Fort Wayne, Indiana: Small City, Big Future

It may be Indiana’s second largest city but, nationwide, Fort Wayne clocks in at number 77, much more in line with its small-city/big-town appeal. Where larger cities have more distinct neighborhoods with unique personalities, Fort Wayne has neighboring counties with quaint charms equally as convenient for a quick lunch as a day trip or even an overnight, collectively comprising the northeast region of the state. With a burgeoning downtown area embracing the future of urban design more rapidly and readily than larger, overdeveloped cities ever could, it’s an art-filled, nature-forward, food-diverse example of savvy redevelopment, poised to welcome the travelers of tomorrow. Here’s how to scope out the top sights and bites of Fort Wayne and its surrounding towns in just a few days.

Where to Stay

Because of the city’s success in healthcare and a handful of manufacturing industries you’ll currently find a collection of business-oriented hotels in Fort Wayne, ranging from average to better, but the city’s first boutique hotel is on the way. The Bradley, a partnership with Provenance Hotels and Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder of Vera Bradley, headquartered here, is scheduled to open its sophisticated space of 124 rooms (including 9 designer suites) and rooftop bar in April, bringing a lifestyle approach to accommodation that’s currently scarce downtown. In the meantime, look for reliable comfort from the likes of Hyatt Place, Hilton and Hampton Inn.

Where to Eat & Drink

Farm-to-fork is now the name of the game at many of Fort Wayne’s better restaurants, but it started with Tolon, where a seasonal menu supplied by Midwestern farms features irresistible starters like duck fat frites in duck egg and basil aioli and crispy Brussels sprouts with pickled chiles, crispy onions and fish sauce before hearty entrées of pork chop with Boursin cheese and bacon butter over NoLa dirty rice or porcini rubbed ribeye with porcini miso butter. Servings are large, so be careful to save space for the indulgent bourbon ice cream sundae. For a unique breakfast experience, Cindy’s Diner is the city’s most quaint venue, with just 15 stools at its classic diner counter; “garbage” is the star of the menu (it’s basically an entire traditional diner breakfast all mashed together and grilled), and the adorable diner closes daily at 2, so don’t come late. For lunch, take time to appreciate Fort Wayne’s sizable Burmese population by stopping into one of the city’s many Burmese restaurants for a bite of authentic fare that’s hard to come by even in America’s most culinary-curious cities. Burmese noodle salad at Mahnin is a quick introduction to the cuisine’s distinct flavors, and you can eat it here or grab it to go for a fun al fresco lunch if the weather is agreeable. (If you’re traveling with someone food-shy, there’s plenty of Thai food here, too.)

There’s a considerable brewery presence in Fort Wayne, including the Hoppy Gnome gastropub where you can not only drink beer, but brew your own batch (don’t worry, they’ll ship it home to you when it’s finished). The local craft cocktail scene is equally strong, particularly at the Copper Spoon, where a 45-page drinks menu is enhanced by house-made syrups and a scientific approach to mixing. For sips and live music, head to The Club Room at The Clyde Theatre. Part of the Sweetwater family of businesses headquartered in Fort Wayne, The Club Room also serves casual American bites and may inspire you to visit the Sweetwater campus, well-worth a visit to shop, eat, record, learn or even just gawk.

What to See

You’ll find plenty of traditional culture from the Museum of Art, Botanical Conservatory, Philharmonic, historic theaters and even the state’s first professional ballet company, but its most modern and impressive community contributions are outdoors. Head to The Landing to see where Fort Wayne’s development is headed and encounter a mixed-use plaza of residences, restaurants and shops on a street that becomes pedestrian-only every evening and on weekends. While here, pop in to Utopian Coffee and sample brews from the socially conscious company that helps convert Columbian cocaine fields to coffee farms and works directly with its farmers for a relationship as beneficial to the suppliers as it is to the brand. Take your order to go and head to nearby Promenade Park for riverfront recreation including a canopy walk, amphitheater, kayaking and scenic strolls that highlight the city’s natural offerings in this sprawling and innovative $20 million public space that just opened last year and is inclusively designed for a remarkable range of mobilities and abilities. Finally, head back into town and explore the city’s alleyways (really). While largescale sculpture and full-wall murals can be found across the grid, the alleys reveal both the detail and scale of the city’s enviable public art push. In these previously ignored spaces, fresh murals span entire blocks, light installations enliven dark passages, mixed media works spring from walls, and even former windows and doors become industrial-chic frames for smaller public pieces, reclaiming and reinvigorating spaces generally considered dangerous and ugly in most other cities. From here, you’ll begin to notice artistic details citywide, like uniquely painted parking meters and functional sidewalk sculptures that double as bike racks. All cities have something to learn Fort Wayne’s understanding of how public art can shape a community (and hey, you’ll snap plenty of colorful Insta moments strolling around here, too).

Where to Venture

Before heading out of Fort Wayne, stop by 201 W. Wayne Street to take in a monumental mural from NYC-based Key Detail. This was Allen County’s contribution to the Make It Your Own Mural Trail, the 11-county region’s $250,000 project to bring a meaningful new mural to each county, and it creates a solid jumping-off point for venturing into the surrounding region. While you can take your pick of the 10 counties surrounding the city’s own, consider Huntington County just to the southwest of Fort Wayne.

Within the county, the city of Huntington is home to a quaint downtown shopping area of boutiques, antiques, and a serious soda selection at Antiqology, where around 700 varieties of bottled soda are typically available cold in a collection as visually engaging as it is delicious. Stop in and ask for a recommendation. Just down the street you’ll find Huntington County’s Make It Your Own mural, painted by America Carrillo and featuring two quails that subtly pay homage to the city’s most famous former resident, Vice President Dan Quayle. Just outside of town, visit Two-EE’s Winery for sips and charcuterie on the large covered patio, or for sampling in the 2,000-square-foot tasting room. There’s a regular lineup of live music here.

Move next to the tiny town of Roanoke, about ten minutes from the winery, where you might spend the night at the four-room Inn at Joseph Decuis. This early-20th-century bed-and-breakfast is packed with period pieces and offers total tranquility from idling in the front porch rockers to playing boardgames by the fireplace with a bottle of wine. Each room comes with a fully modern private bathroom (Jacuzzi tub in the Master Suite) and breakfast comes from ingredients supplied by Joseph Decuis Wagyu Farm, some of which can be found just down the street at Joseph Decuis Emporium. To complete the experience, sample the farm’s wagyu and seasonal produce at Roanoke’s favorite choice for a special dinner, Joseph Decuis, where half a dozen dining rooms include the open-kitchen exhibition dining room, conservatory, courtyard and intimate chairman’s office. Before leaving town to head home the following day, stop in to A Spoonful of Sugar for a fabulously presented collection of nostalgic and modern sweets in the vaulted rooms above the elegant Parker Grace Tea Room, open for a full lunch or even just tea and cake.

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