Inside Southwest Fort Wayne's 'come as you are' cocktail lounge

When ex-Marine Travis Barnes decided to open a distillery in downtown Indianapolis, he called his longtime friend Nick Ladig in Fort Wayne.

Ladig had spent most of his life in the food and beverage industry, so Barnes asked him to partner on the business.

But for Ladig, the timing wasn’t right.

It was around the year 2013, and he was living in Fort Wayne, getting ready to marry his fiancé Jenn, so he respectfully declined the offer.

Then he watched as Barnes opened Hotel Tango Distillery in the blossoming Fletcher Place neighborhood in southeast downtown Indy, and he changed his mind.

First, he left his job to do sales for Hotel Tango from Fort Wayne. Then, he started to get the entrepreneurial itch himself.

With Barnes’s blessing, he and Jenn put together a business plan and opened a craft cocktail lounge to serve Hotel Tango’s spirits in Fort Wayne.

They call it HT2, short for Hotel Tango 2, and their motto is “Craft Spirits for All,” continuing Hotel Tango’s legacy of inclusion.

When they were looking for a location for the business, inclusion was a factor they considered then, too.

While they liked the energy of downtown Fort Wayne, they thought: Why not extend that energy and excitement to other parts of town?

“In the back of our minds, it was like, ‘We have a great neighborhood that really needs something like this,’” Ladig says.

So he and Jenn put HT2 in their neighborhood, at 10212 Chestnut Plaza Dr. on the Southwest side of town. And when it opened in May 2017, the response from the neighborhood was overwhelming.

“Early on, when I would say, ‘Thanks for coming in,’ a lot of people would say, ‘No thank you for opening a bar in our neighborhood,’” Ladig says. “People were thanking us as much as we were thanking them.”

Today, Ladig continues to do sales for Hotel Tango, and his wife, Jenn Ladig runs the neighborhood cocktail lounge.

Input Fort Wayne Sat down with Nick Ladig to learn more about his story and how experiences like HT2 are shaping Fort Wayne’s food and beverage scene.

Jenn and Nick Ladig of HT2.

IFW: You grew up in Wolf Lake, and your experience in the restaurant industry started there, as well. Tell us about that.

NL: Wolf Lake is just another small town a few miles from Albion. I grew up in the country and had two older sisters. I really think growing up there really gave me a great foundation for who I am and the personality I have.

When you grow up in the country, you’re forced to entertain yourself. You have to create a lot of your own excitement.

There was a little old restaurant in Wolf Lake called Walker’s Restaurant that my mom and both my sisters and I all worked at for our first jobs.

It was your stereotypical small-town diner. They’d have a Mexican night and a fish night. All that stuff. Then they’d have breakfast, burgers, chicken tenders, and fries. I loved it.

It’s since burned down, which was a sad day for the community, but that’s where it all started.

I always wanted to start a business when I was little, and I don’t know if it was just that I thought I had good ideas, or I didn’t want to work for someone else. But I worked in the restaurant industry, so that’s what I knew the best.

IFW: You met Barnes in Wolf Lake, as well. How did you meet? HT2 has become a neighborhood hangout.

NL: I went to Wolf Lake Elementary, and he was the new kid in like third grade. He got stuck with me on the bus. That’s where we first met, and it’s blossomed into a lifelong friendship.

We lived about three or four miles apart growing up, but in the country, that’s a quick bike ride.

After high school, Travis and I both enrolled at IPFW. I went there for my first three years.

Then, our first year at IPFW was when 9/11 happened, and that’s when Travis dropped out of school and joined the Marines. 

He did three subsequent tours in Iraq and ended up being a Special Forces Marine. He did his four years for the service, and then I ended up transferring after my third year to Ball State, and finished up at Ball State.

I got a degree in entrepreneurship. In college, I still had no idea what I wanted to do other than get a degree and open a business.

IFW: How did the restaurant idea evolve after college?

NL: I worked in restaurants all throughout my high school and college years. Ernie's Classic Steakhouse was one here. It’s now Corner Pocket Pub. Then a couple cool places in Muncie. Then, when I moved back to Fort Wayne after college, I got a job at the Oyster Bar on the north side of town.

Like many college kids, I graduated with zero plan, so I went into what I knew, which was bartending. Then I worked there for about a year until I got a “real job.”

I found one at Five Star, a beer distributor, about a year later. Five Star, I would say, is where I first learned about how to work at a very well-run corporate organization.

I started at merchandizer, and then went into sales, to sales supervisor, and eventually to more of a brand manager type role.

They’re really good at training their people, so I got a lot of professional training along the way—a ton of real-world experience in coaching, teamwork, motivation, recruiting, and brand building. All these things I had read about, but never really done before.

That’s actually where I met my wife, Jenn Ladig, too. She was working there, as well.

I loved the company, but after several years, I had another opportunity I wanted to take.

HT2 is a craft cocktail lounge at 10212 Chestnut Plaza Dr. in Fort Wayne.

IFW: And that opportunity was with Hotel Tango. Tell us about that.

NL: I was with Five Star for about 9 years, and that was about the time Travis called me to see if I wanted to help open a distillery in Indianapolis.

He knew I had a lot of experience in the beverage industry, but I respectfully declined. I was in Fort Wayne. He was in Indy. Jenn and I were getting married. The timing wasn’t right. I thought I’d be a bad partner, so I opted not to.

