The Book Nook played a major role in Hoagy’s social life and musical career. A soda and sandwich shop popular among Indiana University students, the Book Nook was frequented by campus musicians who kept strict control over who was allowed to play the piano on site. When he was still in high school, Hoagy, who was already performing at local dances, began to spend time at the Book Nook as a “townie” outsider. One night he was invited to play the piano alongside Big Man on Campus Batty DeMarcus on saxophone. Hoagy’s performance won Batty’s approval, and he thereafter became an accepted member of the Book Nook inner circle. He became even more ensconced in the Book Nook community after he enrolled at IU in fall 1920.
One influential friend of these years was William Moenkhaus. Moenkhaus had spent much of his childhood in Germany and Switzerland where he was exposed to the Dadaist art movement, with its rejection of bourgeois values and embrace of the absurd. Moenkhaus was a serious student of classical music and composition at IU, but outside of his formal studies he wrote whimsical, avant-garde pieces for The Vagabond campus magazine (under the pseudonym Wolfgang Beethoven Bunkhouse). He became the leader of a group of like-minded pranksters and rebels against conformity known as the Bent Eagles. Hot jazz, with its avant-garde, cross-racial overtones, fit in with Moenkhaus’s aesthetic, and Hoagy (a.k.a. Hogwash McCorkle) became a core member of the group, whose home base was the Book Nook. In June 1928, the Bent Eagles staged a Mock Graduation ceremony at the Book Nook, during which Hoagy was awarded a D.D. or "Doctor of Discord" degree. Hoagy, wearing a bathrobe and playing the cornet, participated in the “commencement” parade.
Hoagy spent many hours playing the Book Nook piano. According to legend, some of his first tunes were composed on it, including “Star Dust.” In his memoir Sometimes I Wonder, Hoagy claims that he was sitting on the “spooning wall” on the edge of campus one night in 1926, nursing a bruised heart after being jilted by Kathryn Moore, when the tune suddenly came to him. He ran to the Book Nook to work out the melody on the piano. Biographer Richard Sudhalter notes discrepancies in Hoagy’s and other people’s varying accounts of the composition and evolution of “Star Dust,” but he says that the Book Nook piano may well have been one of several Hoagy employed in developing his signature tune.
When asked how to write a song, Hoagy said, “If you knew how to compose you wouldn’t be a composer. You don’t write the melodies. You find them. They lie there on the keys waiting for you. They have been there for centuries, and you are a composer or a writer if you know when you’ve found one.”
Despite the importance of jazz for these noncomformists, Hoagy Carmichael and the other musicians playing at the Book Nook were playing for an all-white audience. Like most establishments of the time, it was racially segregated and did not permit Black customers. It would remain segregated until 1947, when Black IU student and football player George Taliaferro integrated the restaurant.