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Best of… COCKTAILS

HT2 Cocktail Lounge’s Stay Woke seasonal winter cocktail.
An Old Fashioned from Welch’s Ale House.
Baker Street’s Blueberry Lemon Drop martini.

Behind the bar, the craft cocktail movement has a lot in common with the popularity of farm-to-fork – the freshest ingredients, exquisite craftsmanship and balanced flavors. And when it comes to raising a glass, Fort Wayne has lots of options.

Prohibition-themed cocktail bars are all the rage these days. Patrons get to pretend to do something illicit without having to fear Elliot Ness barging in and arresting them. Hideout 125 is Fort Wayne’s prohibition-themed cocktail bar. Thankfully, it’s hiding in plain sight. Modern speakeasies are, of course, a lot easier to find than their progenitors. Try Hide-out 125’s Pisco Smash which features pisco (a South American brandy), spiced pear liqueur, lemon, sage and butternut squash. 10350 Coldwater Road, 260.206.6192, hideout125.com

Club Soda was THE sophisticated downtown place for the enjoyment of cocktails before there were a whole lot of sophisticated downtown places for the enjoyment of cocktails. If James Bond were ever sent to Fort Wayne on a mission, Club Soda is where he would go to get his signature martini. It offers many original cocktails that have become stalwarts during the restaurant’s long existence. But are you experienced enough to have had the Jimi Hendrix-themed Purple Haze? It features blue curacao and cranberry juice. 235 E. Superior Street, 260.426.3442, clubsodafortwayne.com

When Calhoun Street Soups Salads & Spirits reopened as Welch’s Ale House, some people assumed the new name referred to the grape juice company. In fact, the building that houses the new eatery and nightspot originally housed Welch’s Hardware, which opened in 1901.

Behind the bar, Calhoun Street Soups Salads & Spirits was always known as one of the better places in town to get expertly-made classic cocktails, and that doesn’t look like it’s changed under the new management. 1915 South Calhoun Street, 260.456.6542, welchsalehouse.com

Cocktails Lounge strategically hearkens back to the mid-20th century heyday of the cocktail lounge. Its stained-glass accents, raised conversation area and middle-of-the-room fireplace really makes a patron feel like he or she has returned to a time when the Rat Pack was still doo-be-doo-be-doing its thing. It is known for its seasonal cocktails with names so naughty they can’t be printed. One of the more tamely-named is Rita’s Pushup, which involves a combination of marshmallow and orange vodka. 6135 Plantation Lane, 260.486.8000

Wine Down recently rebranded itself as the Copper Spoon. Heading up the kitchen is Aaron Butts, formerly of Joseph Decuis and The Golden, and twice a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation’s Best Regionals Chefs in America competition. So the Copper Spoon has more going for it than ever: wine-dispensing vending machines, a nationally-recognized chef, and master mixologists behind the bar. It offers 104 classic cocktails. That’s 73 more taste sensations than Baskin Robbins offered when you were a kid, but adults are understandably more jaded about taste sensations than children. Luckily, the Copper Spoon knows how to make adults feel like kids again, and to no one’s surprise, its strategy involves alcohol. Copper Spoon’s drinks menu (which has its own table of contents) features handy guides detailing how adventurous and heavy each drink is. 301 W. Jefferson Boulevard, 260.755.1019, copperspoonfw.com

HT2 Cocktail Lounge’s name here refers to the Indianapolis’ Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery, from which HT2 procures its spirits. Its menu of mules, cocktails and seasonal special drinks will keep you warm through the coldest winter months. Try a drink called Let the Games Begin, which features rosemary-infused gin and elderflower liqueur. 10212 Chestnut Plaza Drive, 260.616.0444, ht2fw.com

Three Rivers Distilling Company is the first Fort Wayne distillery to open since the end of Prohibition. It aims to become a national powerhouse in the spirits business, so you should have drinks at its tasting room. That way, you’ll have something to brag about to your out-of-town friends later. The fall cocktail menu is broken down into spirit categories – as in, the spirits that provide the drinks’ base. Bourbon drinks can be smoked upon request. Thankfully, smoking a cocktail is not prohibited under the city’s smoking ban. 224 E. Wallace Street, 260.745.9355, threeriversdistilling.com

