Fort Wayne's new rooftop bar is a hit: Could it be the first of more to come?

The opening of Conner’s Rooftop Bar, at 223 West Jefferson Blvd., could be interpreted as a sign that Fort Wayne has reached “next level” status when it comes to its food and drink scene.

As USA TODAY reports, rooftop bars have elevated hotels in bigger cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Now Conner's is bringing that big city feel to Fort Wayne as the city's only rooftop bar downtown—and the first of what could be more similar establishments to come.

Conner’s opened in July 2019, and it’s been well received by locals and out-of-town guests, having an average of 400 patrons per day every day since opening, says Sarah Peters, Assistant General Manager of Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Wayne Downtown.

The rooftop bar, which will be open year-round, overlooks Parkview Field. The venue is an extension of Connor's Kitchen Bar at its sister property in the Marriott's Courtyard hotel, located next door. 

According to Peters, the rooftop bar’s success is a matter of timing. They wanted to curate a destination that would be a gathering place and source of community pride in downtown Fort Wayne.

As the city's only rooftop bar with an all-star view, Peters believes they have delivered on that.

"Our unofficial tagline is ‘an even higher class of casual,’ and I think that the community’s responded really well to that," she says. "We're a great place that you can come on a Tuesday for a cocktail, or you can get a little bit dressed up on a Saturday and come out as well. So we've had a really fantastic response, and it’s been very gratifying.”

A view from Conner's Rooftop

It's helped that Fort Wayne is developing a “sophisticated” bar and dining scene, Peters says. For example, she cites the city's strong “cocktail culture” as manifested in places like the Copper Spoon’s Sidecar nearby, as well as the openness of the community and the positive momentum downtown.

Jesse Ryan, general manager of Conner’s Rooftop and Burger Bar, can attest to that, too. He has opened several bars over the years in cities of all sizes, but he says there’s something special about Fort Wayne's downtown bar and dining scene.

“For me, it was important to be a part of a community that's so invested in its own development,” he says. “Promenade Park, the museums, and the dining experiences within the city are all great examples. I love being able to go out and enjoy nice places to eat and have a cocktail. And when I was able to experience that during my first trip, I said, 'Yeah, this is somewhere I can live.'”

To that end, Conner’s vibe is upscale, but accessible by design—an atmosphere curated based on the management team’s time spent in the city. While downtown Fort Wayne is doesn't have a very big club scene, Conner's offers an alternative form of nightlife to its growing urban community.

“We definitely focus on cocktails and wine,” Peters says. “We have some beers and some small shareable plates. And the idea is we want to be that place where friends get together, coworkers go after work for a glass of wine, and it might turn into a late-night happy hour.” 

While the rooftop bar format is not unique to the parent company—Indiana-based White Lodging—Peters says Conner’s has carved out a reputation of its own as “really unique and fun” because of the sense of place it develops at its locations.

In Fort Wayne, it offers a view of the popular Parkview Field TinCaps stadium. It also has murals adorning the walls of the rooftop, including an abstract painting of Fort Wayne’s streets and railroads. Peters says they have plans to commission a local artist to complete a piece on one of the walls by the bar, too.

On the menu, Peters says her team has a mix of classic and signature cocktails. For example, their top-selling “Elevated Old Fashioned” is their tribute to Johnny Appleseed’s legacy. It’s bourbon-infused with apple and complemented with a salted maple syrup. 

“It's really great because it's approachable, both for people who love bourbon and also people who maybe aren't usually as comfortable with it,” says Peters. “It’s just a very well-rounded cocktail. So that's an example of how we take something that we've noticed from all of our properties that’s really having a moment right now and tailor it to the geographic area.”

Speaking of trends, a new boutique hotel is coming to downtown Fort Wayne and plans call for a rooftop bar on that site, too. Peters's feelings? 

“There's more than enough room for everybody,” she says. "We're just really proud to be the first of hopefully many great establishments of this kind.”

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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