Best of: Fort Wayne Cocktail Hours
We may be able to buy booze on Sundays now, but there are still no Happy Hours in Indiana.
Oh, there are plenty of happy hours and happy late afternoons spent at bars and lounges. But the traditional Happy Hour, featuring drinks discounted for a short time, has been outlawed in Indiana. Retailers are allowed to offer all-day drink specials, but not part-of-the-day drink specials.
It is doubtful that Indiana’s lack of part-of-the-day drink specials has stopped a single Fort Wayne resident from meeting friends for a drink after work at a local watering hole.
And some of these watering holes do offer happy hour food specials.
Here is a guide to some of the best places in town to meet friends after a hard day in the trenches.
For the better part of four decades, Henry’s has been the principal hangout for actors, artists and newspaper folk. It may be Fort Wayne’s quintessential neighborhood bar – as vital to the city’s identity as Cheers was to Boston in that popular sitcom of the 1980s. Devotees of Henry’s will tell you that the longtime waitstaff is far more memorable, alluring and eccentric than the Cheers characters. Excellent, yet pricey, eateries keep popping up all over Fort Wayne. It’s an exciting trend that is to be encouraged. But one of the selling points of Henry’s is that the food is dependably good without being terribly expensive. It’s nice to know that one can always go to Henry’s and get a fantastic meal at a relatively modest price. Henry’s used to open around noon back in the days when journalists drank their lunches. It isn’t open for lunch anymore and newspaper people have more forbearance. But Henry’s rich history imbues the place and you will want to bask in it. 536 W. Main Street, 260.426.0531, henrysfortwayne.com
Tolon is Fort Wayne’s first real farm-to-fork success story, a restaurant that offers familiar yet surprising spins on classic fare comprised of the freshest ingredients. It also recently started a happy hour-type program called Tolon After Work. From 3 – 6 pm on weekdays, appetizers are half off. Notable appetizers and cocktails include the miso deviled eggs, the duck fat frites, the Smoked Sazerac (rye and absinthe), the Green Chile Mule (with green chile vodka) and the Tolon Smash (bourbon and strawberry basil cordial). 614 S. Harrison Street, 260.399.5128, tolonrestaurant.com
Trubble Brewing gives off an unapologetic hipster vibe: loud music, open floor plan. It’s owners are boldly experimental with bar food and beer: The menu items and drink options change regularly, but here are a few things Trubble has offered in the past: Kimchi French Fries, Black Bean French Fries, Trub Puppies (pub cheese made into hush puppies), Beer-Vinegar Chicken, Marshmallow Stout and Peanut Butter Stout. 2725 Broadway, 260.267.6082, trubblebrewing.com
A relative newcomer to the Fort Wayne dining scene and an unusual one: Junk Ditch Brewery is a brewery that also aspires to be a top-notch farm-to-fork restaurant. Most patrons agree that it does all things with aplomb. People dropping by after work will always find enticing small plate options. On a recent visit, the chef was doing many interesting things with shishitos, which are generally sweet Japanese peppers. The operative word there is generally. Every so often, the bartender told me, a shishito will be insanely hot, for reasons known only to Japanese horticulturalists. The beer selection is tops: “We don’t do crazy beers. Just well-made beers.” Junk Ditch’s décor is urban rustic – exposed brick, granite-topped bar, visible ductwork, artfully distressed wooden tables, etc. It’s industrial without being cold. 1825 W. Main Street, 260.203.4045, junkditchbrewingco.com
Summit City Brewerks is like that tousled friend who always has great beer in his fridge and great snacks in his cupboard. The neighborhood favorite opened two years ago in the former home of the Wayne Candies factory. And one of the singular charms of the place is that it has retained its factory feel. There are 33 in-house beers on the menu, some of them incorporating such flavors as cucumber, lime, peanut, pineapple, mango and guava. Brewerks’ collection of wacky hot dogs may cause conniptions among local foodies, but denying their tastiness is like denying the cuteness of kittens. 1501 E. Berry Street #106, 260.420.0222, summitcitybrewerks.com
There are many fine Hall family eateries in town, but Hall’s Old Gas House stands out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s The Deck, which started in 2004 as Nick’s Riverside Lounge. In 2007, a 900-square-foot deck with an outdoor bar was added. It is safe to claim that The Deck is among the most popular summer hangouts in town. Coworkers meet there for lunch and come back the same day after work for a drink. The ambiance is unbeatable. Riverside development in Fort Wayne is proceeding apace, but the deck is still one of the few places in town where you can grab a drink while paying tribute to a natural tributary. The deck has its own menu, separate from the one proffered in the nearby Gas House, and all items get high marks. However, The Gas House has something The deck doesn’t: a special bar menu available from 3 – 6 p. and 9 pm to close. The menu is divided up into $4, $5 and $6 sections and features such delectations as filet mignon sliders, brisket tacos and a crab cake BLT. The Gas House’s wonderful bar area has long been admired and frequented by local theater types, so it is not at all unusual to encounter an entire cast of a show after opening night. 305 E. Superior Street, 260.426.3411, donhalls.com/the-gas-house