Baker Street, according to the late Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, is a place where you “drink the night away and forget about everything.” Fort Wayne’s Baker Street is a lot more memorable. It is not merely one of the best places in town to get expertly-prepared cuts of beef – Baker Street also offers fine wines and inventive martinis. Try the Blueberry Lemon Drop martini, which includes blueberry vodka, fresh blueberries and Limoncello, an Italian liqueur. 4820 N. Clinton Street, 260.484.3300, bakerstreetfortwayne.com

Old Crown’s tag line is “Coffee, treats and booze, oh my!” That’s a Wizard of Oz reference, in case you didn’t recognize it. Dorothy Gale was afraid when she said her version of that quote, but there’s nothing to fear at Old Crown. It is the place to go for superlative coffee, ingenious food and authentic cocktails. 3417 N. Anthony Boulevard, 260.422.5282, oldcrown.com

The seafood restaurant Paula’s on Main is known for its vast wine list, imaginative martinis and specialty cocktails. Try the Mermaid, a martini made with Svedka Strawberry Colada Vodka and Blue Curacao. 1732 W. Main Street, 260.424.2300, paulasonmain.com

Eddie Merlot’s is a national fine-dining chain that opened in Fort Wayne in 2001. Everything the restaurant does, it does well. It has an impressive wine list and scintillating specialty cocktails. Try the Cucumber Vesper (a cucumber-infused version of the Vesper Martini), the Burnt Orange Manhattan or the Spiced Cherry Mule. 1502 Illinois Road South, 260.459.2222, eddiemerlots.com

The Trolley Steaks and Seafood’s bar has deep roots in the Fort Wayne food and drink scene. The original version of this establishment opened in 1890, but these days, it earns high marks for its steaks, seafood, salad bar and specialty cocktails. Try the drink known as the Desperate Housewife (Stoli caramel vodka combined with white chocolate). It will make you less desperate, even if you aren’t a housewife. 2898 E. Dupont Road, 260.490.4322, trolleysteaksandseafood.com

Catablu originally opened in 1998 on Broadway in a renovated theater. Roughly a decade later, it moved to Covington Plaza, and it’s still one of the best places in town to get inventive fare that won’t break the bank, such as Lobster tacos which are currently on the menu. Regarding its cocktail offerings, Catablu devotees suggest the Nuts and Berries martini. 6372 W. Jefferson Boulevard, 260.456.6563, thecatablugrille.com

Chop’s and Chop’s Wine Bar (adjacent to each other in the Village at Times Corners) are two sides of the same culinary coin: One is a fine-dining restaurant, and the other is a more intimate place devoted to small plates and superior wines. The martini list at Chop’s features something called Electric Lemonade – it involves citrus-flavored vodka, Hpnotiq liqueur, Blue Curacao and lemonade. 6417 W. Jefferson Boulevard, 260.436.9227, chopsdine.com and chopswine.com

Cork ‘N Cleaver was once part of a national chain of fine-dining restaurants. Only the Fort Wayne and Evansville locations remain. Long before the farm-to-fork movement reached Fort Wayne, Cork ‘N Cleaver was showing northeast Indiana residents what first-class cuisine means, and that expertise extends to its list of specialty cocktails. Take a gander at The Watchtower, an intriguing blend of gin, elderflower liqueur, sparkling wine and muddled cucumber. 221 E. Washington Center Road, 260.484.7772, corkncleaveronline.com

In a 2017 USA Today poll, Two-EE’s Winery was voted America’s Best Tasting Room. It is, indeed, a marvel. Inside, it’s sleek and sophisticated. Outdoors in the summer, it’s one of the best open-air places in northeast Indiana to enjoy some of the best wines in the state. 6808 US-24, Huntington, 260.672.2000, twoees.com

Country Heritage Winery recently added a sizable outdoor area with a small amphitheater, fire pits and tables. Such amenities are seasonal, of course, but now we have something to look forward to. Country Heritage won Indiana Farm Winery of The Year in 2015 and 2016 – just two of its many awards. The ambience of its tasting room and environs is charmingly rustic, with vineyards visible from many sipping spots. 185 County Road 68, Laotto, 260.637.2980, countryheritagewinery.com

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