Then he went ahead and did it in late 2013 and early 2014. After Hotel Tango got up and running, watching from the sidelines, I was very excited and intrigued, thinking, “Aw man, I should have done this. How cool is this, growing a brand from scratch?”

I was his biggest cheerleader from afar, and then roughly a year in, he called and asked me if I wanted to help him out. So I left Five Star in March of 2016, two years ago, and started working at Hotel Tango doing sales from Fort Wayne.

Then I got more of the entrepreneurial itch back, being surrounded by it.

So that’s where this idea for HT2 went from being a crazy idea to something Jenn and I seriously considered and wrote a full business plan for.

IFW: There are a lot of beverage establishments in Fort Wayne. What sets HT2 apart?

NL: The overarching mantra they use at Hotel Tango is “Hotel Tango for All.” The reason being is, in the cocktail world, the beer world, and fine dining, there’s traditionally been a certain level of exclusivity.

That was the opposite of what Travis and his team wanted when they opened that space.

They’re very accepting, no matter someone’s race, color, origins, gender, whatever.

It’s like, “Hey, if you enjoy a good product, and want to have a good time, then we’re your brand. Hotel Tango for All.”

It’s the same reason this brand ended up having “Craft Spirits for All” as its tagline. If you don’t know about something, we’re happy to teach you, and we’re still happy that you wanted to party with us.

It’s a very “come as you are” type of place. We have everyone from girls after the gym in their yoga pants, to professionals hosting corporate meetings here in the late afternoon, to guys coming in before their softball game.

IFW: You opened HT2 on the Southwest side of Fort Wayne. Why did you choose this location?

NL: We live here in the Falls of Beaver Creek.

Even while I was at Five Star, I just saw this part of town as pretty badly needing a nice, adult beverage establishment.

I told some of my former accounts at the time, “Someone should open a bar out at Illinois and Scott Road.”

Then no one ever did. So when we started talking about bringing a cool concept like this to Fort Wayne, we looked downtown, as anyone who’s going to start a business in Fort Wayne right now, should.

But it was like, “We already know where we should do it. Our neighborhood needs a bar.”

HT2 offers a menu of appetizers and drinks.

IFW: You have some neighborhood staples on the menu. Any recommendations?

NL: The number one food item since we’ve opened has been the pretzel we get from Teds Market.

We just call it Ted’s Pretzel, it’s a giant pretzel, and people love it. The popcorn with bacon and gruyere has a been a big hit, and the Smoking Goose Charcuterie board, which uses Indianapolis cured meats, cheeses, and accouterments.

We added the goat cheese and tomato vodka sauce dip and Teds baguettes to our menu recently, which is popular, as well.

The number one favorite drink so far has been the Bravo Old Fashioned. It’s a really classic old fashion, which some Hotel Tango Bravo Bourbon and a luxardo cherry.

We also have a take on a Moscow Mule that’s wildly popular.

Then, aside from that we just brought back the Gin Bravo, which is made with gin, basil, and blackberry.

Our Bloody Mary is good, too.

IFW: For someone who doesn’t visit the southwest side often, what would you tell them about this area?

NL: It’s a very nice, quiet neighborhood not far from the city. I wouldn’t call it quite “small town.” But you definitely don’t feel like you’re in Fort Wayne.

You can walk the trails, ride your bikes to the playground, and everyone out here seems to be very neighborly and cordial.

If you want to come out here for a drink and then go have a good sit-down meal somewhere, there are lots of restaurants close by.

Salvatori's Authentic Italian across the street has great food. Or there’s another cool place, Pickles Café. That stuff is really close.

IFW: As a longtime food and beverage industry worker here, how have you seen Fort Wayne’s food and drink scene evolving? Spirits from the Hotel Tango distillery in Indianapolis.

NL: I think that Fort Wayne is catching up to trends, and in the same vein, becoming a trendsetter in the food and beverage world.

They say that most of the time the Midwest is a couple years behind the coasts or the major metropolitan areas, but I think there’s a lot of excitement around it in the owner/operator side, and there’s a lot of support from the community for it.

From the Bravas of the world, to Tolon, or the Hoppy Gnome—all that has happened in the last couple years—there’s just a lot of cool, exciting stuff, and I feel like the Fort Wayne community is very proud of it.

It’s snowballing into itself now.

I see a lot of small businesses—and middle level and large businesses—coming and wanting to reinvest in this community.

There’s a lot of companies around the Midwest or the region that are recognizing the growth here and wanting to be a part of what’s happening.

I don’t see us slowing down.

I hope the halo effect of that is going to help all segments of the business environment, and it will give the opportunity for more cool places and partnerships.

I think it’s a good time to be a Fort Wayne-ite. What do you call that? A Fort Wayne-ian?

Visit HT2

HT2 is a craft cocktail lounge featuring Hotel Tango spirits while offering a few neighborhood staples and high-quality snacks. Enjoy.

Address: 10212 Chestnut Plaza Dr

Monday Closed
Tuesday-Thursday 4-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 3 p.m.-12 a.m.
Sunday 2-7 p.m.

Purchase Hotel Tango Spirits

Hotel Tango spirits are available at many local liquor stores and grocery stores.

HT2 offers Hotel Tango products in a cocktail setting.

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Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.