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Hell night in Fort Wayne (part 1)

FWR’s intrepid critic-at-large journeys through the Fort Wayne spots he finds really scary

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-10-22


Socially, I'm a pretty intrepid guy, but I have to admit there are some bars and restaurants in Fort Wayne that look like such depraved hell holes that I've always been too scared to walk through their doors. For years, friends and acquaintances have assured me that some of these places aren't so bad, but I've never trusted them. These places are radioactive to me, and no matter how popular these establishments are with their regular clientele, I had no desire to ever set foot in any of them. Until last week.

It happened like this--I decided, finally, that it was high time I learned to conquer my fears by looking them directly in the eye. And frankly, I've been curious--could these places really be as bad as I imagined? You should do something everyday that scares you, Eleanor Roosevelt once said, and with that in mind, I made a list of the seven worst places to go on a Saturday night in Fort Wayne, and with steely resolve, two hundred bucks and a head-to-toe black outfit (jeans, boots, T-shirt), I went to every last one of them. The following is a record of my excursion to the dark side, which began with dinner at 8:00pm and ended with last call at 3:00am.

8:00pm: Hooter's Restaurant

Avoiding Hooter's in Fort Wayne has been easy for me because the restaurant/bar contains the four elements I've always hated in a dining establishment: one, it's a chain; two, it's on Coliseum Boulevard; three, it's a sports bar; and four, it's, well, Hooter's. And really, I've never been offended by the Hooter's concept (Hot Wings and Cleavage) nor the demographic (male, knuckle dragger, 26-54); it's the name of the joint that I could never bear. Super-obvious euphemism that twelve-year old boys giggle at — call it a rule of thumb, but if you're embarrassed to utter the name of the restaurant, you probably shouldn't go in there.

But I did go in there, and I must confess, the experience wasn't nearly as creepy as I thought it would be. I was expecting boorish, goatish, locker room behavior — basically, strip joint etiquette for the PG-13 crowd — but it never materialized. For the first time on Hell Night, I realized that many of my pre-conceived notions were dead wrong. Hooter's is primarily a sports bar, with high definition TVs everywhere, and the spectator-inducing atmosphere tends to inhibit any bachelor party exuberance. Plus, there are women here — forgive my incredulity, but I was shocked at how many female customers were present. Not 50-50, but much closer to 60-40 than I thought possible. Many of them on dates, too. Couples in their early twenties. Did I miss something somewhere? This is a dating joint? That seemed as inconceivable to me as bringing kids here, but hold on. . . there are kids here. I counted seven infants/toddlers in attendance. I guess I now understood why Hooter's was selling kids clothes in the lobby.

My waitress, my personal Hooter's Girl, was friendly and efficient, though I did have to reassure her a number of times that I really didn't want the Fried Pickle appetizer, that I was trying to limit myself to only three thousand calories per sitting. She told me her name, which made me laugh, because it was exactly the sort of name you'd expect from a Hooter's Girl (or a stripper, or a Playmate--there's a fascinating, chicken-or-the-egg question here.) She wasn't overly flirty, didn't josh too much, which was a relief, but I did find out later that all Hooter's Girls have to sign a contract which basically says that flirting and innuendoes from customers are part of the job. As is wearing the trademark, skintight Hooter's outfit. And indeed, my waitress seemed completely at ease squeezed into her tank top, but I must say, the sight of all the Hooter's Girls bulging out of their outfits made me a little uncomfortable. Not that I'm a prude, mind you, but the uniforms are unforgiving, and let's be frank — normal humans simply don't have bodies like the girls in the Hooter's calendar. And the girls at the Fort Wayne Hooter's — all attractive, admittedly — certainly had normal bodies. I know this is the opposite of what I was supposed to be feeling, but when I saw how intensely the uniforms magnified every flaw on the girls, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for them. Instead of objectifying them, the uniforms actually made the girls seem more human to me, because I thought how deeply horrified I would have felt to have my physical flaws on display for all to gawk at.

I spent about ninety minutes at Hooter's, and if not for one unpleasant event that happened right before I left, the whole experience would have been (relatively) benign. Unfortunately, though, there was a bachelor party present, and the Hooter's Girls performed a little ceremony for the groom, sort of like those annoying birthday celebrations at chain Mexican restaurants. The girls made a circle around the poor schmuck, made him dance a humiliating dance as they clapped hands and sang some idiotic song about the Hooter's Girls he'll (now) never get. Swear to God, I can't figure out why guys insist on subjecting themselves to these ridiculous displays. The groom looked mortified, and the bachelor party just stood there, with blank looks on their faces, no hooting, no laughing. Just standing there, doing something they think is expected of them as opposed to something they really want to do. I'm sure later they'll tell everyone what a wild time they had.

The bill was reasonable, I guess, and of course I overtipped my own personal Hooter's Girl, like everyone else. Hell Night cost so far: $20. I still had 180 bucks left, but that had to get me through a karaoke bar, a strip joint, 2 meat markets, and a biker bar, with a little left over for possible bail money.

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