This Bryan Ballinger design is one of the awesome sights to see in downtown Fort Wayne. Photo by Noah Johnson.

Challenging the title of ‘Fort Lame’

9 great places to visit in downtown Fort Wayne

March 13, 2019

I only venture to downtown Fort Wayne once or twice a week, and yet that is still countless times more than the vast majority of my fellow high schoolers. Of course, one reason could be that my high school is located 30 minutes away from the downtown area, however it is hard to ignore the prevalent stigma that the city has nothing for us who are still minors. Yet this common misconception is far from true, for the city has much to do for high schoolers if we only know where to look.

This is all coming from someone who once had this mindset, this feeling that my city had nothing for me to do beyond my home and school. Yet, after joining the Fort Wayne Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council, I was obligated to travel downtown on a weekly basis, and I began to discover all of the places I had missed: places like family-owned businesses and museums with revolving exhibits that never seemed to display the same artifact or painting twice.

And who could ever forget the sight of the large glowing wreath on the Indiana Michigan Power Building during the winter, or the sight of countless murals lining the city streets that evoke feelings of being in a much larger metropolitan area such as New York or Chicago? So, it seems that while some people are “ahead of their time,” Fort Wayne is a city that is “ahead of its population,” if you will. For when downtown, it is hard to imagine that Indianapolis could have anything more that our own city does.

However, despite there being a plethora of places downtown for high schoolers to explore, I have crafted a list of nine that stand out as places where students can make lasting memories of their hometown.

  1. Pint and Slice

Pint & Slice, 816 Calhoun St., offers great pizza and avant garde artwork upstairs for all ages. Photo by Noah Johnson

Don’t let the word “pint” deceive you, for Pint and Slice, located at 816 South Calhoun Street, is a restaurant for those of all ages that is bound to become every visitor’s new favorite place downtown. From young children to high schoolers to President Bill Clinton, everyone enjoys a visit to this city staple. The first floor looks like that of a typical metropolitan restaurant, however there is more to the second story than meets the eye, as it features an art gallery that has a new opening every six to eight weeks.

“With a growing art scene here in Fort Wayne, we are really happy to be a part of it,” manager Bradly Harbaugh says.

And Pint and Slice definitely has been, as it served as the location for the downtown area’s first ever mural, painted by Yis Goodwin of Philadelphia in 2014. So, for the countless families who sit at home and watch television while they eat, I must ask – what better than looking at fine art while you eat instead?

Between serving the, according to Harbaugh, “best pizza downtown”, displaying local art available for purchase, and having a metropolitan vibe, there is little reason not to pay this place a visit. A small warning, however – once you eat pizza from this place, you will never again want to order pizza from anywhere else, as I can personally guarantee the alternatives will pale in comparison.

  1. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art

Grab some culture at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art on Main Street. Photo by Noah Johnson.

You have probably been inside of this building before; however, you probably have not been to this exact art museum before – allow me to explain.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art features rotating exhibits, and never seem to display the same work twice. One week, you may walk in and gaze upon elegant sculptures of glittering glass, the next the museum may be displaying thought-provoking abstract paintings or even an entire room of guitars from across the globe.

To be precise, exhibits are displayed for a period of six to 12 weeks, and after that period has elapsed, certain exhibits close for a period of five to 10 days in order to install new artwork.

And it is not just local artists on display, as art from some of the nation’s most renowned artists can find its temporary home here as these works tour the country.

High schoolers should visit the museum not only to get a greater appreciation of and a broader exposure to local and national art, but also to relax in the quiet, intellectual halls of the museum, which act as a perfect distraction from their hectic lives.

  1. The Urban Hippie

Unique styles are the thing at Urban Hippie on Berry Street. Photo by Noah Johnson.

For the girls who find the run-of-the-mill visit to the mall unappealing, yet simultaneously desire to expand their wardrobes, luckily there is a clothing store downtown to satiate their need.

