feels good,” said Jordan Bontrager, a Hawkeye fan who drove in from Iowa City.

Going into the weekend, restaurants and bars are expecting huge crowds and long wait times – but they’re ready. “We’re already on an 1:45 wait time, we’ve been packed non-stop but it’s really nice to see fans coming here and supporting local businesses,” said Lucas Riley, the General Manager at Gallery Pastry Bar.

Gallery Pastry Bar opened during one of the first COVID-19 spikes in the beginning of the pandemic. Riley said there were tough times during the pandemic but they customers have been good recently. “Now it’s crazy every weekend,” Riley said. “We’ve really built that up for the business that we have been getting and that we foresee in the future.”

Everyone in Indy is excited for a huge sports weekend, that feels like normal.