Dayton, we’ve reached the tipping point.
Over the last two decades there’s been a number of significant blips on the radar that have suggested downtown still has a pulse.
Since I moved out of the suburbs and into Dayton in 2007, I’ve been one of the dedicated many shouting that battle cry.
I think those blips have hit a threshold. I think that momentum is finally reaching something special.
I’d like to thank America’s brewery boom and reaching back to our roots. This year the number of breweries in the U.S. topped 3000 for the first time since the 1870s.
The Dayton area itself has experienced much of the same. For downtown’s sake, it got its first neo-foray into brewing when Toxic Brew Company opened in 2012. Toxic brought Dayton its first brewery since the closure of the Dayton Brewing Corporation in 1961.
This was another blip on the radar, albeit a very important blip that led up to this year.
I’m not sure where I had read it, but I remember hearing something about a brewery in the old foundry building on Wyandot Street.
In college my band had played a show at The Foundry, and while Dayton wasn’t ready for it then, you couldn’t deny the industrial feel was something special.
Every time I passed it, I gazed inside and wondered if it, like many grandiose Dayton dreams (The Merc), were big plans that didn’t pan out for one reason or another.
Then, out of nowhere on Twitter I read “Hey! this Warped Wing place is opening in like two weeks!”
After catching The Coens' “Inside Llewn Davis” at The Neon, a friend and I ventured over to Warped Wing for their opening day.
Much of the place was just as I remembered it, a wide-open, factory-like space, constructed mostly of concrete, only the stage was replaced by a large 30 barrel brewhouse and three 60 barrel fermenters.
The turnout was great. It wasn’t overwhelming, but a steady crowd of mostly Gen X'ers slowly introduced themselves to a fine new establishment deeply rooted in Dayton’s history.
That’s where I think the buy local trend and Warped Wing have meshed so well that a firestorm of momentum is moving this city forward.
Inside everything Warped Wing has to offer, there is a story, rooted in Dayton, its innovation, and its past. The brewery itself is named after the breakthrough concept in wing construction, discovered by Dayton’s own Wright Brothers while developing their famous Wright Flyer.
So they’re a brewery, what about their beer, what makes this place special?
Again, it’s the storytelling. Ermal’s Cream Ale? An homage to Ermal Fraze, who invented the pop-top in Dayton in the 1950s. The Flyin’ Rye IPA? Another tribute to the Wright Brothers, and Dayton’s rich history in aerospace. How about the 10 Ton Oatmeal Stout? An homage to the 10 ton box crane inside the building itself, that was part of the foundry when it was constructed in 1937.
If you want to learn about the power of storytelling, any Peter Gruber or Jim Signorelli book is a great read, but what good is storytelling if it stays inside the walls of the old iron foundry warped wing operates in?
The key connecting all the dots has been Warped Wings mindblowing ability to distribute its product. When the president of your company is the brains behind Dayton’s wildly popular AleFest, you know you’re off to a good start, and Joe Waizmann has shown just that.
Within two weeks of opening I needed more than two hands to count the numbers of bars and restaurants that proudly served Dayton’s own Warped Wing beer. As of the time I write this, they tell me they're contracted with some 370 establishments.
Then summer arrived and Warped Wing can 4-packs were a real item you could go to your local grocery and buy Dayton’s own. Each can, brilliantly illustrated, tells its story of how it came to be.
I headed south to a party with friends in Cincy and gave the birthday girl a 4-pack for her birthday. EVERYONE wondered when they too could get Warped Wing at their grocery store.
Not only are they just telling amazing stories, they’re working with other Dayton originals and creating new ones. Dayton’s own Press Coffee? Why not make a beer with them. Dayton’s renowned Century Bar? Of course you HAVE to create a beer with them.
Their partnerships are not just reserved for the cool places in town, how about Esther Price, a staple in Dayton since 1926? Of course, Warped Wing has created a beer with them also.
All of this brings me to this past weekend. Thanksgiving weekend, when everyone journeys in from the current place they call home to return to the first place they called home.
The tasting room at Warped Wing isn’t small by any means. Friday I stood in line, shoulder to shoulder with strangers when I ran into some old friends, and a group of guys I went to high school with.
One of the guys I went to school with has been living in Chicago for some time, and he asked some questions about Warped Wings beers and by the end of this conversation he arrived at stating “Man, this place is almost too good to be true for Dayton, isn’t it?”
A few minutes later, I ran into the old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, one of which has been living in DC. Big smile on his face, he says “This place…this place is great.”
This was probably the tenth time I’ve been to Warped Wing in the nine months its been open, and it’s a rare occasion I see someone I know there, but that’s what makes the place so special.
It’s not just a hipster place where the kids are hang out; there are just as many people from the 35+ crowd. EVERY TIME I'm there, I see new faces I don't see elsewhere downtown.
It's completely realistic that on any visit you could share a pint, and make a friend, Warped Wing's motto.
This is the place that is finally luring people out of the the suburbs to visit and try Dayton’s own Warped Wing.
In the scheme of things Warped Wing is just another brewery that sells beer, but this brewery has done something much more important, it’s inspired Dayton.
Hopefully you've all seen the Dayton inspires campaign, it's awesome, but I think a lot of the real problem has lied somewhere else...
No one has inspired Dayton.
Warped Wing has instilled a sense of pride in people. They can visit their local bar or restaurant, and order Dayton’s own and watch it come right of the tap next to the big dogs of Anheuser-Busch.
People can throw a a barbeque and offer friends a pint of beer proudly rooted in Dayton's history.
It doesn’t have to be Tumbleweed’s famous “Dayton’s alright if you haven’t been anywhere else” sticker anymore, it’s alright to take pride in Dayton again.
People are holding their class reunions at Warped Wing, they’re showing it off to their families, and it’s the new place people want to check out when they’re in town for the holidays.
Warped Wing absolutely isn’t leading this resurgence alone. Dayton continues to step up with monumental improvements in key areas, like the ball park area for instance...
- Over the last 5 years the Litehouse and Simms townhomes nearby have exploded onto the scene.
- Water Street is primed to be the new jewel of the Gem City.
- Riverscape has made tremendous progress and River Run will be here in no time.
- Chris Wire's Proto Build Bar is a fresh, and innovation concept.
- Finally the old mendelson building by the ballpark is going to be developed into something I have no doubt will be amazing.
The Dayton Dragons and the Schuster Center were huge players in laying the framework to create districts people want to visit, and with the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Greater Downtown Plan working full steam ahead to connect those, you can already start to see the dominoes falling.
While these huge investments were necesary to the viability of downtown, they haven't created an experience that is uniquely Dayton; they're more a means to providing exceptional entertainment from around the country.
I would argue Dayton has almost always had great local entertainment options, but since everyone moved to the suburbs over 50 years ago, Dayton-area people have needed a little help believing in what downtown has to offer.
Ironically, we had to go back 150 years to an industry forgotten in Dayton to retell the city’s story, to reaffirm it’s something to be proud of, and that Dayton does in fact inspire.