The Urban Hippie, located at 534 West Berry State, provides a dynamic and instantly-welcoming alternative to other clothing stores, as it has a modern feel characteristic of the downtown scene.

“We have a unique atmosphere, a mixture of Boho and urban textures, and styles that appeal to a lot of people,” says Tammy, the owner.

Whether one desires a new sweater, dress, or even jewelry, The Urban Hippie certainly has something in its diverse and expansive inventory to match the item in mind. The store not only has a large range of styles, but also a shopping experience that is sure to prove different from that of other, more traditional clothing stores.

The store offers, “throwback and timeless jams,” “a good price point,” and “a cozy, vibrant atmosphere,” according to Tammy. And when looking at the gaming machine, lounge, plywood floors, and canopy adorned with lights, it is hard to imagine any other words to describe the shop, for the environment speaks of genuine friendliness and care, and once inside, it is easy to forget one is in a business and not the house of a close friend.

  1. Fortezza Coffee

Fortezza Coffee, just across from Pint & Slice, features a hip vibe with coffee and locally created artwork. Photo by Noah Johnson.

Located directly across from Pint and Slice, Fortezza Coffee is the place for high schoolers to go when they just simply want to “hang out” somewhere downtown. And while there may be an abundance of coffee shops around Fort Wayne, Fortezza is definitely worth the drive into the city and stands out among such shops.

This is due to the welcoming atmosphere, displays of local art, and a diverse menu that not only features coffee and tea but also smoothies, muffins, cake, and sandwiches. The café even features a large room in the back that can be reserved if one desires to meet with a study group or simply just a group of friends.

The café also won me over by its use of environmentally friendly paper straws, the first establishment that I have been to that does so. Therefore, the café not only helps satisfy your appetite, but also helps to promote environmental sustainability and, most importantly, a sense of real community.

  1. The Find Fort Wayne

The Find defies classification. It is both a clothing store carrying both affordable and high-end brands, as well as an emporium of whimsical and charming household decorations.

Looking for that gift for the hardest person in your family to shop for, then The Find is the place to go. Photo by Noah Johnson.

The store, located at 133 West Wayne Street, describes itself on its website as, “a lifestyle general store, with a strong focus on tasteful and chic home décor, gifts, and apparel.” Aside from clothing, the store’s inventory includes key chains, water bottles, local specialties, candles, and even books.

As for why high schoolers should shop here, the store will allow girls to step into a store that will make them feel like young women as they shop, and will allow males to buy a holiday present for someone on their list who tends to be difficult to buy for, regardless of the size of the gift needed or desired.

So, I suppose that if The Find could be classified as anything, it can simply be classified as “Fort Wayne.”

  1. The Fort Wayne History Center

By merely gazing at the building standing at 302 East Berry Street, without even knowing its function or having any prior exposure to it, you can easily discern that it is a history center, or at the very least has itself played an essential role in our city’s history.

Fort Wayne Historical Society resides in the city’s former administration building. The “quasi-Victorian” look of the place adds to its mystique. Photo by Noah Johnson.

Due to its quasi-Victorian style architectural appearance – an appearance that is due to the importance of the building, as the building once served as Fort Wayne’s Town Hall – the building seems to be permeated with stories of the past, stories that continue to affect the growing landscape of Fort Wayne today.

The Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society has procured over 26,000 artifacts pertaining to our region’s history, and the largest collection of these is located at The History Center, according to its website, which proclaims that the mission of the museum is to, “serve present and future generations by collecting, preserving, and sharing artifacts, documents, and images that describe the people, places, and events that define Fort Wayne and Allen County history.”

The museum applies youth of all ages, from elementary schoolers to those entering their sophomore year of college, for all students are required to enroll in history classes, and what better way to experience history than to witness the components of its making first hand? Upon entering the museum, I was greeted with the sight of a canon in the entryway, pointing out the window towards the parking lot as if to shoot at the incoming cars, and I could not help but be transported back to the War of 1812.

