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When plans were first taking shape for Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball team to move from their stadium adjacent to the Memorial Coliseum and begin playing at a new field downtown, there was plenty of controversy and debate. Now a decade later some of that division has subsided as the downtown area has grown not only to include more businesses but to embrace more events than ever before. But the transition was not without some casualties, and those changes have sometimes brought on surprising developments, particularly for Corey Rader and John Commorato, Jr. “When plans were being made for the new baseball stadium, both John and I had our houses purchased so it could be built,” says Corey Rader. “We both had to find new places to live.”
Rather fortuitously, and definitely evidence that fate can take some unexpected turns, their mutual effort to find new homes in the downtown area led to not only those two separate purchases but also one shared investment: the Brass Rail on Broadway. Rader, a native of Fort Wayne who graduated from Homestead 25 years ago and has worked for Kapp’s Green Lawn since high school, was suddenly a bar owner with no previous experience.
“I went from working one full-time job to having another part-time job,” says Rader. “I had no experience in owning a club, just a love of music. But we kept the same staff, and they were all trustworthy people who had been there for years. The bar business is a partnership with the staff, and if the staff is good, the bar does better.”
Over the years the Brass Rail has become known for its stage as much as its drinks, and both local bands and some national acts have found audience at the Rail. As a music fan, Rader has enjoyed his firsthand look at all the talent that has come through the door.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting all the musicians, and there’s a new crop of local bands every three or four years. I like seeing all the new bands, and some of them have helped us bring in some of their favorite bands from out of town. There have been a ton of bands, and it’s great to bring in some of the up and coming bands that wouldn’t otherwise have a place to play in Fort Wayne.”
With a capacity of 180, the Brass Rail has developed its own unique niche in the area. Smaller than some of the stages which require big names, but larger than some bars and venues that host local bands and open mic events, the club has enjoyed a devoted core of customers and music lovers who can find something different on the Brass Rail stage. That has put them in line to partner for some events that are putting Fort Wayne in a good position to capitalize on the city’s reputation for great music.
“We got involved in Middle Waves this year which was a good kick-start to revitalizing music in Fort Wayne,” says Rader. “I was happy to donate time to that and will gladly do that again. It was a nice side project.”
Rader’s low-key demeanor suggests someone who is unflappable, but he says that this chapter in his life was definitely unexpected and that he knows better than most how life can hand you a few surprises.
“I’m pretty much the poster boy for what can happen in life. It never would have occurred to John or me that we’d be owning a bar together. When we sold our homes to make way for the baseball stadium, it was a catalyst for everything that’s happened since. We’d both lived down there since we were kids, but downtown was a ghost town back then. It’s great now to see so many people downtown and all the new buildings and places and things to do.
“Obviously no one wants to have to be forced to sell their home, and I understand somewhat why people were upset during all of that, but we were living in a circle with nothing inside of it. Now those of us who live downtown have a little bit of everything around us. People who live downtown can live in a nice 100-year-old home that’s affordable and have access to all these restaurants and things to do.”
Rader says that owning the Brass Rail can be difficult in many ways. He and Commorato have been friends most of their lives, but it can still be a challenge to be on the same page with a business partner all the time. He also juggles two demanding jobs and a home life (he and his wife have no kids but do have a couple of dogs) which leaves little time for relaxation.
“I have one of these modern work schedules where I basically work seven days a week,” he says. “I’m lucky that my bosses at Kapp’s are really great and I’m not really punching a clock. My schedule is a bit flexible, but if you look at my rest to work ratio, it’s probably not a really healthy situation. But I’m trying to work when I want to.”
Part of his payment for that extra effort is in seeing live music and new bands as they come into the Brass Rail. For someone who admits he couldn’t play an instrument and couldn’t make a drink, owning a bar may have been a big departure, but it’s also given him a new outlet for his passion for music.
“I used to go to a lot of shows, some of them locally, but also in places like Bloomington or Indianapolis or Chicago. And it got to be pretty expensive. The Brass Rail had done shows before we bought it, but for a while it had been empty of music. I love that we have so many bands coming here to play, and I’m always trying to find that next band and get them in here on their way up. I’m sure we could make more money if we had karaoke or booked 90s music in here every night, but I’m trying to get people to try something they haven’t tried before. I think we’ve found the right audience, and those are the people we’re trying to reach.”