Music first at the Rail

Johnny Commorato helped make bar a national venue

Johnny Commorato, photography by Ellie Bogue

To describe The Brass Rail as a “dive bar” doesn’t quite do it justice. It is, indeed, a bar where perhaps looking like a cleaning products commercial isn’t the first consideration. But music is the first consideration, and The Brass Rail is becoming known across the country as THE place to hear punk, outlaw country, metal and rock bands that often don’t start playing until after midnight.

Overseeing it all are the bar’s co-owners, Johnny Commorato and Corey Rader, who bought the Broadway bar when the city needed their home on Ewing Street to build the TinCaps baseball stadium. The pair used the proceeds to buy the bar in 2007 and began finding ways to bribe or trick bands traveling the country to stop in Fort Wayne.

“I didn’t want to be in the bar business,” Commorato admitted. “I wanted to continue with a more permanent space (my) Art Attacks project.”

Commorato’s Art Attacks include spoken-word poetry, live audio production and other media. But The Rail takes up a lot of time, too, he said.

“What makes us a national venue is that we’re open seven days a week – despite our stage being the size of most venue’s bathrooms – and we’re willing to have a show any day,” Commorato said.

The first “real” show was Dead Moon, the brainchild of Commorato’s friend Matt Cotton.

“We did it just to generate interest,” Commorato said, “(Matt) had the connections, (another person) did the posters, I did the door. We weren’t sure we were gonna make it. In the end we had to turn people away.”

The building that houses The Brass Rail was built probably around the turn of the 20th century (as evidenced by the stamped tin ceiling still in place). It’s not fancy, and indeed, the upstairs “green room” for performers to prepare is about as bare bones as you can get.

And there’s not a lot of seating at The Rail, which is OK, since most of the people just want to move their bodies to the beat. The Rail’s merry band of employees serve up beer and shots, and Commorato runs a “sound board” that sits on a piece of Plexiglass on top of a foosball table while bands like Agent Orange and Murder By Death squeeze themselves onto a raised platform that can’t be more than about 10 by 20 feet. The bar’s allowed to have 130 people by fire code, and you’ll see people spilling out into the street to grab a smoke when the bands break.

Or folks will have dinner across the street at The Phoenix and then jam themselves onto one of The Rail’s barstools by its battered wooden bar and scream with the music. It’s not a quiet place, except early in the day, but by 10 p.m., the joint’s jumping and hipsters and punks and middle-aged professors and occasionally a lost tourist or two will be pulsing with the music that blares from the sound system.

This is the Brass Rail, and if you’ve never been, well, maybe it’s not for you.

First appeared in the May 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.


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