It sounds a little over-the-top, but walk into the history center for yourself and see if you do not feel the same way that I did.

  1. DeBrand Fine Chocolates

At 818 S. Harrison St., DeBrand’s Chocolates serves up tasty morsels all year long. Photo by Noah Johnson.

Perhaps the photo, taken from DeBrand’s 878 Harrison Street location, highlighting a display case of their infamous product, is enough to make you want to add this café to your to-do list. However, if not, allow me to shed some light on this commonly misunderstood brand, because while DeBrand is a household name in Fort Wayne, there are several misconceptions surrounding it, the first being that the chocolate is only to be purchased and enjoyed at holidays, notably on Valentine’s Day.

Upon entering DeBrand, I expected a limited selection meant for that infamous date in February, but I was proved wrong, for it became apparent to me that DeBrand is a place that can be visited as often as your local high-end coffee shop.

This coincides with the second misconception, that Debrand only sells chocolate products. I could not help but notice, upon examining the café-like shop, that ice cream and drinks were also available, making DeBrand a viable place to catch up on work or meet with friends. Of course, there are other reasons to visit – DeBrand is so well-received across the nation that it is the chocolate served in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City and, according to the DeBrand website, the dessert enjoyed by celebrities such as Ann Curry, Demi Lovato, Marilu Henner, Marie Osmond, George Lopez, and countless others.

So, DeBrand not only serves as a great place for high schoolers to treat themselves, but also as an example of a local business becoming a nationally acclaimed staple, for the DeBrand company was first founded in Fort Wayne, first operating out of founder Cathy Brand Beere’s childhood home.

  1. Attend a City Festival

Fort Wayne’s population is growing by the day, and so is the abundance of activities and seasonal festivals offered to its residents, something not possible without the contributions and planning of the Downtown Improvement District, which plans a wide array of diverse events annually.

These include but are not limited to: Fright Night in October, Holly Trolley in November, and BuskerFest, a day of street performances, in June. If one desires to make a unique holiday memory,

The Zombie Walk that occurs during Fright Night always proves to be an experience worth dying for (get it?); and if one desires to get more familiarized with the layout of downtown, then Holly Trolley is an event that cannot be missed, for the trolley cars, which look as if they have emerged from a wintry 1950 New York City Street, take travelers throughout the downtown area to the local establishments there, which often offer discounts and deals exclusive to trolley riders.

Personally, the event exposed me to the large selection of businesses downtown, and gave me not only a newfound understanding, but a newfound appreciation of the city (not to mention the fact that the event gave me the once in a lifetime opportunity to wear a Santa hat and necklace of holiday lights in public).

While many of the deals are catered exclusively to adults, high schoolers in particular have the potential to enjoy the event more than anyone, for they do not have to be concerned with transporting themselves throughout the downtown area, and thus can enjoy the event even without a driver’s license.

  1. Look at the Murals

It is often said that life is about the journey, not the destination. And if you find yourself journeying throughout downtown Fort Wayne, you may find yourself so focused on your eventual destination that you fail to notice the environment around you along the way.

If you find yourself describing the environment as industrial or urbanized, then you may have not noticed the creativity and voice in it, housed in the murals that line the city streets. From an ice-cream loving panda to poet Walt Whitman to a flock of blue birds that look as if they have emerged from the pages of a quirky childhood novel, the streets of Fort Wayne define the city almost as much as the people that inhabit it.

I cannot help but be marveled at how artist Bryan Ballinger carried his bird flock design seamlessly onto the pipes that climb the side of the Ambassador Enterprises building (see main photo above) at 927 Harrison Street or how artist Tammy Davis captured the human-like qualities of animals with her whimsical and playful panda depiction on the side of Star Financial Bank (127 West Berry Street). So perhaps the murals of Fort Wayne should not just be seen on the journey, but the should be the destination itself.

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