With local breweries proliferating like mushrooms in the woods after a warm rain, it is easy to forget the granddaddy of the brewing arts in Fort Wayne: Mad Anthony Brewing Company. Go in after work for a beer flight and some intriguing appetizers, including jambalaya potato skins (with shrimp and sausage), beer cheese crawfish dip, smoked whitefish dip and Gorgonzola waffle fries. And most importantly are the Scooby Snacks (fried potato wedges dusted with Old Bay seasoning), a carryover from the menu of the Munchie Emporium, the restaurant that formerly occupied the Mad Anthony site. Rumor has it that the Scooby Snacks were retained because they are an uncommonly ideal snack (strong and salty) to eat while drinking refreshing beer. 2002 Broadway, 260.426.2537, madbrew.com
When it opened in 1999 in the former Indiana Textiles Building on Superior Street near Headwaters Park, Club Soda was a martinis-and-jazz joint unlike anything the city had seen for several decades. Downtown Fort Wayne has acquired a great deal more sophistication since then, but Club Soda is still special: posh yet warm, chic yet cozy. Its appetizers and drinks are perfect for an after-work nosh and confab: the duck spring rolls, the pot roast poutine, the bacon-wrapped scallops, the cucumber-mint gimlet and the Third Coast Iced Coffee (with KOVAL Chicago Bourbon and Trader Vic’s Kona Coffee Liqueur) are just a few of the peerless offerings. Actor and pilot Harrison Ford stopped by Club Soda in 2002 after his plane was forced to land at Fort Wayne International Airport. Pedigrees don’t get much more illustrious than that. (Shown above is its cocktail “The Slope”: bourbon, luxardo, sweet vermouth, apricot liquer and orange bitters.) 232 E. Superior Street, 260.426.3442, clubsodafortwayne.com
Eddie Merlot’s is generally a spectacularly good but unapologetically pricy place to get the best steaks, wines and liquors. But there is a wonderful loophole here that not many people are aware of: the lounge menu.
The lounge menu (available Monday through Thursday) has 13 appetizers that are $9 or less and six gourmet burgers with fries that are $19 or less. It also features $6 cocktails and glasses of wine and $7 martinis. The ambience in the lounge is evocative of classic hotel bars in New York City like the Madison Club Lounge or Bemelmans Bar in the Hotel Carlyle.
Eddie Merlot’s is a posh after-work alternative to a local brewpub. 1502 Illinois Road South, 260.459.2222, eddiemerlots.com
If you are a fan of wine, you probably couldn’t find a better after-work spot than Wine Down Tastings & Tapas. It offers the option of using an in-house charge card and choosing samples from a bewildering array of wines situated in various vending machines.
As for food, Wine Down specializes in small plates (upscale appetizers) and it’s some of the best finger food in town. It also offers very refined cheese and an old world boards filled with artisan cheeses, fresh fruit, old world meats and such — the perfect accompaniment to a couple of glasses of vino.
Wine Down also has an outdoor component called the Sidecar. It’s opens at 5 pm daily during the summer months and offers its own menu featuring the street food of many cultures (the Caribbean, Spain, Japan, Hawaii and India among them). The cocktail menu runs from Tiki drinks to daily specials. 301 W. Jefferson Boulevard, 260.755.1019, winedownfw.com
Fort Wayne’s only true Irish pub, JK O’Donnells is the place to get bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage, curry and chips and a full Irish breakfast.
Its shareable offerings include Scotch eggs, hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, deep fried and served with a honey mustard sauce; fried pickles, beer battered pickle spears; and smoked cod dip, peat-smoked cod dip served with vegetables and pita bread.
Another interesting feature of the establishment is its status as the area’s only European sports bar. People interested in broadcasts of rugby and soccer matches will find them available for viewing at JK O’Donnells. Andrew Constantine, the British-born maestro of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, has been known to watch games there. 121 W. Wayne Street, 260.420.5563, jkodonnells.com
Cocktails is a charmingly retro martini bar with stained glass accents, a raised conversation area and a middle-of-the-room fireplace. It opens daily at 3 pm, which makes it perfect for people seeking a happy hour-type experience.
Notable menu items include seasoned oyster crackers, believe it or not. It sounds crazy, but everybody who tries these crackers raves about them. Additional specialties: the focaccia pizza, the barbecued pork roll, barbecued chicken roll and the Uncle Louis, which is a hot Italian grinder comprised of homemade and other top-quality ingredients.
As for the martinis, co-owner Rita Tsuleff described a few and it became clear that some of them have ribald names that can’t be reprinted here. “People just like to say that,” said Tsuleff, referring to one such naughty martini. “So, they just like to order it.” Tsuleff said she will be adding a special naughty martini to the menu in honor of the holidays. 6133 Plantation Lane, 260.486.8000
FYI…For those curious about those all-day drink specials, check out fortwaynedrinkspecials.com